December 19, 2007

The God Who Comes Looking

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” (Gen. 3:8, 9, NIV).
2007 1535 page8 capE BIBLE DOCUMENTS MANY instances of the personal interaction between God and fallen humanity. The Lord spoke with Adam and Eve in the garden; He wrestled with Jacob at Peniel; He bargained with Abraham at Mamre; He dialogued with Moses at the bush in Horeb; and also at Horeb He conversed with Elijah in the still small voice.
What these and other encounters tell us is that the God who made the earth, the God who created this planet and the vast universe beyond, is also the God who condescends to covenant with His creatures. And this, more than anything else, is a never-failing source of wonder. But as highlighted in Genesis 3:8, 9, God also aggressively searches for His lost creation. He is not a passive potentate or an absentee landlord; He is the God who comes looking!
It was the “plight,” not the “plea,” of the first pair that occasioned His presence. He was looking while they were hiding, looking even though they wished not to be found. He is like that—this God who comes looking. He does not wait for our dull senses to alert us to our need of Him. He does not withhold His attention until our proud hearts choose to seek Him. Before we call, He is already in the neighborhood of our concern—looking.
Wanted: Righteousness
After all, this is His world, created for His pleasure, made rancid by our disobedience. We have polluted His otherwise perfect creation, and He whose holy nature is antithetical to evil, demands just recompense for our transgressions. Sinners may think that because punishment against evil is not executed speedily, they can, with impunity, transgress His law. But it is not so. The God who comes delivering also comes demanding accurate accountability for all our actions.
2007 1535 page8Humanity cannot escape the looking God. Whether He finds us in the wide wilderness, as with the lost sheep, or within closed confines, as with the lost coin, or in the tree-lined garden of our daily activities, He will find us. David had that in mind when he asked: “Whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Ps. 139:7, KJV). We cannot hide from God. He is everywhere—and He is always looking!
And for what specifically is He looking? The elements of our conduct that are the primary basis of His judgment are stressed by Isaiah, who observed: “He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help” (Isa. 5:7).* It is important to note that the words “justice” and “righteousness” are often linked together in the Scriptures. Psalm 97:2 reads: “Clouds and darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” Psalm 103:6 states: “The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Isaiah 28:17, speaking of God’s will for His people, says: “I will make justice the measuring line, and righteousness the plummet.” And through Amos God looked in derision upon the feast days of those who oppressed and neglected the poor and commanded that they offer to Him instead of fat beasts and the music of praise, justice that “run[s] down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).
The repeated linkage of justice and righteousness in the Old Testament is best understood when we remember that for the Hebrews, little or no difference existed between the two. The view of righteousness as meaning our devotional, privatized, vertical relationships to God, and justice as our ethical, social, or horizontal relations with one another, is a distortion of the later centuries.
For the Hebrews, justice—both distributive (fairness) and corrective (redress for prior harm)—was the defining element not only of God’s righteousness but of that which He required of His people.
The God who pitied Rachel’s condition, the God who saw Lot’s predicament, the God who witnessed Israel’s bondage, the God who felt Naomi’s sorrow, the God who heard Hannah’s cry still views with pain and pity our individual and corporate oppression. He sees our genocide, our infanticide, our tribalism, our ethnic cleansings. He sees our gang wars, our institutionalized racism, our repression of women. He marks the abuse of the poor by politicians who rape the land of its riches. He sees the privileged who fatten their bellies and their bank accounts while helpless children starve. He sees our indifference toward the weeping widows of the land—and He abhors these breaches of righteousness. The last six commandments are no less an expression of His character than the first four. God is just, and someday He will avenge the oppressed and repay the keepers of false balances. He is the God who comes looking.
But to see judgment as the only or even the primary element of His looking is not correct. The grand motive is not our destruction, but our reclamation for restoration to His favor.
Four Questions
This is illustrated, first of all, in His approach to the offenders in Eden. The record is that when He came looking, He came walking in the garden in the cool of the day. He did not come as He might have, flying on the wings of the whirlwind with sword unsheathed or with thunderclap and lightnings of damnation. He did not come in the dead of night when darkness would have intensified the fear and confusion of earth’s first sinners; nor did He come in the early morning as if in haste to slay the disobedient. He came in the cool of the evening, when the last rays of sunshine were glowing upon Eden’s golden fruitage and when the gentle mist sprayed refreshing dew upon its fragrant flowers. It was then, when the guilty pair could best reflect upon their state, that God came looking.
