Juhani Uljas | 2000 Treasure Hidden in a Field --
Man Seeks God
People have sought God at all times and in all cultures. Massive temples built long ago in different parts of the world relate of mankind's seeking and yearning for God. When one looks at these constructions, the thoughts of the Preacher of the Old Testament [in Ecclesiastes] have come to my mind. He states that God made everything beautiful in His time and also placed eternity in the hearts of the people. The Preacher adds that no man is able to find out the works of God, neither their beginning nor their end (Eccl. 3:11). Atheists claim that there is no God. Apparently, they base their belief on the premise that no one has seen God and, therefore, His existence cannot be proven. Atheists are seekers. Even they seek God. They have merely strayed because they have sought Him in the wrong way and in the wrong place.
Our time is full of distress. Fears encircle man, who feels insecure in the midst of continuing change. The insecurity is increased by the news of world events conveyed to us by modern media. Materialism appears to be the ideal that rules the world. If some system, that has been built upon it, falls, another one steps into its place. Its name and apparel change, but the materialistic world of values is retained, although history shows undeniably, that material prosperity alone cannot give man security or success. Distress drives him to seek the meaning of his life, to seek God.
Where, then, is God? Has He died, as some theologians proclaimed in their slogan in the 1960s? Many seekers have strayed. The seeker rushes hither and yon and doesn't even know what he is really seeking. The person who is estranged from God makes for himself a god of his own liking. It differs as much from the living God as the ancient gods of stone, clay, wood, or gold.
Is man's quest condemned to be a failure? It is, if the question were only of man's quest. Jesus says, “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). The Word of God tells us clearly that God seeks man. He wants man to find Him and to receive peace for his soul. For that reason, the Word of God is true, “Seek and ye shall find!”
God Seeks Man
In the Fall into sin, man lost his connection with God. He had gone astray, although he probably didn't notice it right away. God, however, noticed it and went out to seek His children who had strayed. This shows the deepest essence of God, love. He could have turned His back forever on the disobedient ones and left them under the power of death. They, themselves, had chosen their portion. But God did not act in this fashion, but went to seek them. He walked in Paradise, which He had given to man, and called them. When they heard God drawing closer, they were afraid and hid themselves. It is difficult for a fallen person to meet God, even though he may yearn for Him. For that reason, man cannot be a seeker of God on his own initiative, but God must take the initiative. Man may still hear God's seeking voice in his conscience. Through the conscience, God awakens a desire in man to go to seek Him. God also has given us His Word, the Holy Scriptures, as a guide when we seek Him.
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, there are three parables which describe God, who loves and seeks sinful man. The first one is the description of the shepherd, who leaves his flock for a moment and goes out to seek one sheep that strayed and was lost. Having found the sheep, the shepherd put it upon his shoulder and brought it back into the flock. The lost sheep had known how to leave the flock of its own strength, but could not return when it was wounded and tired. The shepherd did everything and carried the lost sheep back into the flock.
The second parable tells about a woman who had lost a coin, looked for it, and found it. We will return to this, but first we will examine the third and surely most familiar parable, the prodigal son. The young man had departed from his father's home. Apparently, he wanted to forget his father and home, and they did not return to his mind too much as long as he had enough money and friends. He forgot his father's home because he had such a good time in the world. But then came the trials and difficulties, hunger and distress. His friends rejected him and the world showed its true, hard face. Then he remembered the father and the father's home. The prodigal son wanted to return home. It was not easy after everything that had taken place, but his distress drove him and the desire grew more urgent.
Life's difficulties can make a person think of the direction of his life and are expressions of God's love by which He brings about the desire to seek Him. Our Christian Doctrine states, “The Holy Spirit awakens the sorrowless sinner with the destinies of life, suffering, and the examples of others, but especially with the Word of God” (Christian Doctrine 67).
