From my blog, The Paragraph Farmer:
The very young and the very wise see miracles in every sunrise and every breath. The rest of us muddle along myopically, wondering why God does not make His presence more obvious.
I do not know whether it would be fair to characterize God's actions as "subtle" in a world where we have not just eyes and lungs, but also His word and Himself present to us. Still, the adage that "God writes straight with crooked lines" has more than a kernel of truth in it.
All of my adult life, I have supposed that free will might be the reason for divine self-restraint, if indeed that's what it is when you and I don't often get knocked off our horses the way Saul of Tarsus was. How free would we be if there was no such thing as a leap of faith? We know that faith, hope, and love abide, but would faith even exist in recognizable form if you could step or hop to it rather than leaping? Suppose our apostolic patrimony demanded no more from us than the recognition that we are mammals? That must, of course, be forever hypothetical, but if you're as interested in definitions of faith as I am, do read the Letter to the Hebrews-quoting rejoinder from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to Stanley Fish. Ever the scholar, RJN reminds Fish that Christian faith is not an "inside job," because it is "informed by and vulnerable to a universal reason."
There is something to the idea of divine restraint leaving free will room to operate, I'm sure. But Pope Benedict's book Jesus of Nazareth suggests another reason for divine restraint, and of course, it's one that I hadn't thought of before.
Benedict mentions this while sharing his thoughts about Luke 16:19-31, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. "The demand for signs, the demand for more evidence of Revelation, is an issue that runs through the entire Gospel," he writes. "Abraham's answer — like Jesus' answer to his contemporaries' demand for signs in other contexts– is clear: If people do not believe the word of Scripture, then they will not believe someone coming from the next world either. The highest truths cannot be forced into the type of empirical evidence that only applies to material reality."
Abraham cannot send Lazarus to the rich man's father's house, Benedict points out, echoing scripture. "But at this point something strikes us," he adds (and this is not the royal or papal "we," this is Benedict and his readers, spelunking together through the scriptures, because Benedict has proven over the course of the previous 215 pages that he is both thoughtful and trustworthy). "We are reminded of the resurrection of Lazarus of Bethany, recounted to us in John's Gospel. What happens there? The Evangelist tells us, 'Many of the Jews…believed in him' (Jn 11:45). They go to the Pharisees and report on what has happened, whereupon the Sanhedrin gathers to take counsel. They see the affair in a political light: If this leads to a popular movement, it might force the Romans to intervene, leading to a dangerous situation. So they decide to kill Jesus. The miracle leads not to faith, but to hardening of hearts (Jn 11:45-53)."
I'd never realized that before. "Thanks, pope!" is entirely too flip, but it's through Benedict and his book that I now realize that God rations the number and surprise quotient of the miracles we are privileged to experience because He knows both our capacities and our wounds. He knows we can't handle the truth. Not quite yet, anyhow. Not on this mortal coil. If we got the signs we asked for, it would blow our minds. "We walk by faith, and not by sight," we see "through a glass darkly" not because God enjoys blindfolding us or is too cheap to wash heaven's windows, but because we don't yet have the eyes we need.