Sunday, July 05, 2020

Hide and Seek

“You will ... find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

“I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.”

Do those two statements sound the tiniest bit contradictory? They aren’t really. They might contradict each other if they were both promises, and both given to exactly the same people under precisely the same circumstances, but they are not. One is a promise; the other is simply an observation, though a singularly important one for those it affects.

Either way, the notion that God is out there to be found — and, even better, willing it to happen — is something about which we ought to rejoice.

Promise and Reward

The first of these two verses, which comes from the book of Jeremiah, does not stand alone. It sets forth a principle — a precious promise, really — which was made not just to the men and women of Judah in Jeremiah’s day, but to people of all times, covenants and dispensations. It is in God’s nature to reveal himself to those who make the effort to discover him. He is pleased by human energy directed at the highest possible priority to which any created being may aspire: the knowledge of the Almighty.

So God promises men and women he is willing to be found if we are willing to make every effort to find him.

We find the Lord saying something not terribly dissimilar to Cain way back in the first few chapters of Genesis: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” That is to say, “Cain, if you want to discover what pleases me and do it, that option is entirely open to you. And now that I have shown my displeasure with your offering, you know exactly how to get it right the next time.” Really, God was saying, “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart, Cain.” That is what God’s reprimand boils down to.

That assurance came with a more ominous corollary: If you don’t, you won’t. Fail to “do well” — fail to respond to God according to the knowledge he has made available to you — and sin is crouching at your door. Cain didn’t, and sin was.

A Promise Repeatedly Repeated

But the promise resurfaces in the Law of Moses all the same. Israel is told, “You will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Then in the Psalms David testifies, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” And Jeremiah is not the only prophet to confirm God’s promise to reward those who seek him. Hosea says, “It is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Amos confirms, “Seek the Lord and live.”

In the gospels, the Lord Jesus tells his followers, “Seek, and you will find.” In the epistles, the book of Hebrews declares, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

So then, this is a profound spiritual principle repeatedly echoing throughout the pages of scripture. If you miss it in the Law, you will find it in the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels or the Epistles; if you miss it all those places, you can probably find the principle illustrated 100 times in the books of Bible history. From Abel to Enoch to Jacob to Samuel to Rahab to Ruth to David to Joash to Jehoshaphat to Hezekiah to Ezra and Nehemiah, the principle is this: God wants to be sought out, and he solemnly promises to make the search worth our while.

It’s that simple. Many have taken him up on the offer over the course of human history, and all alike have found him to be everything we were looking for and much, much more.

Found by Those Who Didn’t Seek

The second of these verses is equally interesting, and the principle it contains almost as well-attested: “I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.” Paul quotes this verse from the prophecy of Isaiah in his letter to the Romans, where it appears he intends it to apply to the Gentile nations to whom God was in the process of sending the gospel. But if we go back to Isaiah and read it in context, we will see that it is originally addressed to the same wayward people of Judah whom Jeremiah would address a century later. That’s important, because while we might have excused the Gentiles for failing to seek that which had not been revealed to them, we may not be so forgiving of the nation God chose to bear his name in the world.

And yet God often sets out to draw back to himself even hardened sinners who should have known better. The wise woman of Tekoa’s argument to David — that God “devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast” — was so persuasive because it reflects a wonderful truth found elsewhere in scripture: as Jeremiah says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Despite its repeated idolatry, abandonment of his law, and even the rejection and crucifixion of his beloved Son, God has not ceased to deal with Israel in love. That nation can look forward to further expressions of God’s faithfulness in a future day.

What is being said about God in Isaiah is something more than that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. It is that his grace abounds to such a degree that it extends even those who would not have thought to seek him at all: “I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that did not call upon my name.” Where the first verse speaks of a reward faithfully given to those who seek God with all their hearts, this verse is sheer grace toward those who did not: an opportunity to know the One they had not sought out and who owes them nothing.

More Than a Rewarder

That God is even more than a rewarder of those who seek him is of huge importance to us when we read passages like this:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
Here the apostle Paul is quoting a famous Old Testament psalm which begins with the phrase, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ” So David is speaking of the atheist or the atheist-in-practice when he goes on to say, “They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Obviously David did not include himself among these, nor did he include “my people”, who he mentions later in the same psalm. There were still men and women who sought God in the world, though they were exceedingly uncommon both in Israel and among Israel’s oppressors. But one important implication of what Paul is saying in quoting this particular psalm among others, I think, is this: If only those who sought God had any hope of finding him, all but a very few of us would be lost. But God does more than just reward the few who seek him; he continually shows undeserved love to those who don’t. He offers opportunity to the rebel, and calls out to those who reject him. As Isaiah continues:
“I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices.”
That is grace.

Ready to be Found

The knowledge of God is a tremendously valuable thing. A personal relationship with the Almighty is more to be desired than anything on earth. But God has not played a game of hide and seek with something so precious, though he would have been perfectly just to have done so. Instead, he is always ready to be found by those who have not yet sought him out, if only they will turn from sin and self before it is too late.

And amen to that.

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