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Drawn Out By God.
Shame drives us to hide. God’s intent is to draw us, rather than drive us out of hiding.
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If you’re new to The Lighthouse, we’re in the middle of a series of articles exploring the ins and outs of a deeper experience of intimacy with God. To that end, it’s important we keep each of these installments within the context of the larger whole, so to that end, let me just remind you briefly what we’ve covered thus far.
Contrary to what we often think, a deeper experience of relationship with God is far less about getting more of Him, and instead invites us to give God more of us. As a result, we’re learning to integrate our emotional lives into our spiritual lives by offering God the hardest parts of what we feel. We’re wrestling with the possibility that the very pain we’re prone to suppress is an important path to intimacy with God.
So we’ve looked at some of the reasons why we block our emotional lives and last week we looked at what I’m arguing is the single greatest barrier to intimacy with God, namely, shame. Shame is the deeply felt belief that there is something so wrong with us that if God and others truly knew us for who we are, they would abandon us.
So last week was primarily about our response to the experience of shame. This week I want to look at God’s response. How does God respond to us in the midst of our shame? Understanding and embracing the answer to this question may just be the most important key to our longing for intimacy with God. So let’s jump in…
God as Patient Pursuer.
I would argue, there is probably no greater display of passion I know than a parent in pursuit of their lost child. By God’s grace, my wife and I have never had an extended experience of this with our own kids, but even a momentary taste of it is enough to send you running through walls to find them. You turn around in the grocery store, realize your toddler has taken off in search of something shiny, and it feels like time stops. You immediately panic as you begin replaying every child abduction movie you’ve ever seen and just that is enough to turn you into Jason Bourne. You run up and down aisles, completely indifferent to what anyone thinks, with the singular objective of finding your kid. I’ve never been more focused, more determined, or more driven than in one of those moments of trying to find that most precious person in my life. Again, there may be no greater display of passion than a parent in pursuit of their lost child.
Now, we start here because the Scriptures scream the soul-stirring promise that God has pursued His children since the moment we sought to hide from Him.
A.W. Tozer famously wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” I’d second that pointed sentiment with this: One of the most constant and clearly displayed aspects of God’s character in Scripture is one of PATIENT PURSUER. I referenced this last week, but in Luke 19:10 Jesus said, “…the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” Furthermore, back in Luke 15 Jesus tells three parables meant to solidify our perception of God’s pursuing nature. While much of this may register as familiar to us, I think it’s worth noting that this isn’t just a New Testament thing. God started pursuing humanity the moment we started hiding from Him.
So this week, we head back to Genesis 3 in order to see God’s pursuing response to Adam and Eve when they chose to hide in their shame, the exact same way you and I prone to today. Let’s start with the story:
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” 11 Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? ”
-- Genesis 3:7-11 (CSB)
Remember, God had created Adam and Eve for connection and creativity. He placed them in Eden, an ideal garden environment to flourish on both fronts. He gave them immense freedom with only one protective command: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But like children who disobey the moment their parent’s back is turned, Adam and Eve believe the lies of the serpent and eat from that tree. Then their eyes are opened and they feel deep, crushing shame as a result of their nakedness. In response, they covered themselves with makeshift clothes and then they hid at the first sound of God in the garden.
If I was going to summarize what we learn about God’s response to our hiding, here’s how I’d say it…
God’s intent is to draw us, rather than drive us out of hiding.
Think back to God’s response in Genesis 3. He doesn’t march into the garden screaming angrily, swinging a club at every bush, in an attempt to drive them out of their hiding spot. That needs to be pointed out, because that is the image shame paints in our minds. So God wasn’t screaming at them, but make no mistake, shame was.
Brene Brown says, “Shame is fear of disconnection.” So shame was screaming, “You’re naked and not enough. You’ve blown it and God’s coming to not only kick you out of this garden, but cut you off from relationship. He’ll never love you and live with you now.” But if we read the story, that’s not God’s tone, nor His tactic for dealing with what they’d done and the shame it created.
Instead, God draws them out with a caring and carful line of questioning. Driving someone out of hiding is qualitatively different then seeking to draw them out.
