Picture it with me. A man walks along a mountain path amidst towering aspens and pines. The tree cover here dances shadows around his feet. His pace is easy because he’s really not trying to get anywhere. He closes his eyes and takes in a deep tug of mountain air. This is what he’s here for – this smell. And these sights and sounds.
And the company.
Next to him is a kind of lumbering figure three times the man’s size. Ominous maybe to us, but clearly not to his traveling companion. The two smile and laugh like old friends as they amble along. They are engrossed in conversation, stopping here or there to discuss the things they see. A heard of elk feeding high on a far meadow, this or that wildflower, the smell of pine pollen in the air. They are clearly close friends. Intimates we could say.
This is Adam and God in the Garden of Eden, as told in the storied origins of life in Genesis. Of course infused with my Colorado imagination.
God turns to Adam, “You’re lonely.” Adam stops, there is silence between them for a minute. Adam looks at God, looks away. God continues, “I get it. Its okay. Well its not okay.”
“Is that what this is?” Adam says, taping his chest.
“Yes,” God sighs. “And its not good.”
These words had never been spoken here. They would have been scandalous had they not come from the Almighty. How could something not be good here? Here is Eden. Here is untouched paradise. Here is where everything was good. That’s what creation knew. Adam could still recall the grin on God’s face the day they first met and the “Oh, this is very good!” that followed his smile.
But now, Adam’s eyes swell with tears. He knows God is right. But he can’t bear the ache it brings. And for the first time, grief is known in Eden. Okay, wait a minute, you say, tears in Eden? I don’t think they were tears of pain, so to speak, but tears of longing. And there’s a difference. Like suddenly the desire was so strong and so yearning, it just spilled over.
However Adam handled this moment, we know the perfect world was not perfect yet. And its God’s move.
“Its not good for you to be alone. Here, let me do something about that.”
Okay stop right there. Adam had God in paradise, like none of us have ever had God, with no sin and nothing to stand in the way of intimacy and vulnerability. No fear, no shame, no heart break, no angry eyes, no silent treatment. He never once felt distant form God.
And of course not. They shared everything. These walks and talks in the wild world never ended. And though I’m sure they shared long times of silence as good friends can, there was never a goodbye between them. Talk about a quite time on steroids.
He had God completely. And still Adam was lonely and alone, by God’s admission. Which means God wasn’t enough.
Its a common struggle I think most of us feel at some point in relationship with God. That God just isn’t enough. Somehow we have this sense that God should be enough for us. That if we loved him enough or prayed enough or spent enough time with him, somehow he’ll be enough for our hearts needs. This is God we’re talking about after all.
But I can’t tell you how often I hear clients tell me they want God to hug them or hold them or talk to them. I have this same heartache. I’ve wept out of these same sentiments. In some of my greatest pain, what has popped out of my heart has been. “I just want you to hold me.”
God has never held me or hugged me or touched me. And though I’ve heard him talk to me, its never been audible. Jesus spent his days doing this for people. And one day, yes, we’ll get to hug him again in body. But for now, he seems most incarnate in the love of others. The hugs or smiles or tears of others for us.
But this ache for another person can feel scandalous or weak or worse. Even though I think these desires are hardwired, we seem terrified of how deeply we need each other – a friend, a lover, good parents.
I sat with a man this week who told me how stupid he feels for missing his wife as deeply as he does when she’s gone. “It just sounds weird. Or even wrong. Like shouldn’t God be enough? If I miss her this much, maybe I’ve made an idol out of her.” I wanted to laugh. “No, its just how God made your heart.”
I probably laughed because I am like the king of needing people. And its always relieving to find someone else who admits they need people too.
Like Jesus, for example. Remember Jesus in Gethsemane? “Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, ‘This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.’” (Matt 26:37,38). Even when seeking comfort and communion with God the Father, Jesus still wanted his friends really bad.
No matter how much God we get, he’s just not enough. We need people. We need human community. And somehow this is how he wired us.
God’s Humility, God’s Smile
It is the humility of God to allow us to need something or someone other than him. I read that somewhere. And I believe it captures it best. God could have created us to need only him. But instead he created us to need so much else.
We need food and air and water. We need sleep and shelter and meaningful work. And maybe most of all, we need each other. We need love and touch and laughter. We need to belong and be held. We need deep conversations and smiles from others when we walk in a room.
Just to be clear, we need God too. we need God more than we need anything else. But we don’t need only God. We need a whole lot of other thigns. Of course it all comes from God. It all points to God. But its not all God. And that’s by design.
Why in the world would God do this? I don’t know. Maybe it makes for a better story. Maybe its all one giant metaphor.
I can definitely say this: You know that feeling you have when you find the thing your heart has been longing for? Cold water to slake your thirst on a hot day. The butterflies after falling in love with the woman of your dreams. How a great meal tastes after a hard day. A hug when you need it most.
I think that feeling is gratitude. A deep bodily thank you. You’re going to be looking for someone thank. Maybe that’s where God waits for you most, with a smile that says you’re welcome.