I kicked off our fall sermon series, “The Questions God Asks,” by looking at the first question God asks us in scripture: “Adam, where are you?” In Genesis 3.
Let’s not dicker around.
Let’s get right to the heart of the matter.
Let me give to you the gospel, distilled and straight up:
As a called and ordained preacher in the Church of Jesus Christ, and therefore by Christ’s authority and Christ’s authority alone, I declare unto you— every last one of you— the entire forgiveness, the full and complete remission, the entire forgiveness of all your sins.
Every last one of them.
You are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There you go.
Everything else I could say is just a footnote to the gospel.
From beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation, everything in the word is about God finding us and forgiving us of our sins because the one Word of God, the Word God speaks to us, is Jesus Christ.
He’s the Word of God, who came declaring the forgiveness of sins and who confirmed that announcement of our atonement by his cross.
So then, having given you the gospel, here’s my question: Why are you hiding?
Why are you hiding?
Everything has already been done; all your sins are forgiven.
So why are you hiding?
Whereas Adam and Eve hide from God behind some trees in the garden (not real smart), we hide everywhere (even dumber). From the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful Lord who knows the secrets of all our hearts, we hide all the time. Pretty stupid.
Some of you— maybe all of you— are hiding right now, here.
Just as Bruce Wayne is really Batman’s costume, we hide behind the selves we project in public. Just as Bruce Banner is never not angry, we’re never not hiding in plain sight.
Our true selves— they’re the ones we tell Google.
In an article from the Guardian last month entitled “Everybody Lies,” U.S. data analyst Seth Stevens writes about what our Google search history reveals about us, about who we are when we think no one is looking. Google may not be God (yet), but Google knows to be true what we discover about ourselves in Genesis 3.
As Seth Stevens begins his essay:
“Everybody lies. Everybody’s hiding. People lie about how many drinks they had on the way home. They lie about how often they go to the gym, how much those new shoes cost, whether they read that book. They call in sick when they’re not. They say they’ll be in touch when they won’t. They say it’s not about you when it is. They say they love you when they don’t. They say they like women when they really like men. People lie to friends. They lie to bosses. They lie to kids. They lie to parents. They lie to doctors. They lie to husbands. They lie to wives. They lie to themselves. And they damn sure lie to surveys.
Many people will underreport embarrassing, shameful behaviors or thoughts on a survey— even an anonymous survey— it’s called social desirability bias. We want to look good; we want to be counted good. So if we think someone is looking at us, we hide. We lie.”
And so, for example, in one survey Seth Stevens conducted 40% of a company’s engineers reported that were in the top 5%. And in another survey, 90% of college professors say they do above average work. It’s not just professors and engineers. We learn to lie and hide young. You might say it’s original to us. Over one-quarter of high school students, for example, will say when surveyed that they are in the top 1% of their class. I mean, I was…(but was I?).
Whenever we think someone sees us, Seth Stevens writes, we hide.
The only way to truly see someone— to see their true self— is to see them when they think no one sees them. In this regard, Stevens writes, Google’s search engine serves as a sort of “digital truth serum.” It’s online. It’s alone. And no one will see what you search (you think).
“The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else. Google was invented so that people could learn about the world, but it turns out the trail our search history leaves behind our reveals more about us. Our search history reveals the disturbing truth about our desires and insecurities, our fears and our prejudices.”
For example, the word that most commonly completes the googled question “Is my husband…?” is gay. In second place, cheating. Cheating is 8 times more common a search than the third most searched question: alcoholic. And alcoholic is 10 times more common than the next most common, depressed.
Proving the point about our private and our pretend selves, the most popular hashtag on social media using the very same words is the hashtag #myhusbandisthebest.
Is my husband cheating?
We filter out the truth from the self we post in public.
But Google knows us better than Facebook.
For example, Google knows that no matter how many fitdad #s you use on Instagram, odds are you’re worried about your Dad Bod. 42% of all online searches about beauty or fitness come from men. One-third of all weight loss seaches on Google come from men.
This will surprise you if that doesn’t: one-quarter of all Google searches about breasts (calm down) come from men wanting to get rid of their man-boobs— and only 200 of those searches were from me.
We hide everywhere except the place that isn’t anywhere, the internet. Google’s search engine knows our true selves, and survey says: we’re sinners.
For example, one of the most common questions we ask Google— brace yourselves, it’s not pretty— “Why are black people so rude?”
And the words most often used in searches about Muslims:
In fact, according to Google’s seach history:
The phrase “Kill Muslims” is searched by Americans with the same frequency as “Migraine Symptons” and “Martini Recipes.”
I’ve got a headache and need a drink just trying to digest that ugly fact.
It gets worse.
Every year— evey flipping year— 7 million of us (that’s 7 MILLION OF US, 7 million AMERICANS) search “nigger” in Google. Not counting rap or hip hop lyrics, 7 million searches. The Google searches are highest whenever African Americans are in the news, spiking with President Obama’s first election and Hurricane Katrina.
