Our human flight from God began in Genesis 3. In our shame, in our guilt, in our fear, we hid there among the bushes in our forefather Adam.

Adam and Eve sought to avoid that meeting with God, but that was impossible. There is nowhere for mere humans, finite, trapped in time and space, to escape from the One who is eternal, infinite, omniscient and omnipresent. There is nowhere to run to.

King David recognized this:

‘Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?’ [Psalm 139:7].

Francis Thompson expressed it in his lengthy poem ‘The Hound of Heaven’:

‘I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter …
From those strong feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat – and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet –
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”’

We hide, not like Adam in the bushes, but in anything and everything that will fill our minds so that there is no room left for thoughts about God and about our desperate need of him. But everywhere we hide betrays our emptiness.

King Solomon realised this. In Ecclesiastes he records his deep soul-searching and his conclusion that everything in which he sought to find meaning, identity and fulfilment proved empty and pointless, as meaningless as chasing the wind. Nothing he did could fill the deep void within him, nothing could give him a deep inner sense of completeness, nothing could define who he was or what he was here for:

Not all the wisdom and knowledge gained through his diligent study, even though he was deemed the wisest man then alive [Ecclesiastes 1:12-18].

Not all the excesses of pleasure and partying in which he engaged [2:1-3].

Not his famed construction work [2:4-6], not his unparalleled wealth [2:7-11; 5:10; 6:1-6], not the hard work he personally contributed [2:17-23], not his success and advancement way beyond his neighbours [4:4-16].

Fleeing from God, humans blame God for this emptiness, for this inescapable inner turmoil and meaninglessness.

Yet it is in God, and only in God, that relief from this despair, this quest for identity, and this lostness is to be found:

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest … and you will find rest for your souls’ [Matthew 11:28,29].

‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ [John 14:27].

‘The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children’ [Romans 8:16].

He from whom we flee, he whom we disparage, he whom we reject, is the One who can give us the meaning, purpose and identity that we seek, and the grace and forgiveness that we need. He is the One who alone loves us with the unconditional love we so desperately crave.

Francis Thompson concludes his poem with these words:

‘ “How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me? …
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”’

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013, 2016