Why is God so hidden?
One of the questions that cuts across many different groups of people deals with the hiddenness of God. I don't think it's uncommon for someone to say or have thought or felt at some point in their life, "Where is God? Why is he so hidden? Why can I not easily discern his presence or his involvement in the world? Why does he not feel closer?" This isn't just an intellectual question; it often has an emotional component too, where at times of great distress and trial someone may say, "Where is God?" Even the non-Christian sometimes will say, "Where is God?"
So we need to be prepared to talk through this, and talk through it biblically. I don't always cover bad responses to these types of questions when we address them on the podcast, but I am going to address some of them today because I have heard some pretty bad responses to this issue. But let's first look at a more formal statement of the problem, since some people have actually formed this into a formal argument. It goes something like this.
- If God existed, he would make himself known. (Or wouldn’t be hidden)
- He has not made himself known. (He is hidden)
- Therefore, God does not exist.
So if God existed, he would be obviously existing. He is not obviously existing, therefore, he doesn't exist. That's what some people would say.
There are several hidden assumptions
If that's true, if those first two premises are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows, but like so many arguments that are not sound, there are some issues with these premises. There are actually a lot of implicit assumptions behind the scenes here, and that's something that we need to be good at teasing out. When you hear someone making a point, try and ask yourself, what led that person to that point? Or perhaps even ask the person, "What led you to this point? What are your reasons for this?" But when we hear an argument like this, I think there are some things that we should be aware of that are happening behind the scenes.
Why believe God has to reveal himself to all people?
First, it seems like the person believes that God has an obligation to make himself known to all people. If there really is the type of being that Christians are talking about when they talk about God, an all-sovereign, infinite, eternal, holy Being, why would he have to reveal himself to us? Especially on an evolutionary worldview where man is just a slightly more evolved animal. Does God also have to reveal himself to something less evolved than us like dolphins or apes?
So why would we think that God has the obligation to make himself known to people in general, but to all people? Doesn't this God, this all-powerful transcendent being, have some type of free will also? Doesn't he have the ability to choose who he reveals himself to? Why would we think he has to reveal himself to all people? And I don't know how the person you're talking about this question would answer that, but I think that's a fair question.
Why believe God has to reveal himself to people on their terms?
The second explicit assumption in this type of thinking is that God has an obligation to reveal himself to people in a way that people choose or appreciate. A lot of times when we get into the details on this question you can ask someone, "What types of actions on God's part would you take to be him revealing himself to you?" In other words, what types of evidence are sufficient in your mind to count for God revealing himself? Well, the person is going to perhaps have a set of criteria. Something we'll talk about in a little bit is how some people actually can't answer that question, which is interesting. But doesn't the questioner of God actually have the implicit view that God has to reveal himself on their playing field, according to their criteria? Why should we think God has to do that? If he is the sovereign one, if he is the type of God we say who is all-powerful, who does what he wills as we see in Scripture, why would he have to reveal himself according to my preferences and my presuppositions? You can probably tell where I'm going with this: he wouldn't and he doesn't have to. So that's another bad assumption.
Why believe man has the uncorrupted ability to discern God’s revelation?
The third bad assumption here is people can tell when God reveals himself in a conscious way at all points. I don't know that this is true. We'll look at some biblical data in a little bit that shows that man does not have an excuse when it comes to this question, but due to the environment we live in, due to the intellectual climate, due to the presuppositions that we hold and/or are taught to us, some people will see evidence of God, objective evidence of God, and say that that is not evidence of God. This is due to the effects of the fall and sin; man isn't always going to be able to tell at all points in his life when God has, in fact, revealed himself.
The question in the argument that we looked at assumes that they can. Well, why? Why should we expect that to be the case?
Why believe man is looking for God or evidence of him?
The fourth assumption is that people actually want to see God, that there are people out there who are seeking God, who if they just got enough evidence, they would believe. As we'll see when we look at the biblical data in a few minutes, that category of person doesn't actually exist.
So what I hope you've seen quickly here is that there are actually a lot of assumptions behind this argument that if God existed, he'd make himself known. He hasn't made himself known; therefore he doesn't exist. There are a lot of things that need to be proved in order for that to be true. I'm sure there are more assumptions there. Those are just some that quickly came to mind.
But let's look at some bad responses to this. I'm a little more sensitive to bad responses to this question than to some others because I've sat through talks and conferences where this topic's been addressed, and in my opinion has been addressed rather poorly. The reason people address this poorly is oftentimes, when they start with a philosophical response as opposed to a biblical or theological response. When we form our beliefs and when we answer questions, we want to first reason from Scripture to theology to apologetics. We don't want to do apologetics in a way that's most compelling and yet is theological malpractice.
So here's some bad responses I've heard to this type of question, dealing with the hiddenness of God.
