When I was in my early teenage years, I regularly attended church with my family. However, I believed that Christianity was a false belief system based on wishful thinking, fear of death, and a certain level of passionate propaganda propagated by talented and engaging orators. And the reason for my scepticism of Christianity, and religion in general, stemmed largely from the question posed in the title of this article: If God exists, why is He Hiding?
As a teenager religious sceptic, I found that my church and parents could never give me satisfactory answer to my questions such as: “Why doesn’t God make Himself more obvious?”, “Why does God seem so silent and hidden?” or “Why doesn’t God just show up and reveal Himself today?”.
The answers I received when I posed these questions to church leaders usually went along the lines of “who are we to question God?”, which was hopelessly dissatisfactory at that age (and still is now).
However, in my late teens, when I started looking into Christianity afresh without the dogmatic glare of my conservative parents and church, I began to find answer to my questions surrounding the “hiddenness” of God.
My aim with this article is to attempt to answer the question of “Why is God hiding?” by defending three points that I have become convinced of since becoming a Christian:
- God has not hidden Himself
- God reveals Himself in ways that make sense
- God hides Himself in ways that make sense
I do have a couple of disclaimers for this article. Firstly, as often is the case for my articles, I shall be focussing on the God of Christianity. I have written in reasonable depth about other religions and worldviews in other articles such as: Comparing World Religions: Can One Be Right? and in my book Evidence of the Existence of God. Secondly, I am not going to try to give a rigorous defence of the evidence for the existence of God. Rather, this article looks at trying to explain the apparent hiddenness of God, on the presupposition that God does indeed exist. There will obviously be some empirical argument presented here, but there is much more in Evidence for the Existence of God.
1. God Has Not Hidden Himself
I think a logical place to start answering the question “Why is God Hiding?” is to firstly look at what Christianity claims about the hiddenness and/or revelation of God. The New Testament book of Hebrews opens with the following claim:
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” 1
The bible claims that God is not hiding, but instead revealed Himself by speaking “at many times and in various ways”. However, the definitive revelation, which Christians give ultimate weight to, is the man of Jesus. The Christian claim is that c.2000 years ago, God took human form in the man of Jesus- to reveal to humanity God’s existence, character, and message to the world.
Obviously, this is a huge and rather outlandish claim- that God took human form in the man of Jesus. However, if it is true (and I have argued extensively elsewhere that I find the evidence compelling), then the assertion that “God is hiding” starts to come undone. If God really came to Earth as a man in order to reveal His existence, character and message to mankind, then clearly God has not totally hidden Himself from humans. Of course, one could argue that a one-off complete revelation of God in the man of Jesus 2000 years ago is somewhat dissatisfactory and empirically questionable in today’s rationalistic, scientific age. I will be coming back to that contention shortly. That being said, the one-off incarnation of God in the man of Jesus I think gives sufficient backing to the claim that God is not totally hidden from humanity, and has, at least to some extent, removed His hiddenness and revealed Himself to humanity.
Of course this line of argument leaves many unanswered questions, such as “Why doesn’t God reveal Himself again today?” and “Why doesn’t God reveal Himself in bigger, more obvious ways?”. These two questions are the basis of our final two sections.
2. God Reveals Himself in Ways that Make Sense
A common argument that I have heard posed many times goes along the lines of: why did God choose the 1st Century to reveal Himself to humanity? Surely it would have made more sense to become a man in the 21st Century, when it could all be recorded on video? Why did God choose 1st Century Israel of out of all places in the world and times throughout history?
In answer to these questions, I think that a cursory dip into Ancient History produces interesting results. Christian philosopher Dr Willian Lane Craig, in a debate with the late Christopher Hitchens, summarised the historical context of the incarnation of Jesus very well in my opinion:
Human beings have existed for thousands of years on this planet before Christ’s coming. But what’s really crucial here is not the time involved; rather, it’s the population of the world. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever lived on this planet is about 105 billion people. Only two percent of them were born prior to the advent of Christ. Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Centre of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research says, “God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Christ showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world’s population.”
