Divine Hiddenness

Introduction

Certain things are quite noticeable in the scriptures. One thing is the numerous examples of God revealing himself to people in clear and unambiguous ways:

Joseph Smith said:

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Acts 9: 4-6 says:

4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 1

We also know of others in the scriptures who have seen and conversed with God in very obvious ways such as Moses, Enoch, the Brother of Jared and Alma the younger.

Another thing we see in the scriptures is God clearly comforting people through their trials:

D&C 121 says:

1 O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

2 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

3 Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. 2

Another example from Jonah:

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

2 And he prayed unto the Lord…

4 Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?

5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.

6 And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

However it is not always the case in the scriptures that God reveals himself and comforts those in need. In some instances God is hidden:

Job 23:8-9 says:

8 Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him:

9 On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him:

Psalms 10:1

Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?

Isaiah 45:15

Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour

Even Jesus himself on the cross said:

My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?

So this introduces us to a specific problem in believing that all the following are true:

  1. God wants us to be in a deep and meaningful relationship with him
  2. God can do mostly anything he wants
  3. God doesn’t make himself as obvious as he could
  4. God sometimes stays silent when we need comfort

Others have phrased the problem as follows:

1. If God exists, then it is important for us to believe in him in order to receive salvation after death.

2. God is benevolent, so he desires our salvation, and he is omnipotent, so he could reveal his existence to us if he wanted to.

3. Because he desires our salvation, he will give ample evidence of his existence, so that belief in him will be a straight-forward matter.

4. There is no evidence of God’s existence (God is hidden).

5. Therefore, God does not exist. 3

Proponents of this argument believe that many more people would receive salvation if God would simply reveal himself, or make his existence much more apparent.

Schellenberg’s version of the argument is as follows 4

1. If there is a God, he is perfectly loving.

2. If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable nonbelief does not occur

3. Reasonable nonbelief occurs.

4. No perfectly loving God exists (from 2 and 3).

5. Therefore, there is no God (from 1 and 4).

This problem has been discussed by philosophers and theologians and is known as the problem of divine hiddenness. The proposed conclusion of the problem of divine hiddenness is that an all loving God does not exist. This echoes the proposed conclusions of the problem of evil.

Below are some questions that arise from the problem of divine hiddenness.

Question 1: Why doesn’t God just reveal himself more obviously to us so that we could know without any doubt whatsoever that he exists? Or maybe just a lot more clearer so it’s easier to believe in him?

As with all questions, the way we ask the question determines the route we will take to find the answer.

When we ask the question “why doesn’t God just reveal himself to me like he’s done to others?” What we are really implying is that he would or he should. But why would he? Where did we get that idea from?

We don’t need to find a good answer as to why God wouldn’t dramatically and clearly reveal himself, if we expect God to dramatically reveal himself then we need a good reason to think God would or should.

One immediate problem we see is what would constitute proof? Even a dramatic divine manifestation could be put down to a hallucination, this has been expressed by Richard Dawkins.

So what are the possible reasons God would or should reveal himself more obviously to me? There could be many so consider the most obvious reason:

“It would probably make me believe in him more”

Now it’s true that I would be more convinced that he exists but it’s not obviously true that being convinced he exists means I will choose to form a deep and meaningful relationship with him. There is nothing that says there is a one-to-one relationship between being convinced God exists and choosing to form a deep and meaningful relationship with him. Our experience and the scriptures teach quite the opposite as in the case of the war in heaven, Cain and the devils who also “believe and tremble”.

Blake Ostler said:

If God were interested in having a convinced mind, it is quite obvious he could write in gold letters in the sky “I am God.” But he is not interested as much in a convinced mind as in a changed heart. It seems very clear to me that a relationship with God made necessary by his overwhelming glory would not be a genuine relationship resulting from a changed heart that responds to God’s love rather than a desire to have a very powerful friend who can insure we always get what we want 5

For this reason it is highly questionable if God is interested in people simply being convinced that he exists. In fact God’s preference could be to to not reveal himself in dramatic ways to convince us because of the following reasons:

  1. It is only through doubt that the greatest goods are made possible
  2. Knowing God exists greatly impedes our ability to freely choose
  3. Propositional knowledge alone can prove detrimental to one’s relationship with God
1. It is only through doubt that the greatest goods are made possible

Imagine two people. The first knows there is an afterlife because they have come back from it somehow, the second, does not know if there is an afterlife. Now imagine both of these people give up their lives for another person. Which experiences the greater good? The one who knows it wouldn’t be the end, or the one who knows they may be risking absolutely everything? Real sacrifice requires a type of blindness to future reward.

We am trying to help build a moral world, every day we make decisions and one of the reasons for choosing the good is simply because it’s good. There is a greater good for example in trying to form a celestial marriage in the face of uncertainty than in the face of certainty.

2. Knowing God exists greatly impedes our ability to freely choose

It also may not be God’s preference to remove doubt because only by experiencing doubt are we free to actually be persuaded by both options. It’s certainly the case that a child will act differently if they know they are being watched. This is called the observer effect. How can we know what we would really choose and what the real conditions of our inner most desires are? How free would you be if you had a metaphorical gun to your head. Sure you are logically free to do what you want, but how much does that influence your decisions?

