Is God hiding from us, or are we hiding from God? We often believe we are the ones looking for signs of God’s presence. From God’s first question to Adam and Eve after their rebellion, though, we learn that He is actually the one who seeks us out. Alistair Begg explains that God’s question “Where are you?” shows a Father who reveals Himself, desiring to be in relationship with us. We may try to flee God’s presence, but He will never hide from His people.
We have seven questions which will be the focus of each Sunday evening, the first of which comes tonight in Genesis chapter 3, as, incidentally, does next Sunday’s, if I remember correctly. And so, if you would like to take a Bible, you’ll find it in the pew around you there, and you don’t hardly need to go into it but a few pages, and you’ll come to Genesis chapter 3. I’m going to do what we did down at the university, and that is read only the immediate verses that relate to the question, which means that we’re reading the very brief section that begins at the eighth verse.
“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?’
“He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’”
As a result of some extensive research—namely, that I checked with my colleagues in the office—I’m able to report that while climbing trees is no longer in vogue, hide-and-seek as a children’s game is apparently holding its own, and this despite the growing impact of the microchip on the things that children love to do. And it is an interesting feature of life that no matter where we’ve gone in the world—and I think you would be able to concur with this—crossing racial and language and geographical boundaries, you don’t have to look too hard to discover that children, it would seem, everywhere play with one another at hide-and-seek. Which made me ask the question, “Who started hide-and-seek?” And I concluded this week in my studies that it must’ve started right here in Genesis chapter 3—that what we have here is the original hide-and-seek. Of course, this one is not a game; in fact, as we’re going to see, this one is deadly serious.
The context—at least, the wide context—in which our question comes this evening, here in these opening chapters of Genesis, is a context which makes a statement concerning how our world is tonight. In fact, it makes a unique statement, giving an account of why it is that the world is as it is. Indeed, if you have searched and researched, you will be hard-pressed to find in all of ancient literature any other piece of writing which gives an explanation for the origin of sin and misery in the world. And whether a person accepts this explanation or not, one has to be honest enough to recognize that an explanation is offered.
Usually, when you come to the early chapters of Genesis, if you’re in discussion with people at all, then questions of biology or astronomy or cosmogony become the focus of the conversation that ensues. And it would be a strange group tonight if there weren’t those kind of questions in your mind. But what I’m going ask you to do is to set them aside, at least for now. Not because they’re illegitimate—they are legitimate—but they may prove, actually, to be a diversion from putting ourselves in the position where we are responding to the question that God is asking rather than that we are the ones asking the question.
And the question that is being asked is very straightforward; it’s just three words: God said to the man, “Where are you?” “Where are you?”
Now, the general context is the statements of origin, and the specific context—and if you have a Bible open, you’ll be able to verify this just by looking over the verses before you—the immediate context is of disobedience, it’s of a cover-up, it’s of hiding, and it’s of excuses. Let me just say those words again. They’re words with which all of us are familiar: disobedience, cover-up, hiding, excusing ourselves. I’d be surprised if any one of us has not employed at least one of those mechanisms in the week that is past. And what we discover is that the central character here—namely, Adam—who has been made by God and made for God, is actually running away from God. And that in itself is not unique either, because shrinking from God is something in which each of us share. Adam here in Genesis 3 is blazing a trail away from God. He’s attempting to solve the story of life, to give an explanation to reality, while at the same time turning his back on the God who has made him, leaving God completely out of the picture. And in that respect, he’s not unusual, he’s not dissimilar to many people in Cleveland this evening, and perhaps even some who are here. You may have come tonight, and you have made your journey through life to this point in life, seeking to explain life, to make significance out of life, while all the time running on the road away from God.
Now, his plan, as we discover, proves to be as futile as it is foolish. And despite the fact that it is foolish and futile, the road is crowded with people. Oh, they’re not all there in Genesis 3, but very quickly the company grows. When Paul writes about the company, he speaks in these rather remarkable terms in Romans chapter 1: he says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” It’s not simply that they don’t understand the truth; it is that they “suppress the truth.” “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” Now, what Paul is referencing here is, essentially, the creation narratives, and he’s saying God established the universe; he made the world; he put man, he put woman, in that world; and very quickly, they began to run from him. And tonight I say to you again that men and women are running down that very crowded street.
Now, to make that kind of decision is not inconsequential; in fact, the Bible makes it clear that the consequences are significant. And if you read this for your homework—and I hope some of you will—you will discover that man quickly becomes dislocated: dislocated from his environment, dislocated from himself, dislocated from his spouse, and, as it turns out, dislocated from his children. Thus posing the question for any thoughtful person: How is it ever possible that somebody could be put in a position of such pristine beauty and such wonderful opportunity and make a hash of it so quickly and so detrimentally? That’s really the question that’s on many people’s minds as they try and come to terms with the circumstances in which we are living.