This is something I’m trying to grow in personally. As a pastor I’m privileged to spend a fair amount of time providing counsel and guidance to many people in the church I pastor. Early on in ministry, I think I was objectively a bad counselor. Not because I was mean, or lacking in a desire to provide insight. I just spent far more time trying to drive people, then I did drawing them out. I could listen to someone for five minutes, diagnose what I thought their problem was and then immediately provide them with a simple, multi-step solution that would solve all their problems. The truth is, being in therapy myself has really helping me grow in this.
As I’ve built a relationship with my therapist these past three years, I’ve noticed something. I’ve never once sat down with her and had her say, “You know what? It’s been a long week and I just don’t want to listen to you whine today, so here’s your problem: You walked through immense trauma in childhood, you’ve experienced decades of loss and disappointment, and instead of process any of it, you’ve pretended everything in your life has been great. As a result, you’re relatively detached from all emotions you deem difficult. Thanks for coming. I’ll bill your credit when you leave.” She’s never done that. You know what she does? She prays for me when I sit down, and after she says, “amen,” she stairs at me compassionately until I start talking. Do you have any idea how awkward that is? Some weeks I literally wanted to crawl under the couch and hide.
Like God in this garden, her goal is to draw me, rather than drive me out. So she asks caring and careful questions. God does the same. In fact, God asks three questions:
1. Where are you? To which Adam confesses fear due to the shame of his nakedness).
2.Who told you that you were naked?
3. Did you eat from the tree I commanded you not to eat from?
Because we all follow the example of Adam and Eve, hiding in various ways due to our shame, I want us to consider these same questions God asked them. So let’s sit with three questions God asks in our shame:
Question #1. Where are you hiding?
We don’t know for sure, because the text doesn’t explicitly tell us, but it seems to imply that it was normal for God to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden. So when God doesn’t find them as usual, He calls out to Adam in v9 asking, “Where are you?” But this question was far deeper than Adam’s physical location.
In his book, “The Soul Of Shame,” Dr. Curt Thompson observes this of God’s question:
“God is inquiring of the couple’s internal, not their external, whereabouts. He is deeply curious about and invested in their individual and corporate state(s) of mind. This is what the God of the biblical narrative does. He pursues. He comes to find us.”
Listen, we will always struggle to experience intimacy with God if we don’t choose to trust this to be true. Our deepest days with God are ahead if we choose to run to Him as our patient Pursuer. But this demands honestly answering God’s question. “Where are you?” More specifically, “Where are you hiding?”
Some of us hide behind selective perfectionism. We try to accentuate what we’re good at and avoid what we’re not. Perfect grades in school, never outwardly disobey authority, perfection in workplace, a pristine home with everything its place, an outwardly righteous life that appears all together.
Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. The pursuit of excellence is a noble virtue, but striving for perfection is more often a means of hiding shame that haunts us. The intrinsic response to shame is self-righteousness. Often, when we hear the term “self-righteousness” we tend to think the overtly religious, Pharisaical legalism, we see in the Gospels. But it’s also propping up the parts of life we deem “acceptable” and diminishing, or hiding the parts we deem unacceptable. Even though the shell looks different, it’s still self-righteousness.
Others of us hide behind endless activity. We’re on the go from sun up to sun down. No days off, always on the move, never at rest because if we were to stop, we’d be overwhelmed by the shame from which we’re running.
Some of us hide by self-medicating through drugs, alcohol, food, or endless entertainment.
My point is, there are countless places we can hide from God and others. As I’ve continued to say, the most dangerous aspect of this is that we often become so accustomed to our hiding, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Intimacy is going to demand doing the difficult work of examining our hearts, minds, and practices in order to identify where we’re prone to hide and then talking openly with God and others about it.
We’re looking at three questions God asks us in our shame. The first is this: Where are you hiding?
Question #2. To whom are you listening?
In v10 Adam answers God, confessing his fear of rejection due to the shame of being naked. But remember, nothing had changed in Adam and Eve’s outward condition. They’d been created naked and they had lived naked. But up until this moment, they’d felt zero shame due to their nakedness. But all the sudden, Adam looks at his condition and feels shame.
