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Is God too ‘hidden’ to be real?

Published: 22 September 2018 (GMT+10)

Caleb L. from the United States writes

question-markistock photo
I have recently heard the argument that if God were real, nobody would need faith, and that everyone would know about it. It is hurting my faith because I cannot see any flaws in this argument’s logic. I am sure that this argument isn’t valid, but I have not found anything on your site that answers this specific argument. Can you guys work your magic please?

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Why think everyone would know God is there, if He is there? Is the existence of atheists inconsistent with God’s character? I don’t see how. All God needs to do is to give everyone sufficient reason to think He is there. The Bible says He has and does (Romans 1:19–20). But doing merely that doesn’t guarantee that everyone will believe He is there. After all, people can be unreasonable. I see no inconsistency in the idea of God creating a world in which some people can become unreasonable enough to reject the evidence that should convince them that God exists.

Second, believing that God exists doesn’t suffice for salvation. Even the demons believe that, and shudder (James 2:19). Therefore, God’s primary interest is not in getting us to agree to the truth of the proposition ‘God exists’, but in establishing and maintaining a covenantal relation with us. He wants us to know Him relationally, not just to know of Him (1 Corinthians 8:3, Galatians 4:9). While we certainly need to know of God to know God, it still may be that a world geared to help people know God is not optimized for helping people know of God. For instance, if God arranged the stars to say ‘God is here’ across the sky, that might be enough to convince everyone that God is there, but it may be so overbearing that people would become complacent about knowing God relationally.

Third, I don’t think one even needs to believe in God for it to be rational to seek Him. A basic understanding of what God must be if He’s there should suffice to motivate us to seek Him even if the struggle to find Him lasts our entire lives, and we’re still not sure if He’s there at the end of it. God is after trust, not complacent certainty. God is worthy of such a life-long search, and those who seek Him will find Him (see Agnosticism).

Fourth, God could close knowledge of Himself off to some people, if He wanted. Or, some people might become so blinded by their sin that they can’t see the sufficient evidence He gives for His existence. In fact, why not combine these ideas, such that God’s means of closing Himself off to some people could just be the fact that sin blinds them to Him. Romans 1:18–32 even says as much!

Ultimately, only God knows how to balance all these considerations for everyone in history to achieve His ultimate ends; we don’t (see Why did God choose just Israel?). But that ‘we’ includes the atheists who use the hiddenness of God as an argument against God. They insist that they’re honest, reasonable, and open to God’s existence, but that reason and evidence is all that convinces them otherwise. Might they not have underestimated their own cognitive complexity? I can grant that they’re (usually) trying to be open, honest, and reasonable, but they don’t see just how much their experiences and prior choices influence what they find reasonable to believe. Atheists are no more objective than the rest of us, and (usually) a great deal less objective than they think themselves to be. No doubt some people naturally have to ‘work harder’ to see God’s revelation of Himself than others do. But is it impossible for them? That’s practically impossible to prove. But that also shows that arguments like this set up skeptics’ own standards of proof for God’s existence as if that’s what God should fulfil. God is under no such obligation. See also Is God obscure and arbitrary in what He wants from us?

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Grahame G.
Excellent answer, Shaun. This is idolatry. It is a rejection of God based on lies about His character and the nature of truth.

And it's arrogant. It is demanding that God meet my requirements!

This needs to be attacked directly to point out the sin in the objectors heart - in a loving and gentle way, of course.

2 Corinthians 10:3  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  4  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 
5  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,  6  being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.  ESV

Let's look at verse 5 in some other translations because it is very interesting.

"arguments and every lofty opinion" is translated as:
(BBE) "reasonings, and every high thing"
(CEV) "every bit of pride" (and it goes on to say "that keeps anyone from knowing God"
(ERV) "every proud idea"
(GW) "all their intellectual arrogance"
(ISV) "every proud obstacle"
(KJV)  "imaginations, and every high thing"
(LITV)  "arguments and every high thing"
(MKJV)  "imaginations and every high thing"

And there are other translations that could be checked. And even though the context is our own ideas, I think that also helps as if we can't answer these objections, it show our own thinking is flawed, as is the case with the questioner. And I'm not condemning, we all struggle.