The Congregation of God Seeks Man
God uses His congregation to assist Him in seeking man. The parable of the woman, who lost and found her coin tells of this (Luke 15:8-10). God's congregation is depicted in this parable by a woman, as it is in many other Bible portions. The coin that fell upon the floor or the ground is a person who has become separated from God and His congregation. Even here, God is a working, active participant; man, himself is helpless and passive. This is depicted in the parable that Matthew preserved for us-Jesus describing a net, that was thrown into the sea and that gathered all kinds of fish (Matt. 13:47). Jesus sent His disciples to do this work. He made them fishers of men. The seeking work of God's kingdom continues in the world to the end of time. Only then will the net be drawn to shore.
The Time of Visitation
Christian Doctrine teaches: “There are periods in man's life during which God especially draws man to Him. Such a period is called a time of visitation. Most often, God calls us already in our youth” (CD 68).
In Ecclesiastes, are the words, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” (Eccl. 12:1). The time of youth is a time of visitation. The young person's mind is open, without conditions, and has ideals. He creates his own image of the world and chooses the direction for his life. God seeks him, and he seeks God. Fortunate is he who has found the way to God in his youth and has become His child. Oh, how much sorrow and suffering he is spared!
I remember how I, myself, experienced a time of visitation in my youth. Matters concerning faith started to be of interest. I already believed that God exists, but now my relationship to God became the subject of contemplation. What does God require of me? What will be my portion when life ends? I thought of these things when I went to confirmation school. I do not remember that confirmation school in itself had much significance for me. It was more significant to me that I received a leather-bound New Testament from my aunt as a confirmation gift. I read it and underlined the portions which, in my mind, were important and parts of which I thought I understood something. I did not feel that I had anyone from whom I could seek advice, and so my interest weakened, although it wasn't extinguished completely. Later, God took hold of my life again.
In my discussions with people, I have heard many of them describe how God has spoken to them in the years of their youth. The narrators have included those, who are believing, as well as those whose time of visitation has passed without their finding what they sought.
God can speak to man even later, all the way into old age. A person's temporal life is called the time of grace, as he can find a merciful God and His grace kingdom during that time. One's entire life, however, is not a time of visitation. For that reason, it is worthwhile to heed God's invitation. We have no guarantee that we will hear His inviting voice later. The Word of God admonishes, “I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
The time of visitation is not a matter that affects only one person, but an entire nation or community. Scriptures recount how the elect people of God had a time of visitation during the Old Covenant and even at the beginning of the New Covenant. The living congregation of God was in their midst. The prophets admonished them to take heed of the time of visitation. Isaiah preached, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6). At the beginning of the New Covenant, Jesus, himself, preached, “The kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He sent His disciples to preach the same sermon. However, not everyone accepted the call of God's kingdom, rather their time of visitation passed them by. Jesus lamented the fate of those cities, around which He had mainly preached for the major part of His public activity (Luke 10:12-15). He wept for Jerusalem, because its residents did not know their time of visitation (Luke 19:41-44).
History indicates that God has given different nations a time of visitation at different times. It has ended for many of them, as it happened to Israel. Our own nation [Finland] also has received a time of visitation, which has been longer than for many other nations. We do not know how long it will last. It could end when the people close their ears to God's call.
The Joy of the Finder
Jesus' parables about seeking God's kingdom also tell of finding it and of the joy that brings. When the seeker finds, he experiences joy. The shepherd rejoiced when he found his sheep and invited all of his friends to rejoice with him. Jesus explains how heaven rejoices over every sinner who repents. The woman who found the lost coin was overjoyed and invited her friends to rejoice with her. According to Jesus, God's angels rejoice over every sinner who repents. Festivities began at the prodigal son's home when he returned. He had imagined for himself a servant's position but found that he was the central person at the feast. Surely the prodigal son felt joy, when his sins were forgiven and he was once more the father's dear son.
Jesus tells about the joy of the finder in His parable about the man, who found a treasure hidden in a field. Because of his joy, the man exchanged everything that he already owned for that field where he found the treasure (Matt. 13:44).