The Hiddenness of God


(Helen Tan) #1

This is coming off an earlier discussion entitled “God as the Watcher of mankind” raised by @Sean_Oesch. I am thinking that both atheists and believers could, at various times in their lives, wrestle with the feeling that God appears so far away that either He does not exist or He does not seem to care.

  1. There are atheists who argue that they would believe in God if He made Himself evident to them, particularly since God is all powerful, it would not be a problem to make Himself known. Their argument is summed up as the problem of divine hiddenness:
  • If God exists, He would make His existence more obvious
  • God is not obvious
  • Therefore, God does not exist.
    This argument is often tied up with their question of the existence of evil and suffering in the light of the Christian’s claim of the existence of a good and loving God.
  1. Believers may also wrestle with the hiddenness of God, particularly during trying times. We see examples of that cry expressed by Job and David.
    Psalm 10:1: "Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
    _ Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"
    The problem here is one of existential concern. The issue is not so much about God’s existence but rather His character and/or the nature of our relationship with Him. This could lead to a crisis of faith. The question often relates to why God makes Himself obvious to some but not to others.

How have you dealt with the questions atheists have raised in this respect or helped believers who are wrestling with this feeling during their most difficult moments? I would love to hear what thoughts have held you back or helped you move closer to God in your own experience.


(Melvin Greene) #2

Wow, @Helen_Tan! This topic strikes close to home with me! There was a time in my life when the feeling of God’s presence was taken away from me.

While serving in the Army National Guard, I was deployed to Afghanistan. God had been gracious to me while I was there and kept me safe. I came back ready to get back into my old life with my family and my job working in construction. However, I found out that I wasn’t the same. For one thing, I had injured my back while in Afghanistan, and I soon discovered that I could not work like I did before I left. Also, through a series of unfortunate events, I discovered that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I had been a Christian for several years before being deployed, and I was pretty confident in my faith; this however, shook me to the core. I was thinking God was preparing me to leave construction and do something else, but there were no other opportunities. Because of my PTSD, I started to spiral down into a deep depression. Being a “good Christian”, I prayed over and over again for God to help me, but instead God withdrew the feeling of His presence. It felt like God had totally abandoned me. I became angry with God and I started to use alcohol to dull the emotional pain that I felt. This went on for almost 2 years. I won’t go into a lot of detail, because I don’t want to make this post too long. But eventually, God did reveal Himself to me in a powerful way, and I discovered that through all those previous years of being a Christian, I was not yielding my entire life to Him. There was a part of my life that I wasn’t trusting Him fully. That was in my working life. I was just taking jobs that I was comfortable in and not allowing Him to guide me to a job that was totally out of my comfort zone. Also, I discovered that I was putting my faith in a feeling and not in God, Himself. Since that epiphany, God has put me in a ministry helping homeless veterans. God was using that dark time to prepare me for this ministry.

The bottom line of all this is that I believe that sometimes God will hide Himself to temper and strengthen us so that He can use us to minister to others. As painful and dark that experience was, I was glad that He put me through that, because now I can help others, and share the love of Christ with them. My love and faith in the Lord is so much stronger, too.


(SeanO) #3

I think for number (1), the atheist argument from silence, I would probably ask a question in response.

  1. If God revealed Himself to the world right now - and He really is a holy and all powerful God - what do you think would actually happen? Do you think the nations of the earth would accept His authority? What would happen? Maybe God is being patient with people to give them a chance to repent?

  2. What would God have to do to prove to you that He exists? Do you think once would be enough?

  3. If God revealed Himself to you in an undeniable way would you feel that you had a choice to love Him or would you feel forced by His mere existence to obey even if you did not desire to do so? Maybe God is giving you a chance to choose Him freely?

  4. Why do you think that if God exists He would choose to make Himself obvious? Do you think there might be good reasons to not make Himself obvious?

  5. Have you ever had any experiences that led you to believe that God might exists?

  6. Do you think that God could choose to reveal Himself to those who seek Him while hiding Himself from those whose hearts are not sincere towards Him? Jesus said that the pure of heart will see God.

  7. If God Himself came to earth and lived among us would you consider that sufficient reason to believe?

  8. What makes you say that God is not obvious? What if all of creation, right now, is testifying to His glory? What if He came to earth in the form of a man and shared His teachings with us?

As for #2, the Christian experience of the silence of God, I think @Melvin_Greene’s story is a great example of how God can use silence to draw us to Himself.

