Why does God keep himself hidden? Is it because he’s not there?

September 22nd, 2016 in clues. Tags: , , , , , ,

We live in a physical world and most things we know are through our senses. Certainly we relate to each other through all the senses.

So if God’s really there, why can’t we know him through our senses too? If God loves us, why wouldn’t he make himself more obvious, so we can all receive his love? If knowing God is the greatest possible thing that any person could experience, wouldn’t a loving God make sure everyone had that opportunity?

These questions form the background to an argument that God probably doesn’t exist at all – the argument from divine hiddenness.

The argument from divine hiddenness

I’ve analysed the premises of this argument at The hiddenness of God, and a few questions stand out.

If God seems far away, guess who moved?

Some christians say that God is plainly seen in his creation and in Jesus – if he doesn’t seem close to us, it is because of our lack of faith, or our sin, or our unwillingness to relate to him.

I’m sure there is truth in this, for many people at least, but I don’t buy it as a general explanation. Surely there are christians who “lose their faith” despite desperately pleading with God to show himself to them?

Even if only a minority of people want to respond to God, but find themselves unable to, then this explanation is insufficient to explain God’s apparent hiddenness. We need to look elsewhere.

Does God want us to know him above all else?

At first sight, this seems like a no-brainer. Of course if God loves us he wants us to know him, to love him and be loved by him.

But second thoughts make me doubt this. Like these questions ….

Can a robot love?

If we were like robots, with no freedom to choose, would we be capable of love?

Surely love is both an emotion and a choice, a response to another person and a giving of ourselves to that other person. Can a robot do that? Perhaps giving us the freedom to choose is a necessary condition to us being in a loving relationship with God?

If God had a plan, could we expect to know what it was?

Arguments based on what God “should” do are pretty suspect. How much chance is there that we can understand God’s motives and purposes? Any conclusion we came to would have to be seen as a question more than an answer.

So perhaps God has other reasons to remain less obvious.

Why did God create a physical universe?

If God could have achieved his result simply, why would he create a physical universe? We can’t know, but perhaps it gives us a clue to God’s larger purposes. Perhaps a physical universe provides the right conditions for freedom and self- creation?

There’s no time like the present?

If God offers us eternal life, as many religions believe, then our life on earth is an infinitesimal blip in eternal life. Any lack of relationship here and now is surely minor compared to what is to come. So if God has a reason for being hidden now, isn’t that OK in the light of eternity?

But what if honest people don’t believe because God is hidden?

This is a real issue. But it is a small part of a larger issue – does God treat all people fairly? If the christian God is true, aren’t those born in Muslim or Buddhist countries at a serious disadvantage, just as those for whom God is hidden are at a disadvantage?

It all depends on how God judges us. Christians sometimes say that only explicit faith in Jesus will “save” us, but I think the Bible has a broader view. Jesus says God judges us by how we care for our neighbour (Matthew 25:31-46). Paul says God judges people by their conscience (Romans 2:14-16).

What’s more, Jesus said if we seek, and keep on seeking, with all our hearts, we will be rewarded (Matthew 7:7-8)

So I can’t help feeling that if we seek honestly and live according to the light we have been given, even if we don’t “see” God in this life, we will see him in the life to come.

Of course the question then remains, how sincerely are we seeking him?

So where does this leave us?

I’ve never really found this argument convincing – there are too many uncertainties in it, and too many possible explanations for facts it is based on.

I heard it said once that, to learn about something you need to approach it on its own terms and use the right instrument for the purpose – a telescope if you want to see the stars, and an electron microscope if you want to see viruses. I feel it is the same with God and our world.

Basing an argument on what we think God “ought” to be like is thinking we know more than we possibly can. The right approach, I believe, is to accept the world as it is and then ask: Could God have done it this way? What is the evidence?

It is a strange world we live in, full of anomalies and profundities, both beauty and ugliness, and we might legitimately wonder why God would have done it this way. That may remain a mystery, but a mystery is surely not enough to be evidence that GOd’s not there.

At least that’s how I see it.

Photo: MorgueFile


  1. Hi unkleE!

    “The right approach, I believe, is to accept the world as it is and then ask: Could God have done it this way? What is the evidence?

    To me, the italicized part seems like an assumption. Why ask those particular questions? Why not just live with the first part of the statement: “accept the world as it is”?

  2. Hi Nate,

    I’m commenting on an argument other people have made, notably philosopher John Schellenberg. When people make an argument, they’re making a truth claim with the argument for justification. I’m suggesting that the argument isn’t arriving at truth because it makes unjustifiable assumptions about what God might be presumed to choose. I think my suggestion is a better starting point to reaching a truthful answer. Of course, it may well lead some (e.g. you) to the same answer, but I think instead of God’s actions being presumed, it requires the argument to be made as to why God couldn’t have done it the way other people (e.g. me) think it has.

    I guess I should have been a little clearer.

