The Problem of Divine Hiddenness — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Many people wonder why God does not make himself more visible. With all of the world’s bitter disputes over whose religion is true—and with some of these resulting in violence—it would be helpful for God to settle the issue, would it not? Why does God hide from his creation?

Years ago, one blogger stated that he would believe in God if a Christian could meet several criteria in a list he created. The individual items were predictably absurd. They included such impossibilities as finding the cure for cancer hidden in secret code in the Bible and discovering an extraterrestrial civilization that believed in the Christian God. The critic placed the bar so impossibly high that no believer could hurdle it. Yet what if the bar were lower? Couldn’t God reveal himself in a less-spectacular way that would give irrefutable proof of his existence to humanity? In other words, “If the perfectly good and loving God of the Bible existed, every reasonable person should believe in him. Because reasonable nonbelievers exist, then God does not exist.”

Divine Hiddenness in the Bible.  Throughout human history, God has elected to make himself visible by limited means. The Bible explains this as God’s attempt to accommodate humanity’s imperfections. A perfectly holy and powerful God cannot reveal himself without endangering his creatures (Ex. 33:20; cf. 1 John 3:2). When he does manifest himself in a visible form, viewers are always frightened. Fear overcame Moses when God spoke through the burning bush (Ex. 3:2-4; Heb. 12:21). The people of Israel had a similar response when gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16). Gideon threw himself on the ground, terror-stricken when speaking with the Angel of the Lord (Judg. 6:22). The prophet Isaiah pronounced a curse upon himself when seeing God in a vision (Is. 6:1-5). John fell down “as a dead man” upon seeing the risen Christ (Rev. 1:17).

At Sinai, the people begged for Moses to serve as an intermediary (Ex. 20:18-21), and yet when this happens at other times in the Bible, people routinely treat God’s messengers horribly. The people threw Jeremiah into a cistern to await execution (Jer. 38:1-13). They beheaded another prophet named Uriah ben Shemiah (Jer. 26:20-23). This treatment of God’s messengers was so infamous that Jesus addressed it with the parable of the wicked tenants (Matt. 21:33-46; also Heb. 11:35b-38). No matter what form he chooses, humanity always finds a way to dismiss the importance of hearing the message.

The Bible presents a consistent view of God’s hiddenness as a product of humanity’s unrighteousness. Psalm 14 begins with the famous line, “The fool says in his heart that there is no God.” Yet the rest of the verse makes clear that the reason for this dismissal of God’s existence is not intellectual, but moral. The same can be said of those who oppose God. They reject God not because his existence is somehow irrational or illogical, but because his righteous will collides with their moral autonomy.

The apostle Paul offers a similar take in his letter to the church in Rome. He says that the wicked suppress the truth through their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Further, God has made his existence evident to humans, going so far as to design the world in such a way that human beings see even his divine attributes (vs. 19-20). Rather than worshiping our Creator, mankind has consistently chosen to adore things that we can more fully understand and control (Rom. 1:22-25).

Divine Hiddenness in the Modern World.  The famed atheist Bertrand Russell was once asked how he would respond if he found himself standing before God in judgement after his death. His response was, “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence.” The assumption behind Russell’s statement is that the evidence is so incomplete that people can be honest atheists even if he does exist.

We must notice that the kind of evidence atheists require often exceeds reasonable standards. Cosmologist Carl Sagan famously quipped, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” He unwittingly admitted to a double standard when examining claims about God. Why do biblical claims require extraordinary evidence instead of a reasonable or sufficient amount of evidence?

Like the blogger mentioned above, atheists frequently set the bar so high that no evidence will pass muster, and anything that does is explained away or dismissed. It is unreasonable to ask for the Bible to produce the secret for curing cancer when it was written for a much more important purpose: delivering humanity, not from a single disease, but from the power of sin and death (Rom. 6:5-10, 22-23). Further, why are Christians required to go on a spacefaring voyage to find alien civilizations worshipping God when offering reasonable proof of the Bible’s reliability should do?

When God Reveals Himself.  How hidden is God?  Not very.  He has revealed himself to humanity through the design and order of nature, which Paul mentions in Romans 1.  By designing us with an intuitive recognition of logic and universal standards of justice, God has given us evidence that he is both creator and lawgiver.   Through fulfilled prophecies, he has shown humanity that he no only predicts the future but helps to orchestrate events in human history.  The most important miracle of all — the resurrection of Christ — demonstrates that Jesus was who he claimed to be and points to the power of his Father.  Many of these things are made evident with the most basic investigative tools.

The Bible makes it clear that God does not reveal himself in outlandish ways to awe humanity with his supreme power. Instead, he has done so in ways that are reasonable and provide sufficient grounds for faith. Christians should not be worried by claims of “Not enough evidence!” After all, any child can cross his arms and say, “Prove it!” Unfortunately, many otherwise intelligent, rational, and perceptive unbelievers do precisely the same when it comes to Christianity.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX.  He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

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