Guest blogger: Richard Porter - Is God hidden?

Within the last generation or so a new objection to God’s existence has gained ground both in academia and in more popular circles—the problem of divine hiddenness. The leading proponent of the hiddenness argument is Canadian philosopher and professor J. L. Schellenberg. As the name of the argument suggests, this objection hinges on the premise that God is hidden from mankind. His existence isn’t obvious enough to all persons such that we don’t all come to believe He exists, let alone that He sent His Son to die for our sins (John 3:16). Schellenberg and others suggest that if God exists, then it should be far clearer to humanity that this is so. Even the Psalmist recognized God’s sometimes apparent distance when he wrote, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). An all-loving God would have manifested His presence in the universe in a more robust way, says the defender of divine hiddenness. Let’s explore how we can begin to contend with the hiddenness objection from a Christian worldview.

What would it mean for God’s existence to be obvious? Obviousness isn’t the same thing as being supported by evidence. It doesn’t seem to me that the existence of negatively charged particles is obvious, yet the existence of electrons has tremendous evidential support. It isn’t obvious that spacetime is curved in virtue of an object’s mass, yet Einstein’s theory of General Relativity enjoys a tremendous amount of supporting evidence. God’s existence can be likened to the existence of electrons or gravity in that we don’t observe these phenomena directly, but rather infer them quite strongly by their effects. Positive evidence for God’s existence such as cosmological arguments, arguments from design, and the argument from miracles can supply good evidence for God’s existence while still falling short of making it undeniable. As long as God’s existence is sufficiently supported by evidence, then like Paul says in Romans 1:20, people will be without excuse in their denial of Him. This doesn’t mean people must be scholars to have any type of rational basis for their belief in God. On the contrary, most sophisticated arguments begin as simple ideas and provide tacit reasons for belief. Inferring patterns of design in nature, the absurdity of an infinite past, and that dead men do not rise on their own doesn’t require any special training to provide some level of rational warrant that God exists. The Christian needs to lean into the strong positive evidence at our disposal.

Lastly, it’s important to note that God’s existence is necessary but not sufficient in the mind of the Christian. Mere belief in a Creator of all things doesn’t justify and make a person righteous in the eyes of God—only faith in Christ does (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, etc.). It could be the case that if God’s existence was too obvious then it might cause people to focus too much on that fact alone. A person coming to faith in Christ extends beyond simple intellectual assent to God’s existence. It could also be the case that if God’s existence was overwhelming then fellowship with Him would be coercive. Without some sort of gap between God and human persons, any degree of free choice to accept or reject Him would be severely constrained. Ultimately, I agree with the words of the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who wrote, “There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.”

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