Is God too ‘hidden’ to be real?
Caleb L. from the United States writes
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?