Hide and Seek

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The story of God and the human race is a story of hide-and-seek. Only we get confused sometimes about who is IT.

A bumper sticker that was popular years ago in some church circles proclaimed “I FOUND IT.” In a strict theological sense, the slogan is backwards. The truth is, IT found me.

Often those of us on a spiritual journey think of ourselves as searchers. And of course there is a certain truth to this. We ask questions, read books, attend classes, look for truth that often seems elusive. We search for God. The writers of Scripture commend this:

“You will seek me, and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” God says. — Jeremiah 29:13

But that is not the whole story. I’m not just a searcher. I’m also a hider. You too. We have to come face-to-face with our tendency to hide, to get lost.

Wanting to Hide

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind;

and in the mist of tears I hid from Him,

and under running laughter.

Hiddenness is always the first response to an awareness that I have sinned. So writes Francis Thompson in the magnificent poem “The Hound of Heaven.” I hide from God in moments that stretch into decades. I hide through my rationalizations and denials — the “labyrinthine ways of my own mind.” I hide despite the tears and the laughter that would lead me back to him if I would only let them. This has been the flight of the human race since the Garden.

Human beings were not made to hide. From the beginning our great craving was to know and be known.

This is the significance of the statement in Genesis about Adam and Eve:

They were naked, and they were not ashamed.  — Genesis 2:25

No hiddenness. No reason to hide. Full knowing.

With sin this was lost. After the Fall, when God came to be with Adam, Adam’s response was that he had heard God in the garden, and he was afraid, since he realized he was naked, “so [he] hid.”

This is my story. I hide because I don’t want to be exposed in my fallenness, my darkness. I hide because I’m afraid if the truth about me is known, I will never be loved. I hide from other people. I hide from God. I hide from truth — in a sense, I hide even from myself.

Sin and hiding are inseparable, the Siamese twins of the fallen soul. At one point in his life my younger brother Bart decided he wanted constant access to the cookie jar. He wanted this even though my mother had made it clear that it was the one forbidden source of food in the kitchen. From every vegetable bin and fruit bowl we could freely eat, but the Jar of the Knowledge of Good and Evil meant death.

But Bart operated on the belief (psychologists say it is a common one at a certain developmental stage) that as long as he couldn’t see anything, no one else could see anything either. So he would walk into the kitchen, squeeze his eyelids shut and clamp one hand over them just to be on the safe side. Bartus Absconditus. He would inch across the floor, his free hand groping cupboard handles and counter space, until he identified the cookie jar. He would remove the lid, liberate the cookies, and inch backward out of the kitchen without ever having opened his eyes. And my parents would be laughing so hard they never did anything to stop him. (I did not think it was very funny, though, particularly because he was seventeen years old at the time…)

The irony is that I hide because I’m afraid that if the full truth about me is known I won’t be loved. But whatever is hidden cannot be loved. I can only be loved to the extent that I am known. I can only be fully loved if I am fully known.

When I hide parts of myself, I seek to convince another person I am better than I am. If I’m a good enough hider, I may get away with it. The other person may express affection and love for me. But always comes the voice inside me: Yes, but if you knew the truth about me, if you saw the hidden places, you would not love me. You love the person you think I am. You do not love the real me, for you do not know the real me.

Adam was doing pretty much the same thing. But perhaps the most surprising part of the story is the role God plays. When He enters the garden He asks a question: “Adam, where are you?”

Why should God ask that question? Is the omniscient one confused? Is God really at a loss as to Adam’s whereabouts? For years I read that question without noticing its significance. This is one of the most remarkable questions in Scripture.

God is allowing Adam to hide from Him. The kind of presence God desires cannot be coerced, not even by God. It must be offered from a willing heart. God grants to His creatures the freedom to be known or to be unknown by Him. God covers His eyes.

But there’s more to it than that. God doesn’t just allow Adam to hide. God comes searching for him. God takes the initiative to restore their closeness, even though Adam is the one withholding himself. After He finishes counting to one hundred, God says, “I’ll be IT.”

“All we like sheep have gone astray,” says the prophet Isaiah.

Needing to Be Sought

Up vistaed hopes I sped…

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,

And unperturbed pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat — and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet —

“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

~Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven

I hide and evade, but God is the one who seeks — unhurrying, unperturbed, refusing to stop — the hound of heaven.

Excerpted with permission from Life-Changing Love by John Ortberg, copyright Zondervan.

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Your Turn

Isn’t it astonishing that the Creator of the Universe and everything in it, the One who made each of us, actually loves each of us with all of Him heart, more than we can possibly imagine? Take a moment to ask the Lord, “How am I hiding from You? In what ways am I sabotaging myself from receiving Your love?” Join the conversation on our blog! We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

John Ortberg

John Ortberg is senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California. He is the bestselling author of Who is this Man, When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, The Life You've Always Wanted and If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. John and his wife, Nancy, have three grown children.

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