There’s an oft-repeated tale about a Russian cosmonaut who went into space, and upon returning said, “I looked and looked, but I didn’t find God.” While the story is meant to be humorous, the underlying theme seems to be one that atheists keep bringing up: that God’s existence isn’t obvious to us human beings. Many go on to formulate an argument against God’s existence from this observation, which goes something like this:
- If God exists, it would be obvious to us that He exists.
- It is not obvious to us that God exists.
- God does not exist.
The problem with this sort of reasoning is that the nature of the evidence that the atheist demands is inconsistent with the nature of the God that the theist claims exists; the ‘obviousness’ of God’s existence that the atheist expects would’ve been a plausible demand if the theist’s God were yet another object in the universe. The theist, however, claims that God transcends the space and time that He created, and therefore He cannot be directly perceived by our minds, which operate within the space and time. Denying God’s existence because He hasn’t revealed Himself in an ‘in your face’ way in the universe is like denying da Vinci’s existence because you didn’t see him in the Mona Lisa. Nonetheless, just like you can infer that da Vinci was a real person due to the signs of intelligence that he left on the Mona Lisa, the theist will tell you that God’s existence can also be inferred from the ‘signs of intelligence’ seen in the universe. Thus, the argument from hiddenness does not necessarily rule out the existence of God.
But even such an argument from the theist only gets us to a deistic view of God; it shows that there could’ve been some ‘god’ that caused the universe, but it certainly doesn’t prove the existence of the Christian God, who is claimed to be an all-powerful and all-loving personal being. Many use a reinforced form of the hiddenness argument that specifically targets these attributes to show that a being with these attributes cannot remain hidden. The argument goes something like this:
- The God of the Bible is claimed to be all-loving and all-powerful.
- An all-loving God would want to convince me that he exists so that I won’t go to hell.
- An all-powerful God would reveal himself to me in a way that would convince me that he exists.
- I am unconvinced that God exists.
- The God of the Bible does not exist.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it this way:
“A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure that his creatures understand his intention – could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them.”
At first glance, this is quite a powerful argument. For if God truly wants men to be saved from hell, it is within His power to reveal Himself in a more convincing way. In this manner, more men will be saved. But because God doesn’t do that, it’s either that He isn’t powerful enough or He isn’t loving enough. And if He isn’t either of of those two things, He isn’t the Christian God.
But I am a Christian, hence, I do not believe that the argument against the Christian God has a true conclusion. I do believe that an all-loving and all-powerful God exists. But there is an undeniable feeling of hiddenness, a sense of irreducible distance that often leads us to question whether God actually exists and cares about us. So the question becomes, is it possible to reconcile this feeling of God being hidden from us with the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving God?
To answer this question, I am going to attempt what in philosophy is called a ‘defense’; in specific, I’m going to try and give a defense of divine hiddenness. In other words, I’m going to give you a two possible reasons why an all-powerful and all-loving God can appear to be hidden from us. I can in no way prove that these are the reasons for which God appears hidden, because I cannot claim to know God’s reasons. But if even one of the reasons I give is possible, then we have achieved our goal of showing that it is possible for an all-loving God to seem hidden from us, which would in turn show that the argument from hiddenness against the Christian God does not work.
The first possible reason why I think that an all-powerful and all-loving God seems to be hidden from us when we look for him is because we look for the wrong God. What I mean by this is that when we talk about God not giving us enough evidence to convince us that He exists, we misunderstand the fundamental nature or character of the Christian God that we are talking about.
What is the fundamental nature/character of the Christian God? To find out, we’ll need to turn to where Christians claim this God has revealed Himself, which is the Bible. In the Bible, God is presented as a personal and relational being who requires us not to merely believe that He exists, but to believe in Him in order to gain the eternal life that He promises.
Allow me to illustrate what I mean by belief that vs belief in. Say I have a friend named Kevin. If I say, “I believe that Kevin is a man,” I’m just stating a fact. I’m saying that there exists an individual named Kevin and he is a biological male. But if I say, “I believe in Kevin,” I’m not just stating a fact that Kevin is a trustworthy person, but I’m saying that I trust Kevin. To say that you believe in someone is to make a relational claim involving that person and you; it is to say that you trust them and are in a relational bond with them.
Applying that to God, when someone says, “I believe that God exists,” they’re acknowledging that they believe that there exists a being that we call God. Whereas when someone says, “I believe in God,” what they’re saying is not just that they believe that he exists, but that they actively trust Him and are in a relational bond with Him. So when a Christian says, “You need to believe in God to go to heaven,” they’re not saying that you need to believe that God exists to go to heaven (as a matter of fact, we are told that even the demons believe that God exists). Instead, we are asked to believe in God (John 3:16) to gain everlasting life.
Now remember that I agree with the atheist that an all-loving God does not want to send people to hell So what sort of evidence should this all-loving God give to us to try and make us believe in Him, rather than just making us believe that He exists? Allow me to present two kinds of evidence and you tell me which of these is more likely to convince someone to believe in God.
First, let’s say that everyday at 12:00 noon ET, there’s a huge storm and a fiery message appears across the sky saying, “I AM GOD, BELIEVE IN ME.” Or at 12 midnight, a loud booming voice is heard that says, “Believe in me, or you’re going to hell.” Would that make you want to believe in God?
Or consider the second possibility where God gives a certain amount of evidence that is neither too big nor too small; evidence that is just sufficient to help you consider belief, and perhaps motivate you to start looking carefully for more evidence because you freely want to look for it, but that is not enough to force you to believe against your will.
Which of the two is more likely to get you to believe in God?
The second one, obviously. Why? Because the first sort of ‘evidence’ forces you to believe that God exists out of a sense of fear and awe, but it is not relational. It is not belief in God. But in the second sort of evidence, God comes just close enough to you to help you consider belief in Him, but also leaves space for you to reciprocate this by coming closer to Him and building that trust, and then in turn He reveals more and more of Himself to you, and your belief in Him becomes stronger.
Coming back to the original argument, then. Would a loving God want Abraham to be forced to believe that he exists? No, because Abraham being forced to believe that God exists is of no consequence to Abraham’s eternity (as per the relational nature of the Christian God). If an all-loving God does not want Abraham to go to hell, He would want Abraham to freely believe in Him and to trust Him, and trust is not something that can be created by force. The only way God can make me trust Him is by revealing part of Himself to me to invite me to draw closer to Him, and He keeps the rest of Himself hidden so that He can gradually reveal more of Himself to me as I grow to trust Him more, and this will make my belief in Him even stronger.
And this is the nature of God that we see in the Bible. We read in 1 Chronicles 28:9,
“For the LORD searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you.”
The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal expressed a similar sentiment when he said,
“God 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 invisible to those who do not.”
So the first possible reason why God seems hidden from us is because we misunderstand the nature of God. If God is truly an all-loving God, He will actually hide part of Himself to ensure that people freely believe in Him and seek Him with all their heart before He reveals more of Himself to them. The God of the hiddenness argument, on the other hand, is one who seeks to force people to believe He exists, but this is not the God of the Bible. That is why I say that they are looking for the wrong God.
The second possible reason why God seems hidden from us is that we look for God in the wrong places.
You might say, okay, so I want to find the evidence that an all-loving God has left for me and I’m willing to seek Him, I still don’t find any evidence that convinces me that God exists, so why should I believe in God?
Here’s how this argument usually goes:
- I find types of evidence A, B, and C to be ‘compelling’.
- If God loves me, He would give me A, B, and C.
- God has not given me A, B, and C.
- An all-loving God does not exist.
The problem with this sort of argumentation is what I call a confusion of lenses. On one side, we have what can be termed the ‘objective lens’, which says, “If the Christian God exists, this is the evidence He would give,” and on the other side is the subjective lens, which says, “If I were the Christian God, this is the evidence I would give.” The fact of the matter is that both these lenses don’t say the same thing, yet the person who gives us the hiddenness argument treats them like they do.
