Tamed Cynic
Jason Micheli
God's Search History

God's Search History

Adam and Eve: The First Christians

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Here is the sermon I preached for the Lutheran Church of the Master in Corona Del Mar, California. I’m here for their Gospel Freedom series. My texts from lectionary were Genesis 3:8-15 & Mark 3:20-35.

Almost ten years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare, incurable cancer in my marrow. It will never be in remission; therefore, every day is Ash Wednesday, a constant reminder that I am but dust. If I didn’t knew it before my diagnosis, I’ve since known it in my bones— literally, in my bones.

I know, as Gerhard Forde says, that the gospel is a matter of death and life.

So, let’s not dicker around.

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter. Let me give to you the gospel, distilled and straight up:

As a called and ordained preacher in the Church of Jesus Christ, and therefore by Christ’s authority and Christ’s authority alone, I declare unto you— every last one of you— the entire forgiveness, the full and complete remission, the unconditional and absolute forgiveness of all your sins.

Every last one of them— even that one.

You are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There you go.

Everything else I can say today is now just a footnote.

From beginning to end, from the Book of Genesis to the last book of the Bible, everything in the word is about God finding us and forgiving us and rectifying us because the one Word of God, the Word God speaks to us, is Jesus Christ, who, Forde says, just shows up on the scene announcing the pardon of God.

So then, having given you the gospel, here’s my question.

Why are you hiding?

Everything has already been done.

All your sins are forgiven.

Christ our Great High Priest has sat down.

And he’s put his feet up on the coffee table.

He’s got no more work to do where you’re concerned.

As Karl Barth writes, “In the man taken down dead on Golgotha, man the covenant-breaker (meaning, you) is buried and destroyed— he has ceased to be.”

So— why are you hiding?

Whereas Adam and Eve hide from God behind some trees in the garden (not real smart), we hide everywhere (even dumber).

Some of you— maybe all of you— are hiding right now, here.

Just as Bruce Wayne is really the Batman’s costume, we hide behind the selves we project in public.

Just as Bruce Banner is never not angry, we’re never not hiding in plain sight.

Our true selves— they’re the ones we reveal to Google.

In an article from the Guardian entitled, “Everybody Lies,” U.S. data analyst Seth Stevens writes about what our Google search history reveals about us, about who we are when we think no one is looking. Google may not be God, but Google knows to be true what we discover about ourselves in the Garden.

As Seth Stevens begins his essay:

“Everybody lies. Everybody’s hiding. People lie about how many drinks they had on the way home. They lie about how often they go to the gym, how much those new shoes cost, whether they read that book. They call in sick when they’re not. They say they’ll be in touch when they won’t. They say it’s not about you when it is. People lie to friends. They lie to bosses. They lie to kids. They lie to doctors. They lie to husbands. They lie to wives. They lie to themselves. And they damn sure lie to surveys. Many people will underreport embarrassing, shameful behaviors or thoughts on a survey— even an anonymous survey— it’s called social desirability bias. We want to look good; we want to be counted good. So if we think someone is looking at us, we hide.”

And so, for example, in one survey Seth Stevens conducted, forty percent of a company’s engineers reported that were in the top five percent of their class.

And in another survey, ninety person of college professors say they do above average work.

It’s not just professors and engineers.

We learn to lie and hide young.

You might say it’s original to us.

The only way to see someone truly— to see their true self— is to see them when they think no one is looking at them.

In this regard, Stevens writes, Google’s search engine serves as a sort of “digital truth serum.”

It’s online. It’s alone.

And no one will see what you search (you think).

Stevens writes:

“The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else. Google was invented so that people could learn about the world, but it turns out the trail our search history leaves behind our reveals more about us. Our search history reveals the disturbing truth about our desires and insecurities, our fears and our prejudices.”

For example, the word that most commonly completes the googled question, “Is my husband...?”


“Is my husband gay?”

In second place, cheating.

Cheating is eight times more common a search than the third most searched question: alcoholic.

And alcoholic is ten times more common than the next most searched term, depressed.

Proving the point about our private and our pretend selves, the most popular hashtag on social media using the very same words is the hashtag #myhusbandisthebest.

Is my husband cheating?

My husband is the best.

We filter out the truth from the self we present in public.

But Google knows us better than Facebook.

For example, Google knows that no matter how many Fit Dad tags you use on Instagram, odds are you’re worried about your Dad Bod.

Forty-two percent of all online searches about beauty or fitness come from men.

