Mr. Patton,

I have been a believer for quite some time – since I was eight. It’s a miracle, however, that I believe at all. I grew up in a Oneness Pentecostal home that was very legalistic and rigid. Since then I have changed a great deal in regard to my beliefs. I very much believe in the Trinity, justification by faith, etc. So you could say I’m pretty much orthodox now. But with all that said, I have been having a bit of trouble with my faith. I’m kind of having a hard time believing in God or praying to him because I just don’t see the point in it anymore because I feel like he doesn’t answer. In fact I feel as if it pointless because he isn’t here – right here, spatially – to speak with me. I dunno I just feel like with all that I have happening in my life a face to face relationship – a person to person conversation – is what I need from him. And I can’t have that. I mean it is as if God is a distant uncle to whom I send letters (prayers), and he sends a postcard. Is it enough to just say that God has spoken through his word so he doesn’t need to speak now? I don’t feel like it. Why couldn’t Jesus have just stayed here, albeit in a ubiquitous form? That way I could talk to him. I know he is the Father’s representative to man and for man so why not stay here where he can be physically accessible?

__________________________________

My friend,

Thanks so much for writing and for your honesty. It might comfort you to know that your thoughts are not uncommon. In theological circles, the problem you speak of is called the “hiddenness of God.”  Why is God so hidden? It is hard to know exactly why, but the fact of his hiddenness is something the Bible speaks to very clearly. In Acts 1 the angels say, “Why do you stare into heaven? . . . He will come back just as you have seen him go.” In other words, you will not “see” him again until he comes back. Christ told his disciples in the upper room before his death that it is “better for you if I go because I will send the Comforter.” I often think “it is NOT better for you to go because I cannot see or hear the Holy Spirit.”

I believe that naked belief (i.e., without empirical experience) is what God calls on us to have right now. We do have to “limp” through this life without having seen God or Jesus, yet believe in him. I don’t have any perfectly sound theological reason why God is not more empirically evident in our lives (though I will give some thoughts below). My more charismatic friends would disagree, as you probably know. However, I have called and called to God to show himself to me. In my darkest times (and against my better theological judgement), I have groped for a sign of his presence, love, even his very existence! Angels, Jesus, a sound, or some type of miracle would be sufficient. I remember two years ago when I was going through my depression. I stayed up all night crying, sitting in my car in the garage yelling at God, asking him to just do something – anything! The silence at that time was deafening. It was painful. It hurt my feelings at a very deep level that the all-powerful God would not perform the simplest of tasks. I thought, “God, if you are so great and love me so much why are you so silent? Why now? Why when I am this depressed? Just do something!”

But I think the empirical silence of God is normative for the Christian life. Philip Yancey says we have to work with “rumors of another world.” In fact, ironically, if God were not empirically silent, the Bible would be in error. Peter says, “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:8-9; emphasis mine). You see, Peter here assumes that those in his day – even those so close to the life and death of Christ – have not seen Christ (or God or the Holy Spirit). Peter’s point would be moot if he did not mean to include all other forms of experiencing God empirically. The fact is that when Christ ascended into heaven, that was the last we saw or heard from him in such a way. The door to the “other side” was shut.

If Peter’s statement was not enough, the Apostle Paul also says that the Christian life is a life following after the unseen: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). He goes on by telling us that we “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Christ even told Thomas, who needed to see him before he believed, ”Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29; emphasis mine). The “those who have not seen” are us, and we are many. John could not be more clear here: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20, emphasis mine). John does not say, “whom he has probably not seen.” He works under the assumption that everyone reading his letter has not seen God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and (if I can be so bold) the “other side.” Finally, the author of Hebrews defines faith as something hoped for which is not seen: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1; emphasis mine). The very definition of our faith is that we have conviction about truths that cannot be empirically verified. This does not mean that faith is irrational. It just means that we should not expect to have it verified through our senses.

I am not saying I have not seen God work in my life. I certainly have. However, my thinking about and interpretation of his “movements” are affected by my belief that he is moving in my life in non-dramatic ways. I see him in everything. I see him even in this email you sent to me. I believe it is a “God thing.” Why? Because I am convinced of the central truths of Christianity and the reliability of the Bible. I feed off of this (even though I would rather have a periodic conversation with Christ face to face). We work with what we’ve got, trusting that God knows what he is doing.

