Some months ago, I was considering some topics that I might use for a sermon. One of the topics I considered started out with this question, “If you could ask God one question and receive a direct and immediate reply what would you ask Him?”
I spent some time jotting down some questions and thought about them. I noticed the questions I came up with were self-centered. In some cases, the questions dealt with my desire for God to explain other people’s behavior. Some questions dealt with wanting to know about my future and that of my family. Perhaps you have thought about a question you want God to answer. I know from the counseling setting; the most pressing question people want God to answer is “Why?” Significant circumstances in our lives makes us want to get questions answered. Most often our questions come from our own anxiousness and worries.
I came to realize doing this exercise that I had started in the wrong place. Questions I wanted to ask God did not deal with coming to understand my life through faith. I realized that even if God answered my questions, I would not know God any better nor would I obtain a better and deeper understanding of God’s call on my life. To know God better and know the direction of my life requires me to answer questions from God; instead of asking questions of Him.
So what questions then might God ask me or you to help us grow in faith? How would we respond to those questions when asked? Then I thought, what would be the purpose in God asking questions? Since knows everything; why does God even need to ask a question?
As it turns out, God does ask questions. In fact, we read the first recorded question from God in our Old Testament reading today. We read that the man and woman ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and realized they were naked. In verse 8, “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”
There is it. The first recorded question from God, “Where are you?” It seems like an easy question. But does it make sense that God who created the heavens, earth, sky, oceans, land, animals, plants, and fish suddenly cannot find the man He created? Should we read this question, “Where are you?” as God needing the man’s help to find the man? Seems a little bit silly that God needs the man’s help. So, why then does God ask the question, “Where are you?” I think we need to consider that God did not ask this question to obtain information. Instead God asked this question to give the man an opportunity to consider what had happened. As we recall, the man and woman had disobeyed God and ate from the tree from which God told them not to eat. Then God came into that same garden, the man and woman hid. God asked, “Where are you?” God was really asking, “What are you going to do now? How are you going to handle the reality you have chosen? Are you going to stay hidden; is that your whole plan? Why not step out into the open and face the truth?” We get this deeper sense of the question, “Where are you?” because the man does not say, “I’m over here.” Instead, in response to God’s question, the man said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so, I hid.” There we have the man’s complete plan. He was afraid of the truth so he just hid. How often do we do the same when confronted with the reality of our own situations?
I read that behavioral psychologists believe that all human relationships exist in tension. The tension comes from two forces: the need to separate and the need to be close. The scene in the garden showed us the tension of God seeking the man to be close to him and behavior of the man showed the tension to separate from God. When the man heard the Lord moving through the garden seeking the man [closeness], the man became fearful and hid. He separated himself from God. Many people do the same thing in their relationship with God. They know that there are things in their past or in their present that is not pleasing to God; so, they avoid Him. Some people hide in their work making their career the focus of their life. Other people hide in their leisure playing sports or working on hobbies as the focus of their life. A few people hide in the comforts of life. Still others avoid God by sleeping in or just staying home in an environment that is free from the reminders of God’s presence.
Here is the key point: When we look away, when we hide, from the one who seeks us, then we have also turned away from the one who can help us, love us, and in the case of God, who can forgive us. When the man hid from God, he rejected the very source of the healing he needed. God sought to create tension in the relationship with the man that the man might come out of hiding and once again come closer to God. We should never seek to separate ourselves from God. It is a tough question when God asks us, “Where are you? Why have you separated yourself from me?”
There is another story that helps us look at separation and closeness with God. Please turn with me to our New Testament reading from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 17, verses 11 through 19.
