The God of the Bible is a missionary God. His missionary nature and character is first rooted in His initiative to create humanity in His image and in His desire to be in relationship with humans. God’s pre-Fall relationship with Adam and Eve was characterized by daily fellowship in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8). Ellen G. White notes, “So long as they [Adam and Eve] remained loyal to the divine law, their capacity to know, to enjoy, and to love would continually increase. They would be constantly gaining new treasures of knowledge, discovering fresh springs of happiness, and obtaining clearer and yet clearer conceptions of the immeasurable, unfailing love of God.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 51. Unfortunately, sin disrupted that face-to-face interaction.
The Fall did not put an end to God’s mission—it shifted His mission to a new dimension. After the Fall, God’s mission became rooted in His initiative to redeem fallen humanity. Because of His promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15, Scripture, as a whole, is the narrative of the various missionary endeavors undertaken by God to rescue and restore members of sinful humanity to His original design for them. Because mission is an attribute of God (i.e., mission is rooted in His nature and character), God refuses to give up on us.
Mission as an Attribute of God
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible has one unified message: God is determined to reverse the consequences of the Fall. If Scripture, as a whole, is about God’s unrelenting outreach to humanity, Genesis 3:9 could be considered the question that drives it. Genesis 3 is the narrative of the tragic attempt made by Adam and Eve, in a spirit of self-assertion and determination, to be independent of God. This chapter is also a reminder of the reality of sin and its consequences. The consequences of Adam and Eve’s choice led them to hide themselves from God. God’s first response to the plight of humanity came in the form of a question addressed to Adam: “Where are you?” Understanding the purpose of this question is essential to the understanding of the intent of the entire drive of Scripture.
To start with, “Where are you?” is not a theological question. It is a missiological one. This question reveals that, despite their wrong choice, God has not forsaken Adam and Eve. Human rebellion does not subtract anything from God’s desire to intimately relate with humans. God still loves and seeks His wandering children.
The question—“Where are you?”—the first one the Bible attributes to God, speaks more of a condition than a location. Thus, the question was not intended to find out where exactly Adam and Eve were hiding away from God. God never asks questions as a means of gathering information. His omniscience is a source of limitless knowledge, even knowledge of what does not yet exist. Being omniscient, God knew exactly where Adam and Eve’s hiding place was, what they had done, and what condition they were in.
Adam’s absence at his usual meeting place with God was clear evidence that something was wrong. Therefore, the question God asks Adam, in Genesis 3:9, is not “Where are you?” in reference to Adam’s geographical location. The question “Where are you?” was about relationship: “Where are you relationally?” With the first consequences of sin revealed in the previous verses, God’s question was primarily intended to make Adam and Eve think about their relationship with God. The question was intended to make them think about the consequence of their disobedience to God. Adam and Eve were being given the opportunity to examine themselves and acknowledge their guilt. God’s question is the equivalent of the following line of inquiry: “Why are you not at our usual rendezvous? What has happened to our relationship that you are attempting to keep a distance from Me? What is the meaning of these fig leaves you are covering yourselves with?” Satan’s false promise to Adam and Eve was that, through disobedience, they would become like gods. In other words, sin would improve their lives. We know how that turned out. Adam and Eve ended up naked instead of becoming like gods. Their solution to their new plight was to sew fig leaves to hide their nakedness. If this solution had solved their situation, they would not have sought to hide from the presence of God. Rather, they would have confronted God for not wanting their ultimate well-being.
Moreover, “Where are you?” was the earnest cry of a missionary God whose anguished inquiry betrays divine awareness of the gulf that had been created between Him and humans. The question was also His invitation for His lost children to return to a relationship of love and trust with Him. In light of the promise in Genesis 3:15, God’s question bears a promise of hope. Although sin cast its shadow over the divine plan for humanity on account of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God’s plan has not been defeated. In the midst of judgment, the promise of a Redeemer is made.
Genesis 3 is not only a narrative about the reality of sin and its consequences. But at its heart also lies a snapshot of God’s saving mission. There were at least three options that were available to God when Adam and Eve willfully disobeyed Him. First, God could have simply discarded them; that is, God could have let them die as a result of their sin and then created new human beings. Second, God could have let Adam and Eve languish forever under the consequences of their bad choice. The third option, which God chose, was that of redemption: the relational gulf created by Adam and Eve’s willful disobedience will be sacrificially bridged by Him. Though they may suffer the consequences of their sin, they will not live forever in their fallen condition. The redemption of humanity was not only promised in words, but it also was seen in action: “for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21, NKJV). This clothing is an expression of both God’s justice and grace. Although sin, in any degree, is offensive to God, He graciously offers to cleanse us from all filthiness of the flesh and to cover our nakedness with His righteousness.
The Incarnation as Mission
Christ’s incarnation was central to the fulfillment of God’s mission. While in Genesis 3:21 the coming of the promised Redeemer was embodied by Adam and Eve, clothed in garments made from the skins of sacrificed animals, the promise was materialized in the New Testament in the birth of Jesus. Through the Incarnation, the transcendent Creator God became immanent to reveal Himself in the fullest possible way in human terms. In the person of Jesus, God identified fully with humanity for the express purpose of revealing not only God’s love but also His salvific intent for humanity. God did not stay aloof from the members of humanity in His effort to save them. Instead, He bridged the gap by taking human nature and by experiencing human sorrows and temptations. Through the different aspects of His ministry, Christ not only announced God’s reign with prophetic urgency, but He also embodied it by giving God’s redemptive mission a face, a voice, and hands. By healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, giving sight to the blind, and raising the dead, Christ demonstrated God’s power to fully reverse the curse of the Fall. By so doing, Christ reformulated the concept of God’s love so that people could understand it, experience it, and be drawn to God. The substitutionary death of Christ was God’s ultimate way of seeking to reconcile alienated humanity to Himself (John 3:16). Christ’s ministry and sacrifice are mission par excellence!
The Second Coming: God’s Mission Accomplished
The last words of Jesus in the Bible are “ ‘Yes, I am coming soon’ ” (Rev. 22:20, NIV). The second coming of Jesus will bring to a close God’s post-Fall mission and open the new-earth phase of God’s mission. Jesus’ coming to claim the earth as His kingdom is the concretization of the Redeemer’s promise in Genesis 3:15.
The new-earth phase of God’s mission marks the complete reversal of the consequences of the Fall: God will be in the midst of His people again, suffering and death will be no more (Rev. 21:3, 4), and human beings will have access to the tree of life (Rev. 22:2).
God’s primal question, “Where are you?”, also is addressed to each of us today. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, NKJV). Instead of trying to run away from God because of the guilt of our sins, as Adam and Eve unsuccessfully did, we need to objectively examine where we are in terms of our relationship with Him and confess to Him whatever sin we have committed. The assurance is ours: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV). Without this assurance, we truly would not be able to change course in our spiritual life. Every attempt to cover our own nakedness before God is just as unwise as Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. Every humanly designed solution to deal with sin and guilt is utterly inadequate and worthless. The fig leaves of our good works, reputation, and church titles do not suffice as spiritual coverings. Only God can supply us with the adequate spiritual covering. The only lasting solution is the covering He offers to us through Jesus. God does not cover our sin and guilt. He takes them away first and then covers us instead with Christ’s righteousness.
Just as God went out seeking Adam and Eve, He also is out seeking us, not to punish us but to offer us reconciliation for the sake of saving us from the judgment our sins deserve.