He watched intently, wordlessly, as they departed the sacred Garden where all of them had walked together. There they had communed, talking, laughing and celebrating each other’s presence, while Spirit-breeze, the Ruarch, gently caressed their faces and the sunset marked the end of another perfect day in Eden. This day the sunset would not find them together, this day Eden would be lonely without the presence of the man and the woman. This day would never be forgotten by either God or human.
But even as His tender heart struggled with, endured and finally embraced the searing, unfamiliar pain of the unimaginable separation another emotion was rising forcefully within Him. Resolve. He had been betrayed and rejected. The freedom which had set apart the man and the woman, created in His very own image, had become the means of their treachery. Still, He would not have contemplated denying them that freedom. To do so would have meant they were less than His image, like the beasts of the field or the fish with which He had filled the oceans.
As he looked around at the Garden, the Tree now guarded by cherubim wielding fiery swords, His resolve grew indominatable, rising until it erupted out of Him in a terrifying, determined cry that echoed fiercely throughout His creation. In that timeless moment every created being, every rock, tree, river and valley, every light that lit the sky, understood the gravity of that harrowing warrior cry, and trembled. He would pursue them! Throughout their wanderings, through their ever darkening history, through their depravity and violence, through their inevitable misery, He would pursue them, even tasting that misery for Himself. He would pursue them even into the depths of Hades to bring them home. He would redeem them with whatever it cost Him, until once again God and humanity walked together, hand in hand, spirit to spirit, face to face. Whatever it took, He would do.
Let the pursuit begin.
Seven generations from Adam humans, by choice, were still able to walk with God as the first man and woman had walked with God in Eden (Gen. 3:8). Enoch walked with God 300 years and God was so pleased He simply ‘took him’ from the earth (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5; Jude 14). That must have been some walk.
By the tenth generation from Adam the earth had become a very violent place. Humanity’s wickedness had increased to where their thought and intention was ‘only evil continually’. But amid such evil Noah also walked with God and ‘found grace in the eyes of the Lord’ (Gen. 6:8,9). However, Noah was not ‘taken’ by God but instead was chosen to be the seed bearer for all future humanity.
By the time Biblical history reaches the twentieth generation from Adam, we find Abraham and his son Isaac walking not ‘with God’ but ‘before God’, or in the sight of God (Gen. 17:1; 24:40; 48:15). Things had changed again by the twenty first generation from Adam, when Jacob was asking God to walk with him (Gen. 28:20).
And so it goes. Where once our race delighted simply in being with God where He was, we now expect God to be with us. Where once our deepest desire was to walk continually in His Presence, now our thoughts mostly center on ourselves, our own walk and the hope that God might turn up and bless whatever we put our hand to. Isaiah expressed our situation this way: I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts (Isa. 65:2).
But we have not figured on the determination of this God of ours to restore what was lost between Him and us. And rarely do we give any thought to the side of Him that caused the Victorian poet Francis Thompson to pen his famous poem The Hound of Heaven.*
We pride ourselves on our apparent knowledge of God – but this God who doggedly pursues us, who in relentless love hunts us down and corners us, who gets in our face and demands a yes or a no from us – well, we don’t talk about Him much do we? We hold conferences, write books and have endless discussion about making our church environments more ‘seeker sensitive’ without ever acknowledging the greatest Seeker is God Himself. We are so caught up in interpreting God, we miss His heartbeat; so driven in our explaining of Him, we are blind to the passion that drives Him.
Through exile in Egypt, years in a dry and dreary wilderness, and into a land flowing with milk and honey this unmentionable God pursued Israel, and continued to pursue them throughout centuries of rejection and grief. This same God pursued, impregnated and protected a young Jewish virgin whose culture declared she should be stoned. He turned up at the River Jordan, on a Galilean beach, in marketplaces and synagogues, and of all places the great Jerusalem temple, in His endless pursuit of a people who might once again walk with Him.
Defiantly, He took the road through hated enemy territory in his pursuit of a common Samaritan woman and her neighbours. He sought out and found tax collectors, publicans, women of bad reputation, the disabled and the outcast in His great pursuit. He healed, pleaded, reasoned, wept, and finally bled pursuing His passion in the midst of indifference and violent hostility. He stared down the jaws of death and refused to co-operate, rising undaunted from the grave to continue the hunt He had set for Himself in Eden.
He lingered in a burial garden in His pursuit of Mary from Magdala. He turned up unexpectedly in a darkened room where His confused and disappointed followers hid in fear. He lit a fire on a beach to attract the attention of weary, hungry disciples just to spend time with them.
He confronted a dyed-in-the-wool Pharisee on the road to Damascus and dared him to return the pursuit. That former Pharisee, Paul, would later remark that he had been ‘laid hold of’, in other words, ‘arrested’ by this One who pursued and won him (Phl. 3:12).
And so the pursuit continues, with God always as initiator and pursuer, and we as the apple of His eye.
You see, it’s all about the walking.
Can two walk together unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3) The walk that God and humanity enjoyed together was like nothing we have experienced in our earthly existence. That walk, face to face, spirit to spirit, cannot be undertaken by angels, or by any created being apart from human beings, because only human beings were made in the image of God. And God desires that it be restored.
His quest for a company of human beings whose souls are knit together with His own has led Elohim, our Three-In-One God, on the greatest pursuit of the ages. That perfect communion He yearns for with humans has cost Him more than we can understand or imagine. It is the search for a Bride for Himself. It is a mystery above all mysteries, unfathomable by the human mind. Yet, even though it is mystery, it can be responded to by those who even just begin to perceive it.
‘Where are you?’: the heartbreaking cry of Eden. ‘Where are you?’: the ever echoing question through human history. ‘Where are you?’ reverberates through Heaven and earth even now, even among those who call themselves His own. If you hear that cry in your soul, be it ever so faintly, there is a very clear choice. We can hide, as our human ancestors hid among the trees in the Garden, or we can respond: ‘Here am I!’
‘Here am I’ has no conditions to its availability, no ifs buts or whys. ‘Here am I’ has counted the cost and has deemed the One who asks it worthy. ‘Here am I’ is persuaded that walking with God is the only walk worth desiring. ‘Here am I’ can only truly be uttered with empty hands.
Wherever we may be on our journey with Jesus Christ, each and every one of us is on this journey only because He pursued us. Let’s not fool ourselves that we’re here because of our wise choices, moral living, church attendance, respectable family background, theology, Bible study, denomination or being born in the right country.
We are invited into fellowship with God because: God. Has. Pursued. Us. It’s that simple.
The invitation to walk with God stands. And the cry still resounds: ‘Where are you?’ Each one of us must answer one way or another, because not to answer is to answer.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter…
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after….
Excerpt from ‘The Hound of Heaven’ by Francis Thompson, 1893
*For a modern adaptation of The Hound of Heaven, I recommend this video: https://vimeo.com/89705938
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017 Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.