Does God play hide and seek?

September 7th, 2021 in Life. Tags: , ,
Hands up who's hiding

It’s hard to believe in something we can’t see. So why doesn’t God make himself visible to us, if he wants us to believe in him?

Or is God more “visible” than we might first think? Some people seem to think so. Can we learn something from them? Or is it impossible to know God second hand?

I don’t feel I experience God, do you?

My life is fairly ordinary. I believe in God. I think I have good reasons to believe. But I don’t feel God intervening in my life in obvious mays.

I pray to God every day, but I’m not aware of him talking back to me. If I am sick, I pray for healing, but I also go to the doctor. I pray to keep Covid-free, but I have also been vaccinated.

I feel like I’m fairly typical. So I’m guessing your experience may not be very different to mine, even if your belief is very different.

Surely a powerful God would be obvious?

This all makes many people think. If God made the world, sustains it so we can live in it, if she loves us deeply …. why don’t we see her more? Is he hiding?

So some people conclude God isn’t there at all …. or isn’t worth thinking about. Others construct reasons why God might keep himself less obvious.

But then I think again …..

But maybe I HAVE experienced God a few times?

I have posted on this blog a time when it seemed like supernatural intervention saved me from a serious car accident. So it seems like God actually “spoke” to me then. More accurately, it seems like God put a thought in my head that didn’t arise naturally.

And then there are other times. Times when God seems to have directed my thoughts in less startling ways. Times when fortuitous coincidence occurred. Times when something I said in a chance remark had helpful significance to that person.

Of course there have also been times when I’ve made spectacularly bad decisions, to act or speak in certain ways that I later regretted deeply. But when I look back on my life (I turned 76 last week) I can honestly say I am both surprised and grateful that so many poorly conceived actions and remarks haven’t been more disastrous.

More people than you might think

Research shows that many people feel they’ve experienced God in some way:

The interesting thing is that most of these reported experiences cannot be classified as arising from abnormal or pathological psychology. They generally occur to “normal” people and they generally have a beneficial effect. Sometimes these experiences are life-changing in a good way.

Of course, we need to add into the mix reports of people seeing ghosts, recalling past lives, having near death experiences and seeing aliens. And those people reporting healing by other gods. Do all these experiences, the christian and the non-christian alike, reveal truth? Can they all be explained by any one world view, such as christianity?

I’ll leave that question for you to consider. I’ll just conclude that there is indeed evidence that many people claim to have experienced God, and perhaps they have.

Doubts and reasons

Critics will argue that there is always another explanation for these different experiences, and this explanation will always be more probable than a supernatural one. This is a much argued philosophical matter, but seems to me to depend on two questionable assumptions: (1) that religious experience is unusual and unbelievable (but as we have seen it is quite common), and (2) that we ignore the cumulative weight of so many testimonies (even an unlikely event, if it happens enough times, becomes statistically more likely).

Furthermore, many aspects of life only make sense if there’s something more to life than the mere physical. Our consciousness, apparent free will, objective morality and even rational thought itself are all difficult if not impossible to explain without God.

So I conclude that God’s intervention is a reasonable explanation of what people experience.

So why some people and not others?

Does God discriminate? Does he choose to reveal himself to some people and not to others? Perhaps some deserve it more, or are seeking him more fervently?

Or maybe some of us are not paying attention? Maybe the signs are there but we don’t recognise them? Or perhaps we refuse to recognise them?

Somehow, neither of those seem to fit the evidence. There may be truth in them, but they aren’t the main explanation.

It seems to me some people are more intuitive, others more analytical. Certainly psychologists recognise those differences, though they think most people use both forms of thinking at times.

So perhaps more intuitive people are more likely to have a spiritual experience, and more likely to believe in God. People who favour analytical thinking, on the other hand, are less likely to value experience, less likely to have such an experience, and less likely to believe in God.

The thing is, I tend to favour analytical thinking, including thinking about God. I fit the pattern by not having many obvious experiences of God, but I don’t fit the pattern because I nevertheless believe in him. Not sure what that proves!

So I think we tend to get what we are looking for and what we need most.

But I can only speculate why God doesn’t give us far more of himself in more obvious ways. Like others, I can only guess that maybe he respects our autonomy – I think he created us to be autonomous from him in some respects – and he wants to leave us a genuine choice about how we behave and what we believe.

But that’s only a guess.

Second hand experiences?

