Seeking and Finding the God Who is Near
Some people claim that since we can’t see God, finding him is impossible, so we shouldn’t waste our time seeking him. For them, God is just an interesting discussion topic. But many throughout history have claimed to have sought God and found him. All throughout Scripture God tells us to seek him. Why would God invite us to seek him if it’s impossible to find him?
Seeking an unseen God
If God is real and his existence is obvious, why would we need to seek him? The reason is we can’t see God. We can’t physically detect him or know him directly. If we could, we wouldn’t need to seek him—he would be there in front of us. He is a spiritual, not a physical Being. He created the physical universe and is thus not a part of it.
Others say that God’s existence is not obvious, and that if there is a God, he must be hiding from us. But although he’s not physical, we can “see” him in the marvelous works he created. He reveals his attributes and shows his power and majesty through his created world, what theologians call general revelation. And we can read about him in Scripture. Because he is a personal God, we can enter a personal relationship with him and enjoy his presence through his Holy Spirit. And if we can experience God in these ways, then it would be worth devoting all our attention, effort, and energy to finding him.
Is God hiding from us?
There are around 50 verses in the Bible about seeking God, five in the New Testament, and 45 in the Old Testament. So God doesn’t want us to think of this as an occasional activity.
God spoke through the apostles and prophets that seeking him isn’t a waste of time. He can be found if we seek him. Even those without a knowledge of Scripture can still seek him. In his address to the Athenians, the apostle Paul said:
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)
Paul declares here that God isn’t far from anyone—he’s near. He’s not hiding from us and wants us to find him because he loves us. He makes himself available and spiritually visible to all those who seek him. Seeking God provides a pathway to knowing and experiencing him:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
It pleases God when we seek him. It shows that we’re acting on the revelation that God gives us about himself—that there must be a Creator, that he is worth finding and knowing, and that there is a great reward in doing so.
God exhorted the Israelites to seek him
The Old Testament writers spoke of seeking God. God expected that the Israelites would seek him. Before his death, Moses gave this exhortation to them:
The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you. …. But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:27, 29)
The Israelites would later be scattered and leave the Lord for other gods. But God would always be there for them if they sincerely looked for him.
Seeking and finding God was not unattainable for the Israelites. Otherwise God would not have commanded them to do it. There were many times when they did in fact seek the Lord, both in their own homeland and during the exile. They did so by giving attention to God’s commands and celebrating the feasts, including the Passover (2 Chronicles 35:1-19, Ezra 6:19-22). God honored their devotion, as this showed their love for him. King Josiah, a godly king, sought the Lord and as a result reinstated worship of Yahweh and banished idol worship from his kingdom (2 Chronicles 34). God also invited the Gentiles to join with Israel in seeking the Lord, and foretold the Messiah’s ministry to them (Isaiah 42:6).
King David sought God
King David had a heart after God, and he sought the Lord most of his life. In many of his Psalms, he declared his desire to seek God above all else.
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
Before David died, he admonished his son Solomon:
….the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. (1 Chronicles 28:9)
And Jesus himself invited us to seek God:
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened…. If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-10, 13)
Here, Jesus gave us three invitations to come to God: ask, seek, and knock. Some people see these as commands. But they are really invitations to enjoy God’s blessings, to find him and enjoy his glorious presence. Along with each invitation he gives a promise: an answered prayer, a treasure found, an open door.
First, we ask: “God if you’re there, show yourself to me. May I know you for certain. Fill me with yourself.”
Then, we seek. We look for answers to our questions, we talk to those who say they know God. We open our eyes to any clues from nature, logic, or the voice of God, his written Word.
And we knock. We take God at his Word and knock to enter his door and place our faith in him. God maintains an open door policy, and he’s waiting for us to call.
Seeking God first
Jesus’ promise is that we will find God if we seek him. He is good—he wants us to know him so he makes it easy for us. And we find God in Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ we can receive all God’s good gifts: forgiveness of our sins, a new life guided by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, and an eternal future with God.
Most people devote all their energy to providing for their own physical and emotional needs. But king David learned that God provides for those who seek him:
….those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10)
And Jesus also said the same, that if we seek God and his kingdom first, he will provide all we need in life:
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:32-33)
The Doctrine of Total Depravity
Reformer John Calvin incorrectly argued that man is so depraved that he cannot seek God, and that only God’s sovereign choice totally apart from our own will determines if we seek him. It is true that we are sinful and need God’s grace to shepherd us on the path that leads us toward him. But Calvin denied that humans have any free will capacity to look for God. This means that only after a person is redeemed and indwelt by God’s Spirit can he then seek God. This teaching is called total depravity.
