It cannot be insignificant that God’s first recorded words to man came in the form of a question.
Adam and Eve have just committed the first sin and they are hiding. God — whose creation of the whole cosmos from the stars to the sky to the sands of the sea has just been described — asks where they are.
The Lord God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? (Gen. 3:9).
As biblical commentator Frederick Dale Bruner, who helped me to see this, puts it:
This divine question echoes down the corridor of the remainder of Holy Scripture, as Scripture’s major divine and human question: ‘Where are you?’ It is significant that human beings separated themselves from God by hiding in the trees. But God did not separate himself from sinful human beings: he came searching for them. And the God of creation did not attack the hiding sinners, he asked them that gracious ‘first question’ of all questions (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 102).
The Genesis account contains provocative clues as to what Adam and Eve lost by withdrawing from God.
When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Gen. 3:8).
In fact the literal Hebrew means something more like this: they heard the voice of the Lord God walking. This is an intriguing way of phrasing things, especially in a text that is so abbreviated in detail. What it suggests is that at one time Adam and Eve had enjoyed some kind of ‘face-to-face’ communion with the pre-Incarnate God prior to the Fall.
But it also indicates that in the wake of their sin, such communion is no longer possible. Only God’s ‘voice’ reaches Adam and Eve. Then again, the word of God is powerful. It has substance to it. They heard the voice … walking.
There seems to be a subtle glimpse of the Incarnation, when the word of God became flesh. Or perhaps we could say the Incarnation was when the voice of God became flesh. In Genesis, we are permitted only to hear this, through the perspective of a now-fallen Adam and Eve. In the gospels, this reality is made more manifest to us in Christ, the word of God who truly walked this earth.
The connection with the Incarnation is not accidental to the point of the story. In Genesis, God is searching for man. In the gospels, He takes this search for us to a dramatic new level in the Incarnation, sending His only Son on a rescue mission for humanity.
Back in Genesis, the fact that God seeks them out through a question also looks forward to the Incarnation. It expresses a kind of woundedness — as if to say, Where did you go? Why have you left me? This is a personal God, not some impersonal or distant Creator.
It is also significant that this kind of merciful openness precedes the judgmental trial-like questioning that follows in Genesis 3. God’s mercy ultimately envelopes his judgments. True, Adam and Eve are eventually expelled from Eden, but this occurs only after they have spiritually and physically attempted to isolate themselves from paradise. God’s judgment is simply enforcing what man has already chosen. In a way, this is what makes His judgment so scary. But it also gives us reason to hope for His mercy.
God’s question to Adam and Eve calls out to us today. Where are you?
Where are we? Are we living in the kingdom of God or outside? Are we perhaps living within the kingdom of God yet hiding from the king? Why are we hiding from God?
In the Incarnation, God took the opposite approach — making Himself visible and accessible to all. The climax of this was the cross, when He was stripped of His outer garments and hung on a tree for all to see. Today it is the crucified Christ who calls out to us: Where are you?