Christians often speak of seeking God. What does that mean? How can we search for God?
If I am visiting an unfamiliar city and looking for the nearest coffee shop to satisfy my afternoon latte habit, help is ever at the ready. I can ask a local, consult a map, or use an app to aid my search.
But what if I am looking for God? How do I find God? And what if there are as many ways of and motives for seeking God as there are seekers? What do I do then?
Does God Exist?
Some who seek God simply want to know if he exists at all. They are searching for evidential proof of him, whether or not they desire a relationship with him. Perhaps they began this kind of intellectual search with the goal of being free, once and for all, of the “God question.” Perhaps they even hope to “rule him out” and release themselves from any allegiance or responsibility that proof of his existence might demand.
Christian theologian and author C. S. Lewis was raised in a Protestant home in Belfast, Ireland. However, as an adolescent, he abandoned his belief. He found little support for God’s existence in his early academic studies.
“I became apostate,” Lewis wrote, “dropping my faith with no sense of loss but with the greatest relief.”1 Much later, an adult Lewis was “surprised by joy” and led by means of imagination and reason to a settled belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The route of his search was long and circuitous but ultimately affirmed the faith of his childhood.
Still others seeking proof of God’s existence do hope to find it. Charles Darwin was such a seeker, though he ultimately became perhaps the most disappointed agnostic in modern history. As a young man, Darwin considered a career in the priesthood and began to study the natural world, believing that it demonstrated the glory of God.
“I was very unwilling to give up my belief,” Darwin wrote in his autobiography, “but I found it more and more difficult . . . to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete.”2 His pursuit of scientific evidence for the existence of God led him to the conclusion that “the mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”3
Lewis began with belief in God, abandoned it, and then took it up again. Darwin began with belief but found himself “like a man who has become colour-blind,” and ultimately abandoned his search for God.4
Where Is God?
Some who search for God already believe he exists; they are seeking him in the locative sense, much as we would seek a physical address. “Where is God?” they ask. This is the question they seek to answer.
Christians believe that God is omnipresent—that he exists everywhere at all times. He cannot be restricted, as we are, to a single time and place. The ancient psalm writer King David pondered God’s whereabouts and concluded that there was no place where God was not:
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.5
David’s claim wasn’t that he couldn’t find God, but that he couldn’t escape him. “God is omnipresent,” writes theologian John Piper, “and therefore always near everything and everyone. He holds everything in being. His power is ever-present in sustaining and governing all things.”6 His presence can be found in nature,7 in the lives of those who follow him,8 and among those gathered together in worship.9
Do Christians Seek God?
Believers also speak of seeking God. But if they believe in God, haven’t they already found him?
When Christians talk about seeking God, they usually mean they are seeking the experience of God’s presence. The Bible exhorts believers to “seek God’s face.”10 This phrase refers to access to God; to seek God’s face is to seek his presence.
The omnipresent God is always near to everything and everyone, and he has promised to be with his children always.11 But even someone who believes in God may not—in fact, likely will not—always experience his promised presence in ways that can be seen or felt. Sometimes God’s “face” is hidden by our own inattention or disobedience. Sometimes we simply neglect to focus our attention and affection on God, and so we find it difficult to perceive his presence with us.
Our own disobedience or willful sin may result in the sense that God has “removed his hand” from us for a time—but not every trial or difficulty we experience is evidence that he has done so. While he may, indeed, be disciplining us by allowing us to feel the very real consequences of our sin and the alienation from God that sin brings, he is still present. And he still promises to be found by those who wholeheartedly seek him.12
We don’t make the mental and emotional effort to seek God because he is lost. He is not. We seek God so that we may “know him” and “be found in him,” as the Apostle Paul wrote.13
How Do We Seek God?
Seeking God involves setting our minds and hearts on him—and God encourages us to do this.14 He invites nonbelievers to examine his word and to consider his work in the world through his Son Jesus Christ. And he invites believers to draw near to him in trust, dependence, and worship, so that he might reveal even more of himself.15
The Bible assures us, “If you seek him, he will be found by you.”16 He rewards those who seek him, and the greatest reward of all is relationship with God himself.17
Finally, in all of our seeking we must remember that the search is not one-sided. God is seeking us with more diligence and desire than we could ever display in seeking him.
C. S. Lewis remembered his conversion to Christianity less as his pursuit of God and more as God’s pursuit of him. “I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. I chose to open, to unbuckle, to loosen the rein.”18
Jesus claimed that he came “to seek and to save the lost.”19 C. S. Lewis experienced being the object of that search. “Amiable agnostics,” he said, “will talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God.’ To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat. The reality with which no treaty can be made was upon me.”20
God seeks relationship with those who don’t yet know him. He seeks a deeper union with those who do. As we seek him, we can be confident that he is earnestly seeking us as well.