The Value in God's Hiddenness

Why isn't God's existence and presence more obvious? Some suggestions.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

@John_T_Mullen is often seen in the comments section. We both invite comments and questions related to his post.

My thanks to you Dr Mullen for this post. It speaks powerfully to me.

As a lifelong student of science, the evidence of a Designer is powerful — a perfectly tuned universe, a planet that seems to have gotten every attribute just right, and life that has not only survived eons of changing and often hostile environments, but thrived. Yet there is no direct, scientific evidence of a Creator. And you refer to ‘private evidence’ — a term that for me perfectly names a lifetime of experiences that I’ve had of a Creator but others could easily dismiss. This has all led me on a personal level to the concept of ‘hiddenness’ and the big question of ‘why’.

I’ve not seen an attempt at an answer until your post. I appreciate yours and will study it further. You also wrote: If anyone can find additional reasons, then by all means use them. When it comes to reasons for God’s hiddenness, the more the merrier.

So here’s my attempt. It’s based on the concept that God, when taking the form of a human, lowered himself to the point of a servant to all of humanity in an act that leads to salvation. Here goes: The goal of our lives is to become holy — essentially, salvation from our sinful natures. Holiness requires learning how to love perfectly. Perfect love requires perfect humility. And perfect humility requires hiddenness or else it would be imperfect. So God not only models for us what we should become — loving actions without any need for recognition — but perfect love requires hiddenness. For what its worth.

Maybe the game that all kids play known as ‘hide-and-go-seek’ more a part of ‘the image of God’ than we realized. Thank you for your post and thanks to Biologos.

Dr. Mullen, thank you for the articles you have provided on this blog post concerning the mystery of the hiddeness of God. I sincerely appreciate (as I’m sure many others do as well) the time and effort you’ve put into writing these articles and they have proven to stimulate much thought in my own life concerning this very puzzling and perplexing issue.

The question of why God would leave a “reasonable opportunity” for someone to embrace an atheistic perspective (or even a broad skepticism) on life based on the public evidence available to us all has always been troubling to me especially in light of his benevolent and compassionate character.

I definitely look forward to any future posts concerning this topic and will continue (along with everyone else) to wrestle with this issue.

Thank you Tom, for the encouraging comments. At some point everyone has to wrestle with this one, and I suspect that is part of what it means to be Israel, i.e., one (or those) who wrestle(s) with God.

Your attempt seems generally reasonable to me. I can foresee objections coming against the claim that perfect humility requires hiddenness. I take it that you mean that a perfectly humble person would generally not want to call attention to himself/herself, and therefore would have to “hide” to some degree. This will need to be balanced against the need to reveal (especially if we’re talking about God), and then we would have to ask if the resulting balance would include creation by evolutionary means. I think it might, but it would be hard to argue for that. We don’t have a way of comparing these values precisely, and we will have to live with that.

Thanks very much Brandon. I think the “wrestling” metaphor is exactly right. I mentioned in my reply to Tom that it seems to characterize the people of God as “Israel.” It must be a very good thing!

Just be prepared to be walking around with a limp for a while. Wrestling with God isn’t a safe pastime. Hips liable to get thrown out of joint.

The rewards, though …

Shouldn’t we say… “hips guaranteed to get thrown out of joint”?

Amen on the rewards.

“guaranteed” is no doubt more accurate!

Part of my own struggle on the ‘hiddenness’ issue is the apparently contrary messages we find from different passages around the Bible; which is that God isn’t trying to hide and wants to be noticed.

Given that, I’ve been inclined to rethink what it means in this case for God to be hidden. Perhaps we are to see with new eyes what our physical eyes have been reporting to us all along --that yes, God is at work in this world, but if our eyes are not opened to see that, then we won’t. As I’ve heard it flippantly or mockingly said (often among religious skeptics --but more seriously perhaps among believers too with some deeper reflection replacing the mockery): “I’ll see it when I believe it.” There may be more to that simple line than believers want to allow, especially if they feel they are being made fun of. Being steeped in both points of view, some of us can navigate and communicate both perceptions with ease.

Hi Eddie,

There is no reason why we can’t eventually enter into a relationship with God knowing that He has both sets of attributes. So it isn’t as if they are contradictory, or that they must be perpetually in conflict. But it does seem to me (and to Luther, Pascal and Kierkegaard, apparently) that our reason for being attracted to Him, and for wanting to be His disciples, and for living a life pleasing to Him, must be that we are attracted to his gracious attributes. And the same is not true of His glorious attributes. There is an important asymmetry here. Again, I recommend Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation on this point, where Luther’s attitude toward natural theology is decidedly negative. He is concerned that the “theologians of glory” will congratulate themselves for having proven that a Being of perfect power and knowledge exists, and then seek to know Him because He is so powerful and knowledgeable. The concern seems to be that they (we?) will do so only because they (we) want Him to exercise the power and the knowledge on our behalf. So knowing of His glorious attributes can actually get in the way of knowing Him as He wants to be known (i.e., for His gracious attributes), and this is especially likely if the creatures in view are already sinfully disposed. So Luther exhorts us all to know God through the revelation of the cross, and only then add power and knowledge because Scripture so teaches. Kierkegaard’s parable makes the same point much more eloquently, and one of my favorite quotes from Kierkegaard does the same: “Just as important as the truth, is the manner in which the truth is accepted.” In typical Kierkegaardian fashion, he leaves it to us to figure out what he’s talking about.

