Hide and Seek

by Sean Foster on February 23, 2014

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,

‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

A-men

Last week we looked at this Old Testament Lesson that we read this morning. I used it as the text and lesson for preaching on Scout Sunday, but I preach from it again today.

You see, it was while I was preparing last Sunday’s sermon. It was while reading this call of God to the young Jeremiah – that he would be God’s prophet. That he would be God’s voice to the people. God appointed this prophet:
• Over nations
• And over kingdoms
• To pluck up
• And to pull down
• To destroy
• And overthrow
• But also to build up
• And to plant.

The Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in such a real and concrete way. There was no doubt in deciphering or understanding what God was saying to Jeremiah. And yet for so many – God seems distant, hidden and far away.

A question that I am often asked as a minister, as a pastor, both by my non-Christian friends and Christian friends alike is the question: Why isn’t God more obvious?

This is a question that is asked in various ways. For example, when prayers go unanswered – the question arises: Why is God so silent.

When suffering or tragedy strikes – why does God allow this to happen?

Why doesn’t God make Himself more evident – so that people can come to know and be in relationship with the Almighty? Why does God make it so difficult to believe in Him? Would not life be much easier if God would reveal himself in more obvious ways?

So, as I was reading our Old Testament lesson; – this call of Jeremiah to be prophet to the people, I got thinking about this problem. And I know it is not a problem of the text or even the intent of the text, but I want to address this problem of how God seems hidden and far away at times. It will be my contention that even though God does not show up in exactly the way that we might want him to show up, it is my contention that God does reveal himself to us. God is not hidden as we might think of him.

Athiest, Bertrand Russell was once asked: Bertrand, what would you say if after death you found God to be real? And Russell replied: I would say, God, you gave us insufficient evidence to show that you exist. (Philosophers on God)

But it is not just unbelievers or non-Christians that struggle with God being distant or hidden. Within the Scriptures themselves, we hear God’s own people complain that God is hidden, distant and far away.

The one that immediately comes to mind are the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 22:
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me?
I cry by day and you do not answer,
by night – but find no rest.

In Psalm 10, the Psalmist asks:
Why do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself – while I am in trouble.

And to be fair to the text – it is not that the Psalmist does not believe in God, or even fears that God does not exist, but rather that God is hidden, or distant and far away.

Theologians and Christian Apologists have offered all kinds of explanations for why God is distant and far away. Often they come back to the problem of sin getting in the way. Our sin and disobedience hide us and separate us from God preventing us from seeing God properly. And yes, sin is a barrier to God; sin separates us from God.

But the argument falls apart for me – because even before I knew God; even before my sins were forgiven by God, my sin washed away, accepting the gift of forgiveness and life through Christ; while I was still with sin, God revealed himself to me. That is true for all of us, while we were still with sin, we heard God’s Call. Or as the Apostle Paul would write: while we were still sinners. God revealed himself to us so that we could be in relationship with God through Christ.

So even though God does not show up exactly the way we want or expect – as Christians, somewhere along the way, we have had just enough experience with God – that we have come to know that God is real, and that God loves us. And that may have been a personal experience of God – where God has revealed himself in such a way that there was no doubt in our mind that it was God. Or, it may have been through the experience of others: listening and hearing the testimonies of others share their experience of God.

I know for myself that for myself, when I asked Jesus into my heart and life at the age of 5, something I remember vividly doing; it was not because of any experience that I had of God, it was the testimony and experience of my parents that I asked Jesus into my heart and life, and thus became a follower of Jesus. But it was not long after that I had my own experience of God – where God also revealed himself to me in concrete ways.

When I think about this problem, I tend to believe that it is not just one reason for why God seems distant and far away at times.

When I think of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden for example in Genesis. It was not God who hid himself from Adam and Eve; it was because of sin. It was guilt and shame. Genesis 3:8, When they [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord. The Lord God even calls out: Where are you? But notice – even though they had sinned it does not prevent God from revealing himself to them – which is good news.

