If God exists, why is he so hard to see? Why is evidence so hard to find? If he wants us to believe in him, why doesn’t he show himself more?
I’ve heard many atheists ask these questions, not so much because they want answers, I think, but as an argument against the existence of God. Is the argument strong?
Questions don’t make an argument. But an argument could be made something like this:
- If God is loving, he would make his existence very clear to us.
- God’s existence isn’t at all clear.
- Therefore a loving God doesn’t exist.
Is God’s existence hidden?
Many christians would contest proposition #2. They see God in nature, in human beings, in their own lives, and in Jesus. I have heard a christian say God’s existence is “blindingly obvious”.
But an atheist could argue that God cannot be seen or heard or measured, that most people go through lives without any great interaction from God. They would argue that God could, if he chose, put signs in the sky, appear visibly to each person, etc. Instead, the objective evidence, it is argued, is weak.
The believer can respond that even if God did these things, the unbeliever could still find an explanation that they’d prefer, rather than believe that it was God or his actions they were seeing.
This discussion is probably a draw. But let us assume for the moment that God could have chosen to be more obvious. What are we to make of this?
Why would God hide himself?
For proposition #1 to be accepted, we would need to have an understanding of what God is doing, otherwise we cannot say what he should or shouldn’t do. This leads to some interesting thoughts.
Why create people at all?
When people create objects (e.g. a house, a garden, a painting or tin opener), it is for their benefit – it helps them or it pleases them. But when we create a new life, that baby may please us, but it will also cost us time, money and energy. We don’t have a child for our own benefit, but (if we are good parents) so we can give life and love to another human being.
We may reasonably assume the same about God. Some people say we are created to worship God, as if God needs our approval. But surely the reality is that God creates human beings for our benefit, not his, and loves us with a self-giving love just like a good parent.
Why create the universe?
God could have created us to live wherever he lives rather than in this physical space-time universe. Why? There must have been something in physicality that was important.
Freedom to love
One common christian explanation is that God wants to have a relationship with us, for us to truly love him in response to his love. But love cannot be commanded, but must be freely given, or it is not love. So, the argument goes, God has created the world, and only reveals himself in subtle ways, so that we have real choice.
This argument makes sense, but I think the truth is bigger than that.
The ultimate love?
“If you love somebody, set them free.” So the saying goes, and I think it is true.
A parent who tries to control their child’s life, even when they have grown up, is seen, rightly, as not loving the child but wanting to satisfy their own needs. The ultimate love is to train a child until they are able to be free to live their own life.
Again, surely it is the same with God. God has given human beings the ultimate gift, not just of life, but of autonomous, free life. He has created us with consciousness, personality, rationality, an ethical sense, and the ability to love, appreciate beauty and to make free choices – all characteristics that he has. We are indeed “little gods”. The Genesis story expresses this as God making humans “in his image”.
Even though God is the all-powerfrul creator, he leaves us free to choose whether to love him or defy him. But to have that freedom, his power must be veiled, and the physical world helps do that.
But the stakes are high
Many of the atheists I have read on this topic base their argument on the premise that only believers in christianity (or whatever religion is under discussion) can be ‘saved’ and that the consequences of disbelief are everlasting torture in hell. Thus the stakes are high, and if God exists he would surely have to give everybody more evidence than he has to provide a fair opportunity to respond.
This is a reasonable argument based on that particular understanding of christianity. But a growing number of christians do not accept those premises.
As I have written in Can only christians be saved?, many christians believe that, while Jesus is the only way to God, people can be saved without specific belief in jesus if they have responded to the light they have been given. The Old Testament Jews are an example of this. Such luminaries as CS Lewis and Billy Graham have apparently taken this view.
Further, a growing number of christians believe that the New testament doesn’t teach a hell of everlasting torture – see Hell – what does the Bible say?
Once these misunderstandings (in my view) are removed, the argument against God loses its force. God gives us freedom to be who we choose to be. No-one is treated unfairly, but everyone is judged according to the light they are given.
We will always have questions
It seems clear then that the argument from God’s hidden-ness doesn’t work as a disproof of God’s existence. It is easy to see why God might remain hidden, there are many who think that God can still be seen and experienced clearly, and everyone is treated fairly.
But we will still have questions. Couldn’t God make himself at least a little clearer? Is it fair that some people seem to be totally unaware of God? The stakes are high. This is motivation for all of us to be sure we have considered all the evidence, have not set up unjustified criteria for interpreting the evidence, and have responded appropriately.