Job, in the midst of his terrible suffering, said the following in Job 27:6 - “I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart doe snot reproach me for any of my days” and King David said in Psalms 27:14 - “Wait for the LORD, be strong and courageous, wait for the LORD”.

Jesus sought God late into the night and Paul and Silas worshiped in prison.

James says in 4:8 - Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

I think when we continue to seek God through a period of temptation, suffering or silence He will never fail to meet us and encourage us on the journey.

I Cor 10:13 - No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.


(Melvin Greene) #4

@Sean_Oesch, all of your questions are good ones to ask. But no. 3 really stands out for me. Atheists have said that to me several times, and I think that question would provoke some serious thinking about their presumptions. Thanks, Sean!


(Helen Tan) #5

@Melvin_Greene, thank you for sharing your powerful testimony with us. What you went through and how that has transformed and brought you to what God intends for you will help those of us who are experiencing the darker moments of our lives.

What you said about God’s abandonment being a feeling and how you had put your “faith in a feeling and not in God” really spoke to me. What would your advice be to someone who is in the midst of questioning God’s reality and love to help them through the process?


(Helen Tan) #6

@Sean_Oesch, thank you for the extensive list of questions which will go a long way to help us in taking the discussion forward with atheists. I was drawn in particular to Question 4:

Why do you think that if God exists He would choose to make Himself obvious? Do you think there might be good reasons to not make Himself obvious?

I think that question also applies to believers who are struggling and hope we can unpack that a bit more to help us in our response. That got me thinking about what may be good reasons for God to not make Himself obvious. I would appreciate if we could explore what these might be and whether we are able to comprehend them.


(SeanO) #7

@Helen_Tan I’m glad it was helpful. I think the following are reasons that God may seem distant in the life of a believer.

1 - Unconfessed sin that we try to hide by being involved in Christian activities or doing our devotions, but at a heart level separates us from the Spirit

Psalms 51 - The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

2 - Not walking in the Spirit / No prayer life. I think sometime we get so busy that we forget to spend time as we go throughout our day worshiping God in song and pausing to turn our hearts toward Him. Busyness can also drive out a deep prayer life - which is the root of the Christian walk.

Galatians 5 - Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3 - Physical / Emotional Suffering

I think that are physical nature is intertwined with our spiritual nature and that when we suffer physically or emotionally it can make God feel distant because the suffering so forcefully demands our full attention. I think this is one reason we should pray especially hard for those Christians with terminal illness and being persecuted for Christ.

Of course, Paul and Silas rejoiced in prison and the apostles rejoiced when beaten for the name of Christ. But I think this type of rejoicing requires a disciplined soul accustomed to the deep things of Christ and that terminal suffering can make it hard.

I believe it was Charles Spurgeon who said that sometimes when we feel despondent we simply need to go for a walk in the woods to drink in the beauty of creation and be physically revitalized.

4 - Times of testing

I think what we see in the Garden of Eden all the way to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is that to evaluate and purify our hearts there may be times when God tests us - that our obedience might bring glory to Him and honor to us on the day when all things are revealed (even if our obedience was in secret).

2 Chronicles 32:31 - But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart. (this verse is about Hezekiah)

There are others that I’m sure you guys can think of… But I think those are the main ones that come to my mind.


(Melvin Greene) #8

@Helen_Tan, I have been staring at your post for at least 20 minutes now, trying to formulate the right response to your question. It’s hard to answer this question, because I think there are no pat answers. I’m very much aware that God deals with us in a very personal and specialized way, because we are so different and unique, and we are all at different places in our journey through life. The last thing I want to do is to say something that would sound judgmental, or flippant. I’m reminded of Job’s friends.

Ok. Now that I’ve said that, I will tell you what I’ve learned, and what helped me:
*When you find yourself in dark times like this, don’t try to “go it alone”. Make sure you reach out to some trusted friends, family, or your pastor. With me, I have a tendency to withdraw into myself and I really struggle to want to talk to someone, anyone. But, that’s exactly what we need to do. I’m blessed with an amazing wife and pastor who really helped me. The problem was it took me awhile to reach out to them. Don’t hesitate!
*Even though it felt like God abandoned me, the Holy Spirit brought to mind times in the past that He provided for me and my family in some amazing ways. So, try to remember when you called out to Him in the past and He answered you. God has always proved that He is always there and He always provides. When God seems like He has left you alone; when the sky turns to brass so that your prayers bounce back to you unanswered, try to hang on to what you do know about God. He has never failed you before and He won’t fail you now. That is the rock solid truth, and it goes way beyond our feelings.
*Try to remember that God will make beauty from ashes. Just have faith and allow Him time to work. I know that’s easier said than done. Our timetable is not God’s, but His is always perfect. It took the Israelites 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before they were ready to enter and take possession of the promised land. The best path is not always the shortest or easiest.