However, I do believe God’s silence serves a definite purpose. God’s silence, ironically, may serve to keep us productive in this life. It may keep us from (and I am getting dramatic here) committing suicide. Let me illustrate (as I have done before) by referencing my favorite show Justice League! It was an episode where Flash went so fast that he actually began to die and cross over to the “other side.” The molecules in his body were completely unstable, and he was stuck between this world and the next. When prodded to come back, Flash had a hard time. He said, “But it is so beautiful over here.” Watch it here:

You see, the lines were blurred between this life and the next, and Flash wanted to go to the next. He could not concentrate on this world any longer, because of his experience with the next. In other words, he wanted to die due to his empirical experience on the “other side.” He needed to have an experiential breach between this life and the next in order to remain here and accomplish his mission (gettin’ the bad guys). When “rumors of another world” turns into “experience of the other world,” we lose sight of this world.

I don’t think this story is too far from reality. You and I also need an experiential (empirical) breach from the “other side.” We need to not see Jesus. We need to not talk to Jesus. We need to not hear Jesus.

Let’s look at the example of Christ’s disciples. The disciples, understandably, did not want Jesus to die. When he spoke of his death, they were so bold as to want to die with him. When Thomas – doubting Thomas, of all people! – thought Jesus was going to die, he said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). I love it! A call for death in the name of the Lord! What a simple faith this expresses. Peter was no different when he said, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!”(Lk. 22:33). All who were with Jesus had empirical evidence of the “other side” in the person of Christ and they were not willing to let that go, even if holding on to it required their earthly deaths. In Acts 1:6, they still had hope that Christ had blurred the lines permanently: “Is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” But they had to watch as Christ was taken into the sky, never to be seen again until his second coming (Acts 1:9-11). The point is that the disciples would have gladly gone on a suicide mission with Christ if it meant a continuation of their exposure to the “other side” in the person of Christ.

You and I would do the same. Were God to show himself in the ways we so often think he should – were he to do things the way we would do them – we would probably never be able to accomplish our mission. We would continually be wanting to die in order to cross over. We would be like Flash, having empirical involvement in the world to come, but still having one foot in the current world. However, unlike Flash (who had Superman and Wonder Woman pulling him back!), we most definitely would cross over. Why wouldn’t we? The mysterious would be unmysterious. The lines between this life and the next would be so blurred that we would not hesitate to take that extra step of death, even by our own hand. At the very least, if God were to talk to us face to face, we would never get enough.

While I don’t claim to have all the answers as to why God does not allow us to experience him in such empirical ways, I suspect there is some truth to what I have said here. It is odd to say, but God’s silence may actually preserve his mission for us. The ability to be stable here in this life is actually facilitated by God’s (empirical) silence. I am not saying this is the only reason God is silent, but it does make sense.

Most importantly, while we should not expect to see God with our eyes nor hear him with our ears, God is not ignoring us. His presence is evident and he is not silent. He just moves in very unconventional ways!

Keep the faith my brother. If Christ rose from the grave, then we will one day see him face to face. Until then we must fight the good fight and run the race with our eyes set on the future.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    24 replies to "Why is God Hidden?"

    • CMP,

      It is interesting to note that people who have recanted ‘near death experiences’ by and large speak in terms of not wanting to come back to this life after seeing what is on the other side. This is in no way conclusive evidence, although experiential, it tends to lead credence to your Flash Gordon argument. We always tend to over think our doubts about faith, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Scripture tells us to come to Him like a little child (who has faith). Jesus said that if we had the faith as small as a mustard seed, that we could command a mountain to throw itself into the ocean. The point that I am getting at is that although our faith may at times falter or even fail us, holding on to our doubts are enough to work things through, (the mustard seed) even when we think that we have lost all faith altogether.

      To quote Deuteronomy 29:29, The hidden things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.

      The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. 2009 (Dt 29:29). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

    • C Michael Patton

      With regard to the first comment about atheism, God’s silence does not have any bearing on warrant concerning his existence, even though it does affect personal conviction. The saying “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence” works well here.

    • C Michael Patton

      Doc. Flash and Flash Gordon are not the same. Wally West (the Flash in this episode) was a superhero that could run at superhuman speeds created by DC comics. Flash Gordon was a normal human that travelled to another planet and became a hero after defeating a villain named Ming. The two are in no way related. Just had to show my neediness.

