What is the problem of the hiddenness of God? Critics would say that if God existed He would reveal Himself in a more consistent and obvious fashion. In this way those who would be interested in exercising faith in God would have a proverbial leg to stand on. Imagine, if you would, God popping up all over the place on a frequent basis, and revealing Himself in a manner such that no one could truly refute His existence. This in itself may pose a separate problem that might be referred to as: the problem of persistent divine revelation. In this article I will take a look at both proposed problems.
The Problem of the Hiddenness of God
Loosely, the problem of the hiddenness of God may be broken down into the following argument:
- If God exists He would make His existence blatant.
- God does not make His existence blatant.
- God does not exist.
Not unlike the majority of theological arguments floating around the above argument makes at least one glaring assumption: God does not make His existence blatant. A second assumption that could be garnered from the above problem is that people (in general) would believe and choose to trust in God if He did make His existence blatant. Let us look at some historic examples where God chose to use persistent divine revelation, and the outcomes of such.
The first example that comes to mind is the events by which the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt in the book of Exodus. The Hebrew slaves by and large started off with a belief in God; a presupposition for certain, but one that speaks to how cold we are to believing in God’s existence, or authority. Moses brought ten plagues on the Egyptians for not letting the Hebrew people go out of the land of Egypt. God enacted these plagues through Moses – a clear showing of the power of God, and a blatant sign that God not only exists, but is active. Surely this must have sealed the faith of the Hebrews after having witnessed such evidence of God’s existence. Alas, this was not the case. One such example demonstrating the lack of faith of the Hebrews can be found in Exodus 17:1-7, which reads:
1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike th e rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
How could the Israelites question the Lord’s work through Moses even despite having been witnesses to the power of God? And these questions came despite an initial belief in God! In this case it seems that God making Himself known did not strengthen the faith of the Israelites, but instead the Israelites maintained a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.
How about a New Testament example? The example of Thomas comes to mind from John 20:24-29:
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Note that Thomas was “one of the Twelve”. This means that Thomas was part of Jesus’ inner circle. Thomas new Jesus, and what He was capable of, yet Thomas doubted Jesus’ power. Despite knowing that Jesus is God Thomas remained less than fully convicted. The above passage holds an additional major point of interest.
Seen and Believed, or Not Seen, yet Believed
The statement Jesus makes to Thomas in John 20:29 is profound. Jesus essentially tells Thomas He is not impressed. He is saying, of course Thomas believes, as he has physically witnessed what Jesus has done, but “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. The need for us to physically see, touch, experience Jesus in a physical sense is derived from our fallen nature. Our sin has separated us from God in a very real way. God has provided direct evidence of His existence: the bible, the earth, our very existence, objective morality – to name a few. Yet we still question. God mercifully understands that we are going to question. He does not call us to be blind followers. In Matthew 22:37 Jesus said:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
All your mind… No mindless following needed. 1 Peter 3:15 reads:
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect
God expects us to have a reason to believe in Him. This speaks to God’s expectation that we approach His word with faith and logical understanding. One of the greatest evangelists of the Bible, Paul, explains in Phillipians 1:16:
The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.
You certainly cannot defend something that you know nothing about, so if God has told us nothing about Him – given us no signs, provided us with no direction – how can we even begin to be faithful? We have the signs. We have the direction. The ball is in our court.
The Problem of Persistent Divine Revelation
What if God proved to everyone’s highest expectation that He exists, He is active, and He is worthy of being sought after and loved? Could we handle it? I contend that we would not be able to face the thought of going through the rest of our physical lives on earth after having witnessed the unimaginable glory of God. How could anything else in life seem remotely important? Would we be so struck with God’s greatness that everything else seemed worthless? What if we were constantly reminded of His greatness in a direct, personal, irrefutable, unmistakable way?
Welcome to the problem of persistent divine revelation. God wants us to live lives loving Him, and mimicking Jesus to the very best of our ability. We were created for a purpose, and if we were exposed to persistent divine revelation the way I described above it seems to me that we would not be able to reasonably fulfill that purpose. Exodus 34:29-30 reads:
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.
If people cannot even handle seeing what it looks like for someone else to have been in the presence of God, how can we expect to be able to handle being physically in the presence of God ourselves? From this perspective refraining from persistent divine revelation may be a function of God’s love for us.
Biblical history has shown that even when God has made his existence and will blatant it has had no bearing on faith or non-faith, belief or disbelief. What if, you might ask, God upped his persistence? What if God was there all of the time explaining why certain things were happening in our lives? Or revealing the moral of every story we did not get on the first reading? I listened to a debate involving William Lane Craig some time ago where Craig pondered that very concept. Craig came to the conclusion that this would not be unlike living in a haunted house. Imagine you stub your toe, which makes you late to work, and God chimes in, “Don’t worry. If you hadn’t stubbed your toe you would have been in a car wreck today”. What an odd world it would be.
- If God exists He would make His existence blatant.
- God makes His existence blatant.
- God exists.
The fact of the matter is, it is on us to seek God, and not the other way around. This so called “problem” of God’s “hiddenness” is not God’s problem, but ours. God has provided ample evidence of his existence and authority, yet we choose not to believe. It seems that the problem we really need to be worried about is the problem of pride. We speak about what God would have to do for us to believe. The fact that we are not struck down in our sin is a demonstration of God’s infinite mercy. We need to get away from that “what have you done for me lately” attitude, and asks ourselves, “what have I done to show God I love Him lately”? As usual, the “problem” is not with God, but with us.