The agnostic has said in his heart, “If God exists, why doesn’t He make it more obvious, such that it could not be doubted?” Surely, with so much riding on God’s existence (theism, the moral law, salvation, etc.), he could do a little more to make it obvious! Given the stakes, the fact that God fails to make his existence more patent is yet further proof that he doesn’t exist. Travis Dumsday summarizes this objection — often termed the argument from divine hiddenness — as follows:
[O]n standard theisms, God supposedly loves us, and so desires our ultimate well-being. But that ultimate well-being necessarily involves having a positive relationship with God, and in order to have such a relationship one must first believe that God exists. So if God really existed and really loved us, He would make sure that all of us believed in Him. Yet the world is full of rational persons who blamelessly fail to believe in God. Consequently, one must give up some aspect of standard theism, and the aspect it is most sensible to drop is the very idea that God exists.
In the spirit of topsy-turveydom, I think that what atheists take to be an argument against the existence of God actually shows the deep wisdom of God’s chosen manner of making himself known. The lynchpin in the argument is the profound correspondence between the mode of revelation and how human beings are made. The one is addressed to the other.
Revelation is not addressed to mere minds, but to embodied persons. God, like every good communicator, takes into account the audience and shapes his message accordingly. In standard theisms, God addresses us as embodied souls that come to the knowledge of truth in stages, in a kind of sacred history. Within that history he uses everything in his power to communicate well to the chosen object of his predilection. He employs theophanies and angelophanies. He uses prophetic instruments. His revelation is rife with analogy, metaphor, parables, and imagery. Just like a good 2nd grade teacher who communicates the same point in myriad ways equally accessible to her classroom filled with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners, God appeals to man according to each of his faculties. So, while mystical revelation may make the occasional guest appearance in Biblical literature (2 Cor. 12:2), the normative mode of revelation spans the full breadth of human experience, ranging from prophetic callings to miraculous healings (Ex. 3:1-22, Isa. 6:6-9, Mark 8:22-26).
So, rather than zapping all brains with an intuitive knowledge of his existence — an act that would risk dehumanizing the object of his love in a certain sense — God chooses to enter the sanctuary of each individual heart in a manner that is profoundly personal and distinctly human. He is the master teacher, the perfect pedagogue, who orders all things sweetly. And so, far from being a strike against God’s goodness, the economy of revelation is, I contend, tailor-made for human maturation.
The suitability of divine revelation to the human person has implications for our interactions with one another. In order to be known, human beings, too, must reveal something of themselves to the other. The divine hiddenness should serve as the pattern for a “human hiddenness,” and our friendships and relationships can benefit inestimably from the saving influence of the divine pattern.
Contemporary culture promotes self-disclosure, often in harmful ways. For instance, in one of the more extreme cases — casual sex — we observe how moving too quickly can short-circuit the normal course of growth in trust, dependence, friendship, and love. Social media can offer another occasion for deranged exhibitionism in which very little distinctively human discourse transpires. In both of these examples, hasty manifestation that doesn’t reflect the full breadth of human life and love actually hamstrings real, genuine development. The random hookup and the social media abuser treat one aspect of human life as if it were the whole and so fail to communicate as persons to persons.
But, with God as the pattern for integral human growth, our own “revelation” stands a better chance of achieving the communion for which we’re all ultimately destined. Rather than foisting all of oneself on one faculty or the other, in a kind of take-me-as-I-am desperation, the example of the divine courtesy invites us to appeal as persons to persons. With modesty protecting the inmost center of the heart, we learn to approach the other as other, as irreducible, and as human. In so doing, we lay the foundation for true communion and new vistas of shared love.