Where are you?

In that great original story of Genesis, God makes an extraordinary world, places extraordinary creatures in it, and crowns it with his greatest creation of all – human beings – calling them “very good.”  He tells us who we are – made to be in relationship, tasked with the care for all the world, invited to enjoy the paradise and expand it over the entire earth.  The grandest party of all…

…but soon we learn, it is not to last.  Humanity’s first family got suckered into the great lie – a lie about their very identity.  Thomas Merton once said that sin is a case of “mistaken identity concerning our very selves.”  Adam and Eve were offered a new car, a 10,000 square foot home with a pool, a lucrative book deal, their very own reality show…

…and they took it.  We know the rest of story.  Broken dreams.  Thwarted hopes.  Disappointment, suffering, even death.

A case of mistaken identity.  And we’ve lived this story ever since.

Yet, the words we hear from God as he looks for his beloved children in Genesis 3 are, “Where are you?”

Not a demanding, “Get your asses out here.”

Not an angry, “You’re in big trouble.”

Not some guilt-manipulating, “I can’t wait to tell you what you did wrong!”

No.  He says, “Where are you?”  A cry of love.

It’s the very thing we ask ourselves, at times.

I’ll find myself playing a thousand other roles, trying to please, attempting to justify myself, clamoring for approval, or pleasure, or significance, or influence…

…and God will eventually intrude, saying, “Where are you, Chuck?  Where did you go?  This isn’t like you.  Who have you become?  I love you, but I hardly recognize you.”

That’s the essence of sin, after all.  It’s not about some bad behavior.  It’s about losing our way, losing our bearings, losing our sense of identity – a case of “mistaken identity,” as Merton says.  And it happens so easily.

We’re sucked in to an enticing scheme to make some big money.

We’re offered a big job with lots of perks.

We’re enticed by the glance of an attractive person sitting across from us.

We’re energized by the angry energy that comes with feeling ‘right’.

We’re drawn into the animated emotional gravitational pull of a charismatic leader.

We’re crushed into submission by a vocally powerful person in our lives.

And God says, “Where are you?”

Which means, he’s looking for you.  That’s the good news, you see.  Because you feel as if you’re worthless, a sellout who has betrayed your first love.  But God pursues.  And pursues.  And pursues.

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.”  Isaiah 30:18

Because he wants to know you. Not your false self.  Not your concocted version of an acceptable person.  Not your surgically-altered self.  Not your religiously adorned self.  Not your philanthropic sacrifice.  Not your doctrinally-settled self.  Not your emotionally high self.

No, he longs to know you. Can you imagine it?  Because the you that you know is not that impressive, right?  It’s average at best.  Quite unappealing.  Certain not to impress.  Lackluster.  Ordinary.  Insecure.

God sent his son not to save your false self.  Your false self spends its energy in self-justification, in an exhausting attempt to get it right.  It needs grace, but it is not you.

You are hiding.  You’ve found a safe place, or so it seems, behind the fig leaves of reputation and affluence, doctrinal certainty and activistic moralism, energetic pietism and self-sabotaging addiction.

And God is looking for you.  He’ll never stop.

Where are you?  He can’t wait to hear you say, “Right here.  Help me!  I’m here.  And I need you, more than I’ve ever known.”

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For more, check out:

Hiding from God

How our Shame Hinders our Engagement in God’s Mission

Part of my own story includes a lifelong battle with shame.  Ask my Mom and she’ll tell you I came out of the womb fearful.  I was an insecure kid who played it safe for the most part.

Ask a theologian and she’ll tell you that shame is a Garden-grown existential reality.  It’s a part of the Family story.  As the old story goes, Adam and Eve hid from God.  And as Brennan Manning writes, “We all, in one way or another, have used them as role models. Why? Because we do not like what we see. It is uncomfortable—intolerable—to confront our true selves.”

There is much that keeps us from moving out into the lives of others in mission.  Shame may be at the core.  Made for dignity by a God who called us his “image,” our original task was royal ambassadorship of the King.  What a noble call!  For many of us, though, it feels like too much.  God could use me?  Never!

For some of us, even the notion that God has rescued us in Jesus isn’t enough.  We’re still paralyzed by a sense of our depravity, mired in continuing guilt, sucked into an unending cycle of self-doubt, unable to embrace the extraordinary reality that God has taken up residence in us – in you!

Lewis Smedes writes, “Grace overcomes shame, not by uncovering an overlooked cache of excellence in ourselves but simply by accepting us, the whole of us, with no regard to our beauty or our ugliness, our virtue or our vices. We are accepted wholesale. Accepted with no possibility of being rejected. Accepted once and accepted forever.  Accepted at the ultimate depth of our being.”

But we cannot accept ourselves, sometimes.  We sabotage grace, doubting God’s love for us.  And in our shame, we find ways of numbing, coping, dealing.  We drink a little too much, or shop to avoid, or mindlessly surf the internet, or embrace substitute “dramas” (sports, novels, politics), or surgically alter ourselves, or fill ourselves with calories, or look for love in a sexual encounter, or busy ourselves, or feed on moral perfection or theological certainty, or hide behind our titles, or exercise it all away.

Find the most arrogant person you know, and you will find one of the most deeply insecure and ashamed people you know.

Shame.  It’s nurtured, of course, by imperfect parenting and impossible standards of success.  But it’s our birthright as children of Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve hid from God and we all, in one way or another, have used them as role models.

Do you want to learn to love others?  Do you want to engage more faithfully in the mission of God?  Do you want to live selflessly?

First, you need to embrace a love that is total, an acceptance that is unconditional, a grace that is unmerited.  You enter into the mission of God wholly not out of guilt or from some motivational talk or through a need to justify yourself.  You enter it wholly when you know you’re loved and accepted wholly, believed in, smiled upon, held, known, embraced.

…when you encounter the God who calls you the Beloved…

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For more on living the Story God invites you in to, check out: