Does God Play Hide and Seek?

The story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis has always raised a lot of questions for me. The encounter at the tree begins like this in chapter 3: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said…Playing hide and seek, urban painting, acrylic on wall

The two questions I have at the outset of the story are: 1. Where is God? 2. Why don’t they go looking for God to find out the answer to their questions instead of just talking to the serpent? It’s often said that this is the beginning of Theology, talking about God but not to God. It doesn’t go well for Adam and Eve, instead of searching for God before the end of the chapter they’ll be doing their best to hide by camouflaging themselves into their surroundings. Hide and seek, sin style.

A couple of weeks ago, after looking at this text, a group of youth and I went running through a church playing a hide and seek game called “Sardines.” It’s one of my favorite games, and thanks to Robert Fulghum, I’ve learned that not only is this game a tremendous amount of fun, it gives insight to our relationships and also the nature of God. Though it does not answer my questions about Eden, it does challenge me to be a seeker in the world and come out of hiding, which seems to be what God is after from all of us. Here is the excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

IN THE EARLY DRY DARK of an October’s Saturday evening, the neighborhood children are playing hide-and-seek. How long since I played hide-and-seek? Thirty years; maybe more. I remember how. I could become part of the game in a moment, if invited. Adults don’t play hide-and-seek. Not for fun, anyway. Too bad.

Did you have a kid in your neighborhood who always hid so good, nobody could find him? We did. After a while we would give up on him and go off, leaving him to rot wherever he was. Sooner or later he would show up, all mad because we didn’t keep looking for him. And we would get mad back because he wasn’t playing the game the way it was supposed to be played. There’s hiding and there’s finding, we’d say. And he’d say it was hide-and-seek, not hide-and-give-UP, and we’d all yell about who made the rules and who cared about who, anyway, and how we wouldn’t play with him anymore if he didn’t get it straight and who needed him anyhow, and things like that. Hide-and-seek-and-yell. No matter what, though, the next time he would hide too good again. He’s probably still hidden somewhere, for all I know.

As I write this, the neighborhood game goes on, and there is a kid under a pile of leaves in the yard just under my window. He has been there a long time now, and everybody else is found and they are about to give up on him over at the base. I considered going out to the base and telling them where he is hiding. And I thought about setting the leaves on fire to drive him out. Finally, I just yelled, “GET FOUND, KID!” out the window. And scared him so bad he probably wet his pants and started crying and ran home to tell his mother. It’s real hard to know how to be helpful sometimes.

A man I know found out last year he had terminal cancer. He was a doctor. And knew about dying, and he didn’t want to make his family and friends suffer through that with him. So he kept his secret. And died. Everybody said how brave he was to bear his suffering in silence and not tell everybody, and so on and so forth. But privately his family and friends said how angry they were that he didn’t need them, didn’t trust their strength. And it hurt that he didn’t say good-bye.

He hid too well. Getting found would have kept him in the game. Hide-and-seek, grown-up style. Wanting to hide. Needing to be sought. Confused about being found. “I don’t want anyone to know.” “What will people think?” “I don’t want to bother anyone.”

Better than hide-and-seek, I like the game called Sardines. In Sardines the person who is it goes and hides, and everybody goes looking for him. When you find him, you get in with him and hide there with him. Pretty soon everybody is hiding together, all stacked in a small space like puppies in a pile. And pretty soon somebody giggles and somebody laughs and everybody gets found.

Medieval theologians even described God in hide-and-seek terms, calling him Deus Absconditus. But me, I think old God is a Sardine player. And will be found the same way everybody gets found in Sardines-by the sound of laughter of those heaped together at the end.

“Olly-olly-oxen-free.” The kids out in the street are hollering the cry that says “Come on in, wherever you are. It’s a new game.” And so say I. To all those who have hid too good. Get found, kid! Olly-olly-oxenfree.