Isaiah wrote that God “hides” himself (Isa. 45.15). Paul described God as possessing “invisible attributes” (Rom. 1.20; cf. Heb. 11.27). Several inspired authors maintain that God “hides his face” (cf. Ps. 44.24; Job 13.24; Isa. 8.17).
Yet, these biblical authors also maintain that although we cannot see God with the naked eye, he is on clear display to the rational mind (Rom. 1.20). Indeed, he wants us to use our minds to “seek…and find him,” for he is “not far from each one of us” (Acts 17.27).
Skeptics, however, pillory the Christian faith on this point. If God exists, they ask, and he wants us to believe in him, why doesn’t he emerge from the clouds and reveal himself to us all? Why does he stay hidden?
The atheist—who believes there is no God—argues that the hiddenness of God is proof that God does not exist. Here is their reasoning:
(1) If God exists—and wants us to believe—then God would reveal himself to us.
(2) God does not reveal himself to us.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.
Consider the fallacies behind this line of reasoning.
Assuming The Unknowable
The first premise erroneously assumes that man knows exactly how God would or should act. But this assumption is rooted in ignorance, not genuine knowledge.
Young people also reason in this fashion quite often. “If my parents love me,” they reckon, “they would let me watch an R-rated movie.” When their parents refuse permission, would they be correct to conclude that their parents do not love them?
Naturally, in their ignorance, children fail to realize that their parents have a reason for their decision to which they are not yet privy: viz., to shield their innocence from a vulgar or violent film.
Equally so, the heavenly father—who knows everything possible to know (cf. 1 Sam. 2.3; 1 Chron. 28.9; Job 36.4-5; Ps. 147.5; Isa. 46.9-10; Acts 15.18) and whose every decision is made with absolute wisdom (Ps 104.24; Col. 2.3)—may have reasons for maintaining his hiddenness that his child does not yet understand.
Therefore, the skeptic has to prove why God would reveal himself to us if he exists. But to do that, the skeptic would have to exhaust the omniscient workings of the mind of God to eliminate every possible rationale God might have for remaining hidden. In truth, no one can know what God would do unless he expressed his will to us (cf. 1 Cor. 2.11, 16), in which case God exists!
Theologian, Charles Hodge (1797-1878), noted:
“It would seem impossible that the presumption of men should be so extreme that such a creature as man should pretend to understand the Almighty to perfection, when in fact he cannot understand himself or the simplest objects with which he is in daily contact” (I.345).
Hence, this argument betrays the skeptic’s arrogant ignorance. The first premise is fundamentally flawed; it assumes what is unknowable.
Assuming What Is False
The first premise also makes two false assumptions.
Again, the skeptic reasons that if God wants us to believe in him, he would make himself visible to us to remove all doubt. Yet, this assumes:
(1) That God only wants us to believe in his existence. However, some may acknowledge that God exists; yet they despise him. God wants more than merely accepting his reality.
(2) It also falsely assumes that if God made himself visible, we would all believe in him.
On the contrary, there is no guarantee that people would believe in him, even if he visibly manifested himself. And several cases refute this assumption.
First, Adam and Eve communicated directly with God in the garden of Eden. Yet, they still chose to rebel against him (Gen. 3.1ff).
Second, God is not hidden from Satan and the demons, yet, even though they are fully aware of his existence and power—and tremble at it—they refuse to follow him (Ja. 2.19).
Third, the rich man, in a state of torment in the afterlife, was fully aware of God’s reality. Yet, he expressed neither remorse for his sins, nor the desire to trust God (Lk. 16.23ff).
Also in that account, Abraham explained that even if one arose from the dead—manifesting visible evidence of life after death—and proclaimed the truth to the rich man’s brothers, still they would not believe (Lk 16.27-31). Supernatural revelations are worthless to stubborn reprobates.
Fourth, often when you ask an atheist, “if Christianity is true, would you believe,” many will answer: “no!”
In 1998, theist, Dr. William Lane Craig, debated atheist, Dr. Keith Parsons in Plano, Texas. Throughout the debate, Dr. Parsons kept suggesting that Bible characters who believed that God had communicated with them were hallucinating. He insisted that he needed extraordinary proof to believe in an extraordinary proposition like, “God exists.”
Dr. Craig, in turn, intimated that there was no evidence—extraordinary or otherwise—that would convince him; the atheist was simply not willing to believe, even given the most extraordinary evidence available. Dr. Parsons remonstrated, to which Dr. Craig then inquired: “What evidence would convince you?”
The atheist proposed that if God caused an earthquake, made himself visible, taking a gigantic form “towering over us” as tall as “100 Everests…with lightning playing around his Michelangeloid face,” then, he avowed, he would believe. Dr. Craig then asked: “Are you sure you wouldn’t say you were just hallucinating?”