    • anonymous

      “He just moves in very unconventional ways!”
      Really appreciate this post.

      although His work was finished from the foundation of the world, seems He has us practicing a whole lot of stuff, according to our exact need. What a good Father!

      Even Jesus….although He was a Son, learned obedience from the things which He suffered. Heb 5:8
      and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. John 5:20b
      in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. Rom 8:24-25
      Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. 16 they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.39 these having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40a because God had provided something better Heb 11
      Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. 1 Thess 5:11

    • R David

      Timely post for me. Good stuff, other than the DC stuff. Should have gone with Marvel.

    • Tom Jensen

      I struggle with the same. but I feel jesus absence in my life if I move away from my faith. thanks for this blog

    • cherylu

      However, unlike Flash (who had Superman and Wonder Woman pulling him back!), we most definitely would cross over. Why wouldn’t we? The mysterious would be unmysterious. The lines between this life and the next would be so blurred that we would not hesitate to take that extra step of death, even by our own hand. At the very least, if God were to talk to us face to face, we would never get enough.

      Michael, while I appreciate much of what you have said in this post, I really have to ask you if you really believe what you have said in this quote?

      Do Christians not believe that life and death are in the hands of the Lord anymore? Do we not believe suicide is wrong? It seems to me rather incongruous to think that people would be willing to commit such a sin in order to go directly into the Lord’s presence. Do we have no fear of God anymore?

      There has been a lot of discussion here lately about depression and mental illness. In those cases I think what you said could very well be true. But for the general Christian populace? I really have to question that.

      The Apostle John had probably the greatest experience known to mankind of God showing himself. Yet he cerainly did not commit suicide to be in His presence immediately. And neither did any of the OT folks that recorded great visions of God.

    • Rick

      In light of your discussions, how do the you reconcile Christ’s appearances pre-ascension and the many instances of visions and “leadings” by the Holy Spirit in Acts post ascension? When did the Father and/or the Son stop speaking directly (empirically) to the beleivers? It certainly seems They did for sometime into the church’s history. The Revelation alone is full of emprical evidence for John.

    • @Michael: It appears this kind of personal writing is much more to your calling, than the so-called biblical, theological and hermeneutical apologetic. I mean strictly speaking! Of course one would still use theology, etc.

      Btw, it would appear that the so-called charismatic is really still an issue for you, and perhaps one you should still consider? And I don’t speak here so much from the theological place. 🙂

      Always Best ‘In Christ’ Mate!
      Fr. Robert

    • Claudia Sneigoski

      I could not help thinking about a study by Henry Blackaby that I recently finished. It is called, “Experiencing God”
      It is based around 7 points :
      1 God is always at work around you.
      2 God pursues a continuing love relationship with you that is real and personal.
      3 God invites you to become involved with Him in His work.
      4 God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and his ways.
      5 God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action. (Crisis does not imply fear, but a decision point; “What do I believe about God?”)
      6 You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
      7 You come to know God by experience as you obey Him, and He accomplishes His work through you.

      So, in a nutshell, we need to see where God is working and join Him and because it is HIS work and not OUR work. Because we can accomplish nothing for Him unless it is HIS work! Then we will see things done that we will know could only have happened with His intervention.

      Highly recommend the study!

    • I was wondering if I should bring this up on a blog like this? But the classic monastic practice of what is called from the Latin, of “Lectio Divina” (divine reading), the prayerful reading of the Bible, can be a very spiritual experience! I was myself a Roman Catholic Benedictine (English or Brit) monk, way back in my mid 20’s for a few years. And now as I age, I would not trade that time, etc. There is great truth, or can be, in the classic Christian Monastic Tradition (so-called). But one of course must be very careful here! I for one, love, and still read many pieces by Bernard of Clarirvaux! See btw, Bernard’s: On Loving God. See too the Cistercian Publications, in Kalamazoo, MI, for Emero Stiegman’s book: On Loving God, Bernard of Clairvaux, An Analytical Commentary.

      There is some great truth on the Christian interior life, especially from St. Paul, the true Christian mystic!

      And btw, Bernard was well read and loved by both Luther and Calvin! And Bernard of Clairvaux is surely considered somewhat of an Augustinian, on doctrine and salvation!

