you ever get the feeling that God is a “hidden” God? That He isn’t really
there in a way you can see and touch and hear Him, especially when you need Him
the most? A lot of people seem to think that way sometimes.
probably all heard the old story about the footprints in the sand, right? It’s
quite popular on greeting cards and wall plaques. A man who had gone to heaven
was looking back on his life, and it appeared to him as a vision. He was
walking along a beach with God. He noted that most of the time, there were two
sets of footprints, side by side in the sand.
sometimes, there was only one set of footprints, and this was always at
those times in his life when he was having the most trouble, when he was most
discouraged, when he faced the greatest temptations.
asked God about this: “Lord,” he said, “I thought you promised Christians that
you would always be with us to care for us and help us. Why is it that when I
was in my toughest times, I only see one set of footprints? Why would
you leave me then?”
replied, “I love you, my child, and I would never, ever leave you. Those times
when you see only one set of footprints in the sand, those are the times I
story isn’t from the Bible, of course, although some people think it is.
Nevertheless, it does illustrate how people often come to think of God as being
hidden from us, or distant from us, or not being there according to our
expectations. It can certainly seem that way sometimes.
our Old Testament lesson for today, Isaiah records the Lord’s revelation to
him. Early on in this text, Isaiah describes a majestic, almost inaccessible
God. He speaks of God’s eternal nature, and God’s enthronement, far above the
realm in which we dwell. He is so far above us, Isaiah writes, that we might
seem like insects to an observer. The heavens are compared to being a mere
tent for God.
continues by informing us how insignificant the powers and governments of this
earth are, compared to the Lord: “He brings princes to naught, and
reduces rulers of this world to nothing.” He doesn’t just humble them;
they are made a great, big zero. They are no more durable than plants, we’re
told; planted, sprouting, and growing for a while, yes. But in God’s own good
time they are withered; swept away like dry leaves.
own words then thunder down upon Isaiah and upon us, challenging us to reply,
if we dare. “To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal? Lift your
eyes and look to the heavens; who created all this?” the Lord asks,
much as He once asked faithful Job when that man’s faithfulness was wavering,
too. You and I are left fumbling for words, because we have no answer but, “Lord,
with the infinite nature of God, awed by His powers, we can do no more. He seems
an angry, distant God when He speaks like that. Isaiah’s words even record the
complaint the Israelites, who felt God was distant, paying them no attention: “My
way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by God.” They
were suffering all sorts of difficulties, and felt abandoned.
is where many believers and unbelievers both get stuck. They see or experience
suffering, and they conclude either that there is no merciful God, or
that whatever God does exist is a fickle one—finding joy, or perhaps at
least a detached, amused entertainment—in the sufferings of mortal man.
minds informed by the Scriptures, though, and hearts shaped by the
understanding the Holy Spirit provides us, we know that this isn’t the case.
Since all good things, including life itself, are undeserved gifts from
God, we have no basis for complaint if—for His own purposes—our Lord chooses at
times to withhold or withdraw some of His blessings. They are His to give, or
not to give. Occasionally, it does seem as if God is hiding Himself, or
at least hiding some of His goodness, from us. And, in some spheres of
our life, that hiddenness may seem to continue for extended periods.
hide things we consider good. God does, for example, sometimes
chasten us for our rebelliousness. God does, sometimes, allow
circumstances to test us and push us. He may use adversity to strengthen us,
and to purify our faith, like a metal-smith skimming the slag off of molten
gold. And, sometimes, God may even let things be taken away that we want or we
like. He wants us to have complete dependence on Him as our Creator and
our eternal heavenly Father, and not on the things of His creation that
will pass away.
not hiding Himself from us at times like these; He’s actually working
very actively at such times—in His world, and in our lives, and especially in
our hearts, to bring us closer to Him in repentance and thanksgiving.
heard in the Gospel reading for today about how Jesus came to troubled people,
or how they sometimes came to Him, and how He helped them. First, He healed
Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Later that evening, it seemed that
everyone in town who had any sort of affliction also came to the house to be
healed or cleansed. Jesus didn’t mind curing the diseases and driving out
demons, because Jesus is a God of love. Yet Jesus wanted to keep a low profile,
too. He didn’t want those demons speaking, because they would identify just
who Jesus was, and He wasn’t quite ready to have that become common knowledge
so, early the next morning, knowing that more and more people would be trying
to approach Him for healing and other miracles, Jesus leaves the town. He
seeks out some privacy, so that He might pray in peace. Peter and the others
come looking for Him. When they finally locate Jesus, they tell Him what he
already knows: “Everyone is looking for you.”
hadn’t really been hiding, of course. He simply wasn’t making Himself
available to people on the terms they wanted. And that’s the real problem,
isn’t it? Like the people of Capernaum, or like Job, or those in Isaiah’s
time, we want a God, a Savior, on our terms. A God who meets our
expectations, and wants, and desires. A God who fits into the mold or the box we’d
like to build for Him, so that we can take Him out to use like a tool or a toy,
when and how it suits us.
we want a God who will make us feel better, physically or emotionally.
