A sermon by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.
August 18, 2013
It must be the oldest game around. Anybody can play – from age two to 102. It only takes two players. There is no time limit on the game. Everybody in this room, at one time or another, has engaged in a good, old fashioned game of hide and seek. One person who is “it” counts to a predetermined number – usually 10 – while all the other players, one or more, run and conceal themselves. The “it” player must, in turn, go and search, seek and find those who have tried to hide themselves.
The largest game of hide and seek ever recorded involved 1,240 participants and took place at Stendan University in Katara Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar, on February 10, 2012. This world’s largest game was a student project for a management class. All the participants arrived early in the morning to register, with each participant being given a sticker that would be removed when they were found by “It.” All caught had to remain in “jail” or the “caught out” area during the entire game. (www.guinnessworldrecords.com)
While some people think the game found its origins in the 1600s, I think it started with the first child. Isn’t it just an extended version of peekaboo – the cross-cultural game in which a child loves to be startled by someone who pops out and says “boo”? Remember that developmental stage where children put their hands over their eyes and, in doing so, they think you can’t see them because they can’t see you. You’re not there if they can’t see you. We laugh at their distorted view of reality that, somehow, we’re gone simply because their hands are over their eyes. Their limited vision, indeed, does not change the reality of our presence.
Did you hear that? Their limited vision does not change the reality of our presence.
I think the ultimate hide and seek game to ever be played would be a game against God. How would you like to play hide and go seek and let God be “It”? Of course, the problem is there is nowhere you can hide that God will not only see you but also be there with you. God is always present, even if not accounted for.
I tried to think through various biblical texts where someone had attempted the game of hide and seek with God. I found a couple. You, perhaps, can think of others.
Doesn’t the whole story begin with a game of hide and seek with God? Adam and Eve sinned – that first, fallen humanity. They see that they are naked. They hear the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And the man and his wife – what does it say in Genesis 3:8 – “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden.” The story of humanity begins with a game of hide and seek. God is “It,” and you can’t hide from God. Adam and Eve – thinking that the trees would hide them from the maker of the trees.
The Lord called out to the man and said, “Where are you?” And Adam said, “I heard your sound in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked. So I hid myself.” And then they had the conversation concerning the fall.
Or, I’m reminded of Jonah. The Lord told Jonah, “Arise. Go to Ninevah and preach.” But Jonah – that’s the way the verse begins (1:3) – Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Jonah 1:3 says that he’s trying to get away from “the presence of the Lord.” But the Lord is in the wind. The Lord is in the waves. The Lord is in the big fish. Hiding from God did not work so well. The word of the Lord, therefore, comes to Jonah yet a second time. “Arise and go to Ninevah.” Hide and seek with God is not always so pleasant, especially when God is “It.” So Jonah arose and went to Ninevah.
I thought of one more occurrence in the gospel of John – John 20. Following the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples, in John 20, are hiding from the Jews. Lest they be next on a cross, they are hiding from the Jews. They were “shut up,” John tells us – shut up by fear. Jesus, the “It” in this game, came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” You can’t play hide and seek with the Lord who walks through the walls, who knows where you are at all times.
Isn’t that what the writer of Proverbs is telling us?
You’ll be glad to know that today’s sermon has one point, and one point only. God is in every place. There is no escaping God. God sees.
Isn’t that what the psalmist discovered? “Lord, you searched me and you know me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it all. Where can I escape from you, O Lord? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold Thou art there” (Psalm 139).
There is no escaping God. The all-seeing God inspects every corner of the universe unhindered, unwearied. Even as the ungodly try to hide – as Adam tried to camouflage himself in the garden – God does see them. His eyes are in every place. Heaven, hell, the secret places of the earth – all are open to Him. You can shut out the sun in the darkness of the cave, but you can never shut out the eyes of God.
But God also sees the good. He sees His children when they are in the fiery furnace or rocking in the waves of the sea. His eyes pierce the prison walls and he covers the heads of His children on the day of battle. When you think of the omnipresence of God, when you think of the omnipotence of God, it’s sort of silly that someone thinks that they can withdraw from their relationship with God. You might be able to divorce your husband or your wife, but there is no getting away from God. He is everywhere, every place, in every thought. He sees, He hears, He knows.
God is infinite. He is unlimited, but He is also unlimitable. In that way, God is unlike anyone or anything else that you experience. Even the ocean is not infinite. It has a bottom. It has a shore – boundaries made by the hands of the creator of the cosmos.
God is not confined by space at all. All finite objects have a location. Even if they are enormous in size, they have a place – a limited place. Everything and everyone is somewhere, which means they are not somewhere else. When it comes to God, you’re not even supposed to ask, “Where is God?” because there is no place where God is not.
A young girl who was returning from Sunday School sat by a man on a bus one day. The man, apparently an unbeliever, seeing her Sunday School paper, decided to make fun of her. “Tell me where God is and I’ll give you an apple.” The little girl said, “Sir, you tell me a place where God isn’t, and I’ll give you a basket of apples.”
God is the one who created space. He’s not limited by space. God was before there was space. You can’t give God a GPS device and follow His movement. Paul himself said God does not dwell in man-made shrines because He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He made the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24-25). There is nowhere in God’s creation where God is inaccessible. Jeremiah quotes God as saying, “Am I only a God nearby and not a God far away?” (Jeremiah 23:23).
God’s glory fills all of heaven and all of earth. We cannot hide in secret places from Him. God speaks like heaven is His throne and earth is His footstool. The idea that humans could confine God by building Him a dwelling place is sheer folly. In fact, the last words of Jesus are about the infinity of God. He told His disciples to go witness everywhere, even to the end of the earth. And He would be with them to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
God is not like the other gods with limitations. Some of you, even this morning, are in a new place, a scary place, a dark place. You need to know that God is there.