But why would God tell us to do something we are incapable of doing? The logical conclusion of this teaching is that if we try to seek God, we are doomed to fail if God doesn’t will it. This is similar to fatalism, and implies that God is not kind, but arbitrary and capricious. It also implies there’s a hidden message in the gospel: although God commands us to believe the gospel to find salvation, he knows it’s impossible since we are all too evil. So he predetermines who will believe and who will not.
Paul’s use of Psalm 14
One of the main passages quoted by those who teach this doctrine is Romans 3:11. In it, Paul quotes Psalm 14:2-3, which reads:
The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
We just looked at passages telling us to seek God, and that if we do, we will find him. How then do we reconcile these with this one passage with suggests we can’t?
Read Psalm 14 and look closely at it. The psalmist is contrasting the foolish (v. 1) and evildoers (vs. 4, 6) with the righteous (v. 5). The statement that there is no one who seeks God is therefore not a doctrinal statement, but an observation. It doesn’t say no one can seek God. Because of widespread corruption at that time in Jewish history, no one was seeking God. They all had turned aside to do evil and had become wicked and corrupt. So historical examples of extreme depravity don’t prove all people are depraved. But they do show how depraved humans can be.
Paul clarifies himself
Paul’s main point in Romans chapter 3 is that it’s not just the Gentiles who are under sin, but the Jews also, as demonstrated by Jewish history. But he is not in any way implying that humans cannot make conscious decisions to seek the Lord. That is not the argument he’s making or even the topic he’s addressing. He actually says the opposite in Romans chapter 2, where he again contrasts the righteous and the wicked (or evil-doers):
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romans 2:7-8)
To use one Bible passage that suggests that no one seeks God, to negate 50 other passages that exhort all people to “seek the Lord” is not good Bible exegesis. Interpreted correctly, Romans 3 does not teach total depravity. And the gospel doesn’t contain any hidden message as Calvin implies. When Scripture says “seek the Lord,” it means we should use all of the faculties and abilities God gives us to look for him.
The righteous and the wicked
The Bible authors make a major distinction between those who are sinful (which describes all of us) and the wicked or evil-doers. All of us have sinned and have a sin nature. But not all of us are “wicked” by the biblical definition. In the Bible, the term wicked refers to the unrepentant who refuse to seek God, who don’t admit their sin but continue in rebellion against him (Psalm 10:4).
In the same way, the biblical term righteous does not mean sinless or perfect. It refers to those who seek God and are humble, repentant, and devoted (Luke 2:25). In other words, they are those who have a faith/love relationship with God.
Because we are all sinners, we need God’s grace and mercy if we ever hope to find salvation. God desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4). And in his grace he sends his Holy Spirit to draw us to himself to aid and encourage us to enter God’s kingdom. He gives us revelation, but it’s up to us to act on the truth he reveals. If we do, he gives us more truth. But if we don’t, he gives us less. He doesn’t force his love on those who defy him and rebel against him. At some time, he withdraws his Spirit and leaves the wicked to their own desires (Romans 1:28).
But seeking God is always within his will. He invites us to seek him, and he’ll smooth and pave this road for us if we decide to take it!
My personal story
My parents were raised in the Lutheran faith, but they abandoned it later in life. So, I grew up in a non-religious family. In my younger years, I heard of the Creator God, and I reasoned that there must be one. I learned to pray to him, but I eventually lost the weak faith that I had. My high school years were turbulent, as I lost my way into the drug scene. After about three years of bad experiences, I became fed up with the drug culture. I resolved to look for a better path, and eventually I started searching for truth and seeking God.
I was attracted to Eastern religious thought, which taught that through meditation I could achieve a state of inner peace and oneness with God. But before long, I realized that these religions saw God as an impersonal force with no intelligence, emotion, or beauty. After a year of this, my meditations became more like prayers. I earnestly started seeking God. Something inside me yearned for a relationship with God, not a procedure.
At one point I prayed, “God, if you are real, please reveal yourself to me.” That became the prayer I made daily for about a year. In my freshman year at college someone invited me to a Christian fellowship and I began studying the Bible with several young Christian men. After being introduced to the claims of Jesus Christ, I embraced the gospel—and a relationship with the living God through Christ was born.
Looking back, I can see that I had a sincere desire to seek God, but also that God in his sovereignty finally led me to the truth.
Seek God while he may be found
The prophets of God knew that there are opportune times to seek God, and we should never waste them. God’s blessings will come to those who see their urgent need for him:
Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12)
God gives every person on earth windows of opportunity to seek him. But there is no guarantee he will allow us to look for him any time we want. As Isaiah wrote:
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Call on the name of the Lord
We should seek him now and not later. If you haven’t, my prayer is that you will do so at the soonest possible time. Take Jesus at his word: if you seek him you will certainly find him, for he is not far from you. Call out to him, for in fact he is very near.
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13)
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