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The Rev. Peter W. Marty The Rev. Peter Marty

The Rev. Peter Marty is senior pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Davenport, IA. He is the publisher of The Christian Century magazine.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, IA


Dr. Peter Marty: A God Bent on Relationship

September 06, 2011

Storyline of Bible is one of a radically different kind of faith

The Bible breathes life - not the book itself but the God who lives across its pages. Anyone who has hung even a thread of personal hope on the grace woven through Scripture knows this life-giving quality. So what are some of the Bible stories that are indispensable to living the Christian life well? Why are they so valuable to our journey of faith? These are the questions prompting this 10-part series. I encourage you to read the assigned passage as closely and carefully as you can. Then sit back and explore with me what it means to live abundantly.

Read Genesis 3:1-9

Some years ago, the Assembly of God Church, Bushnell, Fla., received one of those computerized mailings from American Family Publishers. The letter announced that God, of Bushnell, had been chosen as a finalist for the $11 million top prize in the company's sweepstakes. Hardly short on flattery, the sweepstakes letter got right to the point: "God, we've been searching for you! What an incredible fortune this would be for you, God. ... Don't just sit there, God!" 

Obviously the entry of God as the addressee was a computer error. But this little electronic mistake also highlights a deeper error that has plagued religious people through the ages: "How do I find God?"

This simple question has weighed on the minds of countless seekers. To pose the question is to presume, at some level at least, that God has been missing. Much like a misplaced set of car keys, the implication is that a hiding God must be found. For many people, this hunt for an elusive God figures strongly into their language of discernment for what shape God's "personal plan" might take in their life.

Hearing God interact with the earliest people in the book of Genesis opens our eyes to a radically different kind of faith. In this narrative we discover the storyline of the entire Bible. God does not sit around waiting for people to come to God. People do not have to engage some holy quest to find God. They do not have to wait for God to reveal an interest in relationship. No, God does the seeking. 

The psalmist spells out this rich idea: "O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. ... Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence" (Psalm 139:1-7)? Long before we ever got interested in any search for God, God singled us out as important. 

The divine refusal to leave us completely to ourselves becomes clear in the very first question ever posed in the Bible. God says to Adam, "Where are you" (Genesis 3:9)?

Adam has just trespassed on the majesty of God. He has eaten the forbidden fruit. God certainly isn't clueless about the location of this man or his mate in the garden, not if omniscience plays any role in the character of God.

So what's missing in Adam's life? God is absent as the center and source of this man's self-understanding. There is a lost dimension to his soul.

To contemplate the meaning behind God's question to Adam, we might think of a parent calling out an errant teenager: "What were you thinking?! Where is your head?!"

It could be that a stunned God is correcting Adam in the very same breath that God is seeking his whereabouts. "Where are you?!" (Exclamation point added.)

Adam is lost, trying to get his life straight apart from God. Thanks to the help of a serpent, he and his partner engage in the first theological conversation ever recorded in the Bible. They begin to talk about God rather than with God. By objectifying, analyzing, and running from the demands of God, Adam compounds his problems. 

Psychologist Rollo May said, "Humans are the strangest of all creatures because they run fastest when they have lost their way." Adam has lost his way. He is running fast from God.

So, if we become unavailable to God, how will we ever be available to our neighbor? You can guess what God's next big question in Genesis will be. Hint: "[Cain] where is your brother?"

[Taken with permission from the September issue of The Lutheran magazine.]


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