The second indication that it is not summary judgment that God intends in His looking is provided by the fact that in the garden, census preceded censure; explanation preceded excommunication. God’s first attempt when He comes looking is always to awaken us, to impress us with the folly of our sin and the need for His forgiveness and rescue.
His first question of the pair after sin was “Adam, where art thou?” In doing so He was not referring to Adam’s physical location but to the spiritual position he now occupied under law. For Adam the results of sin were more painful than the reality of sin. The God who comes looking always comes evaluating, not just our dilemma but our awareness of our deeds. Before He extracts us from the quagmires of difficulty in which we place ourselves, He first makes us cerebral about our plight and place. He wrestled with Jacob before He changed his name; He queried Elijah before his triumphant return to Samaria; He sobered Jonah before the fish disgorged him; He humbled Peter before He commissioned him to feed His sheep. Before restoration and reconciliation must always be recognition and realization. The God who comes looking knows where we are, but without our recognition, punishment, instead of being instructive, is wasted pain.
The second question, “Who told you you were naked?” emphasizes the nature of our dilemma—one of alien bondage: alien because we have yielded allegiance to false “gods” rather than to the Creator, who alone deserves our loyalty, and bondage because “naked” means our loss of innocence, the invasion of our being with the evil propensities that stamp all our righteousness as “filthy rags.”
The third question, also addressed to Adam, “Have you eaten of the tree that I commanded you not to eat?” emphasizes the core element of our disobedience—ingratitude.
In this light, God’s inquiry “Why have you eaten of the tree that I commanded you not to eat?” is not an “Adam, I told you so!” It is not God standing with the rod of recompense ready to bludgeon the guilty pair. It is, instead, God saying, “Adam, with all I’ve done for you, in the light of our brief but happy relationship—Adam, how could you?”
Sin is not simply defiance. It is disrespect; it is disloyalty; it is selfish ingratitude for God’s blessings.
And the final question posed to Eve, “What is this you have done?” emphasizes God’s absolute fairness and our consummate folly. His fairness provides us the power of choice; our folly causes us to abuse that high and holy privilege.
All this is instructive for our concept of the God who comes looking; but it is verse 15 of Genesis 3 that most clearly demonstrates His covenanting qualities: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” How wondrous! Right on the scene of the crime, while yet distributing His judgments, the Father gives the forlorn pair the promise of a personal Redeemer.
Looking From Within
It is one thing for God to peer over the walls of glory and gaze upon the calamity of humanity from afar. It is one thing for Him to dispatch angels to examine our situation and take back their unerring reports. It is one thing for Him to occasionally appear, as in the case of Moses at the bush, and dazzle us from a distance with His glory. But it is an entirely different thing for God to reduce Himself to our level and come looking through the eyes of earthlings.
2007 1535 page8That God would pull our humanity over His divinity and walk among us is wonderfully inexplicable. But that is exactly what He did. After 4,000 years of looking from without, He came, literally, in the flesh, looking from within. He was not satisfied to remain approachable only through ranks of holy intermediaries, or to speak by proxy to this decadent and doomed planet. He is a different kind of God, this God who comes looking. He is a singular Deity—unique, unduplicated, and unduplicatable—this God who condescended to see and sense as do His fallen creatures. That is why, translated into the most practical of terms, Paul’s words in Galatians 4:4 read: “In the fullness of time—the Creator disguised Himself and lived among the creatures—God came looking” (author’s translation).
We shall never know, nor can our finite minds ever understand, nor will eternity provide sufficient time for us to comprehend that God was willing to personally come looking. The very thought is anomalous. Why, with myriads of celestial angels who love and adore Him? Why, with uncounted galaxies of worlds so numerous that they appear as clouds of dust, or nebulae, to our telescopes? Why, with 99 sheep obediently safe in the celestial fold, would God come looking, loving, longing for this lost world? That is more than amazing, more than marvelous, and appropriately summed up by the incredulity of Isaiah, who cried out: “Who has believed our report?” (Isa. 53:1). And John, frustrated in his attempt to adequately describe God’s amazing grace, gave up his search for adjectives and simply but eloquently exclaimed: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us” (1 John 3:1).