The Bible says in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son, and when Christ came, the nation of Israel had been prepared. The Roman peace dominated the Mediterranean world; it was an age of literacy and learning. The stage was set for the advent of God’s Son into the world. And I think in God’s providential plan for human history, we see the wisdom of God in orchestrating the development of human life and then in bringing Christ into the world in the fullness of time.2
I’m not a historian, but from my lay point of view, Jesus coming to Earth when He did makes a lot of sense. The population boom shortly after Jesus meant the message of Jesus could be rapidly propagated down generations. The Roman Empire produced an extended period of Middle East peace as part of the wider Pax Romana, which has never really been generated prior or since. Additional the Roman, Empire-Wide network of roads and routes made propagating the message of Jesus, including between countries, remarkably straightforward. And at the time, the oral tradition was beginning to be replaced by the popularisation of written records and documents. This meant that written records were made and passed down through the Centuries, but at the same time, Jesus’ followers did not have to follow Jesus around with journalistic note pads and pens; the oral tradition meant that accurate memorisation and oral retelling was the primary means of transmitting news and information, and the disciples would have had no problem doing such when biographing Jesus.
So in my opinion, Jesus coming when and where He did makes a lot of sense. If I were God (a thought that would put anyone off their dinner), I do not think I could pick a better time for Jesus to come and the identity and message of God to be definitively and ultimately revealed to humanity.
However, one final obvious question remains. It is all good and well God revealing Himself in Jesus, but why does God stop there? Why doesn’t God do some more “incarnation-like” revelation of Himself to humanity today? That is what our final section is all about.
3. God Hides Himself in Ways that Make Sense
So why doesn’t God reveal Himself again today in a Jesus-like way, or indeed in any other way that is more obvious?
As a Christian, I believe that God does reveal Himself today in multiple ways notwithstanding the historical man of Jesus. I believe that God speaks through the bible, convicts people by His Holy Spirit, and can and does do supernatural acts and miracles today (although in this country, such acts are often driven out of sight of the mainstream public attention). However, when I was not a Christian, I found the above mentioned “revelations” to be rather cryptic, mystical and inaccessible to those who are not Christians. As I Christian, I have grown to understand and appreciate (at least within my human limits) how and why God speaks through the bible, the Holy Spirit, and supernatural acts. However, I very much appreciate that for many, these are unconvincing answers to the question “Why doesn’t God reveal Himself more today?”.
The issue is, God could make His existence more obvious if He wanted to- of course He could. God could appear to sceptics in physical visible form, or send visions and dreams. God could even write “made by God” on every atom. If God is the all-powerful creator of the universe, of course He could do a lot more to make His existence and identity more obvious. So why doesn’t He?
I think the answer is oddly simple.
Jesus’ life on Earth did not have the sole aim of proving God’s existence- He also came with the message of the gospel for mankind. The God of the bible does not just want to have lots of people believe in His existence in a weird egotistic, narcissistic kind of way. Rather, He wants people to enter a relationship with Him, as His beloved children.
The gospel message of Jesus teaches that God originally created a perfect world, and gave mankind perfect lives with no suffering, pain, evil or death. And God gave humanity a moral framework by which, if they obeyed it, they could live a perfect, suffering-free everlasting existence. However, we as humans rejected the moral framework- what the bible calls “sin”, and instead we decided to live life our own way. Jesus taught that the consequences of rejecting God by sinning is death and eternal separation from God; if we reject God, He, in a sense, allows us to exit His eternal presence. However, on the cross of crucifixion, Jesus took upon Himself the sins of humanity; He wiped away our sins and thus granted us the opportunity to be reconciled with God. And therefore if we accept the gift of forgiveness held out to us by the cross of Jesus, we are promised a perfect, suffering-free eternal life in Heaven when we die.
Jesus’ message was not primarily one of evidence for the existence of God, but rather of the opportunity of reconciled relationship with God and eternal life in Heaven. And when put into that context, I think God hides Himself in a way that makes sense.
Would God sending regular visions and dreams of the divine lead more people into a relationship with God, or just send more people to their doctor?
Would God repeatedly popping up in people’s bedrooms in visible physical form lead more people into a relationship with God, or just leave more people creeped out by the supernatural?
Would writing “made by God” on every atom lead more people into a relationship with God, or would sceptics just not bother looking into it, like many do with the historical evidence for Jesus?
God’s primary aim is not to prove His existence, but to lead willing people into a reconciled relationship with Himself. For me, the historical man of Jesus and the accounts of His life and death appear to be a fantastically effective means by which God reveals His message to humanity; after all, around one third of the world’s population now self-identify as Christians.
There is much more that could be said on this topic, and of course I have only attempted to answer a couple of questions surrounding the hiddenness of God. That being said, for me, I am convinced that God it not hiding, but has revealed Himself to humanity in a way that makes a lot of sense- through the man of Jesus who preached a gospel message of reconciled relationships with God, and eternal life in Heaven.
- Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)