Michael J. Murray and David E. Taylor said:

Hiddenness is rather a necessary condition for a world containing human creatures that enjoy morally significant free choice. the world must be set up in such a way that the free creatures in it often have genuine incentives for doing both good and bad actions. If we knew that God was there, watching over us continuously, all incentives to choose evil would be lost along with our ability to choose between good and evil actions. 6

There definitely seems to be a correlation between our level of knowledge of God and the strength of the observer effect.

It may be objected at this point that there doesn’t seem to be a problem for those who have seen God because they are still morally free and aren’t coerced to choose the good, however:

…(this) criticism points to cases which show that powerful divine manifestations do not always undermine the possibility of morally significant freedom. But this alone is not a problem for this explanation of hiddenness. One can grant that different people will have different levels of “threat indifference.” Some individuals are coerced by the slightest perceived threat while others seem to resist nearly all attempts at coercion. To preserve creaturely freedom God must remain largely hidden to individuals of the former type, though he can present powerful evidence of his existence to those of the latter type. For all we know, those individuals who believe in the existence of God because of these powerful religious experiences and who yet retain morally significant freedom are all of this latter sort 7

Jonathan Cannon argues that if we (and God) wanted to truly see what we were like, then this earth experience would make sense:

…you could run a test for compassion. Maybe take away her memory and put her somewhere where her power is significant, but limited. Put her in a place where success is favored by competition so that she is tempted to be selfish. Make it so she can’t be absolutely sure that any of it matters beyond the here and now, and see what she decides to do. If she acts with compassion despite the temptations to do otherwise–if she acts to show that compassion matters for its own sake and not because it brings some guaranteed reward–then you know. You bring her back and teach her to be a God. If not, you put her on some other path to make her as happy as possible, because you love your children an awful lot. 8

Theists believe that they will be blessed for good deeds, so what is their motivation for doing these good deeds? Is it to help people or to gain a reward? We can’t always know what our actual motivations are but it does raise the question of whether we do things as a means to an end (knowing there is a reward), when the greater good would be doing them as an end unto itself.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant in John 20:29

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed

We may be envious of those who have had dramatic experiences but something is definitely lost in those experiences. Maybe this is why blessed are they that have not seen.

3. Propositional knowledge alone can prove detrimental to one’s relationship with God

If an evil God clearly revealed himself to us, it is not necessarily true that we would abandon everything to follow him. In fact we may be quite bitter.

Murray and Taylor said:

those with mere propositional knowledge might respond to God with an indifferent, hateful, impersonal, or presumptuous attitude. Since God wants nothing more than for us to lovingly respond to him, he will not promote propositional knowledge except insofar as this is a component of our filial knowledge of him. 9

Or we may even develop an inappropriate relationship.

Suppose you are a rich and famous celebrity. You know that among your entourage are many who associate with you just because you’re rich and famous. You seek, however, true friends. You realize that celebrity gets in the way of establishing a deep relationship as the lure of wealth, power, and fame lead people away from you as a person and toward your celebrity. To establish deep friendships requires that you try to find persons ignorant of your celebrity, or indifferent to it, who will like you for who you are, regardless of your celebrity status. 10

Conclusion: If there isn’t a one-to-one relationship between knowing God exists and choosing to enter a deep personal relationship with him, and in fact only by having doubt can we achieve the greatest goods then we see no reason to think God would or should make himself more obvious to us. In fact we have good reason to think he wouldn’t. Let him reveal himself as he wants to others, but for me, I put him under no obligation.

Question 2: Why would God stay silent when we really need him? If God cares about us, he would be there when we need him. What parent, if their child was crying out, wouldn’t answer?

Again, the way we ask the question determines the route we will take to find the answer.

When we ask the question “why would God stay silent?” we are not asking it in some objective way, we are implying that he wouldn’t or he shouldn’t stay silent. But why shouldn’t he? Where did we get that idea from?

Again, we do not need a good answer as to why he is silent, we need a good reason to think God wouldn’t or shouldn’t be silent. So what are the reasons he shouldn’t be so silent? There could be many so consider the most obvious reason:

“There have been times when I really needed him but he was silent. That’s not what loving parents do”.

I don’t think I agree with that. I fully agree that loving parents do what’s best for their children, and I agree it’s good to comfort children when they need it but I don’t agree that loving parents always show up and express their love when their children need it. Just because something is good, does not mean it is the best.

What about the greater good of developing trust? If God showed up every time we wanted him to show up, we would have no reason to ever remember what he has done in the past. In fact this is put into practice in the first part of Moroni’s promise:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

Is this not exercising faith and developing trust? We have the scriptures we have past experiences. God has shown us in the past that he loves us and we get to decide whether we will be faithful to those experiences and promises.

I think God wants us to learn to trust him rather than him being subject to our every beck and call. There is no trust in logical necessities. Do I really trust my phone to not suddenly turn into a car? Not at all. Trust is linked to faithfulness. I trust my wife because of what she has done and I know she has done good.

I also don’t have any confidence at all that I could say to God

  • It was you that was silent, not me
  • You shouldn’t have been silent on that occasion.

