“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:1-8)
In this brief reading from Genesis, we can see the entire arc of sin and its effects. We, like Adam and Eve, are tempted to do something that God forbids, hoping that it will bring us happiness. And what happens as soon as the sin is committed? We are ashamed, and we want to hide from God.
Poor Adam and Eve. We can imagine them, as soon as their eyes were opened to the true effects of their rebellion against God, filled with shame, self-loathing, self-pity, and fear. “Oh,” they probably said, “God asked us to not do one thing, and sure enough, we did that one thing.” Somebody is going to get a serious spanking.
And yet, what does God do? He is walking in the garden “in the cool of the day,” a time of great comfort and beauty; no burning wrath or blazing heat. The passage continues:
“But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
Now, God knows exactly where Adam and Eve are – he created them and holds them in existence. His question, “Where are you?” strikes at a deeper level. Where are you, Adam? Are you happy? Are you and Eve still walking in the joy of innocence and union with me? Did the sin you committed bring the happiness and the freedom the tempter was promising?
You have hidden yourself from my sight – are you ashamed? Where are you, Adam? Where are you, Eve?
If you are anything like me, you can find yourself “armchair quarterbacking” scripture stories. “Come on, Adam and Eve! Just admit the truth of what happened, for it seems God cares enough to at least not destroy you on sight.” Because notice this – God came to Adam and Eve after their sin. He is at their side just like a worried parent at the bedside of a very sick child. “For goodness’ sake, Adam and Eve, just tell him you’re sorry!”
And yet, who am I to say I’m any better than Adam? Just like him, when I have sinned I said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Afraid, ashamed, and naked – not physically, but spiritually – stripped of grace because of my own sin. Just like Adam and Eve, instead of confessing my sin, I have given God excuses, justifications, and even said, “I’m just going to ignore you now.”
“Where are you?” These are words for each of us to consider. Have you been hiding from God for some time now? Are you afraid? Are there things that need to be brought out of hiding and into the light, things that have left you in a hidden agony of shame? I promise you this – God is at your side right now, longing for you to not only be reconciled with him, but to find your eternal joy with him. When we’ve hurt another person, we know that healing, especially when the wound has been deep and serious, can only come with the words, “I’m sorry. Forgive me.” He will give us the strength to say those words in the confessional, but the choice is always ours.
The first step is always the most difficult. It’s OK if your heart is pounding as you stand up from the pew to go and get in line. It’s OK if you’re afraid. It’s OK if you don’t know what to say, or feel you’ve done something that you can’t possibly be forgiven for, or you think it’s all just too good to be true. I know these things are true, because I’ve experienced all of them.
But let me also promise you, again from my own personal experience, that when you leave that confessional having hurled your sins into the limitless ocean of God’s mercy, you will feel transformed.
And after you hear those words “I absolve you of your sins,” God will ask, “Where are you?” and you will answer, “I am back, Lord. I am home.”