If I were in charge of the universe, I would most certainly do things differently. Hey, this is a given. God already said that his ways are not my ways. I also know that his ways are better than my ways. I would just do some things differently.
I doubt there is anyone who has ever escaped the subject of “divine hiddenness.” Maybe you have not termed it as such, but you have often wondered why God does not reveal himself in a way that is more satisfactory to our longings for experiential intimacy with him. “With him” may not be the right way to put it. A better way would be to say that we long for experiential intimacy with “the other side.” As someone has once said, “One out of every one people dies.” These are pretty good odds. We know that one day we will die and experience that which awaits us beyond death. Yet this life is virtually void of “signs” from the “other side.” In a way, all we have to work from is what Phillip Yancey terms “rumors” of another world. There is quit a bit of mystery, even for Christians, as to what exactly “the other side” will be like. This can scare us. In fact, it can scare us so badly that we avoid death at all costs.
Of course, as Christians, we do have faith that this “other world” is real and that heaven is an actual place where God awaits us. We also have faith that God, from this “other world,” has spoken to us through Scripture. Yet we long for an experiential intimacy that parallels the norms of our lives today. We want to hear the voice of God. We have questions for him. We desire a sense experience that is often referred to as “empirical.” We want to see vivid signs of the other side that will solidify our faith and alleviate any residue of doubt that might does exist.
As Christians, God’s silence—God’s hiddenness—should not come as any surprise. Yes, I might do things differently. Were I on God’s board of directors, I might give him some gentle encouragement to be a little more open to showing himself, especially to his own children. But the fact is that we will not see God, hear God, or touch God in the way we so desire. If we did, the Christian worldview would be compromised as the Scripture tells us we should not expect to have our faith experienced though such empirical means.
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.” (1Pet. 1:8-9)
You see, Peter here assumes that we have not seen Christ (or God or the Holy Spirit). At least visually. 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 have seen or heard from him in such a way. The door to the “other side” was shut.
Please note: I did not say “That was the last time he was active in an evident way.” Big difference. The point is that we do not and will not directly experience God through our eyes, ears, or hands until Christ returns.
Why does God stay so hidden?
Allow me to take an all too familiar turn here for a moment.
Following my sister Angie’s first attempt at her life six years ago, she felt great shame. The shame itself seemed to be enough motivation for her to try again. “I tried to kill myself, Michael!” she said when I tried to encourage her. “Everyone is always going to think I am crazy. I am crazy!” “You are not crazy Angie,” I responded, not really knowing what to say. She quickly answered, “Yes, but you have never tried to kill yourself.” I was not sure what this meant, but it was obvious that her definition of “crazy” was based upon a comparison of herself to those who, in her mind, were sane. “You are right,” I said, “I have not ever tried to kill myself. But there are circumstances where I might.”
Under what circumstance might I try to kill myself? When would I consider suicide?
You must remember that, among other things, death is a crossing point to the “other side.” It is the point where “rumors” of another world fade into the reality of the other world. I was watching my all time favorite show Justice League (!) with my son Zach the other day. It was an episode where Flash went so fast that he actually began to 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.” 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 due to his exposure to the next. In other words, he wanted to die due to his empirical exposé to 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’ them bad guys).
I don’t think this make believe story is too far from reality. You and I also need an experiential (empirical) breach from the “other side.” We need not to see Jesus. We need not to talk to Jesus. We need not to hear Jesus.
The disciples, understandably, did not want Jesus to die. When he did, they were so bold as to desire to die with him. Thomas, of all people,—doubting Thomas—when he thought Jesus was going to die, said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (Joh 11:16). I love the simple faith this expresses. Peter was no different (Lk. 22:33). All who were with Jesus had experienced the “other side” in the person of Christ and they were not willing to let that go, even to death. 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 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 previous 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.
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.
Would I do things differently if I were in charge? I am sure I would, to my own detriment. That is why I am not in charge. What are the circumstances that I might kill myself? If God was empirically evident and the lines between this world and the next were too blurred.
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. He can be contacted at [email protected]