A God Far Off

Problem of divine hiddenness

“In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You, For You will answer me.” – Psalm 86:7. 

“Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” – Psalm 10:1

There are no shortage of Bible verses which teach God is closer to us than our own skin, yet other verses expressing frustration that God is nowhere to be found in times of trouble. It seems there should be a warning label on the Bible, stating, “Results may vary.” Do some have an ability to respond to God, or to patiently wait for him in times of trouble, while others simply have no sense of him?
The argument against God’s existence, from unbelief, is similar to the argument from evil, that God’s existence is incompatible with evil in the world. It can be expressed as such,

1. If God exists he would manifest himself to individuals according to their specific needs. 

2. God has not manifested himself to all individuals sufficiently. 

3. Therefore, God does not exist. 

While the argument from evil states,

1. If objective evil exists in the world, God cannot exist in it. 

2. Objective evil exists. 

3. Therefore, God does not exist. 

To clarify, premise 1, in the hiddenness argument, addresses the varying degrees of skepticism or manifestation required for belief. All things being equal, that ones cognitive abilities are working and an individual’s reasons for belief are equal to reasons for non-belief, let’s say, one would be as rational in withholding proposition on the existence of God. John Schellenberg, in his hiddenness argument, notes that there are some who are not actively disbelieving in God, rather, they are sitting on the evidence waiting for something to tip the scales in favour of one way or another. Why are some so certain of the existence of God, that nothing can shake their certainty, while others are unable to conjure up belief, even if the idea of a heavenly paradise and a God who gives meaning to their existence on earth, is inoffensive to them, but not intellectually satisfying? How can one accept in their heart what their intellect rejects? These people are not in active rebellion against God, many might even find a great deal of comfort in finding such belief, furthermore, those who lose their faith lose it after years of reflection and have needed counselling in helping themselves find existential meaning for their lives after. To dismiss their belief as being a result of faulty cognitive abilities, or a rebellious attitude, is not taking seriously what these thoughtful people are facing. 

Pascal, in his posthumously published book, writes in vs. 228, that the objection of atheists is that they simply have no light. Are we to suggest that believing is required in order to see, or that seeing is prior to belief? 

Can a person conjure up belief in a pink elephant standing in front of him, or that the sum of 2 and 2 is 5, even if a million dollars were offered to them? Why should religious belief be any different? This is why the hiddenness argument should grab the attention of a thoughtful Christian, because if God is all loving and desiring, or open to, relationship with all men just the same, even the unbelief of one individual, amongst billions of believers, should grab our attention. Why would such a God withhold one more piece to the puzzle of knowledge, if he knew it would tip the scales in favour of belief? It seems, to demand belief without ample justification is to ask someone to order food off the menu, which is to say, that they are supposed to know what is available without it being presented as a live option. This runs contrary to the God who invites us to come reason with him, in Isaiah 1:19. 

Pascal says, in vs. 244,
“Why! Do you not say of yourself that the heavens and birds prove God? “And does your religion not say so?” No. For although it it is true in a sense for some souls to whom God gives this light, yet it is false with respect to the majority of them?” 

Should we say that there are some, who are made in the image of God just the same as us, who are born with no ability to respond to the gospel spiritually, even if they have an excess of intellectual knowledge? How do we reconcile this with the nature of God? Acts 17:26 says that God has put us all, individually, in our respective times and places so that we may respond to him from our vantage points. So, why do some respond to God from one location, but if God had put someone in another location they may not have responded? Conversely the same, why do some not respond to God from from their location–but God, being omniscient, knows they may respond to him from another location? 

Pascal’s famous wager argument states that given what is at stake one is more rational to seek out reasons to believe in God, rather than to refrain, and if they believe and are wrong nothing is lost; whereas, if they refrain from belief and are wrong, everything is lost. 

Is reason for belief in God proportionate to what is at stake? I believe the hiddenness argument can be summarized as such, 

1. If God exists he would manifest himself proportionate to what is at stake. (Namely what the Bible stipulates, as being hell and eternal separation from God.)

2. God has not revealed himself proportionately to what is at stake. 

3. Therefore, God does not exist. 

The theist is faced with quite a dilemma here, they may modify what they hold the nature of God to be, that God does not desire relationship with all people and arbitrarily creates in order to damn, or they can take on the task of demonstrating there is no incompatibility with the lack of belief in the world and the degree of reason for belief in the world. In the interest of protecting the nature of God this piece will reject the prior and take to task that there is sufficient reason to believe for all people, in all times and places. 

Acts 17:27 goes on to say,

“…that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;”

The position of orthodox Christianity seems to suggest that salvation is through Jesus Christ and that it is an offer available to all. The conditions necessary for salvation are never specified as having a robust theological knowledge, but having responded to the degree of light provided. John 3:19 says,

” This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”

So, which way is it? Does belief precede seeing, or does seeing generate belief? It would seem that sufficient evidence is available to respond to, although not all will. Responding, to why some draw towards the so-called “light” and why some pull away, by attributing dis/belief to “freewill” is hardly enlightening and is no more enlightening than appealing to some sort of fatalism/determinism. 

It certainly does not seem dependant on how much light we receive, but our attitude towards it. God cannot be expected to, as William Craig puts it, “to imprint on every atom, “Made by God!” Luke 16:30-31 suggests that God putting on such a show is insufficient to generate belief. Luke 12:48 makes clear that there are variant levels of accountability based on those who have been given more or less. 

The above has been a theological answer, which some may find satisfying, but the argument is philosophical in nature and requires a philosophical response. 

According to theism, God is not identifiable with creation, or an effect is not the same as its cause, although it will resemble it in some ways. One might argue that a degree of hiddenness is necessary for God to be transcendent, or unidentifiable with creation. A god identifiable with creation would be a pantheistic god. 

Another reason a degree of hiddenness is necessary is because, as finite minds, we are not capable of comprehending the infinite and could not be omniscient. Our ideas of how the universe operates demonstrates this. 
If God were to be fully manifest, or manifest to the degree sufficient to generate belief in all individuals, would it be possible that we would become contemptuous of that degree of revelation?
 Would such a degree of manifestation override free will? If meaningful relationship is not to be coerced would a more aggressive revealing of God override free will and make belief boil down to a matter of authority rather than a genuine desire to know God and his invisible attributes? One might suggest this is analogous of someone of great wealth hiding this wealth from someone who is a potential suitor, to ensure they are sincerely pursuing them rather than what they have to offer. “Of course I will fall in love with you, and your wealth and estate.” they would say. 

More powerfully, there are arguments available to us to demonstrate god exists, and these arguments appeal to common experience, such as moral arguments, which demonstrate we all share a moral experience which can be commonly accounted for in terms of the nature of a divine lawgiver. One may also demonstrate that God has condescended, by means of historical arguments, and has interacted directly with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ and that the existence of God is the best explanation for the miracles performed in the New Testament and for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

The hiddenness argument, as laid out by Schellenberg, is a very good argument which can help the theist, especially the lifelong Christian, relate to, or empathize with the unbeliever and why they may not choose to believe in god, or more specifically the God of Christianity. 

Further Reading

Reasonable Faith: Craig, William Lane. 

The Hiddenness Argument: Schellenberg, J.L. 

Penseés: Pascal, Blaise. 

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