Says Seth Stevens in his essay:
“Google’s data would suggest the real problem in America for African Americans is not the implicit, unintended racism of well-intentioned people but it is the fact that millions of Americans every year continue to do things like search for nigger jokes.”
It’s not just our prejudice we hide.
Stevens notes how after President Trump’s election the most frequent comments on social media in liberal parts of the country were about how anxious progressives felt about immigrants, refugees, and global warming. On the contrary, the Google search history in those same parts of the country suggests progressives aren’t at all as anxious about immigrants, refugees, or global warming as they want their peers to think. Survey says they’re more worried about their jobs, their health, and their relationships.
Survey says we’re sinners.
And we hide.
In 2015 after President Obama’s speech about inclusion and islamaphobia following the San Bernandino shooting in which 2 Muslims killed 14 of their coworkers, searches about how to help Muslim refugees plummeted almost by half. Meanwhile, negative searches about Muslims rose over 60%.
Obama telling Americans what they ought to do better elicited the opposite effect.
In an interview about his work and essay, Seth Stevens says:
“I had a dark view of human nature to begin with. Working with the Google data, it’s gotten even darker. I think the degree to which people are self-absorbed is pretty shocking; therefore [pay attention now], we can’t fight the darkness by turning to ourselves. We’re the problem.
We can only fight the darkness by looking outside of ourselves.”
And that brings me to my first point.
I know, I haven’t preached any 3-point sermons here yet, but we’ve been dating long enough for me to get to second base with you.
So, my first point: we are lost.
If your search history doesn’t indict you (and odds are it does), then scripture does indict you. If Google doesn’t confirm it for you, God already did in the garden by that first question he asked us: “Adam, where are you?”
Where— God’s question is about location.
Meaning, our problem is about lostness.
Notice, the Almighty doesn’t ask what any of us would ask. God doesn’t start off by asking any what, why, how, or who questions.
Who are you?! I thought I knew you, Adam!?
How could you have betrayed me, Adam?!
What did you do?!
Why did you do the one thing I asked you not to do?!
God asks: Where are you?
God doesn’t ask what they did or why they did it or how come they did it. God doesn’t ask about the sin; God asks where they are, which means our lostness isn’t about guilt. It’s about shame. Guilt is when you’ve done something wrong. Shame is when you believe that you are the wrong you’ve done. And so you hide.
That’s why “love the sinner, hate the sin” is a crappy cliche because from Adam on down we sinners think we are our sins. We can make no distinction between who we are and what we’ve done. We are lost in shame.
And notice what our shame produces. No sooner has he swallowed the fruit than Adam goes from declaring breathlessly of Eve “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh…” to grumbling to God: “This woman you gave me…” Adam manages to blame both Eve and God in a single sentence. Meanwhile, Eve tries to explain herself with a long run-on sentence of 55 words. In other words, our shame begets blame and self-justification.
And what’s the Hebrew word for blame?
Our shame turns us into a kind of satan, blaming others and justifying ourselves.
Our lostness— our shame— it turns God into a kind of satan too. Ashamed, we run and hide from the God whose given absolutely no reason for fear. And we’ve been hiding in the bushes ever since.
Shame and fear are our chronic condition. Where Adam and Eve had a choice to trust and obey God, we do not. As St. Augstine said, the choice available to Adam and Eve is no longer open to us.
This is why it’s incredibly dumb to debate whether or not this story literally happened in history. It doesn’t matter where on a timeline Adam and Eve may or may not fall because the point is that they are us.
As the 39 Articles of John Wesley’s prayerbook puts it: “The condition of humankind after the Fall of Adam is such that we cannot turn and prepare ourselves by our own natural strength to God.”
We are lost and our lostness is such that we cannot turn to find God (or even seek God) on our own. When it comes to faith and the things of God, Wesley’s prayerbook says, our wills our bound. We require help from outside of us: “Adam, where are you?”
We are lost in our shame— shame that produces blame and self-justification. We require an external word. For us, this external word is the gospel. It’s the word from outside of us that God gives to us through the Word, through water, and through wine and bread.
You see, God is a loquacious God.
The God who spoke creation into being is a God who is constantly interrupting our creation, searching us out with his gospel word.
This is why people need the Church. This is why people need a Risen Lord. Because without the Church, without Christ using the Church for his word, people are lost. They’re hiding in the bushes, dead in their sins. So forgot that nonsense attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel. If necessary use words.” Even if St. Francis had said that (he didn’t) it’s wrong. Just as St. Paul says, what was true of Adam and Eve is true today for all of us. We’re lost so faith— salvation— it comes by no other means but words. Salvation comes from what is heard: “Adam, where are you?”
And that brings me to my second point. What God’s first question reveals about you is that you are sought.
I know some of you think I’m obsessed with grammar but that way of putting it is important: you are sought.
You are not the subject of the sentence. God is not the object of your seeking. I know lots of churches like to have what are called “seeker services,” but let’s get real. We’re hiding in the bushes.
