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Is God hiding and if so why, wonders Adam Dodds.
Is God real? If God is real, why doesn’t he show himself in an irrefutable way? The Bible says: "Truly, you are a God who hides himself."(Isaiah 45:15)
Is this saying something profound, or is it just a convenient excuse used by religious people to mask an imaginary God? Or if God is indeed real, and God does hide himself — why would God do this? Conversely, if God did show himself in a demonstrable way, what would this achieve?For millennia people have observed the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
"The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word", King David says, "their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world."
Creation points to and reflects the Creator’s beauty and creativity. For many people this adequately points to God’s reality, but that is as far as their knowledge goes. Theirs is an inferential faith. For these people, author AW Tozer states, God "is a deduction from evidence which they consider adequate; but he remains personally unknown to the individual".
However, for some sceptics and/or honest inquirers, this evidence is neither self-evident nor irrefutable. The Bible seems to implicitly acknowledge this by affirming that God hides himself. Why, then, does God hide himself — in terms of direct human experience of God? Bear with me.
Of all the Highlanders I most admire Ben Smith. I admire his running skill, his aerial work, and his tackling. I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. I drove past him once. My knowledge of him is that of a spectator.
In some countries wild panthers live in mountains not far from human habitation. Panthers find their prey. Being found gets in the way of their purpose. They hide themselves because they want to find, rather than be found.
Dr Richard Schumack asks: "What if the purpose of God was to hide from us in such a way that would prevent us finding him, but would allow him to find us? What if the wisdom behind this was to prevent us knowing God on our terms, but allow us to know God on his terms?"
Imagine for a moment God publicly revealing himself in an indisputable way. What would this lead to? Acknowledgement (perhaps begrudgingly) of God’s reality; spectator knowledge. This knowledge would be at our disposal to do with, or ignore, as we wish. Instead God is hiding. Hiding, however, is not unique to God.In the primal story at the start of the Bible, the first human beings doubted that God was trustworthy and that God was genuinely good. So they turned their back on God. This primal sin was a rejection of the intimate personal relationship with God for which humans were created.
As the story continues, they hid from God. Guilt and shame will do that. Many people continue to hide from God (the all-seeing One). In response, God came searching for them and called out "Where are you?". Now, when the all-knowing God asks a question he is not seeking information. What then was God seeking?According to Jesus (God in the flesh, according to Christian faith), the preeminent characteristic of God is this: God is Father. Why would God hide himself in terms of our personal experience of him? Perhaps because God is not interested in spectators knowing of him from a distance — on our terms. What are his terms? Perhaps that people know him directly and personally as Father. In calling out "where are you?" God was, and is, seeking relationship. Now comparison is the mother of clarity. Sharing an insight from his doctoral research, Dr Schumack observes: "Islam says ‘God is hidden’; Christianity says ‘God is hiding’."
The difference? One state is permanent, the other temporary. The Christian account of things says God seeks relationship with people for his own pleasure and for ours. As Augustine famously prayed: "God you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."
A genuine relationship is one that is freely chosen and thus can be withheld. Thus it goes against God’s purpose to overwhelm human beings with irrefutable evidence. Instead the personal God reveals himself to someone with sufficient evidence to cause them to seek him in return. To this personal response, God then reveals himself further. This two-way-ness is typical of any relationship based on trust. Trust is the best modern translation of the biblical word faith. As two people reveal more of who they are reciprocally over time, trust grows. This is "the dance" of relationship.
If God showed himself in an objective demonstrable way, human beings would have spectator knowledge of God. Everyone would know God like I know Ben Smith. God is hiding to prevent us from finding him on our own terms. Instead, God invites all people to come out of their hiding places, to seek him in the person of Jesus, so that he will find us.
- Dr Adam Dodds is Senior Pastor of Elim Church Dunedin.