The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Whole: Restoring What is Broken in Me, You, and the The Entire World. It releases on August 22nd. You can purchase it here.
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When the first human beings lost their way, God asked them a question. I find this hopeful. From the very first interaction, God was attentive and curious, inviting them to be honest.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” — Genesis 3:8-9
As the story goes in Genesis 3, this question comes directly after the first really big train wreck, after which things went hopelessly wrong. Whatever you believe about literal talking serpents and actual apples, this scene has been repeated so many times over the course of human history that it’s obviously more than literal. It’s true, in every desperate sense of the word.
The story of the first cover-up is the story of all the cover- ups, which we have reenacted many times. We could just as easily call these cover-ups sin, which is admittedly a grenade of a word, but let’s be honest, what else would you call rape? What else would you call the slaughter that is happening right before our eyes at the hands of ISIS?
And what else would you call the small movement you make toward your coworker, who is not your spouse, following that undeniable spark? That small line you decidedly and intentionally cross? What else would you call it?
If you’re still not convinced, what else would you call snarky Facebook comments?
I was recently speaking at my friend Andrew’s church in Providence, Rhode Island, where I came across the best definition of sin I’ve ever heard:
Legitimate longings that have gone astray.”
I have a legitimate longing to be significant, to see that whatever mark I make in my corner of the world matters. I have a legitimate longing for my words to find a soft place to land, in the hearts and minds of people who want to find a God who seems to be unfindable. I have a legitimate longing to be noticed and to be affirmed for what I bring to the world.
But the edge between using my gifts for the good of the world and relying on my gifts to make me valuable is razor- thin, and I fall off it entirely too often.
What do you do to get noticed? Where do your gifts blur into self-indulgence? Where have your legitimate longings gone astray?
We can surely all agree that we have some idea of what good is but that we seem to be unable to carry it out consistently. And we have at least some idea of what bad is, and we seem to indulge in it more often than we’d like to admit.
There does seem to be an undeniable human propensity to mess things up, doesn’t there? And when you mess things up, you feel shame, and so you run away and hide.
Sin first entered the picture when Adam and Eve mistrusted the one who had otherwise been trustworthy, because it suddenly seemed as if God might have been holding out on them. And so they reached out and grabbed the thing they believed should have been theirs in the first place (of course it was they; Adam was all too eager to get in on it with her but then conveniently offered Eve the blame). Then the blaming went back and forth until they were both covered in self-hatred. And then they heard God coming. That’s when their innocence floated away.
And so they ran away and hid.
God pursued them with a question, one that brought them out of hiding. “Where are you?” God asked.
Oh, God, where am I?
God hasn’t stopped asking that question.
Where are you?