Why doesn’t God make his existence more obvious to people?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data

Have you ever heard someone say that if God existed, he would give us more evidence? This is called the “hiddenness of God” argument. It’s also known as the argument from “rational non-belief”.

Basically the argument is something like this:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. God is all loving
  3. God wants all people to know about him
  4. Some people don’t know about him
  5. Therefore, there is no God.

In this argument, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.

What reason could God have for remaining hidden?

Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.

His paper on divine hiddenness is here:
Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us and draw us to him. But I do think that we are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).

The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. In order to derive a contradiction, God MUST NOT have any possible reason to remain hidden. If he has a reason for remaining hidden that is consistent with his goodness, then the argument will not go through.

When Murray offers a possible reason for God to remain hidden in order to allow people to freely respond to him, then the argument is defeated. God wants people to respond to him freely so that there is a genuine love relationship – not coercion by overt threat of damnation. To rescue the argument, the atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free choice of his creatures to reject him.

Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007).

Positive arguments for Christian theism

4 thoughts on “Why doesn’t God make his existence more obvious to people?”

  1. “If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation.”

    Although that’s a popular opinion, it’s not the biblical view.

    “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Pt 3:9

    God’s is patient, because He is not revenging sin, right HERE, right NOW, but is willing to delay it. That is somehow coupled to God hiding Himself. God revealing Himself is ALWAYS coupled to judgment for sinners. Fear of God BECAUSE He will judge sin is a VERY good start to acknowledge the truth and ask for repentance!

    “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

    “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

    “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

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  2. I am a Christian, but I respectfully disagree with Dr. Murray’s “hidden God for free will” argument. First, God did make himself known in Jesus of Nazareth. The word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14). Second, the Bible teaches God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen in nature so the human race is without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Third, humans bear the image of God (Gen. 1:27). While it may be marred from sin, God’s nature is still expressed in human interaction and therefore projected into the real world.

    Dr. Murray also states: “If God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us.” Does this mean if we reveal ourselves to family members, co-workers, and neighbors, we are restricting their human freedom? Is this a valid argument? People have the freedom to speak with me or not, and I am visibly known. You have the freedom to respond to this comment or not, and my thoughts are being expressed through written language. Is this hindering your autonomy? I don’t think it is.

    Simply put, I believe God made himself known in Christ. Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). The invisible God did manifest himself in physical form through the incarnation. Yet, I understand currently no one can point to a spatial location and say “There is God.” I get the point Dr. Murray is trying to articulate. However, it’s not because his presence will restrict our freedom, but that time and space are not able to contain an infinite God. A spatial projection itself is limited in nature, and this can’t be for a timeless, eternal being. Feel free to disagree. Blessings to you.

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  3. The only way I’d believe in God is if He made his existence obvious by coming to earth and healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, and so on. Until He does that…
    Oh wait…

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