By: Rev. Paul Scalia
The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)
All of salvation history begins not with an answer but with a question: Where are you? The question expresses a desire from the depth of God’s heart. He asks where we are — He seeks us out — because He desires to be with us and that we be with Him. As in Adam we all sinned (1 Cor 15:22), so in Adam, God seeks all of us and asks, Where are you? He wants to know where we are so that He can find us again and reestablish that relationship with Him.
This simple question sets the trajectory for all salvation history. From this point on, the story is about God seeking us out. It reaches its fulfillment in the Incarnation, the coming of God Himself into the world. Not content simply to ask where we are, in the Person of Jesus Christ, He enters the world to find us. His mercy does not wait for us to look for Him. He makes the first move. God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rm 5:8). In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins (1 Jn 4:10).
Where are you? This question expresses the divine initiative. But it also reveals the sad reality of human flight from God. We see this first in Adam and Eve, who childishly try to hide themselves from God. I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself (Gen 3:10). The fear expressed here comes from shame. Adam knows that by sin he has defaced the likeness of God within himself. He is ashamed of what he has done and, worse, of himself. Here an old word is helpful: Adam is shamefaced. The divine likeness is marred; he cannot face God…so he hides.
As absurd as we might think their hiding, we also flee from God’s presence. Often it is the shame of sin that drives us into hiding. Like Adam, we are shamefaced and hide our faces. Other times it is vanity and love of the world that makes us hide. We avoid Him because we do not want to make the changes that He may ask of us…or accept the challenges that He sets before us.
And our hiding places are no less absurd than those of our first parents. We hide in our work and busyness (“I’m too busy to pray…”). We hide in our possessions and entertainment, perhaps thinking that the world’s noise will distract Him as it does us. We hide often in the very sins that cause shame in the first place — in the alcohol, in the pornography, in the promiscuity, and so on. We can even hide from Him “in plain sight” — whenever we use devotions and prayers not to know Him better but to appease Him and, in effect, keep Him at a distance.
We need to “save face.” But we cannot. Only He can restore His likeness. Only He can take away the shame so that we can again show Him our faces. Thus the psalmist speaks of God as salutare vultus mei — literally, the savior of my face (cf. Ps 43:5). He enables us to be genuine, real, and authentic again. His forgiveness restores His likeness within us and indeed restores us to ourselves — so that we can look at Him face to face.
All of which means that we need to allow ourselves to be found. Our first parents hid themselves and we repeat that folly. Salvation comes only when we allows ourselves to be found by Him. The heart of prayer, therefore, is not so much searching for God as it is allowing ourselves to be found by Him.
Where are you? The question also prompts self-reflection, an examination of conscience: Where am I in relation to God? This first examination of conscience happened in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8) — in the evening. We also, at the end of the day, should hear His voice prompting us to self-examination, to consider how we stand before Him. The daily examination of conscience thus becomes not so much thinking about the rotten things we have done as responding to this primordial question of salvation. Where are we in our relationship with Him?
Where are you? We are inclined to flee and hide from the divine Seeker. Our Lady shows us how we should respond. The first Eve hid with her husband and avoided God. Mary, the New Eve, steps forward in humble confidence and trust saying, Ecce ancilla Domini — Behold, the handmaid of the Lord! May she take us by the hand and teach us how to respond likewise.
This is the second of seven posts that will take up some questions of God that satisfy more than the answers of man.