Of course, there are other stories in the Bible of blameless and righteous people for whom God seems hidden. Job in the Old Testament was considered blameless before the Lord. His cry goes up: why does God stay hidden away, while I suffer. Job asks, Why do you hide your face and consider me an enemy? (Job 13:24)

It is an irony to me that the largest number of people who are coming to Christ today and receiving salvation and becoming followers of Jesus Christ within the Middle East today. A place where Christians are persecuted. A place where governments ban and prevent the Gospel and Christianity from coming into those countries. So how is it that they hear the good news?

Within our Presbytery, we have an Arabic congregation; the minister himself is from Egypt. I have mentioned from time to time that I pray for the Christians in Egypt for their protection and safety. The Middle East is not a safe place for Christians.

Earlier this week the pastor of the Arabic congregation, Sherif called asking me about a process within the Presbytery, but I asked him about the situation in the Middle East as he still has family living there.

He shared a fascinating story with me about a man who was once a part of Saddam Hussein’s Army. The man was trained to do two things:
• He was trained to make false passports
• And he was trained to kill people without emotion.

For seven years this man had a recurring dream where Jesus would come to him. For seven years he dreamed about Jesus, and sometime during that seven years he learned that he was going to be killed, so he escaped to another country for safety. But he continued to have these dreams about Jesus. Eventually with the help of Christians he met, through discussions and prayer, this man became a Christian and follower of Jesus; and the dreams stopped.

He said that he was planning to go back to Iraq to witness and share the good news of Jesus. And he was asked – how will you get back into Iraq, when you are a wanted man? They will kill you!

He said, I will make fake passport.

God may seem hidden, but I tell you he is not hidden!

Annie Johnson, had a difficult life. At three years of age, her mother died giving birth to her baby sister. Her father not able to look after the two girls, he gave them away to a family who neither wanted the girls and treated them with disdain. And even though they suffered, Annie was somehow always able to remain optimistic.

Annie became a Christian, but when she was 23 years of age, she suffered her first stroke. She continued to have stroke leaving her severely disabled.

As part of the legacy that she left behind, she penned a hymn entitled: He Giveth More Grace

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;

To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving has only begun.

His Love has no limit,
His Grace has no measure,
His power has no boundaries known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth,
and giveth,
and giveth
again.

It may surprise you to know that God is often found in one of the last places that we might think – the Church. And I am not talking about the building. I am talking about the living Church.

The Church is to be the living embodiment of God’s presence in the world. God is in you!
• The Church is God’s arms of love giving a hug.
• The Church is God’s presence feeding the hungry.
• The Church is God’s presence providing shelter for homeless.
• The Church is God’s presence as we spend time with those who grieve sharing their hurt and pain.
• The Church is God’s justice when we speak out against sin and inequality.
• The Church is God’s presence when we share the good news of God’s love in Jesus the Christ, God’s only Son.
The Church is God’s hands, voice and feet in this world.

In my own personal experiences of God, where God has made himself known in almost tangible ways, it has not been through the roar of a tornado, or even through the loud clap of thunder – but rather – it is through the still, small, quiet voice of God – penetrating my busy life as I be quiet, and still, and listen for God’s voice.

It is my prayer for this congregation that we would come to live out the words of James chapter 4, verse 8: That we would be a people who draw closer to God, and that we would feel God’s presence draw closer to us. I pray for the spirituality of this congregation. That we would come to trust God in all ways.

So, as I close today, if there is a challenge that I would give, it would be for all of us to spend more time with God in prayer. And to ask God to reveal himself to you. Make that your prayer. That God would make himself known to you.

It is my prayer that you come to know in real ways how much our God loves you. And that your relationship with this awesome God would deepen and grow.

God is not hidden. He is very much revealed.

Let us be drawn close to God, so that God can be revealed in us and through us.

A-men.

Previous post:

Next post: