The Nature of Doubt and Divine Hiddenness

In a previous post, I began a discussion about the issue of Divine Hiddenness. A perhaps unwarranted assumption of the argument from divine hiddenness is that more evidence of God's existence would necessarily result in the conversion of all rational unbelievers. While it is possible that more evidence of God’s existence or nature may result in the conversion of more unbelievers, it is by no means certain and it is doubtful that it would lead to the conversion of all rational unbelievers. The assumption that more evidence will result in such conversions rests on the questionable premise that the rejection of God is simply a matter of intellectual rigor rather than of rebellion. Christianity does not accept this assumption nor should it.

In Romans 1:18-24, Paul is clear that people who have sufficient knowledge of God continue to sin because they choose to do so. Although “God has made it plain to them” they “have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” This is true not only for humanity, but also for Satan and some angels. Orthodox Christian belief holds that Satan and one third of the Angels rebelled against God despite knowing Him in ever more powerful ways than Christians do. The Gospel of Mark emphasizes that the unclean spirits knew Jesus (Mark 1:23-24; 1:34; 3:11, 5:6-7) and James wrote, “ You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (2:19). See also Acts 16:16-18.

Some may ask how it is possible that Satan, reputably God’s highest creation, could have rebelled knowing he would lose to an all-powerful creator. This makes the same failed assumption mentioned above: that faith in God is a mere intellectual exercise. Satan may have deluded Himself into thinking He could defeat God. Hence the saying, “Pride goeth before the fall.” Satan could have known rebellion was hopeless but he would “be damned” if he would worship God. Hence the saying, “He’d rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.” He'd rather be master of his own domain and do as much damage to God as possible rather than continue to serve. I've seen atheists express this sentiment, that God is not "worthy" of love and worship. The heart, the exercise of will, the emotion involved, means that issues of belief are not just an abstract intellectual exercise. Just as Satan’s will colored his perceptions, so our own desires, our lusts, our wills, affect our intellect and our decisions.

To turn back to humans for a while, Adam and Eve had full knowledge about the existence of God, but still defied His command regarding the Tree of Knowledge. Israel too lost their faith in God despite have experienced wondrous miracles. They felt that pull to go back to a more familiar -- if subservient -- life in Egypt, to fall back on their old ways of understanding. Even Moses defied God and disobeyed Him, retreating to the familiar way rather than the instructed way. (Numbers 20:8).

In my own experience, during a period of spiritual and intellectual struggle, issues of evidence were one part of a broader equation. My studies mediated the intellectual challenges -- some so silly as I look back (or read Debunking Christianity today) -- finding the evidence and argument that convinced my head, but heart and maturity issues also needed reform.

How is all of this relevant to the issue of divine hiddenness? My point is not to deny that there are valid intellectual questions or challenges for the Christian faith. Rather, it is to first point out that not all doubt is purely, or even mostly, intellectual in nature. It can also be about isolation, depression, sin, or just maturing. Additionally, the assumption that more evidence from God will mean the elimination of doubt and rebellion is inconsistent with Christian theology and human experience. Disbelief is not necessarily going to be remedied by more evidence of God's existence or nature. As a result, God is not just about giving evidence, but about cultivating a deep faith. A faith that is not only a bulwark against intellectual doubt, but about the other issues of the world that can so easily ensnare.


While I doubt this will convince the critics I am convinced that one of the reasons for Divine hiddenness is that clearer knowledge produces greater culpability see Matthew 11:20-24 and God knowing people with still reject him remains hidden in many cases to save people from incurring a greater judgment than they already have.
Layman said…

I had had the same thought and appreciate the scripture reference. James may have had the same thought in mind at James 3:1, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."

I hope to develop this idea and blog on it in a later installment.
Weekend Fisher said…
I think the claim of divine hiddenness must, sooner or later, consider the issue of the public nature of much of Christ's ministry and the decidedly go-public nature of the Great Commission.

One of the bottom-line claims of Christianity is that, in Christ, God isn't hidden from us.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF
I suspect that genuine atheism was more rare in the ancient world than in the modern world.

Even the verse, "the fool hath said in his heart there is no god," probably wasn't in reaction to genuine atheism, but more like the way the Romans called the Christians "atheists" because they didn't offer incense to the Emperor and gods of Rome.

Even in the NT era we read, "even the demons believe in God and tremble." But Jesus goes on to stress not just belief in God but the commandments and the added teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

Paul also addressed believers in the supernatural, including believers in "the unknown God," not atheists.

The question as I see it is why no more grand miracles for all to see like the parting of the Red Sea in the OT, or the raising of many saints from the grave who entered the holy city and showed themselves to many, or the appearance to over 500?

The OT is old, the NT is older. Still no more inspired books from God either, not for nearly 2000 years.

Even the period of non-inspiration between the last written OT book and the first written NT book was far less than 2000 years. But now after the NT we have 2000 years and still no more miraculously inspired books from God.

If this keeps up, I suspect that doubts will increase.
Layman said…

I am not sure what "genuine atheism" is supposed to be. And what is your evidence or textual research that equates this verse with pagan attitudes towards Christians in the third century?

I'm not sure what some of your other points are supposed to mean.

As for "grand miracles," they were not that common in the ancient world. And two of the three you cite really have nothing to do with persuading unbelievers. And there are many Christians, Catholics and Pentacostals, who would claim there have been notable, perhaps even "grand" miracles since New Testament times.

And Muslims, Mormons, and others would not agree with you about the lack of authoritatively inspired books so even if doubts about the current orthodox Christianity increase that certainly would not preclude other faiths from taking off. And the lack of such newly recognized canonical books hasn't resulted in the end of Judaism.

This was marginally on point so I didn't delete it Ed, but try and keep on the straight and narrow.
Steven Carr said…
'Israel too lost their faith in God despite have experienced wondrous miracles.'

Yes, that is what religious people do.

All I have to do is look at the faith of Christians and their faith is living testimony to the falsity of these stories.
Weekend Fisher said…
Eh, Steven, you'll get a real boost to your skepticism if the Christians around here ever experience real persecution. You're likely to see them falling away like flies.

Then again, once the less-than-dedicated ones are gone, you may actually be able to *see* the ones who have faith, once there isn't so much camouflage ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF
Layman said…

I fear Steve sees what he wants to see on these issues.
Brad Haggard said…

I think your thoughts on Satan are really interesting. We wouldn't hold that Satan had complete knowledge of God, as that would be impossible, so to think that he was somehow in a coercive epistemic position is unwarranted. Our favorite DC blogger is quick to point out that Satan would have to have been "dumber than a box of rocks" to have rebelled, but the key word is "rebelled".

In fact, I think I could make a cogent analogy between the epistemic situation of Satan and of Loftus...but maybe that would be going too far?

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