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Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. (Isaiah 45:15, ESV)

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2, NIV)

These two verses were brought up by Matt Dillahunty in a talk. He was pointing out how even the Bible shows that God is hidden.

For those who are unfamiliar with the problem of Divine Hiddenness, it is normally presented like this. God wants a relationship with everyone, but some people don't ever hear God even though they want to. Thus God doesn't want a relationship with everyone.

How may we seek to answer this problem biblically? Or if we can't, how can we answer it by reason?

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    "How should..." suggests that you are looking for a "best" argument, which can be subjective and therefore off-topic. I suggest you rephrase to ask "What are the Biblical arguments Christians use to answer the question of Divine Hiddenness?"
    – Null
    Oct 6, 2021 at 20:04
  • Fixed. Thanks for the feedback!
    – Luke Hill
    Oct 6, 2021 at 20:45
  • Good edits, I'd exclude the bottom part, if you want to ask another question about Natural Law or another Christian Philosophical system, that's OK to ask here, as well as philosophy.SE, I doubt anybody'll get into it since most people on this site stick with Biblical defenses of doctrine. I don't want to harp too much, but I think, "What is the Biblical Basis for a personal God accessible to everyone" would be more answerable. Better to ask these kinds of questions in the affirmative than get an apologetic against.
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 6, 2021 at 21:06
  • For a preview of a Christian philosophy answer to Divine Hiddenness that does not imply non-existence of God, see Michael Egnor's article. Divine Hiddenness originated from J.L. Schellenberg (see his paper). More general treatment here. Biblical understanding of Hiddenness here. Oct 6, 2021 at 22:23
  • God's attributes are visible in the very creation itself. Romans 1 19 because what may be known of God is [e]manifest [f]in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and [g]Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
    – nickalh
    Oct 12, 2021 at 2:27

3 Answers 3

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Some quick points up front and then lots more below. Pascal's argument is a classic response in explaining the hiddenness of God.

  1. In the Bible, God hides himself in response to peoples' rejection of the revelation of Him that they have received, whether general revelation (Romans 1) or special revelation (the Pharisees who rejected Christ and quenched the Spirit). God does not unjustly hide Himself.

  2. There are times in a believer's life (David in the Psalms or Job) where God feels distant or hidden even though He is near. It is a common theme in Scripture.

  3. God may save those who have never heard of Christ, and yet seek God in whatever way they are able. God won't judge people by a list of doctrines men have compiled... God knows every person's story and their heart and He is all good and all wise.

Pascal’s Approach - God has given exactly the right amount of evidence

Pascal’s approach to the concept of God’s hiddenness is my favorite. In “Christianity for Modern Pagans” Peter Kreeft examines Pascal’s work. One argument Pascal makes is that God gives exactly enough light for the righteous to find Him and for the wicked to reject Him.

"He gives exactly the right amount of light. If He gave less, even the righteous would be unable to find Him, and their will would be thwarted. If He gave more, even the wicked would find Him, against their will. Thus He respects and fulfills the will of all.

If He gave more light, the righteous would not learn humility, for they would know too much. If He gave less light, the wicked would not be responsible for their wickedness, for they would know too little."

God appears in different ways

God does not always appear the same way - and I think Lewis brilliantly captures this throughout the Narnia stories. In Narnia, Aslan appears at critical times in history to act directly and preserve those who are faithful. Yet for hundreds of years there is silence. But Lewis portrays Aslan's presence with different characters in different ways.

  1. Shasta in The Horse and His Boy - the cat by the tombs and the lion walking beside him on the lonely journey over the mountains
  2. Lucy in Prince Caspian - appearing to those who are faithful even when others cannot see
  3. The Silver Chair - they must obey God's commands even when they cannot see - that is the great test
  4. The Last Battle - evil is being done in the name of Aslan - but it's not really Aslan at all - just a donkey with a lion skin atop it

A few thoughts on judgment

  1. None of us know anyone's eternal destiny. God alone is judge. God knows every person's heart---He knows every hurt they've suffered and every sin they've committed. He does not judge as a human judges. His judgment will be just and right and good and true. The proof of this is in Jesus, who showed us that God loves us on the cross.

