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Why Does God Seem So Distant?

“Why does God seem so distant?” Have you ever asked yourself that question?

This excerpt from chapter 4 addresses what I believe is the central issue in our relationship with God.

     After eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve wanted nothing to do with God. When they heard God walking in the garden of Eden, they hid from him among the trees. When God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” Adam offered a lame excuse for hiding. When God asked Adam what had happened, Adam blamed Eve for giving him the forbidden fruit, and he blamed God for giving him an inadequate helper. Finally, when God asked Eve what she had done, Eve blamed the serpent. After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve did all they could to avoid God, and when God brought the truth to light, Adam and Eve refused to take responsibility for violating their personal relationship with God.

     Yet despite all that Adam and Eve had done—the betraying, the covering, the hiding, and the blaming—God didn’t give up on his relationship with humankind. God pursued Adam and Eve again and again.

     What overwhelms me most about God’s pursuit of Adam and Eve is not his undying commitment to humankind; what overwhelms me most is how God’s reaching out to Adam and Eve seems to contradict a fundamental tenet of the Judeo-Christian belief system. Central to both Judaism and Christianity is the doctrine that sin and sinful beings cannot exist in the holy presence of God, but in the garden of Eden drama—the story that explains when and how sin entered the human race—God is portrayed as one who reaches out to sinful humanity.

I don’t know what you were taught as a child, but I was raised to believe that sin cannot exist in the presence of God, and therefore, God had to banish sinful people from his presence. Why? Why was I lead to believe that God abandoned us, that he turned his back on me, when the story of Adam and Eve clearly teaches that God pursues us again and again?

Maybe instead of asking, “Why does God seem so distant?” we should be asking, “Why do we distance ourselves from God?” Maybe our “search” for God is actually our running from God; maybe it’s God who is searching for us.

Living in the Land of Forbidden Fruit

This excerpt from chapter 2 demystifies the children’s version of the Adam and Eve story, challenging us to consider how we indulge ourselves on forbidden fruit.

     “If you were raised in the United States, you probably heard about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit at least once during your childhood. If you’re anything like me, the children’s version of the story acquired a fairy-tale-like mystique, happening once upon a time, long ago, in a faraway place, with the serpent plotting to eliminate the naïve maiden, and the forbidden fruit—the serpent’s agent of death—taking on the shrouded identity of a spellbound apple. In this fairy-tale rendering the garden of Eden drama is reduced to a moral lesson on the need to obey God or else.

     The children’s version of the Adam and Eve story is so prevalent and accepted in our culture that when I speak on the subject, most people are surprised to hear that the biblical account does not state that the forbidden fruit was an apple. In fact, the type of fruit Adam and Eve ate is not revealed anywhere in the Bible. To take it a step further, to my knowledge there is no definitive historical record or consensus identifying the kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate, but the perception that the forbidden fruit was an apple has been so accepted in our society that it has reached the status of common knowledge. …

     I’ve come to believe that the original storyteller did not reveal the fruit’s identity because the fruit itself is not that important to the story. Identifying the fruit might have even been a distraction, directing the audience’s attention away from the participants in the drama and onto the fruit itself. If the author had revealed the type of fruit that hung on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, then maybe humans would have cut down and burned every such “evil” tree just as we have cut down and burned “evil” books and “evil” people, thinking that the problem of evil in the world could be eradicated by destroying “evil” forms. …

     There didn’t need to be anything extraordinary about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil or its fruit because the story is not about what Eve and Adam ate, or about an evil form, or about a moral lesson on the need to obey God or else. The story of Adam and Eve is the human story of our determining for ourselves what is good and evil and in doing so attempting to sustain our own existence.

     Although we don’t have the choice between eating from the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, each of us in our own way examines the forbidden fruit, asking why we should not eat it. Each of us in our own way struggles with the question “Do you trust me?” Sometimes we overcome the temptation to do what seems right in our own eyes, but other times the allure of more, offering a delightful illusion of control and satisfaction, proves too much to suppress, and we indulge ourselves with the forbidden fruit.

Please, take some time to reflect upon this excerpt and share your thoughts.