A God Far Off

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

Imagine if someone were trapped in a burning building and firefighters came into the building tip toeing around, not making their presence known, but were there to rescue those inside. It would not only seem silly on their part, but outright neglectful of their duties.

To the proponents of the hiddenness argument, this is how God is seen, as a nebulous figure, and if a redeeming God does exist He does not seem to factor into their experience to be considered.

There is no shortage of Bible verses teaching that God is closer to us than our own skin, yet there are also 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, or His hiddenness, 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.

Schellenberg, in the Hiddenness Argument, notes, however, that these are two distinct arguments. He says that the argument from evil argued against the existence of God from features of the world that are incompatible with a God, while the Hiddenness Argument argues against God because of unbelief in Him which is seemingly irreconcilable with Him loving everyone and desiring relationship with everyone.

To clarify, premise 1 in the hiddenness argument addresses the varying degrees of skepticism or manifestation required for belief. All things being equal, that one’s 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 one way or the other. Why are some so certain of the existence of God that nothing can shake their certainty, while others are unable to easily believe, 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 necessarily 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 they have needed counselling to help find existential meaning for their lives afterwards. 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 that, 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 if 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, do some respond to God from one location, but if God had put them in another location they may not have responded? Conversely, why do some not respond to God 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 better summarized as such:

1. If God exists, he would manifest himself proportionate to what is at stake. (Namely what the Bible stipulates – 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. He may modify what he holds the nature of God to be, that God does not desire relationship with all people and arbitrarily creates in order to damn, or he 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 as 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, although not all will.

Why is one person able to exercise their will unto belief one way, while another exercises it in another direction, all things being considered equal?

It certainly does not seem to be dependant on how much light we receive, but on our attitude towards it. God cannot be expected to, as William Lane Craig puts it, “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 suggests 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 we, having finite minds, are not capable of comprehending the infinite and can not be omniscient. Our ideas of how the universe operates demonstrates this, as they are incomplete. 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 to someone of great wealth hiding this wealth from a potential suitor’s sincerity. “Of course I will fall in love with you, your wealth and estate.” they would say.

More powerfully, there are arguments available to us to demonstrate that God exists, and these arguments appeal to common experience, such as moral arguments, which demonstrate that we all share a moral experience that can be commonly accounted for in terms of the nature of a divine lawgiver. One may also demonstrate by means of historical arguments that God has condescended and 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, empathize with the unbeliever and why he may not be able to intellectually accept the Christian truth claims, or more specifically the God of Christianity.

However, is evidence enough? Paul Copan, in ‘Loving Wisdom’ uses the illustration that we are surrounded by overwhelming warnings not to smoke, eat bad food and to look after ourselves by exercising, yet it seems very few exercise their wills in a positive direction.

Copan further notes that the demons are hardly evidentially challenged, yet they willingly rebelled against God.

Reasonable Faith: Craig, William Lane.

The Hiddenness Argument: Schellenberg, J.L.

Penseés: Pascal, Blaise.

Is the Atheist My Neighbour? Chapter 4, Does the Atheist have an axe to grind?: Rauser, Randal.

Loving Wisdom, ‘Chapter 13, The Hiddenness of God’ Paul Copan.

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