Which war was it that was going to be the war that ended all wars? Was it the First World War? I think maybe the Second World War. Did it? No. Those of you who read the New York Times will have read, I think, David Brooks’s column—I didn’t, but it was sent to me very helpfully by one of my fellow New York Times readers—his column of September 4, in which he was reflecting on the impact of Hurricane Katrina and making these observations. And this is what he wrote: “The scrapbook of history accords but a few pages to each decade, and it is already clear that the pages devoted to this one will be grisly. There will be pictures of bodies falling from the twin towers, beheaded kidnapping victims in Iraq and corpses still floating in the waterways of New Orleans five days after the disaster that caused them.” He then goes on to observe, “It’s already clear that this will be known as the grueling decade. … [We] have had to acknowledge dark realities that it is not in our nature to readily acknowledge.” And then he lists them as follows: one, “the thin veneer of civilization”—you saw the anarchic behavior, post-Katrina, that caused people to say, “Is our civilization as tenuous as this?”; secondly, “the elemental violence in human nature”; thirdly, “the lurking ferocity of the environment”; fourthly, “the limitations on what we can plan and know”; fifthly, “the cumbersome [reaction] of [bureaucracy]”; and sixthly, “the uncertain progress good makes over evil.”
Now, any thinking person with their newspaper before them and with life before them in the mirror is forced somehow or another to try and make sense of this. Why are things the way they are? And simultaneously, man by nature says, “Whatever the explanation may be, I am not buying any explanation that has to do with a creator God, with man turning his back on God, with the consequences that emerge from that.” And so he or she steps out on the road of life to try and make sense of reality absent the existence of a God to whom they are accountable. And what Genesis 3 is saying, essentially, is this: that the moral and spiritual pileup, the wreck on the freeway of twenty-first-century society, is directly tied to the response of Adam to all that God had provided for him in the pristine beauty of these original days.
Now, with that as the context in which this question is set, let me observe three things concerning the question—and I’m going to take just a moment on each of them, you may be assured.
Although I think in the card we called it “a grieved question,” I want to suggest to you that this is, first of all, an unusual question—unusual in this respect, first of all: that it turns on its head the common notion, which is that man is looking for God, and God is hiding from man; that somehow or another, God has taken the telephone off the hook, if he exists; he is not returning calls, he cannot be reached; that he is hiding somewhere in the universe, and there must be a mechanism whereby we can go and discover him. What the Bible is actually saying here is the total reverse of that: that we are the ones who are hiding from God, and God is the one who comes asking of us the question, “Where are you?”
It’s unusual, secondarily, insomuch as God is not in need of information, so why is he asking a question? If God knows everything, why is he asking where Adam is? Well, in one sense, it is rhetorical. But as we’ll see in a moment, it is more than that. When God asks questions in the Bible, it’s usually in order to provide information to those he is addressing—so that in actual fact, by posing this question, he’s asking Adam and Eve to face up to where they really are. “Where are you?” He wants Adam to discover where he is.
And thirdly, it’s unusual inasmuch as it has more than a geographical or a physical dimension to it. It’s a bit like when you meet somebody these days, and they say to you, “Where are you in your head?”—which I always thought as a very interesting question. “Where are you in your head?” In other words, “What’s going on in there behind your eyes? Where are you, really?”
“Well, I’m here.”
“Yes, I know you’re physically here, I know you’re geographically there, but where are you? Where are you at?”—or whatever it might be.
That’s what God is really saying: “Now, where are you at, Adam? Where are you at? Face up to where you’re at. This is where you were; look at where you are. Where are you, Adam?” It’s an unusual question.
Secondly, it’s a kind question; in fact, the fact that it’s a question is ipso facto kind. God didn’t need to ask a question. God could’ve reacted in many different ways. If he’d reacted strictly in justice, he could’ve brought about the sentence of death that he had promised instantaneously, immediately, and wrapped the whole thing up for them. But he comes with a question, to draw them out rather than to drive them out. He appears in the garden not with a stick to chastise nor with a prod to poke, but he comes into the garden, and it is his voice which pierces their hidden territory.
So it is a very kind question, isn’t it? That he comes by means of his voice. And what we have here is actually the very first indication of God’s grace after men and women have turned their backs on him. What’s the very first thing God is going to do after he’s given them clear instructions, “Do this, do this, do this, do this, do this, and have a lovely time, but don’t do that,” and they do that. We’re all ears; what is he going to say now? And he comes with a question. “’Scuse me, where are you?” How kind!
That’s what the Bible calls grace: where God does not give to men and women what they justly deserve but, on the basis of his immense kindness, grants to men and women what we don’t deserve —and no more so when, in the incarnation, he comes in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is the Word made flesh. People marveled at the words that he spoke; he spoke with kindness and straightforwardness, tenderness and care. It’s surely striking, is it not, that when God steps down into time, that he comes to speak, and in speaking, not to condemn but to convince and to draw?
The religious authorities of Jesus’ day hated the fact that he did this. They didn’t like the fact that he was there as a shepherd, that he was seeking to save lost people. They would have been far happier if he came just to establish a religious club and put a lot of people in it that were just like them, that knew a lot of things in their heads but they were never changed by them. They didn’t like the fact that he was very happy to go to the promiscuous and call them, that he was happy to go to the dregs of society and reach them, that he was happy to go to the tax collectors and the thieves and the folks who were disreputable and speak to them, call out to them.
