Many of us have moments in our life when God’s presence and providence seem obvious, but there are also many times when God seems far away and “hidden”. In fact, the “hiddenness” of God is a common objection to His existence. As a skeptic, I often wondered why God didn’t make Himself known in a visible, tangible way. Why doesn’t God appear to us in a public setting to end all doubt about His existence? I’ve written about this objection, and I believe the answer lies in God’s desire to provoke us; His desire to elicit a true, loving response from His children. This goal of producing something beautiful (a genuine, well-intentioned, loving response), requires Him to hide from us.
Let me try to offer an analogy. Most of us, would be offended if someone described us with the colloquial term: “gold digger.” This expression is typically used to describe “women (predominantly young and attractive), meeting wealthy men in hope to get monetary gains and increase their social status.” When someone uses this term, it is nearly always as a pejorative; it’s not good to be a “gold digger”. Why is this the case? Because “gold diggers” are in relationships for the wrong reasons. Rather than truly loving the men whom they’ve married, they love the wealth, power and position these men can offer. If I were a wealthy, powerful, or famous man, I would be very careful when selecting a mate. I would hate to find myself asking questions like, “Would she want me if I was just another ‘average’ guy? Would she still love me as a person if I hadn’t overwhelmed her with my money and fame?” I bet powerful men occasionally wonder about such things.
God knows all of us can be similarly misguided in our affections, even when it comes to our love of Him. He also understands the degree to which He is “powerful, wealthy and famous,” and He doesn’t want us to be in a relationship with Him for the wrong reason. The Bible provides several examples of men and women who have been in the presence of God, only to realize His true power, majesty and glory. In fact, in every case, those who were exposed to God, even for only a moment, were overwhelmed:
Jacob was also so stunned by his meeting with God that he was surprised he survived at all (Genesis 32:30)
Moses was so physically altered after meeting with God that the people were “afraid to come near him” (Exodus 34:29-30)
Samson’s parents were so terrified after meeting with God that they thought they would “surely die” (Judges 13:22)
Isaiah was so overcome by his meeting with God that he exclaimed, “Woe is me!” (Isaiah 6:5)
In each of these cases, the men and women who entered God’s presence were immediately aware of their status before Him. They were overwhelmed with awe and holy fear, exposed to the power and majesty of God Himself. They were immediately humbled and reverent. Who, when exposed to the direct presence of God, could react any differently?
If you’re a wealthy, famous or powerful man and you want to be sure your prospective bride isn’t simply enamored with your power and fame, you should probably approach her in some form of “disguise.” You might want to hide your fame and money long enough to court her without overwhelming her. If this kind of simple courtship results in a love affair, you’ll have more confidence your beloved genuinely loves you. Then, once she becomes your bride, you can safely reveal your identity, power, and position.
God could certainly overwhelm each of us with His power and fame. He could appear to us in the kind of tangible ways skeptics often request. But if God wants His children to love Him without being overwhelmed in this way, He would have to approach us in some form of “disguise.” He would have to hide his power and glory for a time. Christianity affirms this kind of effort, as Jesus Himself came to us in the form of lowly man, voluntarily accepting the limits of a human being and hiding the full capacity of his glory and power. Jesus continues to modestly court His bride, and as a result, those of us who love Him, do so genuinely. Someday God will expose us directly to His power and glory, confident that His bride, the Church, truly loves Him. God’s present hiddenness provokes us to a genuine form of love, and that has likely been His goal all along.