Now indeed, Luther may be going a little bit overboard with his attitude toward natural theology. I think his main point about the basis of our relationship with God is right on. But as you said, Scripture frequently calls attention to, and exhorts us to celebrate, God’s glorious attributes. It is hard to imagine that happening without some support from public, universally accessible, evidence. And so there is a need for a natural theology that assures believers that we are not crazy, but without supplying us with overwhelming evidence. Furthermore, believers need to know that their faith in a gracious God will be ultimately vindicated, and there is nothing like omnipotence and omniscience to accomplish that. (The last point is quasi-Kantian, ironically enough.)

As for Romans 1, it is a tough passage. It is not clear that the condemnation issued there is due to a rejection of strictly public evidence. They are “without excuse” because “God has made it plain to them” (NIV), but it does not say how He made it plain to them. They could be rejecting private evidence that He has also supplied to them. I know that the phrase “being understood from what has been made” can make it sound as if publicly accessible objects provide all rational humans with overwhelming evidence of God’s “eternal power and divine nature.” But I really don’t think that’s right, and so I don’t interpret the passage that way. Thankfully for me, there are other reasonable interpretations. “What has been made” can easily include ourselves, with all our internal inclinations to believe (perhaps through an evolutionary inheritance?) that God has these “invisible attributes.” When we “suppress [this] truth in wickedness,” we sin. And it isn’t even obvious that Romans 1 is referring to all of humanity, because it might be restricted to ancient religious leaders who led their respective nations into idolatry even though they knew better (I’m not sure I believe that one though). Actually, the word “invisible” itself lends some support to this interpretation, because we do not literally see the attributes in the visible objects. Some sort of internal belief-forming process seems to be at work, and that can be reasonably denied by those who “set their teeth against the idea of God.” And yes, I agree that is probably what is going on with many of the militant “New Atheists.”

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Hi Mervin,

It is a great gift to be able to “navigate and communicate both perceptions with ease.” That can happen only if the two perceptions are logically consistent. Thankfully, they are.

What you are describing as “seeing with new eyes” is, I think, the same thing I mean by taking private evidence seriously. There must be an internal inclination to “see” in the new way, and that inclination can count as evidence. But of course those who don’t have it, or who have it but don’t want it, will be suspicious that it is some sort of psychological projection. Evolutionary psychology can also lend some support to the dismissive attitude, but of course an evolutionary origin to a belief-forming tendency does not show that the beliefs that are formed are false. Indeed, if God exists, and wants to remain significantly hidden, and also wants to supply some powerful private evidence, the evolutionary method is a good way to do it.

“I’ll see it when I believe it” sounds a lot like Augustine’s Credo Ut Intelligam (I believe in order that I might understand), which turned into Anselm’s Fides Quarens Intellectum (Faith Seeking Undertanding). So yes, there’s a whole lot to that simple line. It can even be a foundational principle for Christian education. Christians should not let anyone, believer or non-believer, make fun of that one, though like most simple mottos it requires an explanation.

I take it that the Bible is addressed primarily to human beings who already believe in God, or who at least take the prospect of His existence seriously. That can go a long way toward explaining the passages that teach that “God wants to be noticed.” But again, He wants to be noticed in a particular way, i.e., as a Person full of grace and mercy. And of course there are several passages that simply teach a significant hiddenness: Isaiah 45:15, 1 Cor. 13:12, John 20:29, and many psalms. Yes, lots of work for us to do.

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@Eddie. @John_T_Mullen @Mervin_Bitikofer @jstump @bjbell2002 @BradKramer

God is all Powerful. God is all Knowing. God is all Loving.

It is hard for us humans to bend our minds around these three aspects of God. Maybe it is difficult for God also, because God reveals Godself to us as the Trinity, One and Three, Three and One.

This means that God is both One and Many, One and Diverse, One and Complex, Continuity and Change.

Another important aspect of the hiddenness of God is human freedom. If God made Godself so obvious to humans that everyone had to believe in the existence of God, whether she/he wanted to or not, where would be our freedom to say No to God. Also of course people are always thinking of reasons to say No to God, so to make the existence of God “fool proof” would take some pretty heavy lifting and would really be quite limiting on human freedom.

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