The seeking God

In wanting to find God we must have a yearning and longing for Him.

James J. Londis, PhD, retired pastor and professor, resides in Ooltewah, Tennessee, United States.

God has promised, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord” (Jer. 29:13, 14).Contrast this promise to what happened in Eden. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ ” (Gen. 3:8, 9). The Genesis narrative of Adam and Eve suggests that when guilty and fearful, we hide from God. But the good news is that He commits to helping us come out of our hiding place. God knows where we are in the garden but does not let us know He has found us until we are ready
to be found.

Look at the story of the prodigal son. Abusing his father by demanding his inheritance too early, he ends up penniless, forced to care for pigs in a “far country.” Unable to physically hear his father’s voice calling to him, his memory sparks a longing that forces him to journey back home anyway. Embraced and restored by his father to full sonship, he realizes that even though he lost his father; the father never lost him.

Or consider the experience of Saul of Tarsus. Looking for God within a Judaism that encouraged him to treat Jewish believers in Jesus as enemies, Saul encounters Jesus Christ, who finds him on his way to Damascus and turns his life in an entirely new direction.

Finally, think of Job, a faithful believer in deep distress over undeserved suffering. He screams: “Why is this happening to me at the hands of a just God? Come out and face me!” (Job 24:1–7). He feels that God is hiding during his anguish.

Many, too, in the modern world feel that God is hiding from them. Look at some of the recent book titles: Finding Our Father, Is God Real? Rumors of Angels, The Hidden God, The Death of God, Where Was God in the Holocaust? The God Who Is Absent, The Elusive Presence. If believers want to help their neighbors experience God—the
only route to a lasting faith—we must understand how we hide from God, how God tries to “find” us, and where the seemingly “hidden” God can be found.

Being found by God

God often finds us in the suffering and disruptions that both seize us and obscure Him. I once facilitated a medical ethics discussion group of first-year medical students at a state university, during which we watched a video depicting how six specialists faced their life-threatening situations. Three of them recovered while the remainder knew that recovery was medically impossible. Lying in bed because he was chronically tired from the ravages of his disease, one of the latter three specialists observed in a quiet, authentic way that this experience had changed him in surprising ways.

First, he now understood what people meant when they spoke about caring for the whole person and not just for the diseased body. He saw clearly that the personal relationships between caregivers and patients are critical to proper care, especially for the dying.

Second, this specialist was surprised that his disease made him more receptive to the spiritual dimension. “I am not a religious person. That is why this experience comes as a surprise to me.” While tentative and careful in his choice of language, he said: “I really believe I have had an experience with God.” Sitting in the front row, I turned around to observe student reactions to this testimony. They were listening intently to this older man, who might have been one of their mentors.

According to Lewis Wilkins, people who experience God unexpectedly or who sense themselves growing in spiritual ways “talk about [events like] . . . moving from being single to being married—or being married to being single. They talk about what happened to them in moving from being children to being parents, after the birth of their
first child. They talk about transitions brought about by the death of a parent or spouse. They talk about what happened to them between pulling up roots in one place and putting down roots in a new place far away. . . . They describe what happened between getting fired from one job and getting hired in another one.”2

In other words, disruptive events—even those we know are coming—may afford an experience of being found by God. Even if we are not looking for a spiritual encounter, it can happen anyway. In that sense, we feel “found.” It is no accident that people in prison, people on the battlefield, people in personal and family crises, often feel God touching them when they least expect it. 

God may also find us in moments when our yearnings and longings seem more than we can bear. While eating together in their local restaurant, Kramer, the zany neighbor on the television show Seinfeld, once told George Costanza, his insecure, self-doubting friend, that he had a “yearning” for something.

“Do you ever yearn?” he asked George, who, nonplused by the question, stammers, “Well, I have a craving, but I don’t know if I have a yearning.” We all have deep yearnings. One of them seized the prodigal son: a yearning for home.

