02 Nov 2008

"If God Exists, Why Doesn’t He Reveal Himself?"

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This is a typical challenge from smug atheists. (BTW I am not using that term as a pleonasm; I am referring to atheists who happen to be smug.) However, in the comments to my previous post about donning the armor of God, Aristos said:

I’ve always enjoyed the “whole armor of God” metaphor, but whenever challenged to don it, I feel nonetheless naked.

My greatest concern regarding my faith is the fact that there hasn’t been a burning bush in thousands of years.

Don’t you think that God would remind us from time to time that he’s around and omnipotent? Seriously, blind faith wasn’t good enough for Moses, so why is it for us?

When Thomas asked to see the wounds, Jesus showed him. What is there for us to be shown?

This is a really tough question; I remember a guy in my Bible study asked almost the exact same thing–he said something about how it would be easy for modern Christians to stay in line if they were literally following a column of fire/smoke around (as the Israelites did in the desert).

I think the answer (or at least part of it) is one of maturity; God already did the “obvious” stuff like sending plagues and incinerating whole cities. And just as earthly parents scale back their punishments and oversight as the child grows, so too does God become more aloof as humanity matures with each passing generation.

I am not trying to downplay Aristos’ concerns; I feel them too. When I read the Gospels sometimes I get jealous of the apostles. It would have been crystal clear what you were supposed to do with your life if you actually could physically follow Jesus around and do whatever He literally said to you. Plus, I would have been so much better than the other apostles! What absolute morons they were, asking Jesus if they should call down brimstone on a city, or asking Him which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, or shooing little kids away, or telling a blind man to shut up.

But that’s not fair to the apostles, because they didn’t grow up learning Gospel stories like I did! It was necessary for them to be such dolts, so that Jesus could teach them (and us) a lesson.

The same is true of Thomas. Aristos notes that Jesus allowed the doubting follower to touch His wounds and verify that it really was His lord returned from the dead. So we are denied that evidence, it’s true.

But on the other hand, we have something much better. Jesus said, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

So one way to try to make lemonade out of the lemons is to realize that God is giving us a harder challenge. We can read about Peter denying Christ and think, “I wouldn’t have done that.” But it’s much more challenging to be faithful if you haven’t actually seen the guy!

So my main answer to Aristos’ question is that God wants us to develop. I mean, another way to put it is, why did Jesus leave? Can you possibly imagine how much better the world would be, if Jesus stuck around, healing and teaching? And yet, apparently it wouldn’t have been better, because Jesus left, and (without getting bogged down here in a huge philosophical thicket) I really do think this is the best of all possible worlds.

A couple of more points on this general topic: First, I think part of why “miracles” don’t happen as much nowadays is that people are far more scientistic (not a typo). To put it bluntly, I think most of us would be absolutely terrified if we saw a burning bush (that wasn’t consumed), because we’ve been trained in our culture not to believe in such hocus pocus.

Second, I have–on a few occasions–communicated with God. It was in a very roundabout fashion; I didn’t have George Burns appear in my shower. But there is no doubt in my mind that these episodes happened.

So I would encourage people who believe intellectually, and yet sometimes get discouraged that it doesn’t feel as real as, say, a two-by-four to the head, to pray for help in this regard. As I said, I think if you reflect a little on it, you don’t really want an actual conversation (just yet), because it would terrify you. But at least for me, I know that God has revealed Himself–in ever so tiny, gentle bits–when I really needed Him to.

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