On Michelangelo’s ceiling, all Adam has to do is lift a finger and he can touch the hand of God. God is that close. This is the teaching of Scripture. This is the faith I have committed myself to. Yet it’s not that simple—not for me, anyway. Sometimes I wish God would show himself more plainly, maybe come down from the clouds every once in a while and part Lake Michigan so I could see for myself. He is, after all, invisible, inaudible, and untouchable. None of my other friends possess these qualities, and it would make relating to them much harder if they did. Sometimes I lift a finger; sometimes I really do try, but not much seems to happen.
When I teach on this subject, these are the questions that arise most frequently:
—“Why do I sometimes feel God’s presence stronger in my daily life than other times?”
—“When it is so easy to ‘see’ God all around me (in trees, in birds, in nature), why is it so hard to feel his presence—especially when I need him most?”
—“Why is it that at times when I seek God I feel no response? Am I asking amiss? How can I know?”
When I think about this subject, these are also the questions I most frequently ask myself.
So I remember another, humbler work of art. It involves a series of books all centered around the question “Where’s Waldo?”
“Sometimes He Hides Himself”
Waldo will never make it to the Sistine Chapel. He looks nothing like the majestic deity of Michelangelo. He is a geeky-looking, glasses-wearing nerd with a striped shirt and goofy hat.
Waldo was created by an illustrator named Martin Handford. He was just an afterthought initially; Handford wanted to draw crowd scenes. But children grew fascinated with trying to find their hero—so fascinated that more than 40 million “Where’s Waldo” books have been sold in twenty-eight countries.
This guy Waldo is supposed to be on every page. The author assures us that it is so. But you couldn’t prove it by me. He is often hidden to the untrained eye. You have to be willing to look for him. “Surely Waldo was in this place, and I knew it not.”
When you find him, there is a sense of joy and accomplishment. In fact, developing the capacity to track him down is part of the point of the book. If it were too easy—if every page consisted just of a giant picture of Waldo’s face—no one would ever buy the book. The difficulty of the task is what increases the power of discernment. The author said he hides Waldo so children can learn to “be aware of what’s going on around them. I’d like them to see wonder in places it might not have occurred to them.”
Part of what makes it hard to find Waldo is that he is so ordinary-looking.
But sometimes it takes a while to find Waldo. It demands patience. Some people are better at it than others. Some people just give up.
Part of what makes it hard to find Waldo is that he is so ordinary-looking. In the initial pages his presence is obvious. Later on, he’s hidden but the other occupants of the page are giants and sea monsters, so Waldo still stands out. Then eventually we come to the last and hardest page. By the end he’s in a room full of Waldos virtually identical to himself, the only distinction being that one detail is different, such as he’s missing a shoe. Handford allows rival Waldos to counterfeit his identity. You can be looking right at him without even knowing it. Where’s Waldo? Why doesn’t he show himself plainly? Why does he hide his face? He may not be absent, but he is elusive. He is Waldus absconditus—the Waldo who hides himself.
Let every day, every moment, of your life be another page. God is there, the Scriptures tell us—on every one of them. But the ease with which he may be found varies from one page to the next. Brother Lawrence wrote, “God has various ways of drawing us to him, but sometimes he hides himself.”
Ortberg, John. 2009. God Is Closer than You Think. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
We have just completed a 10-Part Study of John Ortberg’s book, God Is Closer Than Your Think. It is available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Lesson Subscription Service. It is also available on Amazon