Some people will always look for a cop-out not to believe, even in the face of the most extraordinary evidence. Hence, a supernatural manifestation of deity is no guarantee that God would achieve his desire for humanity to believe in him.
The first premise is thoroughly untenable.
God Has Revealed Himself
The second premise—viz., that God does not reveal himself to us—is also misleading.
Indeed, God does not manifest his spiritual form in any visible way (cf. Jn. 1.18; 1 Tim. 6.16; 1 Jn. 4.12). Still, God does “not leave himself without witness” (Acts 14.17), for he has provided copious pieces of evidence that give the reasonable mind sufficient grounds for faith in him.
The Bible itself records hundreds of instances in which God manifested himself in a myriad of supernatural ways (cf. Gen. 6.1ff; Ex. 7-14; Josh. 10.12-14; Isa. 38.7-8; Mk. 6.35-44; Mt. 28.1ff; etc.). And on occasion in the Old Testament, God himself even assumed a corporeal form (called “theophanies”), during which he displayed his divine power (cf. Gen. 16.7ff; 17.1, 22; 18.1-2; 19.1-24; Ex 3.1ff; etc.).
These miraculous events were not merely “cleverly devised myths” that pull the wool over unsuspecting eyes (2 Pet. 1.16, ESV), as some today allege. Rather, they were historical occurrences designed to confirm God’s reality and will to a multitude of “eyewitnesses” (ibid., cf. Ps. 77.14; Acts 1.3; Heb 2.4; Mk. 16.20; Jn 20.30-31).
Significantly, in these supernatural manifestations, which only God can achieve (cf. Jn 3.2), the Lord was providing the very evidence skeptics demand from him. Yet, so many today unreasonably dismiss this supernatural evidence as inadequate. They, like a few who witnessed biblical miracles, have hardened their hearts and are unwilling to believe the evidence (cf. Heb. 3.9; Mt. 11.20-30).
In truth, the skeptic’s rash repudiation of miracles depends upon a myopic worldview. As professor Millard Erickson observed:
“If one believes that all that happens is a result of natural forces, and that the system of nature is the whole of reality, then there cannot be any ‘miraculous’ occurrences. If, on the other hand, one is open to the possibility of a reality outside our closed system, then there is also the possibility that a supernatural power can intervene and counter the normal functioning of immanent laws” (p. 771).
It is contrary to reason, therefore, to demand that God reveal himself supernaturally, but then to dismiss evidence of his supernatural activity out of hand simply because you have already made up your mind that supernatural revelations cannot exist.
Other Types of Divine Revelations
Even if we dismiss the miraculous manifestations of deity out of hand, still God is not entirely hidden.
When Paul told the Athenians that God wants us to “seek” him (Acts 17.27), he used a term that meant to seek by thinking. In essence, he wants us to use our heads to find him, not our eyes.
The task of finding God intellectually is neither impossible nor too difficult to the reasonable mind, for God “is not far from each of us, for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17.28).
There are two ways in which God manifests himself so that we can use our minds to “find him.”
First, he has generally revealed himself in nature.
God’s “invisible attributes” can be “clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom 1.20; cf. Job 12.7-11; Ps. 19.1ff). For example, science has demonstrated that the fundamental elements of our universe—space, time, matter, etc.—had a beginning. Thus, whatever created the universe was antecedent to space, time, and matter. It follows, therefore, that the creative cause of all things must be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial.
Furthermore, the creator, at the very least, must be:
(1) Powerful—since creating our entire universe required a vast amount of energy;
(2) Intelligent—since the immensely complex yet orderly nature of our cosmos (lit., ‘ordered world') requires some astute “fine-tuning” (Ellis, p. 30);
(3) Moral—since, per the law of biogenesis (i.e., living realities cannot come from non-living realities), the existence of moral “oughtness" in man could not have derived from non-moral entities; i.e., we must have derived our awareness of right and wrong ultimately from a source that also possesses moral oughtness;
(4) Personal—since (a) impersonal abstractions (like numbers) possess no creative power of themselves; and (b) power, intelligence, and morality, when combined, imply the power to choose.
These “invisible attributes” of the ultimate cause of all things invalidate non-theological religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, which insist that the first cause of the universe is an impersonal, non-rational “life force.”
Conversely, scientific observation and reason demand that the creator of the universe is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, intelligent, moral, and personal—precisely how the God of the Bible is described. Nature, in short, reveals God to us.
Second, he has specifically revealed himself in Christ and the Bible.
The most cogent, visible revelation of deity occurred in the incarnation of Christ (cf. Jn. 1.14; 12.45; 14.9; Col. 1.15; Heb. 1.3). Indeed, God gave us “assurance” of his divine presence and power “by raising [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 17.31; cf. Rom. 1.4).
