St Stephen Lewisham

25th December 2003



The God who Hides Himself


"You really are a God who hides himself" exclaimed the Prophet Isaiah.

It was seeing the hole-in-the-ground where Saddam Hussein was hiding when he was arrested that made me realise that there are two very different reasons why people hide both themselves and their possessions.

If you are Saddam Hussein the reason is fairly obvious. You hide because you donít want to be found. The same is true of those who bury their treasures or hide the goods that they have stolen: they want them to be safe from the police or fellow-thieves so that when the danger is past they can come out of hiding, or dig up their possessions and take them away with them.

But thereís a very different sort of hiding where the intention is precisely the opposite. Think for a moment of those treasure-hunts which some of us have at Eastertide when we hide chocolate eggs in the garden for children to find. The whole point of the game is that these treasures should be found, and it would be little short of a disaster if they werenít Ė so much so that we help the younger children by leading them near to where they are hidden.

Or consider the well-known game of hide-and-seek. If the person who hides were never found it would completely spoil the game. Thereís a poem called The Mistletoe Bough which tells of one unlucky girl who hid in an oak chest during a party and wasnít found for many years afterwards!

When Isaiah spoke of God "hiding himself" my guess is that he was thinking of this second sort of hiding, the one where the seekers are intended to find the hider. Let me give you some examples of the way in which God may be thought of as hiding himself.

He hides himself in the sense that we cannot see him with our eyes. Thereís a reason for this, which people like Isaiah guessed correctly: if we were able to see God with our mortal eyes the sight of him would very likely be unbearable because he is "a Lord of great and terrible aspect"

He hides himself in the things he has made. We can take a casual look at the things of nature and never guess from their outward appearance that they are the work of a Great Mind; but immediately we start looking at them more closely, especially when we look more closely at the way our minds and bodies work, we discover all sorts of wonderful patterns hidden beneath the surface. And from these we can guess that Someone and not Something lies behind their creation.

He hides himself in the lives of those who try to obey him and do his will on earth. Look at the lives of any of the saints and you will discover, below the surface of their humanity, that there is an unmistakable spark of divinity.

Now all these things are clues to encourage us to go on looking for a God who reveals himself in ways and times and places of his own choosing. But that revelation entails our looking for him using the clues he has provided. We might well expect that, having sharpened menís appetites for this Treasure Hunt, God would be preparing mankind for something altogether more remarkable and wonderful.

And so he was. For, in the fullness of time, as St Paul tells us, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman in order that we might, in the words of St John, be given "power to become the sons of God" ourselves.

But again, when God the Son was made flesh on the first Christmas morning, he chose to hide himself. He wasnít born in a palace; he wasnít born in a capital city; instead he was born of a Virgin in the stable-block of the local public house in a small country village of no great importance called Bethlehem.

God hid himself in order to be found. And those who found him first were the shepherds, who were wise enough to know that they really knew nothing, and the Wise Men who were wise enough to realise that they didnít know everything. And, having found him, the simple and the learned were both wise enough to know that there was only one right thing to do Ė to worship him with the angels of heaven.

We find this pattern of hide-and-seek being repeated over and over again. God reveals himself in the words of Scripture, but only to those who take the trouble to read or listen to it carefully. He reveals himself in the Blessed Sacrament but only to those who are willing to receive him with a "humble, lowly, penitent and obedient heart". Everyone else sees nothing but bread and wine. He reveals himself in his Body, the Church, but only to those who are prepared to look beneath the surface in order to find him. He reveals himself in the everyday things of life, but only to those who search patiently and diligently for him amongst all the confusion which goes to make up everyday life.

Of course, once we begin to look for him, God is right by our side in an instant to say "not there!" or "try over there" as we do to our children in a treasure-hunt. He sent his angels to the shepherds; he sent his star to the Wise Men; and to us he sends dozens of little clues about his presence amongst us.

God, as Isaiah said, is truly a God who hides himself. But he hides himself in order that we may find him. And at least one of the reasons for his doing so is not hard to understand. For itís the case, isnít it, that we are far more likely to value something we have found for ourselves, even with considerable assistance from others, than something which has just dropped into our laps whilst we werenít even looking?

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