Going through the temple recently, I was struck by something in the story of Adam and Eve that never had caught my attention before. Following Eve’s partaking of the forbidden fruit, and Adam following suit shortly thereafter, both of them become aware of their nakedness and hide from the presence of the Lord. God searches for them and calls out for Adam, asking “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9).
With the understanding that Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden is symbolic of all of mankind’s separation from God as result of sin, what caught my attention was who moved out on whom. In all of our lives there are times when we become acutely aware of the distance between us and the Lord, whether as a result of transgressing His laws or through the spiritual atrophy that results from being too apathetic in our devotion. At such times it is easy to feel abandoned, to believe that God has withdrawn from us and left us alone as a punishment for our sins. Too often we forget that the Lord hasn’t moved. We have.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they ran and hid. But the Lord still sought them out, asking where they had gone. I think that this same thing happens with each of us when we distance ourselves from deity through disobedience, doubt or even despair. We find ourselves lost and alone, but that doesn’t mean that the Lord has given up the search. No matter where we have hidden ourselves, He still calls out for us and provides a way home. In the case of Adam and Eve, despite the fact that they were cast out of the Garden, they were not expelled from the love of God. Through the ministration of angels and the promised atonement of Christ, the Lord followed them right out into the wilderness.
Recently I became personally aware of how the Lord continues to search for us long after anyone else would have given up the chase. I was assigned to home teach an elderly couple who had been faithful and devoted members of the Church for many years, but then due to a number of old and unresolved grievances withdrew themselves from active participation in the Church. By the time I met them, they had not been to Church in years.
Not long after I was assigned to them, both my senior companion and I began to feel a pressing need to invite them back to Church. The prompting would not go away, and so each month we extended invitations to them to come back. Each was refused, sometimes with no small amount of irritation. But with each declined invitation, the prompting to invite again was more powerful. My companion and I both wondered aloud at why this seemed so urgent.
After several months of invitations, the husband became seriously ill, and his condition worsened with alarming speed. Shortly thereafter, his family called us to the hospital to administer him one last time before he passed to the other side. As we left his room and returned to the car, I could not get out of my mind how the Lord had not forgotten about this brother. Few people in our ward would have known him if they had seen him, but the Shepherd remembered his face and He strove to the end to bring him back to the fold.
That impression has stayed with me and has provided me with considerable hope. I understand better now than I used to that the Lord never throws in the towel on any of us. Even to the last of our days He calls out to us: “Where art thou?” Like Adam, we need to own up to our mistakes and our fears and answer the voice in the Garden.