The God Who Hides Himself
An atheist once asked me, “Why does God require faith to go to heaven?” I will give you the answer I gave him in a moment, but first I want to show a connection between that excellent question and another, which is, “Why does God hide himself?” which can also be stated, “Why doesn’t God make himself known more openly, just show himself?” The answer is the same for both questions, and it is this: because it gives him glory.
Now, that is not the whole answer, but it is a large part of it. God requires faith to go to heaven because it gives him glory. If a human being were to say something like that about himself, we would rightly think him egotistical and proud. But when God says it, it is entirely proper and fitting. For he is God and not man (Hos. 11:9), the Supreme Being who is perfect in all his ways (Ps. 18:30), therefore it is proper and fitting for him to speak in this manner–and the astute person agrees:
“It is fitting for the upright to praise him” (Ps. 33:1 NIV).
“How pleasant and fitting to praise him!” (Ps. 147:1 NIV).
“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another” (Is. 48:10,11 NIV).
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone’.
“I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes'” (Ezk. 36:22,23 NIV).
That much, then, is settled. It is perfectly proper that a perfect God should do all things for his own glory. That is a true and honest answer. It is also so general that it can easily lose the force of its meaning. It reminds me of a child in a Sunday School class who answered every question put to her about God’s dealings with us by saying, “Because he loves us?” This child had learned the truth but had not gone beyond the basic fundamentals to grow to see the deeper truths hidden therein.
So, though I felt I had given the right answer to the atheist’s question, I also felt that it needed more explanation; so we talked some more about this matter and its many aspects. That is now what will be done here as well.
So, why does God hide himself? We cannot see God. He is invisible and hidden from us in various ways. That is precisely why some people are atheists, because they say that they don’t believe in something they cannot see or somehow verify that it exists. (Though this is not completely true. Those who say this do believe in many things they cannot see or touch, etc, such as atoms, energy, and the many human emotions such as love, and the reality of their own thoughts, etc.–but that is another topic that will not be pursued here.)
But even those who say they do not believe in a hidden God do believe in some sort of higher power, even if it is the universe itself. For it is clear from our experience with the universe in which we find ourselves that man is not supreme over all the forces of nature, not the supreme being; for he is subject to much that is beyond his control. Man is not god.
However, though the true God created the universe to which man must submit, rebellious man refuses to acknowledge that he is not in control and seeks to put other things in the place of this hidden God, things he can see, such as governments, education, money, power, technoglogy–or self. These are the idols of modern man, just as they were for man of ages past. These are the things man prefers to the hidden God. These are his idols to which he bows.
But God declares that all who do bow to such idols will one day bow to him (Is. 45:23, Ph. 2:10). He will not give his glory to another, whether it be a stick of carved wood or a USB stick for a computer.
Right now, those who believe in the one, true, invisible God are increasingly persecuted by those who prefer an idol they can see. But in the end, that false god will be the one that is unseen: The Lord will destroy all such idols and they will be nowhere to be found–unseen. That which is seen now will bow down to the glory of that which is unseen now but will be visible to all on that great Day. There will then no longer be any doubt or question about the unseen God being the one true God (Is. 45:14).
“These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens” (Jer. 10:11 NIV).
That day will be the day of separation, when Jesus, the Judge of all mankind (Jn. 5:27), will judge those who have chosen false gods over those who were faithful to him, even though they could not see him.
“All the makers of idols will be put to shame and disgraced; they will go off into disgrace together. But Israel will be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting” (IS. 45:16,17 NIV).
This is the great separation of all mankind.
“And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not” (Mal. 3:18 NIV).
Those who are thus condemned to go into eternal darkness on that day of final separation will have no excuse. They will not be able to say that God hid himself from them and that he is therefore unjust to cast them away into the darkness. For God has spoken clearly and openly to all (Rom. 1:19,20).
“I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (IS. 45:19 NIV).
All those who truly want to find God will find him. We have God’s sure word and promise of that.
“‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:13,14 NIV).
Either way, on that great Day, all mankind will see God plainly–and there will be great mourning for both groups of people: those who had not believed in him because they could not see him will mourn because they will face eternal banishment from his presence, never to see him again. Those who do believe in him will mourn because they will see the great price which the Son of God paid for them to be able to see God forever in heaven.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen” (Rev. 1:7 NIV).
But the mourning of the believers will be turned to joy (Jer. 31:13). Yes, they will mourn because he was pierced for their sins, but they will find that mourning turned to joy as they enter into the joy of their Master (Mt. 25:21 RSV).
Thus it will be at the end that all will see God. But only those who saw him with the eyes of faith first, during their lives upon this earth, will be blessed with eternal vision of God in heaven. That is their great reward: to see forever what they had first had without seeing. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29 NIV).
What glory is it to God to have someone say after seeing him, “OK, now I believe in you”? Anyone can do that. No, the glory comes when those who have never seen him believe in him anyway. Their faith is a witness to the greatness of God, that he is so great that he can cause them to have such faith in One whom they cannot see. This witness is not limited just to those of this world either. Scripture records a most profound truth about the faith of those who cannot see yet believe, that they are a witness to the spiritual world as well. Their lives:
“. . . make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:9-11 NIV).
This all comes about through the working of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart. This working causes faith to spring up, giving a witness both to the visible world and the invisible world that God is great beyond all else. This working of the Holy Spirit is hidden from the view of the very human beings it affects.
“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3 NIV).
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8 NIV).
Thus we see that the atheist’s question is no small question and the answer no small answer. Both involve issues of great and eternal significance and the whole matter is much deeper than may appear at first sight. Certainly, a full and complete answer has not been given here in these words. But hopefully they have awakened in the reader a new appreciation for the greatness of God and the greatness of his mysterious ways.
Oh . . . and that atheist? . . . he is now a believer. He did not accept Christ right there as I spoke with him, and I lost touch with him after that. But I did find out later that he had had his eyes opened and come to see him who is invisible as his Lord and Savior. Praise the Lord!