“Who may ascend onto the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? One who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to deceit And has not sworn deceitfully. He will receive a blessing from the Lord And righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face—even Jacob. Selah” (Psalms 24:3-6 NASB)
We probably don’t have the words of David in Psalm 24 above in mind as we come before the Lord in our day-to-day devotional time or prayer. Yet the fundamental question that he poses here is one that haunts all of us in the deepest places of our minds and spirits. How can we find the Lord? How can we ascend to the High and Lofty One in the midst of our lowly and very messy, mundane lives? More than that, how can we keep coming back to the Holy One when we are so keenly aware of our own brokenness and iniquity?
Paul wrote that “there is no righteous person, not even one… there is no one who does good, there is not even one” (Rom 3:10, 12). And we know better than anyone, except for maybe God Himself, just how unclean our hands are and the impurity of our own minds and hearts. So how do we reconcile the accusations of guilt and the realities of our own weakness that haunt us as we try to ‘ascend the hill of the Lord’ and seek His holy face?
One might expect that when choosing which stories to highlight for the Biblical canon, the Holy Spirit would’ve picked the very best heroes and heroines, those who never faltered in the way of the Lord, so that we’d have perfect examples to aspire to for all time. But upon closer examination of the stories, our “heroes” are, in fact, human just like us, prone to wander (sometimes for decades) and fall down literally over and over again, and in pretty dramatic fashion. Reading some of the Biblical testimonies can be like watching the main character in the horror movie leave the relative safety of his or her home to go out into the woods in search of the scary noise as you’re screaming “you idiot - why are you doing that?!” But we’re all a little like that, aren’t we? We’re all like sheep who have gone astray, inclined to gallivant into the dangers of the night haphazardly and away from the Good Shepherd’s voice. And the Holy Spirit knew that, which is why the Bible isn’t primarily the story of a people ascending the hill in epic heroism and holiness… it’s the story of a Holy God who descends in merciful kindness to lift His people up.
We see just how far our good and gracious God is willing to chase us, particularly in our brokenness, right at the very beginning of the story in Eden when humanity fell into sin. The serpent in all his craftiness has just convinced Adam and Eve to do the one thing God commanded them never to do, eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden. Their eyes are opened and they realize their nakedness, as well as their sin it seems, and they cover themselves. Genesis 3:8-9 goes on to say this: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?””
This is the part of the story where everything changed for creation. Humanity once walked face to face with God in the perfection of Eden; now these two (and all who would follow) are banished to a new world outside of this perfect communion — a life now stained and broken under the weight of sin. When we think about Genesis 3, we often think of the horrible decision Adam and Eve made or we think of God's anger toward sin and the enormous consequences of their actions (and of course, ours). But what I love most about this story is the "where are you?" from God.
God knew perfectly well where Adam was. He knew what happened. It's not as if God was surprised by the whole thing or He suddenly couldn't figure out where Adam had wandered off to, like us when we lose our keys. He knew. He knew everything that had happened. He knew where they both were. But still, God asked, "where are you?" And in those three little words, He shows us something unfathomable about His heart. Goodness. Love. Mercy.
The "where are you?" of Genesis 3 foreshadows and reveals the heart of a God who would one day lay in a manger with teeny tiny toes, walk the road to Calvary with bleeding back and brow, ask Thomas to touch His hands and believe, and ascend to the heavens with a promise to return. The "where are you?" reminds me of the Resurrected Christ asking Peter "do you love Me?" not once, but three times, even though He already knew the answer. He asks these questions for a reason. He says these things so that we will understand something important about Him. Every word means something when it’s God who speaks it.
"Where are you, oh Adam, oh Eve? Don't be afraid; My Love and Mercy will find you. I am a Good Shepherd. Surely Goodness and Mercy will chase you and hunt you down, even to the furthest reaches of this dark night. Look and see how far and deep and low My Love will go. I am Holy and Fierce, but I am also a Lamb, slain, from before the Tree or its fruit were even made. Where are you? I know where you are and I am coming…"
And He did come. God, the Son, in His majesty and holiness stepped down from His throne and wrapped Himself in the dust of humanity. Jesus walked among us and drew breath from the very earth He created. He walked all the way up the hill to Calvary where He hung for our crimes and iniquity, and gave up His life so that we never have to hide from God again. Because Jesus chased us down with His own life’s blood as the offering of Love poured out, we now have unwavering confidence to ‘ascend the hill’ and draw near to the throne of God for all time (Heb 4:14-16). Not only that, but we hold out hope for the promise of a Kingdom that is coming with the return of its King, and a holy city, the New Jerusalem, which will descend out of heaven from God, that we may dwell with God forever (Rev 21:1-4).
Oh, how far beneath Your glory
Does Your kindness extend apart
From where Your feet rest on the sunrise
To where You sweep the sinner's past
And oh, how fast would You come running?
If just to shadow me through the night
Trace my steps through all my failure
And walk me out the other side
For who could dare ascend that mountain
That valleyed hill called Calvary
But for the one I call Good Shepherd
Who like a lamb was slain for me
I will praise on the mountain
And I will praise you when the mountain is in my way
You're the summit where my feet are
So I will praise You in the valleys all the same