  2. Christians disagree about the nature of judgment on those who ultimately reject God. The images that we have of people being tortured in the afterlife are pagan----they are not to be found anywhere in Scripture. Well known evangelical Christians, such as John Stott, have believed that unbelievers will cease to exist after the judgment if they ultimately reject God.

Some thoughts to keep in mind

  • God is still working directly today - in the lives of His followers by His Spirit. In fact, perhaps more directly than before Christ since He lives in us.
  • Jesus makes it clear in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that the roots of unbelief go so deep that even if a man should rise from the dead, that will not heal it (Luke 16:19-31). Miracles cannot heal unbelief - they cannot make us believe that God exists and rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Think about it - if God made Himself obvious by doing miracles people could just say it was aliens - or that you had some secret technology - or that you were a super hero or some kind of demigod. People could believe whatever they wanted to in order to avoid the real God.
  • the Exodus was a very, very unique event in the history of the world and in the Bible. If we look at Scripture, God generally intervenes in the most miraculous fashion when He is doing a new thing - establishing a covenant with His chosen people or establishing the New Covenant in Christ. So it is not uncommon for there to be long periods when God does not intervene as directly - like the 400 silent years before Jesus came.
  • God is not a tame God (as Lewis points out) - He does not perform magic tricks so that we will believe in Him. People who perform experiments by praying, showing that it does not come true and then encouraging unbelief misunderstand the nature of prayer and of God entirely. Prayer is not a way to get our wish list - it is a way to worship the living God and to be made more like Jesus as we are filled with the Spirit of Christ.

Fun questions to mull over

  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?

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  • This is great, and you have definitely quantified some of my broader thoughts on this issue! Thanks good sir.
    – Luke Hill
    Oct 7, 2021 at 3:29
  • Indeed - glad it was helpful! Christ be with you!
    – Zanarkand
    Oct 7, 2021 at 11:34
  • Very nice answer. Oct 7, 2021 at 12:25
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My favorite Bible verse that addresses this is in Proverbs:

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. (Proverbs 25:2, NIV)

Close on its heals is Jeremiah's promise:

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

After Jesus heals a blind man, the Pharisees are angered when the man claims that Jesus must be from God because he could give sight to the blind and so they throw him out of the synagogue.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

Not only does God hide, he has multiple reasons for hiding. One is due to our sin (a negative one). Another is to challenge us to find him. However, the most mysterious reason is that hiding brings God glory. Humans pursue fame, and fame requires that you be seen, your name be repeated, your deeds discussed. Fame to us is about being seen, not hidden. That God can exhibit his glory through hiding is a paradox.

@Zanarkand in his answer mentions Job. While Job was pouring out his complaint, he said this:

When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him. (Job 9:11)

During these chapters when Job claims he could not see God, he spoke prophecies that revealed mysteries about the coming savior. It took me over a year of concerted study to find them. They were as hidden from me as they were from Job, and I had the benefit of commentaries and the knowledge that Job's words were part of Holy Writ. God's hiddenness and his presence are not incompatible.

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Lutheran take: God as God cannot be fully known outside of his self-revelation in Jesus Christ. He’s given us the Law, which any observer can see (Rom 1). But encountering the mysteries of the Father unmediated through his chosen revelation in Christ through the Spirit, is to court madness, like Chtulu-level, jibbering madness. God instructs Moses to turn his back, lest he view God’s full glory. All three persons were fully present in the Garden, with Abraham, with Noah, with Joseph, with Isaac, with Jacob, with Moses, with Samuel, with David, etc. But in these last days, he has chosen to speak to us by his Son (He 1).

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    – agarza
    Oct 7, 2021 at 14:07
  • I don’t know if I like this answer. What about people who don’t have access to the Bible in their language/country who God hasn’t appeared too? I don’t know if your response accounts for that.
    – Luke Hill
    Oct 7, 2021 at 14:28
  • This answer could use some expansion. I would think the Lutheran view would be closer to what evangelical catholics such as Peter Kreeft, & Blaise Pascal have articulated. Most Lutherans (at least those in the classic tradition) would consider themselves as holding to a form of evidential apologetics. And when it comes to experiential aspects of Christianity, they would argue that signs & wonders confirming the Word are not necessarily given to all people in every place and time. There is a hidden nature of God that would allow him to be an absentee landlord to anyone that he so desires.
    – Jess
    Oct 12, 2021 at 23:15

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