Editorial | God in Search of Man
As cotton wool clouds drift across the sky and one day is more or less like yesterday and the day before that… and as so often our attempts to witness appear to hit the same brick walls… we can get the impression that God is somehow distant. There, but otherwise occupied; all set to meet us at judgment day, but meantime, leaving us to our own devices. This is absolutely not the case. God is in search of man. That’s a phrase which rambles on my mind, and it leads me to another one, which you might perhaps misunderstand, at first blush: God is actually in need of man. He is passionate for us. He is not disinterested. The gift of His Son was evidence enough of that, for all time.
God’s search for man is a repeated theme of the prophets. “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree, I saw your fathers” (Hos. 9:10). “He found him in a desert land… He encircled him, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of his eye” (Dt. 32:10). “I have found David my servant” (Ps. 89:20). “I said, Here am I, here am I… I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people… I called, no one answered” (Is. 50:2; 65:1,2; 66:4). Jeremiah speaks of running to and fro in the streets of Jerusalem, searching her squares on God’s behalf, to see if he could find a single man who did justice and wasn’t greedy (Jer. 5:1,5; 6:6,13; 8:10). God looked, and was deeply shocked that He found no man: “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore His own arm brought salvation” (Is. 59:16).
It’s not simply so that men search for God and then find Him in Truth. He is in search for man. So it’s not us as it were reaching out to God; He is fervently reaching out to us, and we have to come to realize that. We don’t so much as find God, as realize that He already is earnestly with us. This explains how wonderful is the moment when both sides meet; all heaven rejoices when the woman finds her lost coin, or the shepherd His sheep. As the Yiddish proverb says, “And going out to find Him, I met Him coming towards me”. So how, then, does God search for man? God could as it were parachute His Truth right into the lap of people. But He always prefers to work through a mechanism. His “hand”, His way of operation, is through His Son. And the Lord Jesus in turn has a “body”, through whom He operates on earth. And so it is through us that the search is made. The Lord Jesus is as the owner of the vineyard who goes out looking for workers. And He gets so desperate that He lowers the bar as time goes on, and will take those whom nobody else has hired at harvest time. The lazy, handicapped, elderly, weak, those with a reputation as no good… and is willing to pay them a day’s pay if they at least come and do something for Him. He is so desperate to have His harvest reaped, for otherwise it will spoil; there were a few days during which the right moisture content and weather meant that it was critical to make the harvest, and the parable is set during one of those days. Likewise the Lord Jesus is as the steward who goes out to find and compel men to come in to the marriage supper. As time goes on, He will take anyone. Such is the urgency and tragedy of the rejection of the Kingdom by those for whom it was primarily intended.
When we take the Gospel to people, we are part of God’s desperate search for man. He is eagerly seeking to empower our witness, and willing there to be response. But He never forces against human freewill. Every rejection of our message is felt harder by Him than it is even by us. But He is with us, to the end of the world, as we make that witness, because we are searching on His behalf. Anyone who’s done any amount of preaching work will testify to the simple truth - that we feel His presence so deeply with us. Even in the times of rejection of the message.
God in Need of Man
God’s need for man - as it were - is brought out by the parable of the lost coin. It’s been suggested that the lost coin was one of the woman’s dowry coins, and thus the story speaks of how every lost person is a personal and deeply felt loss to God. However, this view has been criticized in that a drachma, which had the same value as a silver denarius, was the wage paid to a worker for one day’s field work (Mt. 20:1-16). It was far less than the dowry coins. It could be that instead we have here a reference to a desperately poor housewife - who certainly had no dowry money left. The poor were so poor in Palestine at the time of Christ that they were selling their land, and many had become landless labourers. They worked for money with which they bought food. The husband went far and wide searching for work; the Lord’s parable pictures labourers waiting around for work. It’s been calculated that on the basis of one denarius / day as wage, even if the worker worked 300 days / year, and had four children and a wife plus himself to support, this income would only enable them to buy enough bread to provide 1400 calories / family member / day (These calculations are made in W. Schottroff and W. Stegemann, God Of The Lowly pp. 129-135). This isn’t enough to sustain a person’s ability to do manual work. Therefore mothers and children faced malnutrition, and the women tried to grow crops on waste land and did anything for money in order to buy bread. The smiling, full cheeked, charming Mediterranean woman with dowry coins around her forehead (beloved of those Sunday School books about Bible background) - just wasn’t the scene that the Lord had grown up in. The woman who’d lost her coin was searching desperately for it, because that was what she’d buy the kids food with. No coin = no food = whiny, hungry, sick kids. She needed, desperately needed, that coin; so that she could feed the hungry kids whom she loved and be the de facto domestic head which she was. And this is all a picture of God’s need for the lost, His need for us, because He knows the feeding which that lost one can uniquely provide to His beloved family. And one wonders of course whether the Lord’s parable wasn’t drawn from real life incidents in His own childhood with Mary.
Our Part in the Search
God is in search of man, and so is His Son. We surely all at times get depressed, feeling we are nothing and nobody, just used rather than needed. But just as we have our need to be needed, so does God, seeing we are made in His image and likeness. We see it all worked out visually when the Lord Jesus was starving hungry (Gk.), and saw a fig tree far away. He walked towards it, fixing His mind upon the tree. It wasn’t the time for figs, but the tree had leaves, and He was so hungry, He’d have been prepared to eat the most immature, unripe figs (Mk. 11:12,13). This is an acted parable of His search for man, for fruit upon us. The same imagery of a fig tree bearing fruit is used by the Lord in Lk. 13:6 to speak of His hope of spiritual fruit from Israel. But when the Lord finally arrived at the leafy fig tree, He found no fruit at all, and so He cursed it, and it withered. The same word is used about the withering of those rejected at the last day by the Lord Jesus - they will be withered, and then gathered up and burnt (Jn. 15:6). So as the Lord Jesus strode the long way towards the fig tree, focused upon it with all the focus and hope of a hungry man, so eager and hopeful to find fruit... so He is striding towards us with the same hope in us, of finding at least something, however immature, however unripe. But at least something.
The good shepherd searches for the sheep until He finds it. John 10 is full of reference to Ezekiel 34, which describes God’s people as perishing on the mountains, eaten by wolves.
But the Lord Jesus set Himself to do that which was impossible - to search until He found, even though He knew that some were already lost. Our attitude to those lost from the ecclesia and to those yet out in the world must be similar.
God is searching for us, longing for us, as the father watching for the prodigal’s return. And it is this spirit / disposition of God which we are to have in our pleading outreach to humanity. We’re extending the tragic and even desperate search of God for man. Our witness can certainly not be indifferent, take-it-orleave-it, just a bald presentation of Biblical information… there must be some heart and soul and spirit to it, reflecting none less than the searching, longing heart of God Himself. Is our testimony to Jesus in this spirit of the prophets? With whom have you talked this week? To whom have you reached out, for whom have you prayed that they might return to their God? And how have you talked with them, with what spirit of appeal? As a dying man to dying men? Or as an impartial presenter of mere information? Why not make prayer lists of people whom we desperately wish would turn to God…? And when one does turn, this spirit will lead us to do all we can to ensure he never turns away again.
... are determined by circumstances and capacity. Impossibilities will never be exacted by the supreme Judge.
What will be looked for and what must be cultivated, is the diligent accomplishment of that which is within our power. It may be very little, but lets do it continually, and with a good conscience, as in the sight and service of God and we shall be accepted.
Bro Robert Roberts ~ “The Ambassador” 1887