Why doesn’t God make it unambiguously clear that He exists?

Q. I have a good friend who is a non-believer. I’ve been speaking to him, on and off, for many years, but he still questions God’s existence. During a recent email exchange, here is what he wrote. How would you answer his question?

“And then I say to myself, if there is a God, why wouldn’t he make his existence clear to all mankind in the present day? … What reason could there be to not show himself to mankind now in some unambiguous way??? A way that is not subject to a few individual reporters misstating facts or creating fiction?”

Actually, according to the Bible, God already has made His existence unambiguously clear. God has done this, for one thing, by imprinting evidence of his reality and character onto his creation: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” God has also made His existence clear by imprinting His moral laws on the human conscience. The Bible says, for example, that when people who do not have the law (that is, the Scriptures) “do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”

However, it is true that the witness of creation and conscience are not sufficient to convince a person of the existence of God if that person is relying on reason and empirical observation alone. The Bible says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Faith is a capacity for knowing that requires trust. (The same Greek word is actually translated both as faith and trust in English New Testaments, depending on context.) I think God wants us to come to him by faith because He doesn’t just want us to affirm mentally that He is real; He wants us to enter into a relationship of trust with him. So God requires the first step to be something that will lead in the right direction. Gaining knowledge, by itself, can lead to pride, which leads us away from God; coming to understand through trust leads us towards God.

In one episode of the television series Bones, the character of Dr. Brennan, who is a skeptic, insists, “Faith is the irrational belief in something that is logically impossible.” Actually, faith is just the opposite. It is the reasonable belief in something that is quite possibly true, but which can’t be proved  through reason and observation alone. It is reasonable to believe in God; I would argue that it’s actually more reasonable than to deny the existence of God: All of our experience tells us that things don’t come from nowhere, they come from somewhere. Then where did we and the universe we live in come from? So God’s existence is certainly possible and it’s arguably reasonable. But it can’t be demonstrated the way we would demonstrate a natural phenomenon scientifically.

Nevertheless, faith is indeed a way of knowing. How, for example, can I be sure that my mother loves me? She fed and clothed me right from the time I was a baby—but maybe she just didn’t want to go to jail for child neglect. She says that she loves me—but maybe that’s because that’s just what mothers are supposed to say. The fact can’t be demonstrated empirically. But because I know my mother personally, I know that I can trust that these things truly are signs of a genuine love.

It’s the same way with God. Once we begin to approach Him through trust, we discover more and more that this trust is warranted. In fact, the trust itself is a gift from God to us to enable us to get to know Him: “We know  that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.

So the next time you speak with your friend, you might suggest to him that faith is a way of knowing that will allow him to recognize that God already has made His existence clear, but that God has done this in a way that requires people to approach him through trust. Your friend might counter that God ought to reveal Himself in a way that is accessible to reason and observation, because that is what people can be sure of. However, to claim that there is nothing that can be known certainly apart from what reason and observation can reveal is itself a faith statement. It’s like claiming that there is no light beyond the visible spectrum because we can’t see anything beyond the visible spectrum with our eyes. Logically there still could be—and with more powerfully instruments it has been show that there is—light beyond that spectrum that we simply can’t see with our eyes. Similarly, logically there could be realities in the spiritual world that reason alone could not be confident of, but which could be (and indeed are) accessible to us when we use the faculty and gift of faith that God intends to be part of the way each of us knows, and trusts, and knows.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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