Take every thought captive. Complete your obedience. Praise God fro CMI that helps us grow.
Jared C.
It's taken me a couple days of reading and rereading Caleb's first sentence in order to figure out how any one could see flawless logic in that statement. There is either a missing step or a false equivalency in that argument. At first, I thought Caleb may have been being disingenuous and I REALLY wanted to dispute his claims at face value. But last night I watched some atheist debate videos and saw a similar pattern and so now I think there's a deeper issue in play.

Watching non-Christians try to explain the attributes of God, or sin, or grace (etc...) is heartbreaking, but the claim that "that if God were real, nobody would need faith" makes perfect sense in their ignorance. They lack understanding about God's holiness and the effects sin has had on creation and God's relationship with it. Their god would be okay with their sin or, at least, understand that they tried to be good. Their god has no reason to be separated from them, therefore, in their mind, a missing god is good evidence that there is no God.

Caleb, I would recommend that you greatly increase the time you spend reading the Bible. Such a skewed argument should not have appeared logically flawless if you had a solid understanding of God's relationship with man. The attributes of God, the consequences of sin, the role of grace and faith are widely covered topics throughout Scripture. There's no point in me giving an link, but I am also certain that Shaun would be more than happy to suggest some study guides and other resources on those issues.
Nathan G.
It is important to remember the personal lives of the people making these "missing God" arguments . Even the staunchest god-haters today show their shoddy logic quite quickly through contradictions.

1) Many (but not all) of the people doubting the existence of God either came from nominally Christian homes or were Christians for a while in their younger years. Many vocal atheists in history had a missing father (Nietzsche, Freud, etc.). They believed in God themselves, before fully contradicting themselves, then pretending that they were now the "normal" ones. Strangely enough, almost all of these men and women speak of a strange "feeling of freedom and release" when they made a conscious, allegedly informed choice to jettison God. Sounds like free will to me, but they deny that, too. OK, then self-delusion it is!

2) If you read the "literature" of such individuals, somewhere you will usually find a quote or two expressing their total shock and dismay that many of their fellow PhD scientists have rejected atheistic evolution in favor of the God of the Bible. This is quickly ignored, however, since it is the exact antithesis of what atheists are arguing. Plus the new converts say that evolution's untestable, fairy tale nature and just-so stories turned them off in the end, since they like real science.

3) For "brights" priding themselves in superiority to "religious" people, these people believe in nonverifiable events such as the alleged big bang, abiogenesis, etc. This is blind faith. Worse, they spend their valuable time writing dozens of books about a "nonexistent" God. But where are their vicious and unending attacks against unicorns, pookas, etc.? Seems their only target is a real God who threatens their new lifestyle and their eternity, unlike leprechauns.
Todd G.
Without faith it is impossible to please God.
I studied Chinese medicine prior to coming to Christ. My teacher, a priest of the Taoist religion, used to say, "There’s no such thing as an incurable disease, just incurable people". You can will yourself to be sick when you are well, some won’t get well no matter how good the doctor and medicine because they don’t believe they will get better. A case in a hospital where a man with cancer and a man with a cold, there results got switched the man with a cold believed he had cancer and died 6 months later, the man who actually had cancer lived another 10 or more years believing he only had a cold.
Jesus, God in the flesh, did show up here. He did miracles with witnesses who testified to that truth. His enemies documented that he was here, was a historic person and although they didn’t believe he was the messiah documented that he did miracles, that he died on the cross and that his body was missing 3 days later.
For some people no amount of evidence will ever be enough. The atheist says if God is real why doesn’t he show up? He did and did miracles and fulfilled prophecy with over 500 witnesses and a written record but that’s not enough for the skeptic. No amount of proof ever will be enough, if Jesus reappeared today Sept 22 2018 and walked on water caught on video put on the news and YouTube, atheists would claim it was special effects like a Marvel super hero movie and would deny that as well, which is why without faith it is impossible to please God. The Israelites had the 10 plagues and the Red Sea part yet were guilty of unbelief and died in the wilderness. No amount of proof will ever be enough for those who love darkness rather than the light.
Shaun Doyle
Of course, the placebo effect is a real thing, but that doesn’t prove that there’s no such thing as an incurable disease. Still, people’s wants clearly can affect their beliefs akin to how the placebo effect can have a real impact on physical health.
Guy G.
It would seem to me that the premise here, "...if God were real..." is a hypothetical impossibility. The reality is He is real, whether you like it or not, whether you accept His existence or not. Our sin is so complete and intense that we have the capability of denying His existence when He's right in front of us, sad as that is. Because of our sin, we can be incredibly illogical. Once again, the question here assumes human reasoning is perfect, and the "burden of proof" somehow rests with the Lord.
Even a cursory reading of the Gospels will demonstrate this blindness. In John 11, Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and instead of worshiping Him as God incarnate, they discuss how to get rid of Him. Jesus presented Himself and proved Himself as "real", and "everyone" didn't "know about it"...
Dave D.
God gives us a choice to believe in him. If His glory and majesty were fully revealed, we would have no choice. He draws us to himself by the conviction of the Spirit and the evidence of creation, but He will not overwhelm us. He wants a relationship with us, not simple obedience. He always leaves open the way for a perfectly sane person to choose against Him. He also gives us all we need to see His reality and love. He calls us to enter a loving relationship with Him.
J L.
Hiding God is a bit difficult theme for Christians sometimes, we may think how good it would be to see our God. However, we should ponder the questions:
- If Christians would see the God, would they love Him more?
- If non-Christians would see the God, would they submit to Him because of love or because of duty?
Dan M.
Jesus Christ the, only Begotten, son of god emptied Himself of His authority and power and was born into our universal existence relying on the Father only for His power and glory to accomplish a rescue mission, (us). So the fact is and there is much evidence, God did show himself physically in this point in history. He performed many in-numeral miracles showing dominion over the creation. He also demonstrated wisdom beyond the comprehension of the leaders of that time and ours. This had never happened before or after this point in history and was unnatural to our existence showing transcendent power and understanding. All this being done in the sight of men without any secrecy produced only a small part of the nation of Israel and their Roman occupiers to believe.
The Israeli leaders of that time expected the Messiah to come and deliver them from their Roman, (worldly) occupiers but He had a much more difficult mission. That mission was to deliver us from ourselves and thus delivering us from our bondage to sin. The difficulty is we love our sin until it produces suffering in our lives and we are unwilling to give up our free will to God and follow Him instead. It angers us when someone points out our sin in the presence of all, unless we are honest with ourselves and God about our sinful nature. All this caused Israel to react negatively and crucify Him. When we reject Jesus Christ we crucify Him again personally and spiritually and this is the unforgivable sin.
So in summary, there is much evidence, (proof) for Gods existence spiritually and physically. Atheistic people demand that God show Himself to them before they will believe but He did just that 2000 years ago and few believed. Ultimately because men love their sin rather than God!

one day every knee shall bow
Lester V.
Another reason for God's "hidden-ness" is based in the fact that He created man with a free will, as a free moral agent. If God was so visible or apparent that man had no choice but to accept Him, then man would be little more than a robot. The freedom to choose to accept and love God, which is what He desires of us, carries with it the option of NOT accepting and loving Him. The problem of unbelief is not God's fault, it's man's. In John 3:18, Jesus said, "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." That indicates that unbelief is a deliberate sin. In Romans 1:18ff, Paul tells us that unbelievers actually know about God, but unrighteously choose to reject and deny Him, and are, therefore, without excuse. He says that unbelievers don't want to admit that God exists, since they don't want to be accountable for their rebellion. The evidence is there, but unbelievers refuse to accept it. A good question to ask them is: "What kind of evidence would you accept that God is real?" Invariably, they have no answer, other than to demand that He be so blatant that they are forced to accept it, which is contrary to His nature. This shows that it is not an intellectual issue, but a spiritual one.
Kirk B.
I often contemplate the gargantuan variety of plant life and wonder how can anyone, anyone could ever explain the origin of plant life apart from special creation of our Creator God?! It couldn't start with a seed without a plant. Most could not start with a plant without a seed. It just boggles my mind that anyone could contemplate plant life apart from creation. Then you have to have a soil medium that can feed the plant. How did that just happen? You have to have a very,very special and appropriate atmosphere. You must have sunshine at the right amount with darkness too. Appropriate temperatures would be essential. Watering would be nice. All these and more, just happened? Wow. What faith that takes to believe that it all just happened!
Shaun Doyle
Yes, I must admit too that, after a hard day of toiling through skeptical argumentation, one of the best remedies for me against any doubts that may lurk at the sides of my mind is simply to look out my window to our backyard. I see the plants, I remember how they work, and I see God's handiwork.
James K.
Following that logic: if the earth was round, it would be obvious to everyone, so nobody would think it’s flat. People think it’s flat (you’d be surprised how many people I meet doubt the roundness of earth but don’t doubt mya.) therefore the earth is likely not round.