God’s ways are higher than our ways as in Isaiah 55:8-9

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts

Or as Tim Keller says:

If you have a God powerful enough to be mad at because of evil (Ed: or hiddenness), then you have a God great enough to have reasons that you can’t fully get.

And also, what about the greater good of growing and succeeding on our own? We are very familiar with the concept of allowing someone the glory of doing it on their own. We commonly tell children “you did that all on your own”.

When Jesus on the cross said “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he was quoting Psalms 22. Shon Hopkin notes that this:

follows a pattern found in other psalms known as “Psalms of Lament,” moving from a sufferer’s cries of anguish because of his trials (vv. 1–18), to a request for aid (vv. 19–21), and ending in a note of triumph as the sufferer anticipates the assistance he will receive from God or expresses gratitude that the desired assistance has come (vv. 22–31) 11

James E. Talmage also comments on this:

the Father seems to have withdrawn the support of His immediate Presence, leaving to the Savior of men the glory of complete victory over the forces of sin and death. 12

I think God wants us to experience the success that comes by working things out on our own. If we have already lived with Heavenly Father for perhaps an eternity, we are like children who don’t want help and want to achieve great things on their own. 

Conclusion: We have no good reason to think that God will show up every time we need him and actually have good reasons to think that he wouldn’t.

Conclusion

So if we don’t expect God to reveal himself more clearly to us, and we don’t expect God to speak to us whenever we want him to then what does that mean for me?

It means I am free to abandon my natural expectations and become more open to the messages God has shared rather than what I would want him to share.

Mosiah 3:19 says:

19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

God will turn to us when we turn to him. Sometimes we wish we could get answers or experiences without any commitment, but in order to get an answer there sometimes must be a commitment.

God promises that we will find him and we come to know God through who he is, not that he is.

D&C 88:63 says

63 Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me

Revelation 3:20 says

20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. 

A lifetime of experiences can ground belief that God is good. These experiences can be remembered in times of silence. 

Blake Ostler said:

in Greek when it says that life eternal is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (I believe that’s John 17:3), it doesn’t say “to know all about God.” One does not have this type of knowledge by getting a degree in theology. One does not have this type of knowledge by memorizing a catechism. One has this kind of knowledge by simply coming to know God interpersonally, and that’s what the word means as a matter of fact. In Greek, the word “to know” is ginosko, and it means to have this kind of interpersonal relationship. We make this same kind of distinction in English a bit, but we have a word for it that really doesn’t connote knowledge as much; we call it acquaintance. But it really doesn’t mean “to know,” but it is a type of knowing. To know God is the most important aspect of the experience because to know God in this sense is eternal life. Indeed, to know that we are accepted into relationship with God and to invite God to reside in our hearts is a moment of justification by grace through faith, and the beginning of the life of sanctification in which the spirit enters into us and Christ takes up abode in us in the process of Christification, of being conformed to the image of Christ; a process culminating in deification. That’s the message that we offer. 13

And finally, Blaise Pascal said:

(God) has willed to make himself quite recognizable by those; and thus, willing to appear openly to those, who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart. He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.” 14

The problem of divine hiddenness is not obviously a problem at all.

  1. Acts 9: 4-6 []
  2. D&C 121 []
  3. Dane Olsen. 2016. Examining Objections to the Problem of Divine Hiddenness. [ONLINE] Available at: http://aporia.byu.edu/pdfs/olsen-hiddenness.pdf. [Accessed 18 June 2017].[]
  4. Schellenberg, J. (1993) Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press[]
  5. Blake Ostler. 2011. Preliminary Thoughts on Divine Hiddenness. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2011/06/preliminary-thoughts-on-divine-hiddenness/2654/. [Accessed 18 June 2017].[]
  6. Michael J. Murray and David E. Taylor. 2011. Hiddenness. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.apologeticsinthechurch.com/uploads/7/4/5/6/7456646/murray_taylor_hiddenness.pdf. [Accessed 18 June 2017].[]
  7. Michael J. Murray and David E. Taylor. 2011. Hiddenness. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.apologeticsinthechurch.com/uploads/7/4/5/6/7456646/murray_taylor_hiddenness.pdf. [Accessed 18 June 2017][]
  8. Jonathan Cannon. 2014. Love Conquers the Multiverse. [ONLINE] Available at:http://rationalfaiths.com/love-conquers-multiverse/. [Accessed 8 September 2016].[]
  9. 7. Michael J. Murray and David E. Taylor. 2011. Hiddenness. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.apologeticsinthechurch.com/uploads/7/4/5/6/7456646/murray_taylor_hiddenness.pdf. [Accessed 18 June 2017][]
  10. Jordan, J, 2006. Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God. 1. Clarendon Press[]
  11. Shon Hopkin. My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me. BYU Studies, [ONLINE] [Accessed 18 June 2017].[]
  12. Talmage, James. Jesus the Christ, 613[]
  13. Blake Ostler. 2007. Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2007/spiritual-experiences-as-the-basis-for-belief-and-commitment. [Accessed 18 June 2017].[]
  14. Blaise Pascal, Pensées (430[]