Years ago, I attended a family wedding. For the first time in more than a decade, my Greek aunts, uncles, and cousins were going to get a good look
at my adult children as well as my daughter-in-law. After the wedding, on our way to the reception, I took our two-car caravan through my old neighborhoods, stopping first at the apartment of my Greek grandparents, where I shared many joyous hours eating Greek food. Next, we slowly drove by my maternal grandmother’s basement
apartment, a place that served as a refuge from some difficult childhood challenges. Inexplicably, sadness tightened its grip on me. Lightheaded, I took a deep breath and told my family that this return was more unsettling for me than I had anticipated. My grandparents and my mother were gone. My happiest moments as a child—and some of my most painful—were in these places. It occurred to me that I intentionally left this childhood home when I was 14 years old because I had found in the church the home of my longings. As Walter Brueggemann noted: “The sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless is pervasive in our contemporary culture. The yearning to belong somewhere, to have a home, to be in a safe place, is a deep and moving pursuit.”3

We long for the familiar and reliable, for a place where we know who we are and where we belong, a place where we are recognized, affirmed, and energized by a depth of meaning. Like Gandhi’s yearning for the Indian village or President Obama’s longing for his father’s home, we want a place where we feel “familiar.”

Elie Wiesel stated, “The Bible begins with the letter bet. It begins with bet, not an aleph, because we are meant to discover that the beginning belongs to God, not to us. But—why a bet, not a gimmel or a yod? Bet is a house. Thus we are told that the Book of Books is a shelter, a dwelling place. A place in which men and women laugh and weep, read and write, work and sleep. A place in which people love one another before they start quarreling—or the other way around. In other words, it is a home. In the Bible, as in life, the home precedes everything else. It precedes even life itself. First God created the world. Adam and Eve came later.”4

While working at the Kettering Medical Center, I got close to a physician raised in a military family. His medical training, paid by the Air Force, was amortized in his postgraduate service. After completing his service, he joined our staff. When I asked him where “home” was, he could not identify it. “We moved too often to be identified with one place. The military is my home.” That comment stunned me. Yet, I thought to myself, many pastoral and missionary families who move frequently might say the same thing: “The church is my home.” As Robert Frost observed: “Home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in.”5 For believers, it is the fellowship of the church.

Finding a home with God

So in certain situations, God does find us. But how do we find God? To begin with, we find God in preaching and human manifestations of divine love. In Romans 10:20, Paul argues that the rejection of Yahweh led to the creation of the Christian community. He quotes Isaiah 65:1: “ ‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’ ”

Paul attaches the power of preaching to the power of the good news of Jesus’ life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Beyond preaching, however, when the gospel manifests its power in the new lives of those baptized into Christ’s fellowship, believers are further persuaded that they are home. The message and experience together are the “power of God” unto salvation. New Testament scholars agree that seeing the faith-experience of fellow believers becomes critical to our own. “According to Paul, the center of our experience is in other people.”6 Instead, “it is only through other people that we can be in relationship with God, and then . . . [recognize] manifestations of
God in our experience.”7

God speaks to us and finds us in loving and being loved by each other. When Paul urges us to “consider others better than ourselves” in Philippians 2:3, he does not urge upon us a false humility as much as a focus: If we are looking for God’s reality in others rather than in ourselves, we are more certain to find it. Faithful witnesses to God’s faithfulness in sending Christ as our Redeemer, they are the “living sacrifices” mentioned in Romans 12:1, 2, whose lives reveal the God of Jesus Christ.

A danger always exists, however. “Once again, the church is a precious gift from God, but we are easily so devoted to the work of the church, to the activities of the church, that we are not free to recognize God’s activity beyond the church. Indeed, the church . . . is a precious gift from God, yet it should not be viewed as an absolute
that we should serve, but rather as a means to help us serve God in the world where God is also at work.”8 If God is at work in the world, not just in the church, we must acknowledge that the world can bear witness to God’s will for us, as it did in the Civil Rights movement.

We find God in the “other” and in the “fellowship.” We find God where sinners are being converted from death to life, where fellow believers are faithful in the midst of their suffering for the gospel, and where God manifests his power in the world through people and movements devoted to reconciliation and peacemaking.

We seek for God; God seeks for us. Truly, we should be found of each other.

1 All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version.

2 Lewis Wilkins, unpublished paper, “Eucharist and Growth: Theological Strategies for Nurture,” in Daniel Patte, Preaching Paul (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 18.

3 Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place As Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 1.

4 Elie Wiesel, The Longing for Home, ed. Leroy S. Rouner (Indiana: Notre Dame Press, 1996), 17.

5 Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man” in North of Boston (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915), lines 122, 123.

6 Patte, Preaching Paul, 37.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid., 77.

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James J. Londis, PhD, retired pastor and professor, resides in Ooltewah, Tennessee, United States.

September 2016

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