Let’s go back to my friend Kevin for a second. Let’s say I ask him to prove that he is a human being. He offers to give me a DNA test to prove that he indeed has human DNA. I turn the offer down and instead demand that he prove his humanity by growing wings and flying three laps around the Rogers Centre. If he doesn’t do that, I say, he has failed to prove to me that he is a human being.
Now that is absurd. Why? Because I’m setting up a subjective standard for the evidence that Kevin ought to give me, and the evidence that I’m asking for has nothing to do with his nature as a human being.
The proponent of the hiddenness argument does the same thing with God. Instead of analyzing Him with the objective lens of what He might provide as evidence according to His nature, they analyze God with their own subjective lenses and demand that God fulfill their expectations of what qualifies as evidence, regardless of whether it is unique to God’s nature.
Now you might ask, then what am I supposed to expect from God? What is God’s nature?
Well, if we’re talking about the Christian God, we would need to consider the characteristics that His alleged revelation (the Bible) attributes to Him and then check whether there is any evidence for those characteristics. Let’s consider one example. One of these alleged characteristics is that God is the Ground of all Being; without Him, nothing would exist, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” But do we have evidence for this? Philosophers like Thomas Aquinas and Gottfried Leibniz have given us formidable arguments from contingency that suggest that we do have such evidence. They say that since contingent beings are caused and yet not every being that exists can be contingent (lest we have an infinite regress of contingent beings), there must exist a being which is necessary that can be the ultimate cause of all contingent beings. This fits perfectly with the Biblical characteristic of God being the Ground of all Being. Aquinas and Leibniz would say that the very fact that contingent beings like you and I and animals and plants exist is evidence that God has revealed Himself in accordance with His nature, and therefore is not hidden. The Bible itself tells us this in Romans 1:20,
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
So the second possible reason why God appears hidden to us is because we are looking for God in the wrong places. We are projecting our own expectations of what God should be like and then wanting God to give us evidence that confirms those expectations.
So to recap, the possible reasons for God’s apparent hiddenness include:
- We are looking for the wrong God. We end up looking for a God who imposes Himself on us, rather than the relational God of Christianity that we claim to be looking for.
- We are looking in the wrong places because we look for evidence based on our own subjective conception of God rather than what He actually might be like.
If either one of these two reasons is plausible, the argument from hiddenness against the Christian God fails, as we’ve shown that an all-loving and all-powerful God can also be seemingly-hidden for good reason and does not involve a contradiction.
As I close, I want to leave you with something that might be useful to you when you respond to someone who brings up the hiddenness argument against the God of the Bible. I want you to ask them two questions.
The first question you must ask them is, what would God have to do to prove to you that He exists?
They’re probably going to give you some kind of answer; perhaps something like, “God could rearrange the stars in the sky to say, ‘I EXIST'” or “Jesus could appear to me” or “God could deposit a million dollars into my bank account.” Trust me, these are real answers that prominent atheists have given theists when asked this question.
Using their response to the first question, ask them this second question: If God really did reveal Himself to you in that way, would it really convince you, or would your first instinct be to look for another explanation?
Most honest atheists will admit that their first instinct will be to look for an alternative explanation that they consider ‘more plausible’ than the God hypothesis. For instance, if God were to rearrange the stars in the sky or if Jesus were to appear to someone, couldn’t that be explained away as a hallucination?
This will expose the fact that what they are really concerned about is not the lack of evidence for God, but that they’re just using it as another excuse not to believe in a God. Regardless of the amount of evidence that God provides them, they’re simply not going to accept that as evidence.
All you can do is keep hitting them with questions, rattling their cage, and most importantly praying to God to address the deeper issues in their lives that are hindering them from giving their lives to Him. Pray that they be open to giving the evidence a fair hearing so that you can lead them to the source of eternal life in Christ.
But the main takeaway from today should be that the argument from hiddenness does not disprove the existence of an all-loving and all-powerful God.