Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Why is God so hidden?
If God wants everyone to believe in him, why doesn't he make his existence obvious to everyone?
These questions form the foundation behind the "hiddenness of God" objection to belief in God.
The objection supposes that since a loving God would want everyone to believe in him, he would obviously make his existence known to everyone, but since there are many people who do not believe in or know God, he must not exist.
To be honest, I'm not swayed by this argument and I don't think you should be either.
My first response to this contention is to point out that in no way is God "hidden".
All over the universe are divine "signposts" rooted in nature that point to a supreme, personal Creator and designer of the universe.
These include the origin of the universe, the existence of contingent beings, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, the intentionality of conscious mental states, the applicability of mathematics to nature, and more.
Scripture confirms this conclusion in the Psalms and elsewhere saying,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. -- Psalm 19:1-3
God uses this same line of argumentation when "debating" Job in Job chapters 38-41.
And Paul and Barnabas when doing ministry in Lystra (a city in modern-day Turkey), also pointed to God's general revelation in nature as evidence of His existence and benevolence (Acts 14:8-18).
Furthermore, the Apostle Paul made it clear in Romans that God's "eternal power and divine nature" were deducible from "what was made" (Romans 1:18-20).
In addition, it's not just nature that "declares the glory of God", but God has also revealed himself specifically through the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, which is historically verifiable with reasonable certainty, as well as generally in conscience, all facts to which the Scriptures also agree (Acts 17:29-34, 2:22:32; Romans 2:14-15).
Finally, God also speaks to the world by way of His Church (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2:40-41; 2 Corinthians 5:20), His Word ( John 20:31; Romans 15:4, 10:17) and His Spirit (John 17:7-11).
So based on the available biblical evidence, of which only a snippet has been presented, we can conclude that if we are looking for God with an open mind and heart, His existence will be quite plain to us.
I echo Paul and Barnabas that "[God] has not left himself without a witness". (Acts 14:17)
However, we have not yet explained why God doesn't just convert all atheists into believers in God.
Surely He could just appear personally to every person on the face of the earth, removing all reasonable doubt of His existence.
Perhaps, but here's the deal: God is not concerned with converting atheists to theists, His concern is converting all men into disciples of His Son Jesus through a saving love and knowledge of Him, and there is no reason to think that just because a person believes that God exists, he will then come into a personal relationship with Him.
Let me repeat that God is concerned with making disciples not theists, necessarily, and since there is no guarantee that the person who believes that the true God exists will then give his life to the Lord, God is under no obligation to make His existence known to the person who would just reject Him anyway.
The fact that belief does not ensure discipleship is seen all throughout Scripture.
When God delivers his people out Egypt with great signs and wonders, the Israelites only make it to the Red Sea before they started complaining that they should have stayed in Egypt.
But even when God parts the Red Sea, delivering Israel from its enemies, soon thereafter the people are griping that they're going to die of thirst.
And when God miraculously purifies water for the Israelites to drink, they turn right around and complain that they don't have any food.
However, when God provides quail and manna from heaven, giving specific instructions on when and how much food the Israelites were to gather, they disobey every single one of those instructions, prompting God to ask Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?"
Oh, and after that the Israelites go right back to complaining about water.
I could go on and on about the Israelites continued rejection of God and His commands even in the face of miracles and divine happenings galore, but the icing on the cake is when Moses goes up on Mount Sinai for a mere 40 days and the people come up with a brilliant idea, driving home my initial point:
“Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Exodus 32:2)
They had seen the miracles, God had fed, watered, and delivered them by His very hand and yet they were so antsy about Moses being up on the mountain "so long" (Exodus 32:1), they forgot about God and got right to work building an idol.
Excuse me if I'm skeptical that we would act so much differently if we were in the Israelite's position.
In the New Testament, when Jesus cast out demons, the Pharisees said he did it by Satan's power; when he testified of his own power, the people called him demon-possessed; when he forgave a paralyzed man's sins, they called him a blasphemer; when equated himself with his Father, they picked up stones to kill him and eventually had him crucified for crimes against the State.
Even more clear still is Satan and the fallen angels who couldn't have been closer to God and yet still rebelled against Him and were chucked out of heaven.
The atheist is in a difficult position because he has to prove that if God showed Himself to everyone, more people would come to into a saving love relationship with Him and, so far, no one has been able to shoulder that burden of proof.
If God wrote "I exist" in the sky he'd probably make more theists, but it's not clear that the adulterer would go back to his wife, the extortioner would come clean, the hater would begin to forgive, the rapist would turn himself in, and they, along with all of the "run-of-the-mill" sinners, would give up everything and follow Him.
But the final nail in the coffin of this objection is God's middle knowledge.
Without getting too bogged down in a philosophical discussion of divine omniscience, I'll simply say that middle knowledge is God's purported knowledge of what any free creature would do in any given circumstance and that such knowledge prior to God's decision to create a particular "world".
Philosopher of religion Dr. William Lane Craig explains:
For God in His providence has so arranged the world that anyone who would receive Christ has the opportunity to do so. Since God loves all persons and desires the salvation of all, He supplies sufficient grace for salvation to every individual, and nobody who would receive Christ if he were to hear the gospel will be denied that opportunity.
If this is even possible then the hiddeness of God objection is rendered baseless, for if everyone would come to know and love God if He appeared personally to them, then He would do so.
So let's sum up:
1. God is not hidden, but has revealed himself generally in nature and conscience and specifically through Scripture, His Church, and His Son Jesus (among other evidences).
2. God's interest is saving people, not simply getting people to believe in Him and it is up to the objector to prove that the latter will necessarily lead to the former.
3. If it is possible that God could order the world in such a way that all who would respond positively to the gospel would be born in times and places in which they would do so, then we can assume that God has done and will do all that is necessary to bring those who would freely respond to the gospel in communion with Him as is His desire (Ezekiel 33:1; 2 Peter 3:9)
If you're a skeptic put off by a god who seems silent then I encourage to look at the evidence, consider the arguments, and continue to search for God with an open heart and mind.
For if you do so, you will find Him.