  3. “We live in a physical world and most things we know are through our senses. Certainly we relate to each other through all the senses.”

    I am not sure I can entirely agree with this statement.

    All scientific facts contain an empirical element, but they are established by inference based on certain fundamental ideas. A scientist conducts an experiment that, of course, involves sense perception. The experiment is set up and conducted in order to test an hypothesis, which, of course, is an idea, a construct: “if, under conditions A, B appears, then we infer the existence of C”, or something to that effect… The scientist sets up conditions A, he finds B appears and so he concludes that C exists. The conclusion is actually an inference, based on the prior belief that the laws under which the experiment was conducted hold true throughout nature, or throughout some clearly defined part of nature. Therefore if the experiment works in, say, London, we infer that the conclusion would also hold true in New York, or maybe even on Mars. The sense perception aspect of the experiment is only valid within the framework of certain a priori ideas. And, as Kant explained, in order for sense perception to have any significance at all, we need a range of ideas in order to say anything at all about our experience: ideas such as unity, plurality, totality, subsistence, causality, negation, possibility, necessity etc…

    Our relationships with other people are not entirely empirical either. At the very least some kind of fundamental “meeting of minds” is a necessary condition for any encounter between two human beings that deserves the description of ‘relationship’.

    Now, of course, in the complete absence of any kind of empirical evidence, one wonders how science or relationships can be conducted. Having said that, it is interesting that scientists are generally willing to infer the existence of, say, dark matter, or the multiverse, or many aspects of the long process of evolutionary common descent, in the absence of any direct empirical evidence. Furthermore, it is possible to get a strong sense of ‘relating’ to another human being, who may have died decades or centuries ago, say, through their writings. The ‘relationship’ we have with the long deceased person is based on certain assumptions we make when engaging with their writing or art or biography, and, in fact, we make similar assumptions when we relate to living people face to face today. There is always an element of inference.

    As for God: well, we can infer the existence of God based on a range of evidence. The claim that a non-empirical reality cannot exist is clearly a non sequitur. There is nothing about ‘non-empirical’ which even implies non-existence. We know that such a premise is questionable, because our own consciousness is non-empirical in terms of the five senses, and yet if we deny that our consciousness exists, we deny the very conditions by which we can know anything at all.

    It is assumed by proponents of the philosophy of naturalism that our consciousness is an emergent property of natural selection. There is no independent (i.e. non-circular) evidence to support such a claim. To build an argument on the assumption that there is no spiritual reality (thus denying that our consciousness is spiritual) and use this as an argument against the existence of God, is an example of begging the question. It is a circular argument.

    But what if our consciousness cannot be explained in purely natural terms? What if ‘spirit’ is actually a synonym of consciousness? Is it not the case that our fundamental perception of reality is achieved, not by our five senses, but by our consciousness, which could be a spiritual reality? If that is the case, then why could it not be true that God, who is a spiritual being, does reveal Himself (or Herself, if you prefer!) in a way that we can perceive with our consciousness – i.e with our spirit?

    Now, of course, one could argue that the ‘spiritual’ explanation of consciousness lacks evidence and is circular. Fair point. But the claim of a supernatural circular argument does not validate a naturalistic circular argument. Certainly if it can be shown that consciousness cannot be merely an emergent property of the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry (and there are arguments to support this view), then at the very least we can say that consciousness involves the operation of “some other reality”, which we cannot explain. If this reality – whatever it is – is not entirely a product of the laws of nature, then we are justified in saying that there must exist some form of either ‘super-nature’ (that which is ‘above’ nature), ‘para-nature’ (that which is parallel to nature), or ‘sub-nature’ (that which operates ‘under’ nature). Let us just use the general word ‘spiritual’ as a catch-all term to cover all these bases. We could use some other word, if we like. The point is that it is NOT merely ‘nature’, whatever terminology we use! Therefore it is not unreasonable to suggest that God could reveal Himself to us through this other reality.

    It seems to me that the question of God’s supposed hiddenness has to take into account the problem of consciousness. How do we explain consciousness? If consciousness is ‘spiritual’ (above, beside or under nature), then God has a means of revealing Himself to us which may bypass the five senses. If consciousness is entirely natural, then the argument that God’s hiddenness constitutes evidence of His non-existence may have some superficial merit, but I would contend that the person deploying such an argument already assumes God does not exist on the basis of a prior commitment to the philosophy of naturalism, hence his eagerness to explain consciousness in entirely natural terms!

    Finally, on the basis of the above argument, we are perhaps justified in asking why God would want to bypass the five senses. But how would God reveal Himself in this way? We would still need a whole raft of ideas and assumptions and prior beliefs in order to interpret such an experience. Indeed, Christianity affirms this. The claim is that God has revealed Himself empirically in Jesus Christ, but not everyone believed. The multitudes viewed him as merely a prophet (Matthew 16:13-14). It is questionable whether even miracles can inspire belief – a point affirmed by Scripture, e.g. Luke 16:30-31. In fact, in the current climate of extreme scepticism I doubt any miracle could ever occur which would convince certain atheists. They would always have some reason to doubt the validity of such a miracle, and they can always fall back on “natural remission” if all else fails! I remember once hearing Richard Dawkins say that no empirical evidence would ever convince him of the existence of God, because he would just assume that he was hallucinating.