“God has made himself somewhat hidden so that people will search for him.”
God has made himself somewhat hidden so that people will search for him. It's this idea that only the worthy will find him. It's the idea that if you hide something of value, you find the truest, purest hearted people with the greatest work ethic, if you make it so they have to work to find that thing of value. But biblically, that's not a thing, biblically, that God has made himself hidden so that people will search for him. What we've seen biblically is God's not hidden and people don't search for him, so it's actually wrong on both points.
“God doesn’t want to override people's free will by making his presence overwhelmingly obvious.”
Another bad response is that he doesn't want to override people's free will by making his presence overwhelmingly obvious. The thinking here, as it's sometimes explained, is that if God wrote in the sky and if every cell said "designed by God. Yahweh, the God of the Bible, exists," then of course everyone would believe. So it almost takes away their free will, because it's said people believe that grass exists because they walk outside and they see grass everywhere. They believe they exist because they experience themselves and they're in tune with their thoughts and they see themselves in mirrors and reflections in water, all these types of thing.
So if God made it that obvious that he existed, it wouldn't actually have to be a choice for people. It would almost remove their free will. And Sometimes when we're dealing with apologetics questions, we can make an idol out of free will. The Bible says almost nothing positive about man’s will. It says it's a slave of sin, it can't submit to the will of God. It talks about the free will of God, but it does not spend much time saying positive things about the will of man. And yet oftentimes in our apologetics, we elevate the will of man over and above the sovereign will of God.
But this idea that God doesn't want to override the free will of man by making his presence overwhelmingly obvious does not find good support in Scripture. In fact, what we see in Scripture is God holds man accountable for knowing he exists. In other words, he thinks he has sufficiently revealed himself.
“If God made his existence obvious, people wouldn't need faith.”
The third bad response to the hiddenness of God is that if God made it very obvious, people wouldn't need faith. What this presupposes is that faith and knowing are opposite ends of the spectrum, and if you know more than you need less faith. Biblically speaking, faith is trust. You can know a lot and not trust that thing. You can know a lot about how an airplane works and exhibit no faith, no trust in that airplane if you refuse to fly on it due to some irrational fear. People behave very irrationally. They can know the truth and not behave in light of it.
And another thing is, once again, God thinks he has sufficiently revealed himself in Scripture, and we'll see that. And so it can't be enough to say it's not obvious enough that people wouldn't need faith. Biblically speaking, faith comes from God, not from man. Faith is not something man summons up in himself. It's imparted to man by God. We see that in Ephesians 2:8-9. We covered that in our Reformation series, how man doesn't even generate the faith that's necessary to save him. That's a gift from God, lest we could boast.
So those are three bad reasons. But let's look at some biblical data to help actually form a correct view here. I've already alluded to some of the conclusions that would be drawn from this, but I think it's really important that we see where these conclusions are grounded in the text.
When it comes to the hiddenness of God and if he exists and if people can know it, we should go to Romans 1, perhaps first. This is what Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit starting in Romans 1:18.
”For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people, who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness."
Now we're going to get one of the examples of those truths that are suppressed. Paul says,
“What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, his visible attributes - namely, his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.”
God has revealed himself clearly
Why are they without excuse? Because God says here he has given them plain evidence that he exists, that it has been clearly seen. So when we or the non-Christian or even a Christian apologist (someone who gives a defense of the faith) says, "It's not clear. It's not obvious that God exists." They disagree with God in his word. Right here, God is saying that it's clear. It's plain that God exists, for since the creation of the entire world, his invisible attributes have been on display in nature. And so when we disagree with that point, we disagree with God.
In fact, in this passage God says it is so clear that people are without excuse when they don't glorify him. He doesn't say - and this is important - that what is revealed in nature is sufficient to bring someone to salvation. No, it's sufficient for them to understand the condemnation for their sins and to understand that God exists. Paul will later say as part of his argument in Romans that unless there is the preaching and the teaching and the responding to the gospel, there is no salvation. But natural revelation—what we see about God in nature—is sufficient and clear for God to be able judge people for their sinful actions. So whatever we say, we must say at least that and nothing less than that.
Another thing we see in Romans is not just that God has revealed himself clearly, that he doesn't think he's hidden. I think that's an incredibly important point. But more than that, that no one seeks God.
No one seeks God
That is the statement of Paul under the Holy Spirit in Romans 3:11. No one does good. No one seeks God. Everyone is futile in their thinking. That would be people apart from the giving of faith to that person, the calling and drawing of them to God. But the natural man, the non-regenerate person, the non-Christian, does not seek God. So this idea of the seeker who, if he just had more evidence, would believe, does not exist in the Bible. Once again, God says he has enough evidence, but more than that, this category of a neutral, unbiased seeker, does not exist.