    • Btw, let me also recommend reading some of the great Anglican mystic Christian, Evelyn Underhill: she wrote…

      ‘Love is a grave and ruthless passion, unlimited in self-giving and unlimited in demand’!

      Simply a great Christian soul!

    • cherylu

      I hope I did too Greg. I hope he responds to my questions because asking the question, “Why wouldn’t we?” and saying we wouldn’t hesitate to take that next step–suicide, seems to require a very different view of suicide or something then my understanding of the issues involved.

    • theoldadam

      God is after faith…and love from us.

      If we could actually see Him…we’d be scared spitless and wouldn’t love Him…but be in fear of Him.

    • cherylu

      Greg,

      He went from there to real life scenarios though. But he also said at the end that he suspected there was some truth to what he was saying. So I may very well have taken him all wrong.

      Michael,

      If you are reading this, please tell me that I was mistaken in how I took what you said. 🙂 I would really rather have totally misunderstood you in this situation!

    • theoldadam

      Tangibles?

      The visible Word of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

      Tangible events, in our real personal histories, where God acts for us.

    • Indeed there are no so-called “Christian” (Christ-like) aspects to suicide! But hopefully only the possibility of God’s mercy and grace, in spite of the grave failure. Only perhaps in the depth of.. “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God , My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mk. 15: 34) But the Me is Christ, and not us, thankfully!

      And our Reformer Luther wrote biblically & theologically on Christ’s Cross and God’s Hiddenness! Always well worth the study!

    • ‘Yet as Luther also recognized, this is a holy Anfechtung, an instrument of the gracious God, and part and parcel of living in the cross of Christ. God is the one behind our Anfechtung and he uses it to crucify our fleshly complacency and self-confidence. And then he uses it to send us running back the other way to the security and confidence of the Word of promise that is given to faith. From faith, we see the righteousness of Christ that is ours; and from faith, hope is renewed in the coming glory of the Kingdom. With faith’s vision made ever new in the Gospel promise – again and again – faith is strengthened, the New Creation is renewed and the call of the Christian’s vocation is revitalized. Here is the central heartbeat of Christian living. The experience of life in the old world that produces a holy anguish from the Devil’s tentatio [tribulation and suffering], and the transforming power of faith fed by the Gospel. In tension – tacking back and forth between them -Luther believed this to be a common inheritance for all Christians baptized into the cross of Christ.’

      Hein, Steven A., “Tentatio,” Lutheran Theological Review, 10 (1997-98), 29-47.

    • Brian

      CMP, there seems to be something about your response that isn’t working for me.

      The writer’s struggle is not whether he can or can not interact with God in this life in some real manner. To me his struggle doesn’t even seem to be about believing without evidence. Or God being hidden.

      I think some folks struggle with God because they want to make him do something to soothe their pain. This to me sounds like what you were struggling with. We try to control God.

      But the author doesn’t make this point about pain. He states “I’m kind of having a hard time believing in God or praying to him because I just don’t see the point in it anymore because I feel like he doesn’t answer.”

      The writer finds no point or purpose to God if there is no cause and effect that can be employed with him (prayer = answers). What the author seems to say is if God doesn’t do anything for us, what value does he have? God turns into a fairy tale at that point. Is this simply “believing without evidence,” is it God being “hidden” or is it something else? Something, not in God, but in us? Does God have to do something to have purpose in our lives? Is his only purpose in our lives to DO something?

      Perhaps this is a distinction without a difference.

      I find it interesting though that the author came out of a Charismatic background. I too have that background. And I too daily think the same thoughts as the author (what point is God). I see Charismaticism (and I have a specific group here in mind) as offering a person a means of creating cause and affect with God/reality. A means of controlling or manipulating God/reality. Take that away and whats left?

      What is in us that wants that from God? That sees God that way?

    • C Skiles

      Michael, very encouraging post. Thanks!

    • […] Why is God Hidden? – “Most importantly, while we should not expect to see God with our eyes nor hear him with our ears, God is not ignoring us. His presence is evident and he is not silent. He just moves in very unconventional ways!” Parchment and Pen […]

    • Patrick

      Hidden? I guess ‘not real’ was just out of your reach.

      unprovokedatheistrants.tumblr.com

    • Don

      Not sure what you mean Robert.

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