There’s a story in Genesis that tells how humans tried to go where God was. It’s in the 11th chapter. The beginning of Genesis, as a matter of fact, tells how we all got into this mess. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve saw that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was attractive fruit. And they saw that they could be like God, knowing good and evil. So they ate, and they knew, and, wanting to be like God, were cast out of the garden, away from his presence. And then Cain decided to take upon himself the decision which belonged only to God: deciding who deserved to live and who deserved to die. With the flood God tried to start all over again with a whole new set of people, but what we learned was that the problem wasn’t with the individual people themselves, as if this set was bad but a new set would be better.
We learned that the heart of humans was a mess. We all fall. Wipe out this set, another set just like them will take their place.
Then, in the 11th chapter, the humans had an interesting idea: the problem, they saw, was that we are here, on earth, and God is there, up in Heaven, and if we could just get up to Heaven where God lived, then everything would be all right. So they started building a city, and at the center of the city they builta tower that would reach up into the heavens. A Stairway to Heaven, as it were. If we build it, we can come and climb and go to where God is, and everything will be all right.
We can leave this mess on earth behind us and we can go up to Heaven where everything is great, and nothing is impossible, and there will be no more tears and no more sorrows.
So God had to do something. And sometimes a punishment is not a punishment as much as it is a correction, and a correction points you in the right direction, so watch what happens. God confuses their language so that they can’t understand each other—that’s the punishment—with the result being that instead of reaching heaven they were scattered over the face of the earth.
And then we have the rest of the Old Testament, where humans encounter God over and over and over. The Lord speaks to Abram. To Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos. All these people have encounters with God. And none of them take place in heaven. All of them take place on earth, usually as they were going about their business, sometimes in the midst of great stress, but rarely in a special place. Sure, Moses spoke with God on Mt. Sinai, but that was before Mt. Sinai was Mt. Sinai. Before that, Mt. Sinai was just a mountain in the desert. And besides, Moses’ first encounter with God was while he was watching his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness.
In the wilderness, God came to Moses.
Work with me here, but maybe at the tower, God was saying, “You can’t come to me; but I will come to you.” Maybe he scattered them over the face of the earth because that is where you will find God—all over the face of the earth, in the midst of the mess.
Where the hurt is. Where the disappointment is. Where dreams have been broken, and hope extinguished, there you will find God. The most God-forsaken places have not been forsaken by God. That’s exactly where you will find God.
Where the mess is, there you will find God.
It’s not the way we would have done it, but that’s the point, isn’t it? We’ve tried every which way out of this mess, and it just seems to make it worse. There comes a time when you just have to stop trying to fix the mess, admit that it’s bigger than you, and let go.
And in that moment, when you let go, you give God space to walk in. And when God walks in, things start to happen. Now, what God does may surprise you. It must have seemed strange that God would be born in a manger. But that’s part of the wonderful mystery of God.
A God who told us to call him “I AM” because, he said, “I am what I am, I will be what I will be.” In other words, “I’m not merely what you want me to be. I am what I am, which is exactly what you need.”
And who is God, and what do we need? He is Immanuel. “God is With Us.” That is exactly what we need, and I hope it is all we really, really want.