God has revealed himself sufficiently in Scripture
There are other places in Scripture too that make it clear that God has revealed himself sufficiently for salvation. For instance, John writes his gospel, and at the end he tells us that Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples that he just hasn't recorded them in his book. He actually says there's not room to record all that Jesus did and said. He says, "But," in verse 31,
”these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
He wrote what he wrote, once again, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sufficiently so that man would believe. He thinks, God thinks, that what's revealed just in the gospel of John is sufficient revelation of God such that he's not hidden. We don't just have to look at nature. He's given us his specific and his special revelation in the form of Scripture. He actually came to earth, and Jesus revealed the Father. Jesus revealed God. Not hidden. Walked on earth. And more than that, it was captured and preserved for posterity. So God's not hidden; he's revealed in Scripture.
But oftentimes the non-Christian making this objection about the hiddenness of God rejects Scripture. So once again, he's judging God on a standard that he has created. When God says that what he has revealed is sufficient, the non-Christian says, "No it's not. I want different evidence." To tell God his evidence is not good enough is certainly a form of sin and rebellion and idolatry, and so when we respond to someone, we don't want to say, "Yeah, you're right. God hasn't revealed himself enough." No, we want to say, "God has said he has, and you need to reckon with that. I plead with you to consider the evidence that God has given and that God said is sufficient, because God also says some things for the person who does not repent of their sin, who does not respond sufficiently to this revelation." But once again, in John, we see that these things that were written were written so that man would believe in the name of the Son of God and have eternal life in his name.
The resurrection is proof
And once again, in Acts, Paul is speaking to some non-Christians of the day, some philosopher, and here's what he says in Acts 17:31.
“God has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead."
Paul says God has proved that he is coming back to judge the world righteously, and he had proved it by raising Jesus from the dead. He thinks that's sufficient to hold men even more accountable than what was just revealed in natural revelation. Do we agree with God on that point?
We must judge the evidence by God’s standards
So in wrapping this up, I hope what you've seen - and I haven't said it this bluntly so far - is that oftentimes, we are judging God with our own standards instead of the standards God said are sufficient to understand his revelation. We come with non-biblical, non-Christian presuppositions and then say, "There isn't enough evidence.” God has revealed himself supernaturally, and yet the non-Christian that said God is hidden will reject supernatural revelation.
A lot of times an atheist or a naturalist will say there is no such thing as the supernatural, so they discount even the possibility of surveying the evidence that exists in some forms. Scripture is not supernatural in its existence, although it was supernaturally inspired.
This shows that the Christian is actually more open-minded than the non-Christian. The Christian can look at so much more evidence because he doesn't artificially limit himself to just physical evidence. He also considers spiritual and supernatural evidence and supernatural causes, while the non-Christian is actually more narrow-minded in this case.
What we have to point out here is that the non-Christian, if he would look at all of the evidence, would actually see more evidence of God. But if he only wants to look at natural evidence, God says what's revealed in nature is sufficient. But more than that, we have to say theologically and biblically that the issue here is one of the heart. Man doesn't want God to exist apart from God's sovereign work in his life. It's not that he's just saying, "If I had a little more data...”
You know what's interesting? When you ask some non-Christians what would be sufficient evidence, they don't know. And in fact, when you get asked this question and get confronted with the issue that God is so hidden, ask the person, "What would be sufficient for God to reveal himself to you such that you would believe?" Because many non-Christians have said, "I guess if I heard God speaking to me, I would think I was crazy and I would check myself into an asylum. If I saw writing in the sky, I would assume that someone did it. If I saw - fill in the blank - I would assume ..." and they would assume some other physical explanation. And what this shows is due to their presuppositions, due to their sin that actually blinds us intellectually sometimes, that apart from the work of God, man can't appreciate the evidence that God has provided and that God says is sufficient.
Now yes, we present evidence. The same God that said faith is a gift, it's a work of his grace, also said, "Go into the world and preach the gospel." It's the same God who inspired John to say, "I wrote all of these things down such that you would believe in the name of the Son of God and have life." But the evidence God has provided is sufficient. He's not hidden by any means. Every leaf and tree and created thing proclaims his name, and in fact, the idea that we are the images of God, his representatives, in some ways we are evidence that God exists, and there's so much more we could tease out there.
But in closing, I am somewhat sympathetic to the person who says there's not enough evidence for God, and the reason I'm sympathetic is that I understand that person is dead in their sin oftentimes. And so what that means is I need to pray for that person, I need to walk with that person, but I do not need to compromise what God says, that he has sufficiently revealed himself. I need to help that person understand God's revelation, not make excuses for it or not to invent other reasons, but I need to help them understand the sufficient revelation of God that already exists.
I'll talk to you next week on Unapologetic.