Look who is hiding (Part 1)
Does God hide? Isaiah would answer “yes”. He asserts, “Truly you are a God who has been hiding, the God and Saviour of Israel” (Isaiah 45:15).
How would you answer?
In more recent times, theologians have used the term Deus Absconditus or “The Hidden God” to describe the apparent absence of God from those who seek Him or from circumstances where the godly are in extreme trouble.1 Have you experienced God’s remoteness, His seeming absence in your life? I know that I have—many times.
Martin Luther added a little twist to this notion of “The Hidden God” by pairing it with a phrase he coined: Deus Revelatus, which means “The Revealed God”. For some, the two differing views of God cannot be reconciled.2 Luther bridges the potential clash of ideas by proposing that God is an actively hiding God who can use this hiding to reveal God’s self.3
I remember when I could not recall an impactful experience that I knew I had shared with a friend six months earlier. Its importance was unmistakable. I needed to know. I knew I had known. But I could not recall. I wanted to ask. However, to ask would seem like gloating. So, for a week, this crucial lost memory kept bugging me. I was beginning to wonder if something had happened to my brain. Then my friend called. As soon as I answered, the memory came back. I realised I was meant to re-share the experience with my friend at that moment. Without God hiding, my memory would have delivered a feel-good story just for me. With God hiding, I became part of a divine setup that revealed, in a new and powerful way, the deep love that God the Father has for my friend—just what he needed—at just the right moment.
Over the centuries, deep and thoughtful papers have debated, mused and pondered what seems to be an impenetrable characteristic of the Almighty Living Creator God—God’s hiddenness and revelation. I do not wish to add to this volume of scholarly contribution. However, I do wish you to reflect on these questions: Have you ever wondered if God plays a divine hide-and-seek game with us? If so, why would God do that?
The parable of the hidden treasure provides subtle insights into such a divine game. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44). In this parable, the man is not looking for treasure; he stumbles on it. It is as if God is present as One who hides to be found, in much the same way that I play hide-and-seek with my grandchildren.
As a grandfather, I have enjoyed playing many games of hide-and-seek with my young grandchildren. Am I hiding to try and win the game? No! I am hiding to grow our relationship. Could it be that God plays a divine game of hide-and-seek to grow a relationship with us too? I believe so. Perhaps God has been playing this game for a long time. I wonder if God played a divine game of hide-and-seek with the Old Testament patriarch Jacob? Let’s consider his story, then you can decide . . .
We pick up the story where Jacob’s life is in chaos. He has tricked his brother out of his birthright. Now, with his mother’s help, he has deceived his father into giving him the blessing that his father would typically have given to the firstborn, his brother Esau. Esau is enraged and plots vengeance against Jacob for his trickery. Upon hearing of Esau’s plan, his mother, Rebekah, asks her husband Isaac to send Jacob away until things cool off.
Jacob hurries from home, moving away from the promised land. Wanting to put as much distance between him and his brother, Jacob does not stop until darkness falls. He is exhausted, downhearted and disconnected. Jacob has done things his way, he is on the run and now he is alone. He only finds a stone for a pillow. You know life is hard when all you have for a pillow is a stone.
While asleep, Jacob dreams of a ladder that runs between heaven and earth. Angels of God are ascending and descending the ladder. Above the ladder stood the Lord, and He said:
I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the ground you are lying on. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. And so all the families of the earth may receive blessings through you and through your descendants. I am with you! I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you! (Genesis 28:13-15, New English Translation).
What a treasure Jacob found that night in what we often call the story of Jacob’s ladder. In truth, isn’t it the story of heaven’s ladder? It is not a story of Jacob climbing up. It is a story of heaven stooping down and doing so at just the right moment when Jacob is curious enough, open enough, desperate enough to want to seek God’s presence. Jacob is surprised when he finds the treasure. We get this sense when we read what Jacob thought when he awoke from his dream: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16).
I am just like that. Are you? I sometimes encounter God when I am not even aware of His presence. The good news is that the kingdom of heaven is mindful of our circumstances and is ever planning for a successful outcome in our games of hide-and-seek. The kingdom of heaven longed for Jacob to find the treasure of heaven. The kingdom of heaven also longs for you and for me to find the treasure of God’s presence.
Jacob’s experience reminds me of the words of a song: “So beyond repair. Nothing I could do. I tried to fix it myself, but it was only worse when I got through. And then you walked right into my darkness . . .”4
This encounter in the darkness gives Jacob hope. He sets up the stone that he used as his pillow into an altar. Is this symbolic of this hard place becoming a holy place? He makes a deal with God. “If you be with me on my journey and care for me and do indeed bring me back safely to the land promised to me, then you will be my God.”5 Even deals can highlight a growing relationship!
Jacob left home with little and now has discovered a treasure. Jacob’s challenge is to make the treasure his own—a process that will take another 20 years of hide-and-seek. Why do I say that? Hasn’t Jacob just found the treasure? Sure. But notice his deal. “If you be with me on my journey and care for me and do this and do that, then you will be my God.” From outside the story, it is easy for me to exclaim, “Don’t you get it, Jacob? God is 100 per cent trustworthy. What is this ‘if you be with me’ business”? But the treasure of a relationship is never instant. It develops over time. I don’t just have one game of hide-and-seek with my grandchildren. I keep playing, and every game is growing something deep inside both of us until we realise that we are “besties”.
So too with God. At a time when Israel was at their lowest, we hear the words of God spoken through Jeremiah: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 13:10). God allows the consequences of our choices to impact our lives and those of others, yet still, God draws and invites us into deepening this relationship. Amazingly, God woos us to reconsider this treasure of a relationship together.
Jacob is at his lowest point. He is wearing the consequences of his past bad choices and actions. At this low point, the treasure is no less than a profound, life-giving relationship with God. For the next 20 years, Jacob keeps “playing the game”—now with hopefulness and expectancy in God because he has his Bethel story. He has seen the treasure. He has hidden the treasure in his heart.
Could it be that this treasure can truly become his? Could it be that Jacob discovers his true self and purpose through this game of divine hide-and-seek? Could it be that we discover our true self and purpose through this game of divine hide-and-seek?
Read Part 2: “What is God playing at?” in the August 6 issue of Adventist Record.
Craig Mattner is a teacher of mathematics and photography, Prescott College Southern, Adelaide, SA.
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_revealed_God#cite_note-:4-3, cited 21/03/2022.
3. This proposition is articulated in: Paulson, Steven (April 2014). “Luther’s Doctrine of God”. The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, and is referenced in footnote 2 above.
4. Phrases from the lyrics of a song titled: “Broken Things”, sung by music group Spectrum.
5. Paraphrase of Genesis 28:20-22.