We hide everywhere except the place that isn’t anywhere, the internet. Google’s search engine knows our true selves.

And survey says— we’re sinners.

For instance, one of the most common questions we ask Google— brace yourselves, it’s not pretty: “Why are black people so rude?”

And the words most often used in searches about Muslims:

  • Stupid

  • Evil

  • Kill.

In fact, according to Google’s search history, the phrase “Kill Muslims” is searched by Americans with the same frequency as “Migraine Symptoms” and “Martini Recipes.”

I get a headache and need a drink just trying to digest that ugly fact.

It gets worse.

Every year— every flipping year— seven million of us search “nigger” in Google.

Not counting rap or hip hop lyrics, seven million searches.

The Google searches are highest whenever African Americans are in the news, spiking with President Obama’s first election.

Says Seth Stevens in his essay:

“Google’s data would suggest the real problem in America for African Americans is not the implicit, unintended racism of well-intentioned people but it is the fact that millions of Americans every year continue to do things like search for jokes featuring the N-word.”

It’s not just our prejudice we hide.

Stevens notes how after President Trump’s election in 2016 the most frequent comments on social media in progressive parts of the country were about how anxious progressives felt about immigrants, refugees, and global warming.

On the contrary, the Google search history in those same parts of the country suggests progressives aren’t at all as anxious about immigrants, refugees, or global warming as they want their peers to think.

Survey says they’re more worried about their jobs, their health, and their relationships.

Survey says we’re sinners.

We lie.

And we hide.

In an interview about his work and essay, Seth Stevens says:

“I had a dark view of human nature to begin with. Working with the Google data, it’s gotten even darker. I think the degree to which people are self-absorbed is pretty shocking; therefore [pay attention now], we can’t fight the darkness by turning to ourselves. We’re the problem. We can only fight the darkness by looking to the data; that is, by looking outside of ourselves.”

If your search history doesn’t indict you (and odds are it does), then scripture does indict you.

If Google doesn’t confirm it for you, God already did in the garden by the first question God asks us, “Adam, where are you?”

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Pay attention—

God’s question is about location.



Our problem is about lostness.

Notice, the Almighty doesn’t ask what any of us would ask. God doesn’t start off by asking any what, why, how, or who questions.

Who are you?! I thought I knew you, Adam!?

How could you have betrayed me, Adam?!

What did you do?!

Why did you do the one thing I asked you not to do?!

God simply asks Adam for a pin drop, “Where are you?”

God doesn’t ask Eve and Adam what they did or why they did it or how come they did it. God doesn’t ask about the sin; God asks after their hiding. In other words, guilt is not what constitutes our lostness but shame.

And fear.

Guilt is the residue when you’ve done something wrong. Shame is the stain left by believing that you are the wrong you’ve done.  And so you hide. That’s why “love the sinner, hate the sin” is a crappy cliche because from Adam on down we sinners think we are our sins. We can muster no distinction between who we are and what we’ve done and left undone.

We are lost in a thicket of shame.

And see what our shame produces.

No sooner has he swallowed the fruit than Adam goes from declaring breathlessly of Eve “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” to grumbling to God “This woman you gave me...” Adam manages to blame both Eve and God in a single sentence. Meanwhile, Eve tries to explain herself with a long run-on sentence of fifty-five words.

Just so, our shame begets blame and self-justification.

And what’s the Hebrew word for blame?


Our shame turns us into a kind of satan, accusing others while justifying ourselves.

The house divided against itself that Jesus warns about in today’s Gospel passage is the space occupied between our two ears, between the chambers of our heart.

Our lostness— our shame— it turns God into a kind of satan too. Ashamed, we run and hide from the God who's given absolutely no reason for us to fear. And we’ve been hiding in the bushes ever since.

Shame and fear are our chronic condition.

Whereas Adam and Eve had a choice to trust and obey God, we do not.

As St. Augustine teaches, the choice available to Adam and Eve is no longer open to us.

This is why it’s incredibly dumb to debate whether or not this story literally happened in history. It does not matter where on a timeline Adam and Eve may or may not fall because the point is that they are us.

As the Thirty-Nine Articles of John Wesley’s prayerbook puts it:

“The condition of humankind after the Fall of Adam is such that we cannot turn and prepare ourselves by our own natural strength to God.”

The Articles merely echo Luther’s teaching on the third article of the creed in the Small Catechism:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”

We are lost.

