The Hiddenness of God.
I realized this morning that–though I have linked to one of these papers frequently on a few forums–I have not written here about the hiddenness of God. In this first post, I’ll be addressing this issue in a philosophical way. Later, I’ll probably write up a second post with some informal, faith-based musings on the issue.
In my view, the hiddenness of God is the most severe hindrance to belief in God; the problem of evil has a variety of answers–skeptical theism is enough to avoid the troubles of it, though better defenses can be assembled–but the hiddenness of God is a problem for both believers at times as well as nonbelievers. The Old and New Testaments offer some thoughts on this issue, but it is usually a lament for, or an acknowledgement of, God’s hiddenness. Jesus also promises in His Sermon on the Mount that if you “seek…you will find…. For…the one who seeks finds,” (Matthew 7:7, ESV) and this seems to go against the experiences of apparently sincere seekers of God, and even the experiences of some of the most devout men and women of God (cf. Mother Theresa’s journal, found in Rea’s essay below). It also directly ties into the goodness and love of God: if a relationship with God is truly as jubilant and blessed as some describe, then why would God in part hinder some from entering in to that relationship with Him?
I have read two articles on this problem, both from professional philosophers: an essay by Michael J. Murray and an essay by Michael C. Rea. Murray describes what he views to be the reason that God hides from us as this: we have three factors that play in to the significance of our moral freedom–threat strength, threat imminence, and threat wantonness (wantonness defined as, “a characteristic of the individual threatened to disregard personal well-being in the face of threats to his freedom.”) willingness –and that any moral choice we make must not be hindered by the overabundance of these three factors together. Murray successfully argues, in my opinion, that due to the nature of God and the significance of our rejecting Him, the only way to preserve the significance of our moral freedom is by remaining hidden, and as such–if significant moral freedom is an intrinsic good for our own sake–it is a good thing for own sake for God to remain hidden.
Is significant moral freedom an intrinsic good for our own sake, then? Yes, and for two reasons. By allowing us to have moral freedom, God allows us to be co-creators with Him–in His image. We have a real opportunity to make a real difference in the world, and we also have a full responsibility for the welfare of other creatures. If we had been created without moral freedom, then we would not be the actual basis for any of our own good actions, and therefore we would not be morally praiseworthy for our actions. Conversely, God has a sufficient reason for His own existence in His own nature, and is thus the actual basis of His good and is thus morally praiseworthy. Put in simpler terms, if we were created perfectly good, we would be externally forced toward our own moral deeds, and thus have no moral responsibility or real opportunity to be a co-creator in God’s image. Additionally, because God knows the beauty of love, since God is Love, we would expect that God would want us to be able (for our own sakes) to be involved in a truly loving relationship with Him (as true love is equally reciprocal) without causally determining us to love Him–true love cannot be causally determined after all. I argue that the overwhelming happiness and joy that comes from true love would not exist if we loved by default. The joy that true love brings occurs because we find extreme happiness in totally opening ourselves up to another individual and being unconditionally accepted by them—love is indeed a beautiful thing. However, if we were created “forced open,” so to speak, then we would not find any joy out of being accepted; we may not want to be open to others at all, and we would literally be held against our will. Since we find joy out of true love, it is a good thing for us to be able to truly love. Significant moral freedom thus has the value of affording us the capacity of being morally praiseworthy and the option to make a real difference in the world, as well as allowing us to enter into a truly loving relationship with God, and therefore experiencing the pure joy that only true love can bring.
For our own sake, then God remains hidden. The good afforded to humans by God’s silence outweighs the silence itself. The problem of divine hiddenness is now averted, but there is more to come.
Rea takes a different route in his essay. Rea attempts to argue that there is no human good that can come out of divine hiddenness (he opts for the terminology of silence); however, Rea argues this based upon a human analogy of personal responsibility–he does not take into account the morally restrictive dimension of God undeniably present–and because of that I do not think he is successful in his argument. Rea simply does not address Murray’s argument, which I believe is sound.
However, Rea’s latter developed thesis is not opposed to Murray’s. Rea explicates the notion that even if there were no good human or divine reason for God to remain silence, God would still be justified in silence–say, for instance, if it should fit His personality–if God gave us another way to encounter Him in creation. Now, it should be obvious that this other way would not be diametrically opposed to a good given to humanity for God to remain hidden; indeed, God may have created another way for us to encounter Him in creation since He stays silent for our own sake.
Rea expounds his thesis that the biblical narratives and church liturgies mediate the presence of God. Through these narratives, we are able to identify with the subject as person and therefore, by mediation, experience God through these narratives. In addition, by liturgical acts, such as the Eucharist, we commemorate past events where God has contacted creation, and we experience a type of memory through this commemoration–and we haven’t even talked about the possibility of sacramental realism. I’d recommend reading Rea’s whole article (or at least section III) to get the full taste of his thesis. These mediated experiences, then, provide a very real way to come in to communion with the presence of God.
This leaves the body of Christ, then, as bearers of these texts and liturgies, as the place where God can be encountered in creation. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we have the privilege of being the “light of the world…. so let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matthew 5:14-16, ESV). As the Church, let us do all we do unto the glory of God, so that people may easily see that the Lord, and enter in to a jubilant relationship with Him: the gracious, merciful, kind, loving, heavenly Father who is Lord of all.