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A Rustling in the Garden

Why we sometimes wish the atheists were right.

2007, it has turned out, was the year of God's absence. God's absence was lamented by a modern saint and celebrated by famous atheists. We learned that Mother Teresa experienced long stretches during which she had no sense of God's presence. Because she had experienced startling epiphanies earlier in life, these stretches of divine absence were excruciating for her. And we heard arguments from Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, among others, that God hasn't made himself known because, well, there is no one to be made known.

I like to think I'm more like Mother Teresa—someone who longs to experience more of God's presence. I pray for that experience. I open myself more to that Presence. I sometimes wonder, though, if I know what I'm asking for. While we read many prayers in the Bible pleading for God to make himself known, we have many other instances in which devout believers hide or flee from God's presence. It started with Adam and Eve.

We take up the story after the blessed couple had eaten of the forbidden fruit. They intuitively sensed something tragic had occurred. They did not have to be taught that God is holy and not to be trifled with. They are so intimate with their Creator that guilt and shame are immediate reactions. Naturally, they try to escape God's presence when they hear him rustling in the trees: "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" (Gen. 3.8).

This is the first installment of a subplot that runs throughout the Bible. To be in the presence of a holy God, the biblical authors tell us, is not necessarily like a trip to the beach. The holiness of God and the sinfulness of man do not ...

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SoulWork
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity Today and author, most recently, of Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals.
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