By Dr Adam Dodds
Is God real? If God is real, why doesn’t God show himself in an irrefutable way? The Bible says that “God hides himself.” (Isaiah 45:15) Is this something profound, or is it just a convenient excuse to mask an imaginary God? 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 interpreted creation as communicating the Creator’s beauty and creativity. “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.” (Psalm 19)
For many people this adequately points to God’s reality, and leads to faith based on inference. God “is a deduction from evidence which they consider adequate; but he remains personally unknown to the individual,” posited American pastor and author A.W. Tozer.
I like rugby. As a New Zealander, obviously I follow the All Blacks. Amongst the players, I most admire fullback Ben Smith. I admire his running, his aerial work, and his tackling. I have never met him. I drove past him once. My knowledge of him is that of a spectator. Ben Smith is not hiding. But while I can see him, I do not know him.
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.
Why does God hide himself? Dr Richard Shumack 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 visibly to all. 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.
Perhaps because God is not interested in spectators knowing of him from a distance – on our terms.
In the Bible’s story of beginnings (Genesis), the first human beings doubted that God was trustworthy, that God was good. So they turned their back on God. This primal sin was a rejection of knowing God personally, for which humans were created.
As the story continues, they hid from God. Guilt and shame doing their worst. Many people continue to hide from God, the all-seeing One. In response, God came searching for them and called out ‘Where are you?’ What was God, the all-knowing One, seeking?
According to Jesus – God in the flesh – 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.
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. 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 a Christian minister from Dunedin, New Zealand who holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago.