If God is there, why doesn’t He make Himself more obvious? Whether asked as an anguished cry of faith (Psalms 10:1), or in the triumphant rhetoric of unbelief (John 7:3-5), the assumption behind the question is the same: God’s apparent “hiddenness” is strange and almost embarrassing for Him. If God really is there, He owes us to make it more obvious.
The view of the Bible
The Bible’s view, however, is different. “Truly,” exclaims Isaiah, “You are a God Who hides Himself, O God and Savior of Israel” (Isaiah 45:15). Solomon agrees: “It is the glory of God to conceal things” (Proverbs 25:2); and Jesus praises His Heavenly Father for exactly this:
“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure’” (Luke 10:21).
Although the Bible records moments in history when God’s presence was unmistakable (e.g. Exodus 14:21-31), for much of the Old Testament, God seemed far away from His chosen people, whether during the centuries of Egyptian slavery (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6), under the rule of the Judges (1 Samuel 3:1), during the Babylonian exile, or for 400 years after the prophet Malachi. Even in the New Testament, when God Himself came into the world as the man Jesus Christ (John 1:14), He remained hidden from many. His humble birth in a Bethlehem manger, rather than in a royal palace (Luke 2:7), and His early years in the obscure town of Nazareth (Matthew 2:23) confused those who expected the Messiah to come in grandeur (Matthew 2:1-2; John 1:45-46). During Jesus’ public ministry, many were blind to God’s presence among them, including not only Jesus’ religious opponents (John 7:24-27), but also the wider Jewish nation (John 1:10-11) and even His own disciples (John 14:8-10). Jesus’ identity, teaching and mission were all hidden in plain sight, in fulfillment of the only Old Testament prophecy quoted in all four Gospels, Acts and Romans:
“Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)
Or, as Jesus put it: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39).
Dividing humanity into two different groups
We can now understand why God so often seems hidden. God’s “hiddenness” is a deliberate strategy to divide humanity into two different groups.
On the one hand, Jesus promises that all who seek after God will find Him (Luke 11:9-13; cf. Jeremiah 29:13-14; Acts 17:27-28), and the search will be well worth it (Matthew 13:44-46)! Although God is invisible (John 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:17), and we cannot look directly upon His holiness (Exodus 33:18-23; Isaiah 6:1-3), God’s “eternal power and divine nature” are publicly displayed in nature (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1-4) and, most clearly of all, in the Bible (Hebrews 1:1; Psalm 19:7-11), focused upon the good news about Jesus (Hebrews 1:2-3). All around us today we can see that Jesus’ promise has come true: the gospel has miraculously spread (Matthew 24:14; Mark 14:9), in spite of terrible persecution (Acts 5:38-39), to all the nations of the world (Matthew 28:18-20)!
On the other hand, Jesus warns that whoever will not search for God, will have taken from them even what little they once had (Mark 4:24-25). Like unbelieving Israel, which silenced God’s prophets and eventually His Son (Mark 12:1-12), so also many today blind themselves to God’s self-revelation in creation (Romans 1:18-19, 28) and Scripture (Luke 16:27-31). For example, when God acts through nature to create a universe which, in the words of physicist Stephen Hawking, “appear[s] to have a design that both is tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration,” (1) secularists dismiss God because His work is scientifically explicable; but when God acts in a way that is outside science, such as in Jesus’ miraculous resurrection from the dead, secularists dismiss God’s work as being scientifically impossible!
If you are a Christian, and you feel like God is far away from you, take heart: God has not abandoned you! God’s “hiddenness,” like every other trial in life, is designed to refine your faith (1 Peter 1:6-7) as you learn to draw even closer to Him. Search your life and pray, in case God is disciplining you for some unrepented sin (Isaiah 59:2; Micah 3:4; 1 Peter 3:7, 12). If your conscience is clear, take comfort from King David, and other great Biblical heroes of faith, who have also been where you are now, and learned to trust God in the darkness (e.g., Psalms 13; 44 and 69). Look forward in certain hope to the New Creation (Romans 8:18-25), where you will at last see God face-to-face (1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4). And look back in faith to Jesus Christ, who has made this possible. Because He Himself was abandoned by God in the darkness (Mark 15:33-34), we will not be shut out forever when He returns (Matthew 25:30).
As Peter puts it:
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
1) Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, “The Grand Design” (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 162.