“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139: 7-12
People who freely and enthusiastically share the Good Word of the Lord with others feel as King David felt when he penned Psalm 139: the omniscience, omnipresence, and glory of the Lord are inescapable. We sing praise to the Lord and preach in His name to glorify Him as Jesus called on us to do. Yet to some people, the Lord has not made Himself so obvious. One such person calls himself “Renevelation” on social media. Renevelation penned a blog lamenting God’s hiddenness, which I have pasted below. The intention of this blog is to offer a response to Renevelation.
It had to come down to this. The argument from nonbelief. This is my favorite argument of them all, because this is what ultimately led me to reject the God hypothesis. I did an earlier entry on the Hiddenness of God when I started this blog. I realize by now, that that was a bit of a mistake. I didn’t give this argument the defense it deserves. It felt unfinished. It wasn’t “fleshed out.” That’s what I do now. I hope it won’t be too long but I warn you beforehand that it might be a little bit longer.
I’m not a big fan of the syllogistic form concerning this particular argument, because I think it’s more powerful if you present it as the “problem of nonbelief” but I hope this particular form will give me some structure when I argue my case. You’ll be able to find many versions of it but here is the one I settled on:
P1. If God exists, God:
a. wants all humans to believe he exists before they die;
b. can bring about a situation in which all humans believe he exists before they die;
c. does not want anything which would conflict with and be at least as important as his desire for all humans to believe he exists before they die; and
d. always acts in accordance with what he most wants.
P2. If God exists, all humans would believe so before they die (from 1).
P3. But not all humans believe God exists before they die.
C Therefore, God does not exist (from 2 and 3).
So let’s at the premises. I take 1a to be valid. After all God is all loving and he wants to have a relationship with us, he wants us to go Heaven and doesn’t want us to go to hell. This is the conception of the Abrahamic God and pretty much all versions of theism I’m aware of.
I think 1b is valid too. After all he could simply show up to all of us or if that isn’t possible send a few angels to declare his glory or perform some public miracles that unequivocally point to that conclusion (make a giant bleeding cross pop out of thin air etc.). It is possible to make us aware of his existence.
1c is of course pretty hard to defend which is why I typically use it as an inductive argument i.e. an inference to the best explanation. Many people will bring up free will at this point. God wants to endow us with free will and knowing his existence would limit us. This excuse doesn’t work. After all Satan has perfect knowledge of his existence but still doesn’t bow to him. If I knew he existed I also wouldn’t bow, I’d have to be convinced that he’s morally good before I enter that relationship. Mentally assessing God doesn’t limit us. Knowledge doesn’t prevent free will.
Another way out is that God doesn’t want us to worship him out of self-preservation. He wants a genuine relationship with us. I don’t think this holds up either. We’ve all had relationships with friends, family etc. One thing I know first hand is that a relationship based on rewards, based on gifts, based on material possessions is not genuine and can’t be genuine. We act out of self- interest. If somebody gives us stuff to hang out with him, we’ll keep hanging out with him. We don’t do this because we value his character, we do it because we like stuff!
God offers the reward of them all: Heaven. Likewise he offers the worst punishment for refusing this relationship, namely eternal torture. It might be the case that many Theists don’t seek this relationship for salvation but no one can tell me, that it doesn’t at least play a role or that there isn’t at least one Theist out there who does worship for self-preservation alone.
The last and final excuse I typically hear is that God already knows that the people who are seemingly unaware wouldn’t convert and worship him, so he doesn’t bother.
At this point I’d like to draw attention to all the devout Muslims and Hindus who do worship their current deities. There are millions of devout believers who got it wrong. I find the proposition that they wouldn’t sincerely worship Yahweh or any other deity to be ridiculous. If you insist however then you’re a Calvinist because you believe that Jesus only died for a select few, while the others are born with their ultimate destiny being hell.
As I said beforehand this argument should be used as an inference to the best explanation. The truth is that Theists might offer a good reason why he stays hidden. Then my argument is falsified and I offer any Theist reading this the opportunity to come up with a reason. As it is, we should tentatively accept this premise.
1d is basically the nature of every animal and human and should apply to God as well, since he is similar to us. Nobody acts in conflict with his desires or at least he doesn’t without a bigger gain involved.
P2 is the natural consequence of P1. If you accept P1 you must accept P2.
P3 is very much in doubt among many Christians at least. This is because of Romans 1: 19-20 . All I can say about this premise is that I know that I don’t believe and I am not lying about it. It’s not a rebellion it’s genuine nonbelief.
The conclusion which we therefore should accept as an inference to the best explanation naturally follows.
That was the argument from nonbelief. My favorite. Tomorrow I’ll offer a little bit of a caveat to the arguments I presented this week.
