I once got into a debate about the first question that God asks Adam in the Garden of Eden – the “Adam, where are you?” question. I have heard it preached that God knew exactly where Adam was hiding. He didn’t ask the question because he didn’t know. He asked the question so that Adam would have the opportunity to confess and open up. My friend argued differently. God, walking in the garden in the cool of the evening – well, that was God in human form, walking, as in Jesus. In human form God doesn’t know everything. In human form he has the same limitations as every other human being. I am not sure that I agree with him.
At the end of the gospel of John, there is another question asked. This time it is Jesus asking Peter whether he loves him. He asks him three times. Some people will pick up on the number three and say that asking the question three times corresponds in some way to the three times that Peter denied that he knew Jesus. There are other people who will delve into the various Greek words for love used in the passage. Jesus was asking for a different kind of love, a self sacrificing love, and all Peter could offer was a friendship kind of love. Eventually Jesus concedes that friendship, for now, is enough. Perhaps Peter had realised in denying that he knew Jesus, he hadn’t shown any of the self sacrificing love then, and perhaps in a similar situation he would behave the same, and Jesus needed to know that. He couldn’t make any guarantees that he wouldn’t let Jesus down again. No more brash promises this time. No more passionate declarations. He knew his limitations.
I got to thinking about this whole question thing. Peter’s third answer contains the declaration “Lord, you know all things.” If God already knew where Adam was, and Jesus already knew the level of love Peter was capable of giving – why do they ask the question anyway?
Sometimes there are questions that we will not ask ourselves. Adam, after he had eaten the forbidden fruit, might have had a lot of questions buzzing around in his head. Why on earth did I eat the stupid apple? What have I done? What will happen when God finds out? How could I have been so stupid? Sometimes when you put something into words it makes it real, not that it wasn’t real before. Words are creative. Perhaps silence is a way of trying to prevent creation in some sense. Until you say it, it isn’t real.
By asking the question, God is inviting us say something that needs to be said so that we can move on. God did not want Adam to spend the rest of his life hiding behind trees in the Garden of Eden. Once the rebellion, the disobedience is out in the open and acknowledged, the relationship between God and Adam is redefined and Adam left Eden to begin a different stage of his life.
Sometimes the question is asked so that we can voice the answer and prove that we know it for ourselves. Peter is not just telling Jesus what kind of love he is capable of showing, but also telling himself. Maybe in the telling other people are eavesdropping. The disciples need to know that in the absence of Jesus that they can rely on Peter to not desert them.
I hesitate to think about the questions that God, or Jesus, might be asking me because I am too afraid to ask those questions myself. Asking questions is like testing and probing and that can be an uncomfortable thing. Sometimes we would rather not know. When my eldest sister was first diagnosed with diabetes, her doctor told her to tell the rest of us to get tested. My mum was diabetic, now she was and perhaps that meant it was inherited. I put it off for a while, but eventually underwent the tests to discover I was OK. Another of my sisters just refused. She decided that she would rather not know.
Maybe all that Jesus really needed to hear wasn’t that Peter loved him, but that Peter knew “Lord, you know all things.” When we know that He knows all things we can be secure.