Sometimes we want a God who will address our earthly desires for comfort, or
possessions, or relationships. Sometimes we want a God who will be our buddy,
a friend who will tell us everything we want to hear, so we can feel less
lonely, so we can feel better about ourselves.
the thing is: that’s not the sort of God we truly need. While God can
certainly fulfill those desires when He wishes, and He will fulfill them
when it suits His purposes, we can’t and shouldn’t expect that He’s always
going to do so on our timetable, or in accordance with our expectations
we start asking for things our way, or when we begin praying in this
way, we’re making demands, instead of requests. We’re setting ourselves up as
the boss, not the servant. We’re taking on the role of the parent,
not the child. We’re not allowing for, “Thy will be done.”
you come right down to it, making demands of God—or insisting that God do
things our way to fit our desires and wants—turns the universe upside down. It
makes us into God, and it tries to re-make God in our image, and that’s
not right. In fact, it’s arrogant. It’s presumptuous. It’s blasphemous. In
a word: It’s sin.
even today, the disciples’ words remain true. People everywhere are
looking for Jesus. Or, at least, they are looking for something which addresses
their emptiness, their despair, their suffering. Something that undoes their
deep concern that much of what they see, and say, and feel, and do, is
meaningless. That there must be something more.
will look for it in all the wrong places: In work, in money, in clothes, or
cars, or houses. Some seek it in learning, but too often their learning is the
knowledge which puffs up, not the love which builds up. Still others seek it
in power, or prestige, or fame; or in drugs, or alcohol, or other bad habits.
of course, many have sought it, and mistakenly think they have found it, in
faiths which will lead them to only to destruction and condemnation. They
depend on their own works and obedience and piety, rather than throwing
themselves at the feet of God and receiving His mercy in Christ Jesus.
will have nothing to do with the villagers’ attempts to mold Him into the sort
of prophet and healer and Savior they would like to have. He tells the
disciples that they are going to go somewhere else for a while, to other
villages so He can preach there, too. “That is why I have come,” He
had come to preach the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness. He had come to explain
the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness, such as when He tells them that the
Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the authorities, and be
killed, and be raised up in three days. Most importantly, He had come to be
the Gospel—the Word of God made flesh—so that by this death and resurrection,
all our sins might be forgiven—even our sins of trying to govern God, and
change God, and be God.
that forgiveness, we are once again reconciled to God, and may live under Him
in His kingdom.
without the Gospel which Jesus came to preach, we are doomed to make the same
mistakes as the people of Capernaum. Without the Gospel working in us, we
would try to make Jesus into a God of our own design. To cling to the wrong
things. To seek out the temporary instead of the eternal.
we do this, it’s not so much that God hides from us, but rather
that we hide God. We obscure or confuse His message to us, instead of
trusting and accepting it through the faith that only He can provide.
faith He gives us helps us to rightly hear this Gospel, which is still given to
us today in His Holy Scriptures and in faithful preaching and song and
liturgy. It is spoken in His absolution, splashed upon us with water, and
consumed with bread and wine. So long as we remain in the faith this Gospel
provides, Jesus will not leave the house of our hearts and go off to a solitary
place. He will not be a hidden God.
He will always be before you and with you and within you, guiding your thoughts
and words and deeds in ways that will be pleasing to Him.
will still stumble, it’s true. We will still be tempted, and we will often
think God has become hidden. At times like that, it might be difficult to
resist trying to make Him into the God we would like Him to be, instead of the
God that He has revealed Himself to be. It was in His preaching, more than in
His healing and His miracles, that Jesus revealed who He was, and why He had
healed, certainly. He provided food to multitudes, yes. He drove out the
demons that were governing and ruining people’s lives. But primarily, Jesus
came to preach, to explain, and to be the Gospel: The love of God made
real. The love of God applied to sinners so that they might have life.
Him touch you, and relieve the fever and frenzy of your worldly
worries. Let Him drive out your demons of anxiety and fear of death.
Let Him cure you of the disease of sin, which would kill you for all
eternity without His healing blood. Everyone is looking for Jesus,
indeed. But He has found you. He has not hidden Himself
or His Gospel message from you. He has come near to you—He dwells right within
you—and He will remain with you, now and forever. Amen.