Just because people aren’t convinced about something or antagonistic towards it doesn’t mean they’re right.
King T.
Thank you for this simple but very powerful answer to the questioner.
One very striking thought is that atheists are not as objective as they might think.
Here's how a former Christian became an atheist:

“Do you feel that you lost your Christianity along with your young earth creationism?”

One led to the other in a short time, at the end of 2 or 3 years of research.
What started it was taking vacations to the western US and looking at the landscape as a YEC, many things made the unwelcome thought come to me that “This didn’t happen in 6000 years”. When the internet came along, I decided to settle once and for all whether YEC and “flood geology”, or Christian Old Earth creationism and just plain geology was true. I had no idea it would lead to this.
First I realized that Noah’s flood never happened at all. The population of humans wasn’t down to only 8 people in about 2347 BC.
All animals weren’t down to a couple of pairs of each kind, living in one area of the world in 2347 BC.
If the flood isn’t true, the related story of the Tower of Babel isn’t true either. All humans weren’t living near one tower, speaking the same language about 100 years after the the flood.
If those stories aren’t true, the Bible is not inerrant, and not even close. It was probably after those realizations that Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and the Exodus followed. That all happened in a few days. My head was spinning, trying to think about what it all meant. Those things were all from the Old Testament, and honestly it would be better if some of those stories weren’t true, God ordering genocides and such.
Then I realized that Jesus talked about “The days of Noah” as if the worldwide flood had actually happened, and I knew it didn’t, so Jesus was wrong too. Houston, we have a problem."
Shaun Doyle
Of course, once one gives up on Genesis, it's not hard to give up on the rest; that's the problem that so many in the church fail to see. The 'halfway house' of deep time Christianity has always been a waystop to something worse.

But notice how, even in the way he presents his de-conversion story, it happened largely because he cultivated a habit of doubting. It looks like he was always driven by the thought: "This didn’t happen in 6000 years." It looks like he became obsessed by that thought. It came to define him. And if one lets their doubts define them, the doubts will very likely consume them. It's good to do an open investigation of the evidence, but we need to be careful about both the biases that constrain different interpretations of the evidence, and also about what motivates us to investigate. Without sufficient attention to the biases behind the different interpretations and how they constrain interpretations of the evidence, we'll be left floating aimlessly in a sea of 'evidence' apt to be taken in by the predominant biases that come across our investigative paths. And if doubts are motivating our researches, we run the real risk of letting the doubts stand as judge, jury, and executioner of everything we read and hear. The irony is that we end up becoming excessively credulous ... toward our doubts. We need to learn to doubt our doubts, and critically examine the biases that constrain the explanations of the evidence any given commentator will entertain.
F G.
A speaker I heard some time ago gave what I think is a great explanation for why we can't see God.

God gives us a choice as to whether or not we will worship Him.