Go to Google if you find Genesis hard to swallow. On our own, left to our own devices, whatever is at the end of our searching might be a little-g god but it will not be God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.
You are sought.
We do not seek out God. We seek out a hiding place from him. We do not search for God. God searches for us.
And this is important, this distinction between seeking and being sought, because it shapes how you read scripture.
Every other religion in the world is about you seeking after God (and doing what you ought to do to get closer to him), but the strange new world of the Bible, Karl Barth says, is that it tells, from beginning to end, of God’s search for us.
If you’re looking to the Bible for insights into history or politics, Karl Barth says, you’d do better to turn to the newspaper because those are not questions the Bible tries to answer. If you’re looking for teachings on morality, ethics, justice, virtue, or just everyday practical advice, good luck with that, Karl Barth says, because you’ll find large swaths of scripture useless and Jesus Christ has absolutely no interest in your everyday practical life.
If you go to the Bible searching for how you can find God, you’re only going to walk away frustrated, Barth says.
The Bible does not tell us what to think about God; it tells us what God thinks of us The Bible does not teach us what we should say about God; it teaches us what God says about us. The Bible does not show us how to seek God; it shows us this God who searches us out those who will not come to him.
The Bible, says Barth, is God’s search history not ours.
And that brings me to my final point.
“Adam, where are you?” God’s first question to you reveals to you that you are found.
Barth again— Karl Barth says that Adam and Eve aren’t just the first humans, they’re the first Christians. They’re the first Christians, for they are the first ones to receive the gospel promise of the forgiveness of sins.
And what this question from God conveyed to them, it conveys to you: the entire forgiveness of your sins. Because remember— God’s word works; that is, God’s word in scripture always accomplishes what it says.
For you nerds, you can put it this way:
There is no ontological distance between what God says and what God does.
God says “Let there be light” and there’s light.
God says “It is very good” and it is.
God in Jesus Christ says “Your sins are forgiven” and therefore, as surely as his word hung the stars in the sky, you are forgiven.
God’s word works. It accomplishes what it says.
So, to have God ask you “______, where are you?” is to already be found.
To have God search for you is to already be found. Even though you’re still hiding in plain sight, still estranged in shame and sin, still you are found.
Back to my original question— Why are you still hiding?
Or, instead of why maybe the better question is how: How do we come out of hiding? How do we who have been found already no longer linger in our lostness?
In his essay in the Guardian, Seth Stevens notes how there was one manner of speech in President Obama’s addresses about islamaphobia that had a measurable effect on driving down American’s sinful Google searches.
Recall Stevens’ findings that President Obama’s San Bernadino speech about how we ought not fear Muslims had the opposite effect. The more Obama argued that we ought to do better about being more loving and respectful of Muslims, the more the people he was trying to reach became enraged.
The Google data confirms it, Stevens writes, the more you lecture angry people the more you fan the flames of their fury. The more you exhort them about their prejudice the more their prejudice will persist.
But one form of words worked–
According to the Google search history, what reduced people’s rage and racism, Stevens notes— what reduced their sin was whenever Obama spoke about Muslims being our neighbors. And what had an even greater change on people was when Obama spoke of Muslim neighbors who served in the military and what had the greatest change upon people was when Obama spoke of Muslim American soldiers who gave their lives as a sacrifice for us, who died for us.
In other words, to put it in St. Paul’s words, the survey says the way to get sinners to change— it isn’t the Law. It’s the Gospel.
The way to get sinners to change isn’t by admonishing them about what they ought to do.
It’s by telling them what has already been done, for them.
God’s gospel word works.
In other words, the gospel isn’t a word about something that God did.
The gospel is the word by which God does.
That’s why everything we do here—and especially in here— needs to be surrounded by and bookended by the gospel because it is the power God works in the world, says St. Paul.
The way we come out of hiding is by hearing not the Law (what we ought to do) but by hearing the Gospel (what has been done).
We change not by hearing what Adam and Eve did wrong that we must do better. We change by hearing how God sought out Adam and Eve and found them in their naked shame and— what did God do?
God gave them animal skins to wear.
Medieval paintings always show Adam and Eve leaving the garden naked and in tears, but that’s not what happens in the story. God clothes them in animal skins.
Where God created from nothing, their forgiveness costs God something.
Their forgiveness costs God a part of his creation. God sacrifices for their sake.
And then one day, in the fullness of time, your forgiveness cost God too.
God became your neighbor.
God gave himself for you.
In order to clothe you— once, for all— with his Son.
God clothes you with Christ’s righteouness.
Though the survey says you lie and hide like the First Adam, you don’t need to— no matter what you’re searching online— because the Father has dressed you in the righteousness of the Second Adam.
He searches you out, and when he finds you, he chooses to see not your sin or your shame but his Son.
The search history that defines you is not the search history that shows up on your screen.
The search history that defines you is the search history that begins here. With “Adam, where are you?” Given what Google says about you and me, that’s good news. It’s news that faith alone— only faith— can corraborate.