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Why isn’t God more obvious?

July 11, 2014

As I turned on my computer this afternoon to write my latest post in response to the RZIM Summer School, I (providentially!) discovered a quote from an atheist blog quoting Matt Dillahunty ‘A god that does not manifest in reality is indistinguishable from a god that does not exist’. This is an excellent quote and introduces the topic that was addressed in one of the morning sessions today by Tom Price, ‘Why isn’t God more obvious?’

I think that Dillahunty is broadly correct, a god that doesn’t manifest in reality is indistinguishable from a god that does not exist. This is the difficulty of deism. Deism proposes that there is a god, but it is impersonal and unknowable, and doesn’t want to be known. This means that whilst philosophically a deistic universe is theistic, practically it becomes atheistic.

Hence the reason for Price’s presentation – ‘why isn’t God more obvious’? Why is god so hidden?

Price’s presentation was stimulating and I need time to reflect on it, and I don’t think I agreed with everything he said.

Price said helpfully and correctly that Biblical epistemology is not one of ‘blind’ faith, contrary to many atheistic challenges. The Greek root word ‘to believe’ in the New Testament is based on believing ‘with evidence’. Moreover the Old Testament prophets exhorted people to follow God based on the things God had done, the great redemptive acts of history. Similarly, Jesus performed miracles and various acts which demonstrated who he was. Therefore the Bible is not contrary to evidence.

Price then went on to define more precisely what ‘obvious’ meant. He suggested there were two main ways ‘obvious’ could be understood.

  1. Easily understood or clear
  2. Unavoidable

Price’s main point was then, ‘God is easily understood and clear without being forcefully obvious’.

He suggested that if God were forcefully obvious it would limit human freedom and lead to a law based relationship. Then he asked the question ‘has God has made himself clear (obvious) for those who want him to be?’ I think he answered it in the affirmative, that sometimes we avoid this reality for personal reasons. Effectively it seemed that Price was arguing that God can’t compel us to change our minds, so we need to be open to him and humble ourselves before we can see him.

At the same time I agree and disagree with Price’s assessment here.

  1. I disagree because this doesn’t help as an argument for the existence of God. It appears that you have to assume the existence of God, that he’s there, before you can see him. The immediate question that pops into my mind is ‘how do I know it’s god that I can see rather than something els?e’. It seems a little of a circular argument to assume god before you can see him.
  2. I also disagree with the conclusion that God can’t compel us to change our minds (there is a greater theological difference here, but full discussion of this is beyond the scope of this blog). It appears that Price has presented a picture of God which is not all powerful. It also contradicts the Apostle Paul who writes in 2 Corinthians 5 where ‘Christ’s love compels’ him to act.
  3. Yet I do agree that there seems to be some sense in which God is seen to those ‘with the ears to hear’. This is the message that Jesus speaks for example, in Mark 4 Jesus is preaching and he outlines different responses to the message. Even though some people were presented with exactly the same evidence and exactly the same message, some accepted it and others rejected it. Jesus says those who accept ‘have ears to hear’. In this sense only some comprehend God acting in and through Jesus, whereas others didn’t (and the difference between the two wasn’t simply a matter of more or less evidence).

A slightly puzzling aspect to Price’s presentation was his proposal that if God revealed everything about his feelings for us etc, that it might scare us off.  I found this a slightly puzzling argument because this seems fairly speculative, there appears no scriptural evidence for this (as far as I can see) and also for many people (including Christians) the issue would be more that, ‘I wouldn’t mind being shocked a little, I’d just like to know you’re there a bit more!’. 

Price closed more strongly by proposing that God has revealed himself more comprehensively in Jesus. Personally, I think this is the best answer to the question, ‘why isn’t God more obvious?’. The incarnation of God in Jesus is the clearest evidence we have of God revealing himself. This most clearly answers Dillahunty’s comment. The Christian message claims that God HAS manifested himself in reality through Jesus. John 1:14, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’, and again in John 1:18, ‘No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only [Jesus], who is at the Father’s side has made him known

As CS Lewis said, ‘If everything Jesus said and did is true, then who Jesus is, IS OBVIOUS’.

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2 Comments
  1. Rob, this post contains some of the more insightful points I’ve ever seen you write. You actually demonstrate what appear to be genuine hints of questioning and scepticism that most atheists take for granted. While I’m not surprised that you are unable to take this through to a natural and logical conclusion, I’m still a little disappointed that, apparently, you still fail to show a thorough understanding of or sympathy with sceptical, atheistic thinking.
    Here are a few observations:

    “It appears that you have to assume the existence of God, that he’s there, before you can see him…it seems… a circular argument to assume god before you can see him…”
    It is this point nearly had me singing Hallelujahs. 😉

    “I also disagree with the conclusion that God can’t compel us to change our minds (there is a greater theological difference here, but full discussion of this is beyond the scope of this blog)…” This is an interesting and debate-worthy topic, and you’re hitting on a major contradiction within Christian teaching to do with free will. I’ve discussed this myself recently, here: http://skeptintheloop.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/free-will-belief-and-salvation-the-flaw-in-the-heart-of-christianity/
    However, I suspect the argument your session lecturer Tom Price is really making, is not that God is incapable of compelling people to change their minds, but rather that He elects not to. Kind of a divine prime directive. This is more consistent with traditional Christian teaching than the idea that God can’t do something.

    “Jesus says those who accept ‘have ears to hear’. In this sense only some comprehend God acting in and through Jesus, whereas others didn’t (and the difference between the two wasn’t simply a matter of more or less evidence)…”
    In relation to your parenthetical comment, my suggestion is to really try to adopt a sceptical mindset and divorce yourself – just for a moment – from your position of faith. Then elaborate on what you could really mean by a matter of more or less evidence. Keep in mind – and this is absolutely crucial to the issue – that atheists do not simply reject the notion of God on a whim, and they do not use the phrase ‘lack of evidence’ as a cheap, dismissive platitude. Most atheists I know have thought this issue through very carefully. So ‘lack of evidence’ is a correct and succinct summation, but those three words by themselves do not fully capture the thought processes behind the conclusion.

    “and also for many people […] the issue would be more that, ‘I wouldn’t mind being shocked a little, I’d just like to know you’re there a bit more!’. “ Indeed. Or at all. Another small hallelujah.

    “The incarnation of God in Jesus is the clearest evidence we have of God revealing himself. This most clearly answers Dillahunty’s comment.”
    And here we are, at the disappointing conclusion of what started out to be a hopeful little exposition. We all know you believe this stuff, Rob. What I don’t understand is why you bother to post such vacuous bullet points in a blog entitled “Atheist Forum”. Cheers.

  2. Steven Carr permalink

    ‘Even though some people were presented with exactly the same evidence and exactly the same message, some accepted it and others rejected it. ‘

    Jesus explains why in Mark 4.

    He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
    and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’

    Jesus taught in parables because otherwise people might turn and be forgiven. Jesus cleverly found a way to stop that happening.

    Paul also explains further in Romans 8

    It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

    Paul’s god hardens the heart of people he wants to have hard hearts.

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