How and When
Consider the logistics of His coming. How did God operationalize His wish to personally look from the viewpoint of humanity? Galatians 4:4 again supplies the answer: “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman” (KJV). How? Ellen White wrote it was by a “painful process, mysterious to angels as well as to men” (The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 915).
And consider the time of His coming. Isaiah had said of the day of His appearing and the spiritual atmosphere of the day: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and . . . darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isa. 60:1, 2, KJV). And it was so. When God came looking—personally looking—the tide of human existence was at its lowest. Four thousand years of sin had well nigh depleted humanity of not only its Edenic vitality but its physical resemblance to the progenitors of our race (see The Desire of Ages, p. 36).
From humanity’s experience in Eden to the time of the Flood, the loss of vitality was gradual. Those before the Flood lived almost 1,000 years. Noah, who survived the Flood, lived 950 years—350 of which were after the Flood. But from the Flood to Bethlehem, the downslide accelerated. Abraham, who was called about the time that Noah died, lived to the age of 175; David, who lived six centuries after Abraham, held threescore and 10 to be a ripe old age. And by Bethlehem, nine centuries after David, longevity was the briefest in human history—22 years of age.
By Bethlehem, our weakened humanity was staggering toward extinction. Infant mortality, blindness, leprosy, insanity, and other crippling infirmities were epidemic. Deadly plagues often destroyed whole families, tribes, and villages. The so-called scientists had no answers. Physicians killed more with their cures than they healed with their instruments. By Bethlehem Satan had made our planet a virtual land of deranged minds and distorted limbs. It was then, when heaven and earth could clearly see the full consequences of Lucifer’s rule, that God personally came looking.
He Paid Our Debt
The price of His coming and looking is far beyond our knowing, but this much we can calculate: it cost 4,000 years of apprehension on the part of unfallen beings who wondered about the plan that allowed sin to exist so long; it cost Jesus 33 years of absence from the throne; it cost Him the disgrace of participation in the sinful processes that He Himself had condemned; it cost Him the ignominy of evil accusations and the shame of being numbered with transgressors. But most of all, as our human Sacrifice, it cost Him His life. He came not just looking; He came loving. And that love drove Him to take our place on Calvary, where He paid a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.
2007 1535 page8That act is highlighted in Genesis 3:21, where God replaced the fig leaves our parents hastily sewed together, with the lamb’s skin He lovingly substituted. The inadequacy of their self-made covering represents the failure of human goodness, and the lamb’s skin the necessity of Christ’s righteousness—our only sufficient covering.
But in order for the covering to be provided, the lamb had to die. Jesus is not only our Good Shepherd, who came looking for His sheep; He is the Lamb slain from the foundation 
of the world. The death He suffered was not just the dying of the sick and aged around Him—the natural death of infected flesh; it was the second death—the juridical, judicial, legal punishment for our sins.
He came looking, looking for ways and opportunities to fulfill prophecy, looking for ways to honor His pledge to the Father. And when He had fulfilled His destiny, He returned to His throne.
God the Son is no longer here physically looking, but He has sent God the Holy Spirit in His place; and through the Holy Spirit He is still the God who comes looking.
But He is no longer looking for ways to save us. Salvation is already assured; the requirements for everlasting life are already met.
What God is looking for now are individuals who will accept Him—men and women who love Him so much that they are willing to turn from their evil habits, leave their binding traditions, disassociate from all that would pollute a pure relationship with Him, and give themselves in service for others.
But to reach them He needs human helpers. He’s looking for ambassadors. He’s looking for those for whom the thrill of personal rescue is so great that they are compelled to share the good news with others.
He is looking today, and He will continue to come looking until at last He comes calling—calling with a shout and with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God.
Shall not we who plan to respond to that call, whether it be with the multitude who will experience resurrection or the remnant who will know translation, gladly accept Him today?
Join me in such a surrender.
*Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Before his retirement in 2001, Calvin B. Rock was a general vice president of the General Conference. He served for nearly 50 years as a pastor, evangelist, administrator, and president of Oakwood College. This article is adapted from an Annual Council sermon.