I once had a friend ask me that if God exists, why doesn’t he do something to make that fact obvious to everybody. (His suggested miracle that would finally prove God’s existence beyond any doubt was to change the skin color of the president.) On one level, this question is an objection from an unbeliever saying that if God existed, he would do a certain thing, and if he doesn’t do that, he must not exist. At the same time, it can also be a question for believers who wonder what God is doing in the world. Why are episodes like the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal the exception rather than the norm? The problem in both cases is measuring God by our standards, wondering why God doesn’t do things in the way that makes the most sense to us.
1. God isn’t hidden
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Romans 1:19-21
No matter what God actually does, there will always be people like my friend who can point out something God hasn’t done. This then becomes an excuse that if God wanted to prove his existence, he could simply do X. But Paul is clear that people who talk like this do not have a valid argument. Whatever atheists may say about not having enough evidence, Paul says they do. In fact he goes further and says that not only is there clear evidence in creation so that any person can know that God exists, but that all people do know that God exists. This is why all people are guilty before him because, “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.”
Does that mean the atheist is lying when he claims not to believe that God exists? I don’t think so. Self-deception is a biblical concept (1 John 1:8), and my experience of my own heart and what I know of people indicate that as sinful people it is alarmingly easy for us to convince ourselves of things we know to be false. So even if the atheist thinks his problem is a lack of evidence, the Word of God diagnoses more accurately that his problem is the sin which either suppresses or corrupts the knowledge of God in the heart of every child of Adam. The cure is not more signs from God, but a new heart that actually desires to know God (Ezekiel 36:26).
2. Seeing isn’t believing
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.Hebrews 3:16-19
Two groups of people experienced outpourings of God’s power far beyond what he did at any other time and place. One group is the Jews who lived in Jesus’ day and saw all his miracles, who then turned around and handed him over to the Romans to be crucified. The other is the generation of Israelites at the time of the Exodus. First they saw the ten plagues on Egypt. Then they saw the Red Sea split in two for them to cross over. After that, they followed a column of smoke and fire through the desert, saw God descend on Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning, and ate bread which rained from the sky every morning for forty years. You would think after all that, that these people would have been the strongest believers in history. Except they weren’t. Sure they knew that God existed, but they didn’t believe in him. They knew that he was powerful and that he had saved them from their enemies, but they never put their trust in him.
Hebrews 3:7-11, John 2:23-25, John 6:36
One of the faulty assumptions behind the question of why God doesn’t act more overtly in the world, is the assumption that what people need is to know that God exists. The Israelites knew that God existed, and they crafted a golden calf to honor him. Saving faith does not consist in simply accepting or rejecting certain propositions such as “God exists” or “Jesus rose from the dead.” Saving faith includes placing your trust in God, choosing to rely on him rather than yourself. So, Abraham had faith when he went out from his home because he obeyed God’s command, trusting that God would take care of him when he didn’t even know where he was going. And our faith as Christians consists in placing our confidence in the finished work of Christ and trusting him to save us from our sins. The miracle that saves people is not the feeding of the 5,000 or the resurrection of Lazarus. Those are spectacular, but the miracle that saves is the invisible work of the Holy Spirit giving new life to the human spirit that was dead in sin.
Romans 4:16-21, John 3:3-8
3. God’s divine purpose continues
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”John 6:35-40
The other faulty assumption behind our question is assuming that God’s goal is to get as many people as possible to believe that he exists. If that were his goal, it does seem like he would be quite a bit more successful with a more liberal distribution of miracles. However, there’s no reason to think that God is particularly interested in just getting a bunch of people to believe that he exists. That by itself wouldn’t do them any good anyway. Rather, God’s purpose is to save a people for himself, not by impressing them with signs and wonders, but by changing their hearts to love and seek after him. God is not frustrated by human unbelief as if he were sitting in heaven wishing that somehow he could just get Richard Dawkins to believe in him. God doesn’t need Richard Dawkins to believe in him. He is working out everything according to his purpose, and he is able to save anyone he chooses whenever he chooses to do so (Acts 9). He doesn’t need flashy, obvious miracles (although he sometimes uses them), because he has direct access to the human heart.
Job 42:1-2, Psalm 115:3, Psalm 33:10-11, Romans 8:29-30, Romans 9:6-23
The apparent hiddenness of God as an objection to his existence fails for the simple reason that he’s not hidden. On an objective level, creation alone is a sufficient proof so that all people made in his image cannot avoid knowing that he is their creator, and that they owe him thanks and worship. Add to that his many other works, especially the resurrection of Jesus, and the unbeliever is left without any excuse on the day that he stands before God. And on a subjective level, rather than revealing himself through visible miracles, God reveals himself to those he calls more directly and effectively through his Spirit, a miracle that is no less real for being invisible.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.Romans 9:33-36