Hiding in Least Expected Places
Why isn't God more obvious? This question is often asked in many ways and in many contexts. When prayers go unanswered, why is God silent? When suffering or tragedy strikes, why would God allow this to happen? When struggling over the countless millions who do not know about God revealed in Jesus Christ, why wouldn't God want more people to know this great, good news? When all the "evidence" seems to counter the biblical narrative, why doesn’t God just give a sign? When God was revealed through many wondrous signs and miracles throughout the Bible, why doesn't God act that way today? All of these examples get at the same issue–the seeming "hiddenness" of God.
Atheist Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if after death he met God. Russell replied: "God, you gave us insufficient evidence."(1) While many who have found God quite evident would balk at Russell's impudence, a similar struggle ensued between the psalmist and his hidden God. "Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalms 10:1). Indeed, the psalmist accuses God of being "asleep" in these plaintive cries: "Arouse, yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, and do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression?" (Psalm 44:23-24).
Indeed, the belief in a God who can be easily found, and who has acted in time and space makes the hiddenness of God all the more poignant and perplexing. Theologians and apologists have offered many explanations for God's hiddenness: because God seeks to grow our faith, because our sins and disobedience hide us from God and keep us from seeing God properly, or because God loves us and knows how much and how often we need to "find" God. If we are honest, perhaps we are just as likely to hide ourselves from God because of our own sense of guilt and shame, just as the narrative in Genesis tells us Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden. But, what of those who relentlessly seek after God and who are "blameless" with regards to willful hiding? Like the ancient sufferer Job, the cry rises up within us wondering why God stays hidden away in unanswered prayers and difficult circumstances. "Why do you hide your face, and consider me the enemy?" (Job 13:24).
The hiddenness of God is problematic for theists and atheists alike. Christians often take for granted that we have a scripture which provides a record of God's revelation. We have the benefit of a book full of God's speech. God speaks in the wonder and mystery of creation; God speaks through the history of the nation of Israel; God speaks through the very Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. His life reveals the exact nature of God, and places God's glory on full display. Atheists take the seeming silence of God a justification for their atheism.
Regardless, all may wonder whether the only place to hear God speaking is in the past. Is God still speaking today? Has God not given any contemporary witness for God's presence and activity in the world today?
In fact, God is often found in one of the last places we think of—the church. For when the church is at its best, the church tells fresh the story of God's good news across the ages. But the church can become the living embodiment of God's presence; encountered in the love and care demonstrated by the community for each other, for the sake of the world. At its best, the church can be such a community, and can be a symbol of God's presence among us as "God-found," and not "God-hidden." The church can be the arms of God around us when we are hurting, or the voice of God speaking when we feel we haven’t heard from God in years. Such a community can be like the faithful friends who carried their paralyzed friend to hear Jesus. His faith didn't heal him, but the faith of his friends did!(2) The church can be God’s voice, God’s hands and feet as they extend out into the broken places of the world to bring healing, help, and comfort. Through worship and liturgy, prayer and communion, service and sacrifice the church is to reveal the God who spoke and is still speaking.
God is not often revealed in the roar of the hurricane or the loud-clap of thunder, but in a "still, small voice"—a voice that is often barely audible except to the most patient and still. But when the Church, broken and human as it is, seeks through the power of the Spirit of Christ to accomplish "greater things than these," we see God and hear God, and find God beautifully obvious.
For those who long to see God, who long to find God in the darkest hour, we may not find God in the dramatic or the victorious, the miraculous or the stupendous. Instead, we may yet hope to find him in the pew, at the table of the Lord's Supper, or in the faithful friends who encircle around, fellow seekers who long to find God too.
Margaret Manning Shull is an adjunct speaker with RZIM.
(1) Cited in Dr. Paul K. Moser’s booklet, Why Isn't God More Obvious: Finding the God who Hides and Seeks (Norcross, GA: RZIM, 2000), 1.
(2) Mark 2:1-12.