I’m sorry, Helen, for all this rambling. I’m not sure if this is helpful, or if it even makes sense. The bottom line is that when God finally reached down and rescued me, I discovered that He had stripped away everything that was hindering me from becoming what He wanted me to become. And the biggest thing was fear; fear of failure. I was afraid to fully trust God, but when I finally realized that, and gave it to the Lord, everything turned around. I’m not saying everything is perfect. I still have struggles, but I have the blessed assurance that Jesus is right here with me, and will never let me down.


(Gary Johnson) #9

I think, if I had to respond here, I would ask a question of you - is the path to Christ the same as the path to God? An atheist will say No to that question. Is a Christian obligated to say Yes?

Classic apologetics is designed to provide evidences of God’s existence.

In sales, the first job of a salesman is to get the potential client to say Yes - it doesn’t matter how - it doesn’t matter what the Yes is in reference to - the key is to get the customer or client to say Yes…to prove that the word exists in their vocabulary. Now, it may be a crude analogy, but it is easier to get a skeptic to say Yes to the potential of God’s existence than it is to say Yes to the Truth of the Trinity.

A crude self-sufficiency is evident in the person who does not believe in God - they consider it realism to view the world as big and dark and cold and unforgiving. I think in the end, the question isn’t whether they need to believe in God, or whether His aloofness is reason enough for disbelief. No, in the end, at least from where I sit, the question is whether or not they would prefer to reject homelessness, in principle. As a salesman, I think it is easier to sell someone on fellowship than loneliness. I think it is easier to sell their heart on the importance of coming home. Homelessness is the enemy here, not an aloof God.


(Carson Weitnauer) #10

One resource we might want to dive into is J.L. Schellenberg’s book The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy’s New Challenge to Belief in God. This is an updated version of his book Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. There may be an even stronger, sharper presentation of the argument from divine hiddenness, but as far as I am aware, Schellenberg is the leading thinker on the subject from a skeptical point of view.

@Larry_Lacy, can you point us to any other important reflections on this topic?


(Larry Lacy) #11

Carson, I agree that Schellenberg’s version of this argument is the best
version. I am attaching a paper in which I critique this argument. Larry

Schellenberg and Carson.docx (120 KB)


(SeanO) #12

@Larry_Lacy Thank you for that very thorough paper!

I want to define the key terms as I understood them and highlight some of the great observations as well as make one or two critiques.

Key Ideas

nonculpable nonbelief - unbelief for which a person cannot be held accountable

hope-based relationship with God - when a true believer is allowed by God to endure the suffering of no sense of God’s presence

repentance on the day of judgment - unbelievers will be given a last chance to repent on the day of judgment if they have not hardened their hearts completely against God

Central Argument

Central argument as I understand it: If God allows a believer to endure a hope based relationship with Him for their entire life that produces spiritual beauty in that person. Such spiritual beauty shows unbelievers with nonculpable unbelief a unique aspect of God, giving them an enhanced chance of repentance both in this life and on the day of judgment.

Commendations

I liked the clarity of the assumptions being stated up front and the thoughtfulness of the argument. Extending the argument to the day of judgment in which people may freely choose repentance was interesting and aided the strength of the central argument.

The quote from C. S. Lewis on a potential reason God allows believers to endure periods of silence was also great:

Sooner or later He [God] withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives [the sense of God’s reality and presence]. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs–to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.

Disputations

While I recognize the work was philosophical, I would have enjoyed some more interaction with Scripture passages that appear (at least on first glance) to contradict some of the key assumptions of the argument.

Assumption #3

Many people die in a state of not having turned toward God but not having yet invincibly hardened their hearts against God

What do you do with Romans 1? 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 - I agree that people who have never heard of Christ may end up in Heaven - but I really am not sure the Bible provides wiggle room for 2 separate categories of unbelief.

As far as I can tell from Scripture - outright unbelief in God is always culpable. Although a person may not know about Christ.

I would be curious to hear your response.

Hope Based Relationship With God

So I struggle with the idea that God would allow a believer to never experience His presence - not logically - but based on Scripture itself.

Romans 8:16 - The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Luke 11:13 - If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

James 4:8 - Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

John 14:16 - And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever

How would you make a Biblical argument for life long hope based relationships with God when we have the Spirit?