Upon hearing this, you would expect God to first ask, “What have you done?” And God’s going to ask that question, but notice how His first concern is relational. He doesn’t lead with WHAT, He leads with WHO. God says, "Who told you that you were naked?” God’s asking to whom Adam had been listening. Here’s why that’s such a critical question: Little shapes us more than the voices to whom we listen.
Many of the shaming scripts we believe are the consequence of shaming words spoken over us. Maybe you’ve been told that you’re worthless, a mistake, not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not attractive enough, not thin enough. When these destructive words take root in our souls, they bare the fruit of shame. Sometimes it’s not just the words of others we’ve listened to, but also the actions of others. I’ll give you an example.
When you’re abandoned by a primary caregiver as a child, it has profound impact on everything about you. In my case, it was biological dad. As I’ve said, he left when I was young and my mom was pregnant with my younger brother. My mom says that on the day he left us for good, she had to pry my fingers from the windowsill as I cried in confusion watching my dad drive away for the last time.
When someone of that significance makes a decision like that, particularly when you’re young, it’s virtually impossible to not believe that there is something about you that isn’t worth sticking around for. I cognitively understand that he didn’t leave because of me. I understand he had his own issues and that his decision to leave was about him, not about me. But I have to tell you, it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like there was something about me that caused him to leave.
So again, whether it’s literal words, or unspoken actions, little shapes us more than the voices to which we listen. Adam and Eve chose to ignore the voice of God when they chose to believe the voice of the serpent. The only thing that heals the wounds of the words spoken over us is learning to listen to and believe the voice of God. God says you are loved. God says you can be forgiven. God says you can be free. God says you are welcome. God says you can be accepted. God says you can belong. God says He’ll never leave, nor forsake you. God says your past need not be predictive of your future. God says there is a way forward.
The question is, to whom are you listening? Here’s the third question God asks in our shame:
Question #3. How are you not trusting me?
After asking Adam about the WHO, God then turns to the WHAT. “Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Understand this question is so much deeper than, “Did you break my rule?” This is a question flowing from the broken heart of a loving Father who hasn’t been trusted.
When God created Adam and Eve, He provided for them, giving them identity, purpose, and meaning. He also gave them loving instruction, meant for their flourishing. When that serpent slithered into the garden, a competing and contradictory identity, purpose, and meaning came with him. That left Adam and Eve with a choice of trust. Would they trust God, or would they trust this other voice. They chose, like we choose, to trust the latter.
The reality is, we will never understand the nature of sin until we see this. The source of our sin is a failure to trust God. Each time we sin, we choose to not trust that God knows what is best. Each time we sin, we choose not to trust that God desires our best. We either don’t trust His perspective, or we don’t trust His intent. Either way, it’s an issue of trust before anything else.
If we’re going to combat the shame that drives us into hiding and hinders our relationship with God, we have to face these areas that we’re not walking in trusting relationship with God and then choose to trust Him. This is repentance.
When we’re mired in shame God draw us, rather than drives us out asking us:
Where are you hiding?
To whom are you listening?
How are you not trusting me?
Coming Out of Hiding.
In his beautiful book, “Abba’s Child,” Brennan Manning writes,
“God calls us to stop hiding and come openly to Him. God is the father who ran to His prodigal son when he came limping home. God weeps over us when shame and self-hatred immobilizes us. Yet as soon as we lose our nerve about ourselves, we take cover. Adam and Eve hid, and we all, in one way or another, have used them as role models. Why? Because we do not like what we see. It is uncomfortable - intolerable - to confront our true selves.”
The invitation of God when we’re drowning is shame, is to come out of hiding and find healing. This is why Jesus is such good news for us. The sacrifice of Christ has dealt the ultimate blow to our shame. Through faith in Jesus, the Scriptures say we are sealed in Him and welcomed into healing, redeeming, and renewing relationship with the Father. The more deeply and openly we learn to walk with Him, the more we live from our true selves, rather than our shamed-ridden false selves.
So this week, I want to encourage you to keep these three questions front of mind. Write them down. Put them in your Bible, on the bathroom mirror, maybe on your desk at work. Reflect on them and as answers surface, begin to talk with God about it honestly. As we do this work, we go deeper with God.
God’s intent is to draw us, rather than drive us out of hiding. So let’s run to Him and find His healing mercy and grace.