  4. Hi Allistair, I think we may be more in agreement than you might think.

    “Our relationships with other people are not entirely empirical either.”
    I agree. I didn’t say that all things are empirical, but “most things”, and I didn’t say that things are “entirely” empirical, just that they involve our senses. I believe in inference and other ways of knowing too.

    “we can infer the existence of God based on a range of evidence. The claim that a non-empirical reality cannot exist is clearly a non sequitur. There is nothing about ‘non-empirical’ which even implies non-existence.”
    I agree with this too.

    “How do we explain consciousness?”
    I think consciousness forms the basis of an argument for the existence of God, though I don’t think it is an argument that convinces many non-believers.

    “we are perhaps justified in asking why God would want to bypass the five senses.”
    And I think this is relevant too, in the light of the Richard Dawkins comment. But I still think that the argument from hiddenness is one that needs answering.

    Thanks for your interest and your comment.

  5. Who Created God- A beautiful story

    A man, along with his son, was walking back home from the funeral of his wife. Though the two were not crying, the pain in their eyes looked inconsolable. Through the mist in his eyes, the man looks up in the sky and nods as though talking to someone up above. He then lifts his 8 year old son up in the arms as they cut across a farm with a scarecrow standing tall.

    The man wipes tears off his son’s eyes and says comfortingly, “your mom is up there keeping an eye on us. ” The man restrains his shriek, and continues, “we will meet her again up in the heavens. She can’t leave us forever, can she?” The boy shakes his head in agreement, “she’s in God’s company up there, and I am sure she won’t let God do anything unpleasant to us now,” the boy reciprocates in order to cheer his dad up.

    who created godThe very next moment the two hear a gunshot, and turn their gaze around in amazement. They see a fat man with a air-gun in his hand. He appears to be feeling smug looking at the bird he just killed. The little boy, looking disturbed at the sight of a dead bird shifts his gaze to his father and asks skeptically, “does God really exist?”

    The man remains silent.

    The boy adds, “I doubt. If he did, He would have either not created this bird, or not created that fat man.” The fat man picks up the bird and starts walking away. The man and his son start walking their way. The boy keeps looking back at the fading back of the fat man and also at the tall scarecrow. The boy adds, “you know dad, I think God is like a scarecrow.”

    “What do you mean?,” The man finally breaks his silence.

    “I think our ancestors were very smart chaps. They could foresee that human race will destroy the world sooner than later if they are not given something to fear of. The only way they thought they can deter their successors from killing each other in bid to satisfy their ego was by introducing Moral Police called God. We are like birds who are scared of scarecrow. Had our ancestors not erected the scarecrow called God, we wont be in existence. The world would have ended million years ago,” says the boy.

    The man displays a grin and says, ” I don’t totally disagree with you, but there is much more to the concept of God.

    “The boy asks, “like what?”

    “With God comes hope. Whether you are a theist or an atheist, you just cannot live without hope. There are two types of Hopes. The Hope of better future if your present is mired. The Hope of continuity if you are leading a good life.”

    “Does not Science give us hope?,” asks the son.

    “Science gives us both hope and logic. What Science does not give us is faith and conviction in our own hope,” replies father.

    The little boys looks clued up, “what is that supposed to mean?,” asks the boy.

    “We all put in efforts plus some kind of logic and calculation into whatever we set out to do. Do we all taste the same success?,” asks the man.

    The boy shakes his head.

    “It’s the extra-ordinary faith in one’s extraordinary efforts and hope that sets extra-ordinary men apart from ordinary. Anything/anyone who works as scarecrow, and gives you hope and the faith to achieve
    unexpected, or improbable is God,” the man continues.

    “So you mean God equals to morals(scarecrow)plus hope plus faith?,” asks the son.

    “Exactly. God does not mean an idol. God does not mean worship. God does not mean a temple, church, or a mosque,” says the father.

    The boys nods in agreement. A dead silence falls. They keep walking. After a while the boy asks, “will we ever get to meet mom again?,”

    The man looks puzzled. He takes time to respond, “according to science, we won’t ever get to meet her again.”

    “But I am sure I’ll meet her again. Do you think she can live without seeing me for long?”

    The father shakes his head. A smile springs up on boy’s face.

    They keep walking on their way in silence before the man asks, “do you know as to why that bird was killed?”

    The boys nods, and replies, “because it was not scared of scarecrow.”

    The content belongs to Mr.Sunil Rajpal, Mumbai, India. Writer can be contacted at admin@engtuto.com or sunil_na2002@yahoo.co.in

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