The most important question in the Bible

God loves and likes you

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you read a particular section of a book or hear a life changing sermon, and you remember right where you were when you heard it?

I’m blogging everyday this week on the major themes of my just released book 10:10: Life to the Fullest. Another major theme of the book is “Faith and Spiritual Intimacy,” and I can clearly recall a particular Bible study that left an indelible mark on me around this theme.

Our church was hosting Dr. Paul DeNeui, a professor at North Park University, to lead a series of Bible studies on whatever topic he felt most compelled to share on. As he prepared to dive into his first lesson, he drew us in with an enticing introduction:

“We are about to look at the important question in the whole Bible.”

Wow, how about that for an attention grabber?

Now I’m sure we could debate whether this is actually the most important question, but that wasn’t really the point. He wanted us to see the gravity of both this question and the account that it was placed in. Here is what he suggested is the most important question in the whole Bible:

Where are you?” 

That 3-worded question is found in Genesis 3.9, in the middle of the account of the Garden of Eden. Up until this moment, we see that Adam and Eve had experienced an unbelievably intimate relationship with God. God knew them and they knew God. They would literally “walk” with God in the Garden each day. It’s a really compelling picture.

But now Adam and Eve have sinned. God had previously told them they were able to delight in everything they desired within the Garden, as long as they avoided the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.17). Of course, they couldn’t help themselves, and they ate off of the one forbidden tree in the whole Garden.

The guilt and shame were overwhelming, and they weren’t sure how to respond. The presence of God used to be something they craved, but now they suddenly feared it. As they heard God approaching, they decided to hide in the bushes. They knew that God saw and knew all, so it obviously wasn’t a very effective strategy. But in the moment, it felt better than the alternative.

So here comes God the Creator. God knows right where they are, and what they have done, and why they are hiding. God doesn’t need the information. And yet still, God asks the question:

Where are you?” 

If God already knew where they were, and what they had done, and why they were hiding, then why bother asking the question?

The answer to that is what makes this the most important question in the Bible (according to the good professor).

The reasoning for God to ask “Where are you?” is not for God’s sake – it is for their sake.

It is an invitation. It is a declaration. It is God letting them know that God is there, waiting to receive them back into relationship. It is God clarifying that it is Adam and Eve choosing to hide, not God.

I so, so love that. It gives me the chills (in a good way) even as I write that. I lived too much of my life under the false assumption that the holiness of God meant that God was always angry with me, waiting to punish me for my very long list of sins.

I’m not suggesting that God isn’t holy, or doesn’t want us to stop sinning. It is clear in Scripture that God longs for our hearts to be soft in remorse before him, to be receptive to His leadings, and ultimately to be fully His.

But the point of this interaction in the Garden isn’t to show how or what God wants us to be.  It’s about how and what He is!  God is there, even when we have gone rogue.  God is available, even when we are not.  God is waiting in faithfulness, even when we are scurrying away into the dark corners of our souls.

That is why this question is so important. That is why it indeed may be the most important question in the Bible.

“Where are you?”

Though our actions may affect how close or how distant we feel, we can always be sure of one thing – the response of God is always the same.  No matter what depths of darkness we have clung to, or to what height of personal glory we have tried to attain for ourselves, God is there. God is calling to us. God is waiting faithfully for us… always.  It doesn’t matter if we are having a good day or a bad day. Tenderly, relentlessly, God continues to come after us.

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7 responses to “The most important question in the Bible”

  1. […] through faith. Faith then allows us “walk” intimately with God (see yesterday’s post about how significant the picture of “walking” with God is in the original account of […]

  2. […] Part 4: Dimension 2 of the 10:10Life: Faith & Spiritual Intimacy (click here) […]

  3. People like to make the Bible into what they want it to be. Pastors are especially egregious with this. So when I hear a message like this I have to drill down a bit and ask if it really stands in the light of what’s written and the significance of it or not.

    Here’s the thing. The next questions God asks Adam are, “Who told you, you were naked?” and “Have you eaten of the tree that I forbade you to eat from?” Adam fesses up but blames the Woman God gave him (she has no name yet). God then curses the serpent, the Man and the Woman (it is only after the curses that Adam names her Eve). God then clothes the pair but grows concerned at the possibility of their further mischief in the Garden and so banishes them.

    I do not see this as an invitation to a closer relationship. Besides the compassionate action of giving them clothing so they would not be ashamed every other action drives them away from closer relation. God’s desire for closer relation, and mankind’s subsequent desire for reciprocal relation can be inferred from many points of the Bible. But I cannot see this as one of them.

    I wish pastors would not do this. If a neato idea for a fancy sermon doesn’t survive scrutiny at the most superficial level – as this does not – then why not dig further, or adjust the message? This is why most people who are not Jeopardy contestants have no earthly clue what’s in the Bible, because pastors would so often rather tell them something else or just make stuff up.

    You should take a look at Jonah if you want to see how that works out.

  4. Not sure why this elicited such a strong reaction from you, or why it caused you to compare me to Jonah. But I’ll try to assume the best from what you’re communicating, and respond to what I believe I understand your point to be. I tried to be clear in this post that I am not minimizing the effect of the sin:

    “I’m not suggesting that God isn’t holy, or doesn’t want us to stop sinning. It is clear in Scripture that God longs for our hearts to be soft in remorse before him, to be receptive to His leadings, and ultimately to be fully His.”

    But I still stand by the fact that this is an amazing invitation from God. Most people read Genesis through their own personal lens (a point that I believe you are trying to make too, and of which i agree), and I would argue that one of the misinterpretations of sin is that it pushes God away from us. I believe this account is significant, because when God asks, “Where are you?” they not repented yet, and certainly not made things right. Yet even in their sin, God still reached out to them. I believe this is consistent with the way God’s pursuit is described throughout Scripture (i.e. Romans 5.8)

    1. I guess the force of my reaction is based in a desire to elicit an admission that in no place other than your imagination is this an invitation to anything other than one of the single harshest judgements in scripture. It’s like trying to put a positive spin on Dante’s Inferno. There isn’t one. The judgement in the Garden is nothing less than a tragedy – a human and a divine tragedy. To teach people otherwise is at least erroneous and possibly dishonest.

      Bet you didn’t expect this in your blog comments today.

      No worries. Besides, the Jonah reference wasn’t meant to be a direct comparison and Jonah was fine in the end anyway once the fish spat him out at Nineveh. At which point I might add God makes a genuine invitation to repentance to the people of Nineveh and they have revival. No expulsion, no flaming swords. Why not take that as the basis for demonstrating God’s inviting nature instead of inverting the story of paradise lost and scrubbing it free of all that doesn’t give people the warm fuzzies?

      You see? It’s not a slightly different spin or perception of the same story. You’re telling a whole different story than the one that’s there. I find it troubling when ministers do this. And I happen to live my life in a certain relation to truth that compels me to speak up about stuff like this when it plucks a cord. It’s a pretty fascinating way to exist and I highly recommend it for everyone, especially those in the body of Christ. At the very least it’s rarely boring.

  5. I hear what you are saying. I still think you’re coming at this with more fire than necessary, as our intent is the same (i.e. to take Scripture at face value and live in light of that). But maybe it’s just a difference in style.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m not denying that this was less than a tragedy or judgment – i am simply making the point that even within the tragedy and judgment God graciously reaches out those who broke the relationship. This is the heart of grace in my opinion, and I believe we distort the character of God if we look at judgment/holiness in an isolated way from grace/redemption

  6. Whether the character of God is being distorted is precisely the reflection I’m trying to encourage. Hence the fire. And I most definitely appreciate your responses.

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