And our lostness is such that we cannot turn even seek God— much less find God— on our own.

When it comes to faith and the things of God, Wesley’s prayerbook agrees with Luther’s finest treatise, our wills our bound.

We require help from outside of us.

We require an external word.

Thus, “Adam, where are you?”

For us, this external word is the gospel.

It’s the word from outside of us in which God gives himself to us, word and water, loaf and cup.

You see, God is a loquacious Lord.

The God who spoke creation into being, the Lord whose word works what it says, is a God who is constantly interrupting our creation, searching us out with his gospel word.

The implication is as simple as it is straightforward. This is why people need the church. This is why people need the risen Lord who is the head of his odd body called church. Because without the church, without Christ using the church for his word, people are lost.

They’re hiding in the bushes, naked and ashamed.

And, so long as there they remain, they’re likewise dead in their trespasses.

So forgot that nonsense attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the gospel. If necessary use words.” Even if St. Francis had said that (he didn’t) it’s wrong. Just as St. Paul says, what was true of Adam and Eve is true today for all of us. We’re lost so faith— salvation— it comes by no other means but words. Our rescue comes from hearing, “Adam, where are you?”

To say that you are justified by faith alone is nothing less than to say that you are justified by audition.

Our rescue is oral and aural.

Which means, you need a preacher.

Therefore, let me hand over the goods:

What God’s first question in the Bible reveals about you is that you are sought.

The grammar of the sentence makes all the difference. You are sought. It’s passive voice. Put it in the active voice and you are no longer the subject of the sentence. God is seeking you.

I’m not sure if churches still offer what were once called “Seeker Services.” If such worship services disappeared with Jars of Clay and WWJD bracelets, it’s all the better. After all, we’re hiding in the bushes. Go to Google if you find Genesis hard to swallow. On our own, left to our own devices, whatever is at the end of our searching might be a little-g god but it will not be God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

You are sought.

We do not seek out God.

We seek out a hiding place from him.

We do not search for God.

God searches for us.

And this is important, this distinction between seeking and being sought, because it shapes how you read scripture. Every other religion in the world is about you seeking after God (and doing what you ought to do to get closer to him).

But as Karl Barth says, the strange new world of the Bible speaks not of your search for God but God’s relentless search for you.

If you’re looking to the Bible for insights into history or politics, Karl Barth says, you’d do better to turn to the newspaper because those are not questions the Bible tries to answer. If you’re looking for teachings on morality, ethics, justice, virtue, or just everyday practical advice, good luck with that, Karl Barth says, because you’ll find large swaths of scripture useless and Jesus Christ has absolutely no interest in your everyday practical life. If you go to the Bible searching for how you can find God, you’re only going to walk away frustrated, Barth says.


The Bible does not tell you what to think about God; it tells you what God thinks of you. The Bible does not teach you what you should say about God; it teaches you what God says about you. The Bible does not show us how to seek God; it shows us this God who searches out those who will not come to him.

You can even try to hide from God in ungodliness.

Good luck, Barth writes, it’s just those ungodly ones God is determined to find.

The Bible is God’s search history not ours.

Just so, says Barth, Adam and Eve are not merely the first humans. They are the first Christians. They’re the first Christians, for they are the first ones to receive the gospel promise of the forgiveness of sins. And what this question from God conveyed to them, it conveys to you: the entire forgiveness of your sins.

Because remember, God’s word works.

That is, God’s word in scripture always accomplishes what it says.

To use a fancy theological term that justifies my plane fare, there is no ontological distance between what God says and what God does.

God says, “Let there be light.”

And there is light.

God says, “It is very good.”

And it is.

The Lord on the lips of a preacher says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

And as surely as his word hung the stars in the sky, you are forgiven them.

Every last one.

The Lamb of God took away the sins of the word.

And he did not miss a single one.

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In one of my first congregations, I had a parishioner who dressed up as St. Nicholas for the children’s story on Christmas Eve. Shortly before I departed that congregation, Steve had a massive stroke and his prospects appeared grim. Only months before his stroke he’d been found out by his wife and daughters. They discovered a statement for a credit card they didn’t know he carried. For years he’d been keeping and hiding a whole other family.

Both women were with him when I arrived at his hospital room, his wife and his other.

“Princeton Theological Seminary didn’t prepare me for this,” I thought as I stepped up to his bedside, at least we can dispense with the pro forma chitchat.