Thanks for sharing!


(Helen Tan) #13

@Melvin_Greene, while I appreciate that the experience of each person is different, I am glad that you shared your journey with us. It is very encouraging to hear your story. I think that the 3 areas which you pointed to are important in terms of support through tough times. The first is family and community. The second is gratitude – reminding ourselves and reflecting on the goodness and faithfulness of God through the years will ground us in His love even though we don’t feel His presence. And the third is remembering the transcendence of God over our time and space. We may not like the wait but He makes things perfect in His time. Thank you for sharing.


(Melvin Greene) #14

Beautifully said, @Helen_Tan! Thank you!


(Larry Lacy) #15

Carson, Would you please post the attached reply to Sean Oesch? (I dopn’t
knows how to do this.) Thanks, Larry

Sean.docx (181 KB)


(SeanO) #16

@Larry_Lacy I certainly agree that Schellenberg’s premise that reasonable nonbelief occurs, while many nonbelievers would be quick to agree, is basically impossible to verify. Even if a study followed 100 nonbelievers for their entire lives, it is still impossible to actually know the heart of another person - which is what would be required to establish such a premise.

I also think the definition of “reasonable” in this context is very difficult to establish. He probably addressed that in his argument. But I feel that this could easily be a weak point in his argument.

I think regarding salvation on the day of judgment I like the image that C. S. Lewis provides at the end of the last battle:

The creatures came rushing on, their eyes brighter and brighter as they drew nearer and nearer to the standing Stars. But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face; I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly—it was fear and hatred: except that, on the faces of Talking Beasts, the fear and hatred lasted only for a fraction of a second. You could see that they suddenly ceased to be Talking Beasts. They were just ordinary animals. And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which (as you have heard) streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right.

I think this description accords well with the following from John 3:16-21 (one of the passages you mentioned): For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

I suppose my main struggle with premise #3 of your prior argument revolves around the definition of “turn toward God”. I think it is a simple phrase with a very complex reality lying behind it.

I do not think the Bible is clear, nor was it meant to be, about the exact procedure of the Day of Judgment. Like in Job God does not seem interested in such questions of the exact mechanisms or rules behind His decisions, but rather in that we acknowledge the reality that He alone is King, Creator and Judge and that He alone knows the hearts of all people, so we ought to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

Thank you for the response! Lots to think about.


(Helen Tan) #17

Thank you, everyone, for your input into this discussion which has made me think a lot more than I expected :thinking:. In considering this topic, I found Ravi’s response to this same question:

At the end of the video, Ravi concludes, “Ladies and gentlemen, for every person who I tell you God seems so hidden, I could tell you stories as I travel how in enormous ways He will reveal Himself to you. And the test I want to give you is this: you go to bed tonight and get on your knees and ask Jesus Christ to be who He claims to be to reveal Himself to you in one way or the other and I’ll tell you sooner and later He will make Himself known till a point will come when you will say there is no other explanation for what’s happening other than that He is on my trail. You’ll find that He’s not hidden. He is quite revealed.”

As Ravi says, God will reveal Himself to genuine seekers. Are those who subscribe to the argument of the hiddenness of God to disprove His existence erroneously concluding that those who seek Him never got a response? After all, no one knows what is exactly in their hearts and how God finally deals with them.

Here’s something else which I came across. In his book, Pensees, Blaise Pascal said, “We can understand nothing of God’s works unless we accept the principle that he wished to blind some and enlighten others.” That is tough to hear but Pascal explains and relates the human condition to God’s action/non-action. He points to 2 contradicting aspects of humanity – man’s greatness and wretchedness. Man is capable of great works and also utmost depravity. Pascal says, “Thus it is not only right but useful for us that God should be partly concealed and partly revealed, since it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness as to know his own wretchedness without knowing God.”

Is it reasonable then to expect God to provide evidence of Himself only at the right time to those who are able to responsibly respond to what is revealed to them? What I have found in considering this subject is that finite minds cannot comprehend the mind of God. What God desires for us is to have a relationship with Him and meaningful relationships are founded on faith in the other.

Hebrews 11:16: But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him

To that extent, there will always be moments when that faith is stretched and that relationship is tried so that we can grow in our understanding of ourselves as well as our perception and knowledge of God and His love for us.

Is this what we should expect from a loving Father who knows us best and have our best interests at heart?


(Subalakshmi) #18

Thanks for taking your time to share your lovely testimony Melvin :slight_smile: I am encourageddd …