Luke wrote, “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.” The region of Galilee was home to Jesus and very much a Jewish territory. The region of Samaria was an area Jews avoided because the Jews and the Samaritans had a long history of mutual hatred. Yet Jesus chose to travel in that region as well. Verse 12, “As he [Jesus] entered a village, ten lepers approached him.” Leprosy in Biblical writing refers to a skin disease which disfigured the person and required that the person stay outside the community to avoid spreading the disease to others. Here we have ten people with this illness found together. Their illness creates the tension of separation from community and the tension of seeking out Jesus for healing. Luke said, the ten came close enough for Jesus to know their condition but not so close as to violate any separation rules of the community. “Keeping their distance, they [the lepers] called out, saying, “’Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’” These lepers were showing faith and a desire for God’s grace and restoration of hope. They heard about Jesus’ power to heal and now they have the good fortunate to see Jesus and they call out, “Have mercy on us.” Trying circumstances brought on by serious illness, difficult circumstances, and hopelessness, creates significant tension in our life and often for believers and non-believers there is an overwhelming desire to seek God. We have all heard the expression, “There are no atheists in foxholes;” meaning when a soldier is under fire from the enemy and things seem hopeless, often a prayer is offered, “God, if you exist, get me out of this and I will believe.” I am also here to tell you there are also no atheists in the intensive care unit of the hospital or any other setting where the next day seems hopeless. These lepers outside the city were at that point, life was hopeless, they were dying a little each day from the disease and from separation from the community.
Verse 14, Jesus responded to a request for mercy. “When he [Jesus] saw them [the lepers], he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’” In those days, only a priest could declare a person clean of leprosy and allow the person to become a close member of the community again. Luke wrote, “And as they went, they were made clean.” The leprosy these ten suffered with was gone and their bodies restored. What a joy for these people and what a powerful story about the Jesus’ capacity for mercy and healing. This story could have ended here as other stories about healings by Jesus. However, there was something more to this story. There was something more we need to see, hear, and experience.
Verse 15, “Then one of them [the lepers], when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself [he bowed down] at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And this person was a Samaritan; not a Jew.” We learn in this part of the story that in crisis we are alike. Everyone in a hopeless situation, here Jew and Samaritan, seeks mercy from God. There are no atheists in foxholes and no enemies of God among lepers. Secondly, we learn that the Samaritan, the person trained his whole life to resent the Jews was the only one to return to give thanks for the healing. The implication is the other nine were Jews who did not return. The return of the Samaritan tells us that God does not draw a distinction between people. He is more than willing to enter the life of anyone who seeks Him. This is a key point that we could easily miss. Our identity may concern us, it may even concern others, but it does not concern God. Scripture tells us, “Now, in Christ, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or free, male or female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.” That is our identity. We may think of ourselves as a successful person or a failure; but when we turn to Jesus, God see neither success nor failure in us. We may think of ourselves as having much to offer or having nothing to offer; but when we turn to Jesus and ask for mercy, God sees us all the same, a child seeking his or her father. We may think of ourselves as unworthy to be in God’s presence and we would be right if we did so on our own. But when we turn to Jesus, God sees the righteousness of Christ in us. God chooses to see the cleanliness of Christ in us. When we accept Christ, we accept His identity before God. When we see ourselves in Christ, then we want to praise and worship God. The lepers turned to Jesus, asked for mercy, received healing, but only the Samaritan returned to praise God. The Samaritan saw his identity in Christ.
To this scene of praise, Luke adds some tough questions from Jesus; just as the Lord God had done with Adam in the garden. Our reading says, “Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten [lepers] made clean? But the other nine, where are they?’” God asked Adam, “Where are you?” Jesus asked about the nine other lepers, “Where are they?” Jesus was really asking, “Those who were so desperate for God in their life, what are they doing now? What will they do in response to the reality of being healed by God? Is their plan to separate themselves from God?” The questions are striking and lay unanswered. The questions cause those reading this account, including us, who have received the mercy of God to contemplate how should one respond to God’s grace. It the right response to separate ourselves from God or is it to come closer to Him?
Jesus continued in our text today to ask one final question, “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he [Jesus] said to him [the Samaritan], “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Our Scriptures today ask some tough questions; “Where are you? Where are they?” We have contemplated the significance of these two questions. Having thought about questions from God the Father and God the Son, we are left with just one question for us today, “What shall we do then?” Relationships involve two forces of tension; one causes us to separate and the other causes us to come together. In our relationship with God, which force is stronger? The force to separate or the force to come closer to Him. I have concluded that the more we gather our identity from Christ, the stronger the force is for us to come closer to God. The more we identify with the world, the more about our life we hold back from God, the more we seek to separate from God.
I want to encourage you this week to spend time with God. Do not hide from Him. Do not run away from Him. Seek Him. Turn to Him. Find your identity in Him. Then enjoy His presence and return to Him praising Him. If you will do this, you will find that God will see in you the image of His Son. Let us pray.