Back in New Testament times, Jesus supposedly worked miracles. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He has even resurrected himself. He said he did these things so we might believe. (John 14:10-11) Shouldn’t he do the same for me if it’s so important that I’m persuaded?
Have you ever heard questions like these? Philosophers and theologians have a fancy term for this.
It’s called the problem of divine hiddenness.
The problem goes something like this: If there’s a God, he knows everything. He has all power. And he is all good – meaning he loves everyone. If that’s true, he’d know what it would take to convince me. He’d have the power to pull it off. And he wouldn’t let me go to hell for rejecting him without enough evidence, or he’d not be loving. That being the case, no God like this exists.
This is a very common objection. If you’ve ever spent any time on social media, you’ve probably run across it.
From my experience, it’s usually met with some highfalutin demands for God. Like God should part the sky, or go on national TV and heal everyone watching. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from a popular atheist website about what they think Jesus should do:
“My name is Jesus, and I am God. I know there are a lot of people out there who will doubt that I am God, so let me start off by proving it to you. Take a look at Mount Sinai. Everyone knows that, until today, Mount Sinai stood near here. It is the mountain where God, my father, gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
Mount Sinai vanished this morning, and what was left in its place was a perfectly smooth, polished stone base measuring four miles square. Hundreds of years from now, people will find that Mount Sinai landed near a place that will be called Newark, New Jersey. When scientists dig into the mountain, they will find that the bottom of the mountain is also completely smooth and polished and that the bottom of the mountain in New Jersey perfectly matches the polished plain nearby. Scientists will be able to align the mountain and the plain, looking at it rock crystal by rock crystal at a microscopic level. I have said many times that, if you have faith, you can move mountains. I moved Mount Sinai to show how easy it is, and to prove that I am God.”
…Why would Jesus not do that?”
Uh…why would he do that? Woof. Getting to the bottom of this, we need to ask ourselves the question:
If there is a God, is this is what he’d be like?
The concept of God centers on a Supreme Being who is worthy of worship. Is this kind of divine muscle flexing worth our worship? Would this mountain-moving scenario lead to transformed lives? It reminds me more of Johnny Bravo trying to impress the ladies with his biceps.
These wild demands are like King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar. “Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool!” Yet we read that when the Pharisees demanded a sign of Jesus, he basically told them to take a hike. And I quote “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.” (Matthew 16:4)
Now you might say: Yeah, but Jesus supposedly did a lot of signs to prove his divine claims so that we believe!
Sure, but by believing he meant entering into a relationship with him – not mere mental assent that God exists. Or that Jesus is God. James 2:19 says that even the demons believe. The signs pointed not just to God’s power, but his compassion. The gospels writers make this point repeatedly. (Matthew 14:14, Matthew 20:34, Mark 6:34, Mark 8:2-3, Luke 7:13) And it’s the goodness of God that leads us to change. (Romans 2:4)
We read that Mary had seven demons cast out of her. (Luke 8:2) She probably the best NT examples of someone who loved Jesus with all her heart, soul, mind and strength. (see Luke 10:38-42, Mark 14:3-9) Another example is the madman of Gadarenes. He begged Jesus to let him follow him. (Mark 5:18-20) For these, miracles created a response of love and transformation. Yet when those who hated him requested signs-on-demand, he called out their bad motives.
Faith is relational, and it’s about transformation. It’s not just logging new information.
John 1:12 says “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Miracles can draw people into that type of relationship. But according to the Bible, they aren’t a guarantee that they will.
- Adam and Eve walked and talked with God, and they walked away.
- The Children of Israel saw all kinds of signs and wonders, and God lamented that they’d go their own way. (Numbers 14:11)
- Jesus fed the 5,000. Some I’m sure believed because of this. But others came after him because they saw Jesus as a source of free food. (John 6:26)
- Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This made the Sanhedrin afraid that he’d become too popular. They figured the Romans would step in and take away their nation. So they plotted to kill him. (John 11:47-48)
- Judas was witness to these things, yet he helped the Sanhedrin by selling out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
So we see that God reveals himself in spectacular ways draws some. But it also leads others to act…well…pretty weird. They can become obstinate. They can become fearful. And they can become selfish. People can see God plainly and still resist him.
This God-resistance isn’t limited to Bible times.
Dan Barker is a popular atheist activist. He’s also the founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In a debate, he said:
“Even if Jesus did exist, even if I agreed…100%, yep, he rose from the dead, yep, there’s a God, yep, I don’t deny any of that, does not mean that he is my Lord. If he did exist…I will go happily to hell. It would be worse of a hell for me to bow down before a Lord…regardless of the legend and historicity issue…Even if I agreed 100%, I would still reject that Being as a Lord of my life because I’m better than that…I cannot accept Jesus as Lord…You’re much more free to live and enjoy your life unshackled from the demands…”
So we see Jesus appearing to everyone on their phone in a “Messiah Alert” wouldn’t necessarily change everyone’s heart. That would also defeat the purpose of giving the church the Great Commission if he’s just gonna do it all for the church.
The other problem with the divine hiddenness argument is it is too autobiographical.
To say that God’s hidden to me, so he must really be hidden to everyone else doesn’t make sense. You can’t then generalize your experience to everyone else’s experience.
The fact is we have tons of people who claim to have experienced miracles. The main portion of this site is about the history of the biggest miracle – the resurrection. And we have tons of people who claim to have had some sort of religious or spiritual experience. Many of these experiences have a lot of variation, but they don’t lead to the conclusion of atheism. Even if a big percentage of these claims are spurious, are we going to say that they all are? We see that God isn’t so hidden to everyone.
In my own experience, God isn’t hidden.
I won’t give my whole testimony here, but I had my intellectual reasons for believing God wasn’t real. But I also wanted to do my own thing. And while I lived this way for a while, it turned out to be not just illogical but unsatisfying.
I eventually became open to God being real. And if he was real, I wanted to know him. Once I became open and willing to change my life, I had the Holy Spirit reveal himself to me in a pretty profound way.
Now I know I’m the one being autobiographical. I don’t expect my experience to be identical to everyone else’s. Yet James 4:6 says that God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. If he’s hidden or distant from someone, consider that it’s because of the distance they’ve created, not because he doesn’t exist. Thankfully it doesn’t have to stay that way if they become open. Jeremiah 29:13 promises “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”
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.