Hide and Seek
“Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?”
“I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for Him, sir.”
You might recognize these lines from the classic 1994 film Forrest Gump.
There, Lieutenant Dan asks Forrest this question. Forrest, as he often does in the story, misses the point but somehow still manages to transcend the question and the moment. It’s a striking scene. Questions like these expose both characters for who they are. They expose us for who we are.
If we were honest, the question Lieutenant Dan asks reveals a startling, functional truth. Most of us think Jesus is hiding. Like a third grader who doesn’t realize the game of hide and seek is over, Jesus is hiding in churches or Bible studies or small groups, and we’ve got to go find him. Maybe there, we think, in those places, he’ll pop out and say, “You found me! What took you so long?”
We all long for transcendence, don’t we? But why does it always seem just beyond our grasp? Maybe there’s something wrong with our approach. It’s a strange thing when we put God in the role of the hider and us in the role of the finder.
That’s not the biblical story at all.
There, we see people who hide from God, and God becomes the seeker. He seeks out Adam and Eve. He seeks out Abraham. He seeks out Jacob. He seeks out Israel. And on and on.
Perhaps the reason we like it the other way around is because we like the control of being the one in charge of the search. After all, it’s more comfortable to see God as a goal and not a person. And it’s definitely easier and safer to have a relationship with religious activity rather than a relationship with the living God.
Would it be a stretch to say that much of our contemporary religious activity is little more than a covert effort to hide as Adam and Eve once hid from God? That many of us are more inclined to have a relationship with the things we do (or think we do) for God than with God himself? That we would rather God be a tool to be used than a person to get to know?
One of the more frightening passages of Scripture deals with this very thing. There, Jesus describes a chilling scene that should shake all of us “church” people to our core.
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! (Matt. 7:21-23)
Did you notice what Jesus doesn’t say?
He doesn’t say, “You didn’t learn about me.”
He doesn’t even say, “You didn’t know me.”
He says, “I. Never. Knew. You.”
Apparently, it’s possible to say all the right things and even do spectacular things for God … and still not be known by God.
I’m not sure what to do with that. I think saying the right thing is incredibly important. I think doing good things is hugely valuable. But none of it matters if God doesn’t know us. Or rather, if we don’t allow God to know us.
The fact is, the only way Jesus can say this is if we are the ones keeping it from happening. We are the ones who keep him at a distance. We are the ones who refuse relationship. God isn’t hiding. We are.
Some people hide in bars. Some people hide in church. Some hide behind arguments. Some hide behind anger. Some hide behind accomplishments. Some play victims. Some just … play. But all of us hide. All of us try to keep busy so we don’t have to answer the big questions. About life. About death. About ourselves.
It’s a funny game when you think about it. Kind of like a child covering their eyes with their hands. If I can’t see you, you’re not there.
But God isn’t hiding. He isn’t distant. He’s seeking.
Jesus doesn’t need us to do things for him. He didn’t die on the cross to increase his labor force. He went to the cross so he could be known to us and so we would feel safe to be known by him. To come out of the shadows. To step out in all our nakedness and anger and shame and pride and let him cover us as God once covered Adam and Eve.
Now, is there work to do? You bet. Does understanding this mean we are now about our Father’s business? Of course. But starting down that road without being known by God will lead to a life of working for heaven instead of being known by God. Of seeing God as an unrelenting boss rather than a Father. Of using prayer as a means to an end instead of a means to relationship.
But here’s the thing most of us miss. It’s the reason most of us slink back into the shadow, into busyness, into defining ourselves by our work or by what others think of us (which is really just the story we create and sell to them). God is not ashamed of you.
I hope you can hear that. God, and especially as revealed in Jesus, doesn’t ask you to clean yourself up before he accepts you. He wants to know you, not fix you.
When we think that, we don’t just lose out on knowing God; we lose out on finding out who we really are. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, you can gain the whole world and still end up losing your very self in the end. I believe this is because God made our souls to grow with him. Like a plant that can only grow in certain soil, our very being can only grow in relationship with the God who made us. This is why he calls of out of hiding. Not to scold us. But to make us who we were always meant to be.
Because salvation isn’t just about where we spend eternity. It’s about who we become in the presence of God. It’s about the journey back to our true selves. God is writing a story in which we get to choose whether or not to step into his story or write our own. To have relationship with him or with our own standard of goodness or badness.
There’s a reason the people in the story Jesus tells point to the things they did. That’s what they had a relationship with. Not with Jesus. I think that hurts him deeply. And from the looks of the story, it makes him pretty angry too.
Maybe the question is not whether or not we’ve found Jesus, but whether or not we’re ready to stop hiding. Behind both our goodness and our badness. Maybe the question is whether or not we are ready to be found.