When you think about it, most of what we know about the external world comes not from experience, but from other people. I’ve never been to Machu Picchu, the Orkney Islands or Český Krumlov (sadly) but I know a little about them because I’ve seen photos taken by others. I learn about the big bang not from my own experience, but by reading cosmologists who have studied it. I know little about Covid-19 and vaccines, but I trust my doctor who does know about them.

So can we learn about God from other people’s experiences?

Surely we can. I personally have gathered stories from books and websites that are well documented and seem plausible. In a few cases I’ve contacted or heard the person speak. The evidence and the information stacks up.

And this may be the answer to the question of “why some people and not others?” We are communal creatures and we depend on each other for most of life – we probably didn’t produce most of the things we eat and wear, the houses we live in and the cars we drive.

So why can’t we learn about God from those who have experienced him more directly than we may have?

So, does God play hide and seek?

Maybe.

But if he does, I reckon it is for our benefit.

I think we all get what we need, or else we are only expected to respond according to the light we have been given.

I think that’s worth thinking about.

What’s YOUR experience?

Photo by Maksim Goncharenok from Pexels

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6 Comments

  1. Thank YOU! It’s nice to think I struck a chord. I’d be interested for you to elaborate if you were happy to do so.

  2. Hi Eric!
    A bit off topic, but I’m glade your vaccinated. Wouldn’t want you checking out so soon after I’ve started reading your thoughts 🤠.

    On topic, I think the strength of the question “does god play hide and seek” (and my agnostic arse is definitely not claiming any answers) could be connected somewhat to how one views god philosophically. For example if any given individual takes the position that god has created/formed/sustained the universe independently of his/her own distinct being, then I think the question has strength. But if one takes the pantheism or panentheism position (and I personally find the panentheism view as discribed by people like David Bentley hurt fascinating and compelling), then I think the question loses its strength and one (assuming they are a theist) is pushed to argue god’s existence is obvious or at least very likely.

    Does that make sense? Would love your take on my view on that.

    Take care out there

    AJ

  3. Hi Aaron, you pose an interesting question, and one I must confess I haven’t thought a lot about. But I’m thinking hard now! 🙂 (But I haven’t read much of Hart.)

    You mention pantheism and panentheism together, but I think they are very separate. I think panentheism (God contains the universe) is closer to theism (God made the universe) than it is to pantheism (God = the universe). But I don’t think either view entails that God should be obvious to us.

    Pantheism:
    1. If God = the universe, then I am very aware of God because I am very aware of the universe. I may not be aware of all its God-like qualities, but I am not even aware of my own brain’s abilities!
    2. If I am part of God (a very small part!), why should I be aware of all the other parts, especially the Godlike bits (its mind) that are beyond the natural world?

    Panentheism
    1. I think the above arguments can be applied here too.
    2. Within christian theism there is a range of views on the relationship between God and the universe. Yes, he created it, but how does he stand to it now? (1) Some christians take a more philosophical view and are somewhat close to deism (God made it but doesn’t interfere much). (2) Others say he is closely involved, answering prayer, guiding decisions, caring for people, etc. (3) Others say the universe can only exist because God sustains it second by second. (4) Others say that God sovereignly orders or predetermines all or some events within the world.
    I think panentheism is almost like a 5th position that is to the “right” of the 4th one, or between #3 & #4 (in some respects). So I don’t think it needs to receive special consideration, but “fits in” with theism OK, it’s more like an extreme form of theism. (My view is somewhere around #2 with a little of #1.)

    So I think on all views, we might have some expectation that God would be more obvious than we think he is, but I don’t think that expectation can be strong. And since we are aware of the universe and of some aspects of the universe that seem to be godlike (that it exists, that’s it’s designed for life, that it allows and exhibits rationality, ethics, consciousness, freewill, that God seems to interact with many people, etc), I don’t think we can say that he is hidden at all. But like many things in life, we need “eyes to see”.

    Not sure if that stands up (I am still exploring the subject) but that’s my thoughts. How does that seem to you?

  4. Hi Eric

    Thanks for the feedback, it made perfect sense. I strongly appreciate you taking the time. Having read your notes I think your right, Either pantheism and panentheism (Admittedly the position I like and at the very least hope for most) make god anymore “Obvious” to humans in general then other positions. Also, yes you are very correct to point out and emphasize the differences between pantheism and panentheism. I will try to be more clear in the future. I’m still in the process of learning the positions and philosophies concerning God’s existence and nature and am still very much the amateur.

    Take care mate!

    AJ

  5. Thanks Aaron. I’m very much learning too, and your questions and comments have pushed me to learn a little more about Pantheism and Panentheism. So thanks to you too. Looking forward to further discussion when some topic leads us to it.

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