He had tears falling from the corners of his eyes onto the salty patches where earlier tears had pooled. He struggled for what felt like a lifetime to get the word out through the wreckage between his brain and his mouth. “Fffffff,” he mumbled.

The word was almost unrecognizable.

He was asking for forgiveness— for “the forgiveness.”

He’d been a leader in the church, chair of the worship committee, sang in the men’s choir, dressed up as St. Nick every Advent and it turned out Santa was near the top of the naughty list.

Lying, cheating, making a mockery of the Lord.

He’d broken a good third of the Ten Commandments.

The second time he asked for it all he could get out was the fffff.

But I nodded and told him that yes, I would give him the absolution.

Before I did so, I looked over at his wife, half expecting her to say to me, “Like hell you will.”

As if reading my mind, she said to me, “Well, go and get on with it. Or do you not really believe what you preach Sunday after Sunday, pastor?”


“He just dressed up as Santa once a year. But he was clothed in Christ’s righteousness, once for all time.”

My cheeks blushed at the better theologian in my midst.

I stepped closer to Steve’s bedside. It felt like walking miles.

Nevertheless, I gave him an assurance he longed to hear far more than a doctor’s all clear: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins. You are just for Jesus’s sake.”

“Thank you,” both women said to me when I finished and turned to leave.


God’s word works.

It accomplishes what it says.

When God asks you “_________, where are you?” you are already found, home free, safe in his death.

Which brings me back to my original question.

Why are you still hiding?

Or, instead of why maybe the better question is how.

How do we come out of hiding?

How do we, who have been found already, no longer linger in our lostness?

In his essay in the Guardian, Seth Stevens notes how after the attack in 2015 in San Bernardino President Obama did deliver one address that had a measurable effect on driving down American’s Islamophobic Google searches.

Stevens notes that President Obama’s San Bernadino speech about how we ought not fear Muslims had the opposite effect.

The more Obama argued that we ought to do better about being more loving and respectful of Muslims, the more the people he was trying to reach became enraged.

The Google data confirms it, Stevens writes, the more you lecture angry people, the more you fan the flames of their fury.

The more you exhort them about their prejudice the more their prejudice will persist.

But one form of words worked, Stevens writes.

According to the Google search history, what reduced people’s rage and racism, what reduced their sin was whenever Obama spoke about Muslims being our neighbors.

And what had an even greater change on people was when he spoke of Muslim neighbors who served in the military and what had the greatest change upon people was when he spoke of Muslim American soldiers who gave their lives as a sacrifice for us, who died for us.

In other words, to put it in St. Paul’s words, the survey says the way to get sinners to change isn’t the law.

It is the gospel.

The way to get sinners to change isn’t by admonishing them about what they ought to do. It’s by telling them what has already been done, for them.

God’s gospel word works.

In other words, the gospel isn’t a word about something that God did.

The gospel is the word by which God does.

That’s why everything you do here—and especially in here— needs to be surrounded by and bookended by the gospel because it is the power God works in the world, says St. Paul. The way we come out of hiding is by hearing not the law (what we ought to do) but by hearing the gospel (what has been done). We change not by hearing what Adam and Eve did wrong that we must do better.

That simply leaves the house in our heads more precariously divided than before.

We change by hearing how God sought out Adam and Eve and found them in their naked shame and— what did God do?

God gave them animal skins to wear.

Medieval paintings always show Adam and Eve leaving the garden naked and in tears, but that’s not what happens in the story. God clothes them in animal skins.

Where God created from nothing, their forgiveness costs God something.

Their forgiveness costs God a part of his creation.

God sacrifices for their sake.

And then one day, in the fullness of time, your forgiveness cost God too.

God entered “the Strong Man’s house” and became your neighbor.

God sacrificed.

God gave himself for you.

In order to clothe you— once, for all— with his Son.

God clothes you with Christ’s righteousness.

Though the survey says you lie and hide like the First Adam, you don’t need to— no matter what you’re searching online— because the Father has dressed you in the righteousness of the Second Adam.

He searches you out, and when he finds you, he chooses to see not your sin or your shame but his Son.

The search history that defines you is not the search history that shows up on your screen.

The search history that defines you is the search history that begins here.

With “Adam, where are you?”

Today Jesus promises that those who trust his Father with their own “Here I am” make our brother him who is for us.

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Tamed Cynic
Jason Micheli
Stick around here and I’ll use words as best as I know how to help you give a damn about the God who, in Jesus Christ, no longer gives any damns.