Now, if you’re thinking, you must have reached this question, haven’t you? What is there in Adam to compel God to go looking for him? And you have your answer, don’t you? Nothing. Nothing! So why does he do it? Because of the kind of God he is. It is his kindness which draws men and women to turn their backs on sin and to turn to him in repentance. God operates according to his own good pleasure. His approach to men and women is the approach of love. And he comes announcing his intention to save.
Well, we must finish, because I said I would speak for fifteen minutes; now I’m already at fifteen and a quarter. It is not only an unusual question and a kind question, but it is a personal question. And it is in that sense an unavoidable question, not only by Adam, to whom it is addressed, but to each of us as individuals, because the Bible speaks to us asking the same question: Where are you?
Now, if you do your homework and read this chapter—in fact, if you read chapters 1, 2 and 3—you may see yourself in Adam’s evasive response. “Where are you?” His answer, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” God might have said, “Just answer the question, Adam.” And then immediately he begins to pass the buck: “The woman you put here with me, she got into some business with the fruit, she gave it to me. I did it, but it’s not me, it’s her; in fact, it’s not her, it’s you. You’re the one that gave me the woman; therefore, ultimately you’re responsible for this predicament; therefore, it’s not my problem, it’s your problem.”
Have you been there? Why doesn’t God do something? It’s his problem; he did this, he made this, he messed this thing up. Unprepared to face the responsibility that comes with our God-given freedom. What Adam and Eve did, they did knowingly, they did willfully, they did freely; they were not programmed to do it any more than you have been programmed to do one single thing you ever did when it comes to turning your back on God and denying his existence.
Now, it’s a very personal question. You may even hear your own voice in Adam’s excuses, his attempts to shift the blame. You may actually come to recognize that your thinking is crooked the way that Adam’s thinking was crooked. Now, I said this to the university students; I’m not sure they liked it, because they’re all down there with size 12 brains. I was down in the context where human reason and intellectual capacity forms the basis of unbounded confidence, and there they sit, and I said to them, “Do you realize that your intellect is not a citadel that is unaffected by sin? Do you realize that you can’t think properly?” Well, I ran away early so I could come here; I don’t know what they made of it.
But you see, Adam’s not thinking properly, is he? His rebellion has affected his thinking. No sensible person would assume that they could hide from God behind a tree. How silly is that?
“Where are you?”
“Oh, you didn’t know? You don’t see me over here? I’m here.”
“Don’t be crazy, Adam. You think you can hide from me behind a tree?”
But think about it: you think you can hide from God, many of you, don’t you? You don’t think he sees you there in that corner office. You don’t think he sees you in your girlfriend’s apartment. You don’t think he sees you in those places, but he sees you. And the ultimate seeing that he does is not the significance of your geographical or physical locality but is the seeing into your soul and where you are in relationship to the pursuing love of God.
So the thinking of men and women is skewed, it is warped. Why is it that so many phenomenally intelligent people flat out resist the Bible? Why is it that we find ourselves saying again and again, “Why do people not understand or get this?” Because sin has affected the way in which they think! We tend to think that somehow or another, our ability to rationalize things, our ability to think things out, takes place, if you like, in some island that is unaffected by the moral impact of sin—and it isn’t the case. So we have to ask God to forgive us our sins, because the sinful mind is hostile to God.
So with this we finish. The question “Where are you?” is a question which makes clear to the reader the fact that God is a God who chooses to reveal himself, not hide himself, and makes clear to the reader that God is a God who is very interested in establishing a relationship with those whom he has made, even though those whom he has made have turned defiantly against him.
Have you ever experienced unrequited love? Have you ever written letters or called someone, extending your love to them, expressing your devotion for them? I listened as a young girl talked to a friend on the phone—actually, one of our nieces—during the summertime. She got involved in this big conversation because her friend was on the receiving end of these great affirmations of devotion from one of her friends at university. A young man had called up and put his life on the line and said, “You know, I love you with a passion, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” And she’d called our niece to say, “How do I tell him to get lost?” My heart went out to him—I’ve never met him—I thought, “Oh, can you imagine what that must be like, to wait and hear that phone call coming back: ‘I know you’re a very nice boy, but I never want to see you again’?” Oh, he may never even mention her name, he may turn his back on her forever, he may spit on the ground every time he remembers her unrequited love: “If you don’t like me, then I don’t like you.”
But God’s not like that. He is a seeking God, a saving God, a revealing God, a relationship-creating God, a God who speaks down the corridors of time to you and me tonight with an unusual, kind, personal question: “Where are you?”
 Romans 1:18 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 1:19 (NIV 1984).
 David Brooks, “The Bursting Point,” New York Times, September 4, 2005, https://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/04/opinion/the-bursting-point.html.
 Brooks, “The Bursting Point.”
 See John 1:14.
 Genesis 3:12 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.