In this Round Church talk given on 26 February 2016, Andrew Fellows addresses Bertrand Russell's comment that the 'evidence is not enough' for the existence of God. This talk argues that the hiddenness of God is not something to be apologetically defended. In terms of who God is, He must hide in order to be true to Himself.
Some notes from the talk:
How much evidence for God is available to us? Bertrand Russell demanded more evidence. For many non-Christians, they quote the lack of sufficient evidence as the reasons for their lack of belief. For many Christians, this is also an issue.
But in fact, there is a real case for the hiddenness of God. Paradoxically, this is actually an argument for the existence of God.
The talk addresses two different questions in turn:
1. Why does God hide? Implies something deliberate done by God.
2. Why is God hidden? Implies something in us and a defective response to God.
1. Why does God hide?
In the talk, Andrew argues that God's hiddenness is necessary: "He can do no other in order to be true to Himself."
The holiness of God secures the distinction between the Creator and His creation. The Creator cannot be fitted into categories of creation.
God 'hides' because he does not exist in the same order as His creation. Cf. Exodus 33:18 where Moses asks God to "show me your glory". God did not ultimately see God's face. Man cannot see God's face and live.
God's creatures cannot bear the weightiness of God's glory. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:15-16 (NIV): "God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see."
The Glory of God is so brilliant that he is rendered invisible to human persons and we cannot see Him as He truly is. In the words of the hymn:
Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.
Hence the divine hiddenness is related to the nature of the Godhead. If God did not conceal himself, he could not truly reveal himself. In hiding, he reveals who he is. It is a piece of negative evidence.
But in addition to this transcendence, God is also immanent – He is present to his creation. Hence there is a revelation and disclosure of God, eg. Psalm 19:1-2:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
There is a real self-disclosure in creation. There are three levels of revelation:
1. Creation – his handiwork.
Creation is not an extension of the divine being (as Greek philosophy thought), but it is a clear reflection of the divine being – a form of revelation, His art work.
2. Scripture – God's speech act to the world.
The Bible is his personal living speech act. Psalm 19 affirms that creation has no speech, but the Bible is His speech. It is a deeper form of revelation.
3. Jesus Christ – God's perfect and exact representation.
Jesus Christ is therefore the full disclosure of the divine being. He holds transcendence and immanence together. Augustine said that Jesus Christ "appeared a man amongst men, the hidden God."
There is an analogy with Humour taken from the philosopher Henri Bergson's work Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic.
What is humour and what is "the comedic moment"? Most of our experience falls within ordinary perception. We fail to see the fuller picture. The comedic moment disarms ordinary perception and opens up the normally hidden aspects of our experience. It reveals that there is more going on than is immediately obvious – things are not as they seem.
The concealment is itself a form of evidence pointing to the nature of the divine being, who has to be true to himself.
2. Why is God hidden?
Our response to God can be defective and leave him hidden. What do Christians when they talk of their relationship with God? The difference between the Creator and His creatures determines the nature of that relationship. There are three types of relationship:
1. Human person to creation – dominion, stewardship. Creation bows to us.
2. Human creature to human creature – mutuality. Equals. We bow to each other.
3. Human creature to Creator. We bow to the Creator. That is our place.
We have to meet God on his terms. If we don't, He will stay hidden from us. Who is entitled to decide how we get to know God? God owes us nothing. An epistemic humility is the starting point to come into relationship with him.
There are three ways people try to manipulate God:
1. We try to reduce him to an experience. Eg. John 6:14-15 – feeding the 5,000. The people wanted to make Jesus king by force. People try to manipulate God for themselves.
2. We try to reduce God to the God of the philosophers – a theory or an abstraction. There is no complete philosophical proof of God in the Bible. Although it is possible for God to provide this, God chose not to do so. God's glory cannot be reduced. Our intellect on its own insufficient.
3. We try to reduce God to an instrument. All religion tends towards this, treating God as a means to an end, rather than the end in Himself, as God should be.
None of these ways to try to see God are true to how God is – hence they don't work and God remains hidden.
The 'just enough light' principle: when we meet God on his terms he gives us just enough light to respond to him. Blaise Pascal speaks of this in his Pensées. If God gave less light, true God-seekers would not find him. If God gave more light, even the indifferent would find him, against their will. It would then amount to a coercion by God, so people had to believe. But God respects the will and freedom of all human persons.
God reveals and conceals appropriately for each person. We can see this in the Gospels, where there is often a positive and a negative response to the 'signs' that are performed. We can be confident a genuine seeker will find God if he seeks Him on His terms.
Pascal quotes Jeremiah 29:13 "You will seek and find me when you seek me with all your heart." In Scripture, the heart is the centre of personality – reaching out for 'super-meanings', answers to our fundamental questions.
This promise in Jeremiah eliminates two types of people who claim to be seekers. There is the rationalist (who only allows reason – but the true seeker needs to be a whole person not just an 'autonomous' mind). And there is the cynic (whose start point assumes there is not enough evidence available and they seem committed only to seeking confirmation for their start-point). Hence both are defective seekers.
So God stays hidden to the hard-core rationalist and to the hard-core cynic. The rationalist has only a mind – but no heart. The cynic has no real expectation of finding anything.
© 2016 Andrew Fellows