Is God’s “Hiddenness” a Rational Objection to Christianity?
“Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”1
That was famous secular philosopher Bertrand Russell’s2 response when asked what he would theoretically say in defense of his unbelief if he found himself facing God on judgment day.
One of the common claims that atheists make in objection to God’s existence is that God is hidden. This “hiddenness of God” challenge may take the following forms:
- If God exists, his existence is not as obvious as it should be.
- If God exists, there should be more evidence.
- If God wants people to believe in him, he has failed to make his presence adequately known.
So is God somehow hidden or concealed? And would such hiddenness constitute a substantive rational objection to belief in the biblical God?
A Historic Christian Response
Scripture is the place to begin addressing the question of whether God has made himself adequately known.
The biblical religions of Judaism and Christianity are religions of revelation. That means they claim that God has unveiled himself in life and in the world. According to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, God has made himself known in four distinct ways.
- In Nature
God has revealed himself to all people everywhere through the natural world (Psalm 19:1–4):
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.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
From this statement concerning God’s declared glory, biblical scholar Bruce Demarest draws the following conclusion: God’s existence, power, and glory are revealed in the natural world and are “perpetual and uninterrupted,” “wordless and inaudible,” and “worldwide in scope.”3
The apostle Paul’s writings in the New Testament comport with what King David wrote in the Psalms about God revealing himself in nature (Romans 1:18–21):
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Paul declares that all people see, understand, and know God. Moreover, unbelief is morally and epistemologically inexcusable. Fallen humans tend to suppress their knowledge of God so faith results only from special grace.
- In Conscience
According to Scripture, God has made himself known to each and every person in more personal terms through their moral conscience (Romans 2:14–15):
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.
In this passage Paul conveys that all people (both Jew and Gentile) have God’s moral law written on their hearts and thus possess an inner witness of God’s existence and basic moral requirements.
Based upon Paul’s statements above, reformer John Calvin developed what is known as the sensus divinitatis (Latin: “sense of the divine”). In the Institutes of the Christian Religion Calvin wrote:
“There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.”4
Some Christian philosophers—as part of the New Reformed Epistemology following Calvin—have argued that belief in God is a properly basic belief. This means that a person is rational in believing it apart from other beliefs or evidence. It is similar to such beliefs as the existence of an external world, the reality of the past, and the presence of other minds besides one’s own.Thus, to these Christian thinkers belief in God can be confirmed through evidence and argument but it is not grounded by such.
- In History
God revealed himself in history to his covenant people Israel. God communicated with his chosen Hebrew patriarchs, prophets, and kings. This divine revelation was ultimately encapsulated and explained by the inspired writers in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:27; Deuteronomy 18:18).
God’s even more specific self-disclosure comes in the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ as the God-man whose life, death, and resurrection atones for human sin and makes people right with God (John 1:1–4, 14):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In his prologue of the fourth Gospel the apostle John states that God the Son has “pitched his tent” among us in human history (another way of translating “made his dwelling among us”) and made himself known in an up close and personal way. When people encountered Jesus Christ they were seeing God in the flesh.
- In Scripture
Christians believe God’s revelation in history has been inscripturated in the biblical text. God inspired the writings of his Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles to produce the biblical canon (2 Peter 1:20–21)
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
To summarize, God has revealed himself in two books: the figurative Book of Nature (God’s world) and the literal Book of Scripture (God’s Word).
So from a biblical perspective God is not hidden the way skeptics claim. God is revealed in nature, in the human conscience, in the history of the nation of Israel and the historical person of Jesus Christ, and in Scripture. And biblically speaking, the denial of God’s existence is not because of God’s absence but rather from the moral and spiritual obtuseness resulting from humanity’s rebellious and fallen condition (Psalm 14:1; Romans 1:18–21; 5:12, 18–19).
In the next article I plan to consider arguments that can also address the so-called “lack of evidence” objection.
Reflections: Your Turn
Is God’s apparent hiddenness a challenge for you? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
- For further discussion about God’s revelation, see Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.
- For a discussion of some of historic Christianity’s greatest thinkers and their arguments for God, see Kenneth Richard Samples, Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction.
- For evidence and arguments for God and Christianity, see 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas.
- For a book-length treatment on the topic of divine hiddenness from a Christian philosophical perspective, see Michael C. Rea, The Hiddenness of God.
- For a series of essays on divine hiddenness from various perspectives (Jewish, Christian, atheistic, agnostic), see ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser, Divine Hiddenness: New Essays.
- Michael J. Murray and Michael C. Rea, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 123–56.
- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British philosopher, logician, essayist, social critic, and one of the founders of analytic philosophy. Two of his significant works are A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945) and Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957).
- Bruce A. Demarest, “Revelation, General,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984), 944–45.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion I.3.1, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. and ind. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1, 43.