The passage I write in the front of the Bible of every one of our high school graduates – I write it there every year because it is the passage that meant the most to me when I moved away from home. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not tremble nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
I don’t know where you’ve gone this morning, but God is there. If you’re at the height of success and glory, God is there. If you find yourself in the darkness of depression, like Elijah hiding out in the cave, God is there. If you find yourself in the midst of painful grief, God is there. In divorce, God will be there for you.
The absence of God is one of the most horrific ideas of scripture. To think for a moment that you would need your God and could not find Him. That you would call out, and He would not hear you. That you would reach out, and you could not touch Him.
Being unable to have the presence of God is one of the greatest fears of the characters of scripture. Saul, when he becomes king, is told, “The Spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon you, and you will be changed into another man.” The greatness of Saul was in the fact that he had the presence of God.
But after Saul’s disobedience, God rejects Saul from being king over Israel. As Samuel goes even to anoint David, the shepherd boy, as the shepherd king of Israel, the writer in 1 Samuel tells us, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah. Now, the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul….” Saul, who had known the ecstasy of the presence and communion with the Spirit of the Lord, now had the Spirit removed from him. He was seeking God and could not find Him.
Saul, in a moment of desperation, calls out to the Lord (1 Samuel 28), but the Lord did not answer him (28:6). Saul disguises himself, goes to a witch to conjure up the dead Samuel, the prophet. Samuel, grumpy alive and still grumpier dead, says, “Why have you bothered me? Why have you called me up from the dead?” And Saul cries and says, “God has departed from me and answers me no more.”
“Why do you bother me, since the Lord has departed from you?” (1 Samuel 28:16).
The haunting absence of the Lord was the terminal disease that Saul suffered, having been found disobedient as a king. He cried, but God did not listen. He searched, but could not find the God who had once so empowered him.
It’s not just happening to Saul. It happens to the psalmist, as well. There are moments when it seems to the psalmist as if God Himself has left, departed, abandoned the very one that He once loved.
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? I cry out by day, O God, but You do not answer; and by night, but I have no rest.
The cry of Psalm 20 is “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!” May the King answer us in the day we call.
Have you ever experienced a time when you felt God was totally absent from your life? Listen to this prayer.
Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me, the child of your love? And now I’ve become as the most hated one, the one You have thrown away as unwanted, unloved. I call; I cling; I want: and there is no One to answer, no One on Whom I can cling – no, No One. Alone. The darkness is so dark and I am alone, unwanted, forsaken. The loneliness of the heart that wants love is unbearable. Where is my faith? Even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. My God, how painful is this unknown pain? It pains without ceasing. I have no faith. I dare not utter words and thoughts that crowd in my heart and make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me. I am afraid to uncover them because of the blasphemy. If there be God, please forgive me. [I] trust that all will end in Heaven with Jesus. When I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my soul. Love – the word – it brings nothing. I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Before the work started there was so much union, love, faith, trust, prayer, and sacrifice. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the call of Christ?
You might be amazed to learn that the prayer of this prayer is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She wrote this prayer in her journal after her confessor suggested she write a prayer to Jesus. In the book about her life and her darkness, Come Be My Light, published by Doubleday, she made startling revelations about long periods of time in her life when she experienced the absence of God. Can you imagine this woman – on the path to sainthood, who has already been deified by many – feeling this sort of despair. The revelation is astounding to those who knew her, because she always seemed to have a cheery appearance, working with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. Those who encountered Mother Teresa on an airplane once described her as being so inspirational. One person said, “When I recognized her I could see the Spirit of God in her life.”
Yet Mother Teresa had this dark experience, this feeling of the absence of God. She herself tried to understand this absence, saying that she felt that God allowed her to go through this experience because the people to whom she was ministering felt the absence of God. She wondered how she could ever identify with them, how she could ever have any sense of solidarity with them, if she, herself, did not feel the painful agony of the absence of God.
This absence of God, St. John of the Cross, called “the dark night of the soul.” Sometimes, for Mother Teresa. For David, perhaps. For you and for me, God seems to be so far away. (Kirk H. Neely, “Finding Ourselves in the Psalms: When God Seems Absent,” www.kirkhneely.com)
In Psalm 13, David cries out, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?”
Hear the word “hide?”
“How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day long? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”
In reality, the ultimate moment of destitution is not being able to find God. When God is “It,” He can always find you. When we are “It,” sometimes God seems to be hidden so well or so terribly that we cannot find Him.
Paul, in describing the reality of hell, says, “Hell is this: the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Eternal punishment in itself is to experience – you can describe it with fire or worms or however horrifically you want to depict it – the absence of God. The reality is wherever God is not is hell.
So what about you today? Playing hide and seek with God? The reality is God is there. God is here. Wherever you find yourself today, there is no place, as a child of God, that you can go and be away from God’s presence. God is with all His children.
If you find yourself this morning in those months (and yes, sometimes even years) following the death of someone you love so dearly and God has seemed so far away and so absent. Within you is nothing but emptiness and dread. God is there in your grief.
Or perhaps you find yourself this morning in the pains of divorce. A dream becomes a nightmare. A spouse becomes an enemy. And where there was once love, there is now only war. God is there in the midst of your feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and loss.
Maybe you find yourself this morning in financial uncertainly – unsure of tomorrow, unsure of even today. God is there in the midst of your uncertainty.
Where can you go where God is not? No place. God is there, and God is here.
And when we cry out, God hears the cries of His people.