Likewise, the revelation of Christ (i.e., his message), miraculously entrusted to inspired biblical authors, serves as powerful evidence of God’s reality and character (cf. Heb. 1.1-2; Gal. 1.11-12; Eph. 3.3-5; Acts 26.16; Rom. 16.25; Eph. 3:9; 6.19; Col. 1:26; 4:3; 2 Tim. 3.16-17). The infallible accuracy and high ethical standard of the Bible itself are telltale marks of its divine origin. In other words, the Book of books is a revelation of God in its own right. Indeed, no man would write it if he could; nor could he write it if he would.
Hence, though still “invisible,” yet God is not entirely hidden. He has revealed himself to our race in several ways. The second premise is also indefensible.
A Reasonable Explanation
To reiterate: not everyone would believe in God if he discontinued his invisibility. However, surely some, who do not now believe, might turn to him if he did. So, if he could gain at least a few more believers through visible revelation, why does he now choose a less direct approach?
Earlier, we noted that since finite human beings cannot possibly know the mind of God (unless he reveals it to us), it is sensible to admit that God may have a reason to stay invisible that the skeptic does not yet comprehend. Now, we will examine the plausibility of at least one of those reasons.
The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), argued that God chose to establish a relationship with humanity in the Christian way to ensure that we develop genuine devotion to him. He employed a parable to illustrate this point. His original essay (Philosophical Fragments, Chapter 2) is rather verbose, but I will boil it down in this manner.
A king saw a beautiful servant-girl and fell in love with her. But how could he approach her in such a way that her love for him might be genuine, believable, and happy?
First, Kierkegaard posited that “the king might have shown himself to the humble maiden in all the pomp of his power, causing the sun of his presence to rise over her cottage, shedding a glory over the scene, and making her forget herself in worshipful admiration.”
For a while, she might find herself happy in her new, royal relationship; but would she love the king for who he is? Or, since no one rejects the king’s advances with impunity, would her love be coerced? Or, if not, would her love instead be artificial; i.e., would she merely fall for the glitz and glamor—all the trappings of his regal power?
In either case, eventually, she might grow tired of her palace-life and long for the simpler attractions and quietness of her cottage home. With such doubts vexing his soul, the king decided that his union with the young maiden needed to “be brought about in some other way.”
So, the king decided to leave the palace behind. Instead, he lived as a servant, so that he could forge a relationship with the young maiden naturally and on equal footing. Once he became convinced that she was as much in love with him as he was with her, then he would marry her, and return to the palace, his devoted wife now in hand.
The main thrust of the parable is this: only by hiding his supernatural glory and becoming a genuine servant “like a man” (Phil. 2.7-8) could God establish a free, un-coerced, and genuine relationship with our race. Sure, God wants us to love him, but not merely because he is glorious and powerful. Rather, he wants us to search for him “with all [our] heart” (Jer. 29.13; cf. Deut. 30.6; 1 Chron. 22.19; Jer. 24.7).
To achieve this, then, God has neither manifested himself too revealingly (lest men only serve him by coercion or for superficial motivations) nor too sparsely (lest man boast of his own intellectual prowess and, in his arrogance, foolishly refuse to honor God as his spiritual superior—cf. 1 Cor. 1.17ff).
Two hundred years before Kierkegaard, French philosopher, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) concluded:
“It was not, then, right that [God] should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him.
He has willed to make himself….appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart. He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition” (Pensée 430, p. 118).
This method of revealing himself in a balanced way—neither too upfront nor too hidden—has proven effective as a mechanism by which the “sheep” of our race might become sheep (soft-hearted), and the “goats” might become goats (course-hearted; Mt. 25.32f).
And Jesus’ incarnation is the climactic moment of this balanced revelation of deity, combining both the supernatural with the natural. In this way, Christ serves “as a sanctuary” to the true hearts who “believe on him.” They will “not be put to shame” for their faith. Whereas Christ instead serves as “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” to all imposters and haters. They shall “stumble…fall and be broken” (Isa. 8.14-15; Rom. 9.33).
Christians, as lovers of truth (regardless of what that may be), heartily welcome challenges to our faith. If we have no reasonable grounds to believe, we shouldn’t believe (1 Th. 5.17; 1 Jn. 4.1).
But if the Christian faith will be exposed as erroneous, it will not be on grounds of the hiddenness of God. On the contrary, God’s method of revealing himself to us is perfectly suited to his objective.
Instead of using our eyes to know him, God wants us to use our minds and hearts (2 Cor. 5.7). Instead of falling for his pomp and power, God wants us to embrace him for who he is.
The best way to achieve this, in God’s infinite wisdom, was to hide his direct presence, while also providing enough evidence of himself that those who have a “noble and good heart” could genuinely seek him and find him (Lk. 8.15). Only by possessing wisdom to see his invisibility and humility to accept his revelations can we ensure that we possess, in earnest, such a heart as this.
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