But if we actually saw Him in His glory, we would have NO choice but to worship Him.
Shaun Doyle
I'm not sure that even seeing God in His glory is enough to make us worship Him. Satan rebelled, and presumably He had similar access to God's glorious presence as other angels. Even Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden, yet they rebelled. And one might ask: is it possible to become so self-deluded that even the sight of God in all His glory might be explained away as a hallucination? I don't know the answer, but it doesn't seem hard to believe that such a situation is possible.
Gerald M.
There is much evidence showing the existence for God, least of which is that life could not have started on its own. No matter the cries that maybe it could have. It is just not possible for life to start and have the developed programming to maintain it at the same time. The shell of a cell, or its covering had to have been manufactured or made in some manner, yet that covering could not have been made with out a programming to oversee its production. You see one without the other would be impossible. This is irreducible complexity to its smallest component. And since we see that each cell following that first cell receives it own copy of the inner makings of what it needs to perform, and a copy of the programming as for how that machinery is to run, then the question must be asked from where did that first cell receive its first programming and its first covering. Something just could not have appeared and then wait around for it to evolve into a DNA programming. It would have died right out.
Thomas M.
A discussion of how free will plays into on's faith choice could have been included. I think the truth of free will is very hard for some to accept.
Shaun Doyle
The nature of free will is also one of those denominational issues CMI refrains from commenting on. At any rate, for the atheistic determinist, I have to wonder: is it even meaningful to speak about 'reasonable' non-belief or belief? Even the theistic determinist has an ultimate value standard by which something like 'reasonableness' can be measured. But apart from God, what exactly is 'reasonable non-belief' if our beliefs are nothing more than brain chemistry (since most atheistic determinists are so because they're naturalists)? It seems like it becomes meaningless noise. So, without directly addressing the free will issue, I still think that the argument from reason would be an effective counter to many atheists. See Monkey minds.
Norman P.
Spiritual blindness (resulting from the Fall) leads so-called atheists to say, 'If there's a God, let him come down and declare himself, and I will believe in him'. The Jews demanded a sign, saying to Christ: 'if you are who you say you are, come down from the cross, and we will believe you!' The Gentiles were no better, for they wanted to have it all laid out scientifically, through human wisdom. How arrogant is unbelief, which turns everything on its head, denying the obvious witness of the creation, and instead, idolizing it! (Romans 1) Such faithless belief (if God had granted their request) would only have condemned fallen mankind for ever. However, God bore all this shameful ignorance, and contrived that we should be saved by faith. 'For without faith, it is impossible to please him'. Indeed, the prophet Isaiah even said, 'Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour. Thus, 'the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men' (1 Corinthians 1:25). And now His standing commandment to us all is that: 'all men everywhere should repent', and bow the knee to the Risen Christ, through whom he will shortly judge the world (Acts 17:30ff).
Enter through the Door (Christ), and you will find God, in all his majesty and loveliness.
Terry D P.
The “argument that if God were real, nobody would need faith, and that everyone would know about it” is false. The argument is false, because God is real, whether or not everyone has faith that he exists.
“For it is the testimony of Scripture that before he [Enoch] was taken he had pleased God, and without faith it is impossible to please him; for anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who search for him.—He§11:5-6”
Sadly, atheists put the cart before the horse, as it were, expecting the invisible Creator of the universe to reveal himself to them, before they will admit that he exists. But the opposite is true.
God, contradicts this atheist belief by insisting that every person must first humble himself by confessing that God is real; God tests whether a person’s faith in him is real/genuine before rewarding that person with the presence of his indwelling Holy Spirit, which is real and no illusion.
Shaun Doyle
The irony is that God has revealed himself to them (Romans 1:19-20). The problem is, though, that atheists don't think the way He's done it is enough to convince them that He's there. But is that God's fault? Atheists have usually cultivated a habit of doubting God. Why does God have to cater to that? God is open to being examined (1 Thessalonians 5:21), but that doesn't mean He will entertain endlessly someone who keeps chasing the doubts. It's like a child who 'needs' mum to repeat her answer to their question a dozen different ways before they'll leave her alone. It gets tiresome being constantly doubted and gainsaid like that! There comes a time when mum fairly says: 'I've answered that; if you continue to ignore my answers, that's your problem, not mine.' It's eminently fair for God to do the same with us.
Dean R.
“I have recently heard the argument that if God were real, nobody would need faith, and that everyone would know about it.”

That would be true of Eden pre fall & the new heaven & earth to come. But because of our alienation & atheistic experience because of the fall everything was turned upside down and back to front.

Atheism requires and expresses faith also, the faith that divine nature is just an accidental occurrence of blind pitiless indifference where non- life begat life or some alien idea had a part to play.

The man made faiths of idols and philosophies are not built on solid ground but rather shifting and sinking sand. Mat 7:24-29.
Shaun Doyle
In fact, those two states show that mere knowledge of God's existence doesn't always prove helpful to those who know God exists. Adam and Eve knew God was there before the Fall, and it didn't stop them sinning. The wicked in Hell will still know God is there, but that knowledge won't help them.

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