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.