Christianity says that God loves everyone. It also teaches that God is all-powerful and he’s worked some crazy-amazing miracles in the past. The Bible also says that God knows everything, so he’d know what kind of convincing people need. So why are there atheists? Therefore, the reasoning goes that there probably is no God, or at least not one who cares enough to communicate clearly with us.
This is a pretty common thing you’ll hear when talking to skeptics. There are certainly fancier ways of laying out this argument, but this is what philosophers call the problem of divine hiddenness.
One of the things that critics of this argument have pointed out is that God isn’t interested in just adding belief in God to a list of other facts that you accept. God doesn’t want mere belief, like our belief that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president and freed the slaves. He wants a relationship, and not just a friendly relationship but one of worshipful obedience.
And on the Christian view, this relationship starts and is maintained by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8) Furthermore, the Bible says that God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6) And here’s where the rub comes for the skeptic.
The divine hiddenness argument and other atheistic arguments like it are based on a premise rooted in pride. Now before anyone gets offended, we all have been prideful at one time or another. Especially me. I’m not saying atheists are worse moral failures than anyone else. Christians can equally be in a state of being resisted by God due to pride. They could have the right belief but the wrong heart.
With those caveats out of the way, let’s think about the nature of grace for a moment.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE WE ENTITLED TO?
If someone is being entitled, they feel that they deserve more. And you can’t be gracious to someone who feels like more is owed to them. Romans 4:4-5 says that grace is something freely given, it’s not based on obligation. What the skeptic is saying is that God owes them more evidence, but if they were mindful of their condition apart from God, they’d see that they’re owed nothing but death. (Romans 3:23, 6:23) And our lack of recognition of our own fallen condition can blind us from seeing the evidence more clearly.
Rather than thinking about reasons why might be hidden from them, the focus is on why it would be wrong for God to not be more obvious to them. Often when you ask these same skeptics what evidence that would convince them, it will be for something extraordinary. I’ve recently had some of them say they’d need something written in the stars, or for them to hear an audible voice.
DIVINE HIDDENNESS AND DAVID HUME: STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
Oddly enough, these are often the same people who say that David Hume created an everlasting check on all miracle claims. I’ve talked about Hume’s argument before in this post, but in a nutshell, Hume has created a rule that states we’re not rational to believe miracle claims.
But if you follow Hume’s maxim, you’ve not only swallowed a defective argument, but you’ve lost your right to use divine hiddenness as an argument. You can’t say God is hidden while denying the rationality of the very way he’d make himself unmistakably known.
DIVINE HIDDENNESS AND “GOD ISN’T GOOD” OBJECTIONS
The other inconsistency goes back to the pride issue. Skeptics often point to the evidence of seemingly pointless evils to argue against God. Why are there school-shootings, genocides, child abuse, and so on?
But if you think about it, in a sense that’s just a way of saying mankind is more righteous and loving than God because we can’t see any reasons why God does not seem to intervene more. In other words, we’d do a better job than God.
Now don’t get me wrong, the argument from evil is probably the strongest objection to Christianity there is and should be taken seriously. It does deserve thorough and thoughtful answers.
But here’s the problem: At its core, it’s still an argument that says we’re more righteous than God. And if that’s your claim, you’ve lost the right to complain about divine hiddenness. This is because according to the Bible, you’ve put yourself in a position of being divinely resisted. Rather than humbly thinking about the reasons God may permit or allow evil, this just takes sides against a God who would be infinitely more intelligent than us.
The same thing goes for objections to scripture. The doctrine of hell, so-called Old Testament atrocities like the judgment of the Canaanites, Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah’s flood, and so on. When you call the righteous judge of all the earth a bad guy (and I’ve even had skeptics say they’d want to kill God over these things), you’re in a state of pride. Why should God provide more evidence to you when you’d remain resistant to him?
This isn’t a popular message, but mankind is in a state of rebellion against God. Instead of accepting the skeptic’s premises of what God owes us, we need to point out that what we’re actually owed are death and judgment. It is his goodness and mercy that keeps us now in a state where we can still repent and seek him.
JESUS ON THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
Jesus was asked about atrocities in his own time, and his response would not go over so hot today. Here’s Luke 13:1-5:
“Now there was some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
This is Jesus’ response to the problem of evil. It’s the so-called philosophical question of the ages and Jesus tersely responds that if you do not repent, you’re also going to be toast. In his book How Long, O Lord?, exegete Dr. D.A. Carson provides a couple of key takeaways from this passage:
For starters, Jesus agrees with Paul that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23):
Jesus does not assume that those who suffered under Pilate, or those who were killed in the collapse of the tower, did not deserve their fate. Indeed, the fact that he can tell those contemporaries that unless they repent they too will perish shows that Jesus assumes that all death is in one way or another the result of sin, and therefore deserved.
Second, because death is what we are all entitled to, it is only the mercy of God that keeps us breathing:
Jesus does insist that death by such means is no evidence whatsoever that those who suffer in this way are any more wicked than those who escape such a fate. The assumption seems to be that all deserve to die. If some die under a barbarous governor, and others in a tragic accident, it is not more than they deserve. But that does not mean that others deserve any less. Rather, the implication is that it is only God’s mercy that has kept them alive. There is certainly no moral superiority on their part.
Wow. This is certainly not how most people approach this subject.
WHO IS REALLY HIDING HERE?
So here’s my point: The skeptic harbors attitudes against God that are revealed in the arguments they make. These attitudes only further cause God to withdraw and not be obvious to them, even when he is obvious to many others, whether that’s through personal experience, answered prayer, miracles or the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.
In the atheist’s mind, God can’t be righteous and we’re more loving than he is because he should intervene more and judge less harshly. But we’ve seen that these attitudes fail to account for man’s sinfulness.
While some might point to Bible stories where God revealed himself to rebellious people but is that really what you want? Judgment is what usually followed in those stories.
Furthermore, the skeptic will often adhere to artificial rules that make belief in miracle claims as irrational, cutting themselves off of investigating any evidence of divine action.
The bottom line is that God’s made himself less obvious to the skeptic out of his mercy, and the only way to see him is to humble themselves and admit that they could be wrong. If they’re willing to admit that God’s judgments could be right, and the problem of evil could be reasonably solved, then great, you’ve found someone who has some humility. If not, you can keep the dialogue going but it might not change things for them.
This may feel very ad-hominem and psychoanalyzing to some, and I admit it is in some sense. Just realize that I’m just trying to answer this issue from a Biblical perspective. Please don’t receive this as a holier-than-thou talk. I know what I deserve, which is why I’m so thankful for a Savior.
Genesis 3:10: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid…so I hid.”
Erik is a Reasonable Faith Chapter Director located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He’s a former freelance baseball writer and the co-owner of a vintage and handmade decor business with his wife, Dawn. He is passionate about the intersection of apologetics and evangelism.