It is easy to look around the world now, or at any time before now, and wonder why God remains hidden. It is easy to use God’s hiddenness, His invisibility, as an argument against His existence. It is not a bad argument, either. Indeed, it would seem that a loving and all-powerful God would manifest Himself clearly and unmistakably to His creation, especially when He notices that secularism is infecting the whole world like a virus.
It seems that God could correct this problem and turn secularism into ashes quite easily. He could appear in the sky, manifesting Himself in His glory, and make an announcement: “Hello, everyone. I am God. I exist. Act accordingly.” Or words to that effect. That, I imagine, would convince most people. It would convince more than are convinced by a 2,000 year old anthology of stories and letters, at least.
So why does God not take that step? Why does He seem to leave us here to linger in this material world filled with uncertainty and suffering? Why does He call us to believe and then give us a million reason not to? Why does He bid us find Him and then hide in places we cannot go? How can any of this be explained?
Most Christians will correctly respond that God is not hidden. Not entirely, anyway. He has revealed Himself through the ages. He has acted supernaturally within our world. He has been incarnate in our world, where He lived and ministered and performed miracles before rising from the dead and ascending into Heaven in front of many witnesses. And since that time, and before it, He has performed many other signs, and appeared in visions, and shown His power and glory through miraculous cures and other supernatural deeds.
If you are denying a God who remains completely hidden, leaving His creatures to sputter along in the dark without hope, then you are not denying the God proclaimed by Christians. You are not denying the God proclaimed by any of the Abrahamic religions.
But this explanation only goes so far. And it creates another problem of its own: If God is willing and able to reveal Himself, why does He do so on such a limited basis? Why doesn’t He alleviate the guesswork and make His reality plain as day to all? Why does He perform signs and wonders for some people while the rest of us are forced to infer Divine intervention from personal events that could potentially be explained any number of other ways? The original question still remains: why doesn’t He come from behind the veil and appear in the clouds as bright and inescapable as the Sun?
Well, I think He refrains from such a spectacle because it is not our mere belief that He wants from us. If all He wanted were belief then indeed the celestial public service announcement would seem the way to go. However our hope, salvation, and joy is found not in belief per se, but in love. He wants us to love Him, and there is no sign, no spectacle, no miracle that could make us love Him. It could make us fear Him, admire Him, even obey and worship Him, but a vision of His glory in the Heavens would not, for most of us, engender love. I think it would actually prevent love from forming.
Think of what happens when a man meets his future wife for the first time. He may say that he “fell in love” and there was “love at first sight,” but nothing of the sort actually occurred. Love cannot be fallen into, and you cannot love someone — except in the general sense of the charitable love you have for all mankind — just by seeing them.
No, this “love,” in the early stages of their romance, was really infatuation. He knew nothing about her except that she was physically beautiful (which, at first, was the most relevant factor in his mind). Even more crucially, he knew that he was himself terribly lonely and that she could be a rather attractive antidote to his solitude. In other words, this “love” was emotional, physical, and self-involved. And if that is the only kind of love he ever has for his wife, the marriage will be a catastrophe. Sooner or later that false love will disappear and a very real loathing will take its place.
But it is precisely when this first stage of overwhelming physical attraction and emotional infatuation cools, and a deeper knowledge of the other as an individual develops, that something like real and lasting love can come into existence. He can now love her by choice, not by compulsion. And he can love her for herself, not for the way that her beauty and her presence makes him feel. In the healthiest of marriages, he will ultimately have it all: real and willful love along with attraction and attachment. But the latter two must retreat and take their rightful and secondary place, or else the first thing, the love, will never become the driving force in his marriage.
I think something similar — though magnified by a trillion — is the case with God. If God were to give us the beatific vision we claim to want, yet we were to approach it without first having developed a real love for Him, there would be no chance, from that point, for any real love to develop on our end. We would be so overwhelmed by His beauty, so taken by His majesty, so terrified by His power, so aghast and awestruck, that we could not possibly have anywhere within us the calm, quiet thoughtfulness required to really choose love.
There would be no choice at that point. We would be simply swept away by God’s sheer magnitude. We would fall before Him. Whimper. Tremble. Cry. Beg. But love? Who could love at a time like this? Unless, of course, they already loved. The only ones who can love God upon seeing Him are those who loved Him without seeing Him. I think that is a simple fact of His nature and ours.
So, why doesn’t God show himself to me? For my own sake. He does not want me to be a cowering, stupefied child who worships and obeys simply because I am afraid and emotionally overwhelmed. If I saw Him now, in my current state, that is all He would get out of me. If I were ready to stand before Him and love Him not only as King and Lord but also Father, then I would be dead. On the other hand, if my case was hopeless and there was, by my own decision, no chance of that love ever growing, I would also be dead. And if my soul stands before Him without love, without even the beginning of love, then it will not be able to stand there for long.
In this life, He gives me just enough of Himself to make the beginning of love possible. If He gave me none of Himself, the love would die of thirst. If He gave me everything, it would drown. So, He gives me just a piece. A small piece, but large enough. To those of greater faith and spiritual maturity, He may give more. To His three closest Apostles, He gave the Transfiguration. They could handle it, just barely. I cannot. And so I can only thank God for the distance, the hiddenness, as painful as it may be.
I have tried to go this whole column without resorting to the old “absence makes the heart grow fonder” cliche, especially because “absence” is not really the right word here. But still there is a truth to it. God is, in some ways, at least visibly, absent. And it is in this “absence” that the seed of love can begin to bloom. It cannot be any other way. We must love God, and then, and only then, can we be truly and eternally in love.