Goodbye from yours truly,
Rene von Boenninghausen @Renevelation
Christian Apologist Responds:
Rene has made a handful of assumptions to which I will offer responses. His primary assumption is that God does not make Himself known to us. His next assumption is that all humans need to believe in God before they die or God does not exist. This assumption is based upon his unwritten assumption, which is that all humans want to believe in God. Rene further questions God’s inherent goodness. The unwritten assumption he makes in this assertion is the possibility of an evil God exists. Finally, Rene identifies other religions to propose that believing in the Christian Lord cannot be true by virtue of the existence and prevalence of other religions.
Does God make Himself known to us?
Rene is not the first person to lament what he perceives as divine hiddenness. The book of Psalms is replete with examples of the times when the author, King David, cried out for the Lord seemingly in vain.
Psalm 10:1: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” Some of these were the words that Jesus called out while on the cross to the Lord.
Psalm 88:13: “But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?”
Even Saint Anselm, the eleventh century archbishop of Canterbury, complained: “I have never seen thee, O Lord my God; I do not know thy form. What, O most high Lord, shall this man do, an exile far from thee? What shall thy servant do, anxious in his love of thee, and cast out afar from thy face? He pants to see thee, and thy fact is too far from him. He longs to come to thee, and thy dwelling place is inaccessible” (Proslogion, sect. 1).
Saint Anselm mitigated his own concerns by articulating the ontological argument, yet skeptics do not always find the argument compelling. Skeptics may also find many other arguments in support of God not compelling. These arguments include the moral argument, the cosmological argument, the argument for purpose, the explanation of pain, and the teleological argument. I have detailed these arguments in prior blogs.
Though Saint Anselm reported concerns, others have reported personal relationships with God. A.W. Tozer states, “The ancient image of God whispers within every man of everlasting hope; somewhere he will continue to exist” (Tozer, 1961, p. 41).
Tozer (1948, p. 70) states, “The voice of God, however, is alive and free as the sovereign God is free.” John (6:63) indicates that “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” “The Word of God affects the hearts of all men as light in the soul. In the hearts of all men the light shines, the Word sounds, and there is no escaping them. Something like this would of necessity be so if God is alive and in His world. And John says this is so. Even those persons who have never heard of the Bible have still been preached to with sufficient clarity to remove every excuse from their hearts forever” Tozer (1948, p. 72). “For 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” (Romans 1:20).
2 Chronicles 16:9 indicates that God makes Himself clear to those who open their hearts to Him. God doesn’t ask us to walk up the entire staircase when committing to Him. He merely asks us to take that first step by opening our hearts to Him. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7).
“As we begin to focus on God, the things of the spirit will take shape before our inner eyes. Obedience to the word of Christ will bring an inward revelation of the Godhead (John 14:21-23). It will give acute perception enabling us to see God even as is promised to the pure in heart. A new God consciousness will seize upon us and we shall begin to taste and hear and inwardly feel God, who is our life and our all. There will be the constant shining of “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). More and more, our faculties grow sharper and more sure, God will become to us the great All, and His presence the glory and wonder of our lives” (Tozer, 1948, p. 56).
So, why is it that Saint Anselm called out to the Lord and did not receive a response while a Pastor claimed God speaks? One can only speculate. My speculation is that one of Saint Anselm’s purposes was to pen the ontological argument, which helped him to establish and verify the presence of God.
Do all humans want to believe in God?
Not everyone wants to ask, seek, find or focus on God. Many of the atheists I have encountered have indicated that they would walk away from God if given the choice. Some feel that God has wronged them in some way and rather than forgive Him, they have chosen to reject Him. God gave us free will and allows us to make the decision to ignore and resist Him. Romans 1 also indicates that He lets us live out our desires. Oftentimes, when we’ve reached rock bottom, He is there ready to pick us up and let us shine and be reborn into a new and better life.
Is God good?
Rene indicated that Satan did not bow down to God and that he would not bow down to God without a confirmation that God is good. God is good. God is love (1 John 4:8 and 16). Unlike the pantheist Supreme Being, which is a passive force in the universe, God is an active, personal, loving Lord. The Lord is also unlike the Muslim Allah, who is not equated with love in the Quran. The Christian Lord is the alternative to pure evil, which I have experienced and would never wish on anyone.
“The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing, too. God does not love populations. He loves people. He loves not masses, but men. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end” (Tozer, 1961, p. 102).
What about the other religions?
“In Christian experience there is a highly satisfying love content that distinguishes it from all other religions and elevates it to heights far beyond even the purest and noblest philosophy. This love content is more than a thing; it is God Himself in the midst of His Church singing over His people. True Christian joy is the heart’s harmonious response to the Lord’s song of love” (Tozer, 1961, p. 102).
Yin and yang, or dualism, is a belief embraced by Eastern faiths. Good and evil are always at odds. Eastern faiths give them an equal footing, while Christianity states one is greater than the other (i.e., good is greater than evil). We know from our own experiences that good is superior to evil. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” This is the case for Christianity – and the Christian Lord, who is love.
Thank you for your time.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” – John 8:32
Tozer, A.W. (1961). The Knowledge of the Holy. New York, NY: Harper One.
Tozer, A.W. (1948). The Pursuit of God. Camp Hill, PA: Wingspread Publishers.