Shayne Looper: A simply divine game of hide and seek

If God exists, why has no one ever proved it to the satisfaction of all? Of course, most people have not needed proof — the vast majority have always believed in a God or gods. But if God really exists, shouldn’t it be possible to prove it to people who do require proof, to agnostics and atheists? Other disputed facts — that the earth is round, for example, or that germs cause disease — have been proved and the naysayers have been silenced. Why is that so difficult to do when it comes to God?

 

It is important for believers to acknowledge the reality of the difficulty, rather than just shout out proofs with ever-increasing volume. It is also important for atheists to admit that their arguments have failed to carry the day, and fall short of anything like conclusive proof.

One of the reasons irrefutable proof of God’s existence (or non-existence) is elusive is that God belongs to a different class of being than those with which we are familiar. Proving God’s existence is a different thing than proving the earth is round or germs communicate disease. He is not contained in our cosmos the way earths and germs are. Asking for proof of God’s existence is like asking a character in a novel to prove the existence of the novelist. She can look and look without finding any, unaware that she herself is the proof.

There is another reason why irrefutable proof is difficult: Proving to his creatures that he exists is not one of God’s priorities. Proving that he exists does not bring God closer to realizing his purpose in creation, and could even frustrate it. Would God be satisfied because a person, perhaps grudgingly, admits his existence? No, not any more than a dad would be satisfied because his philosopher-student son said, “Old man, after long study I have been forced to conclude the reality of your existence!”

Nietzsche complained that an all-knowing and all-powerful god who did not make his creatures understand, but left them to linger in doubt, could not be a good God. But Nietzsche set the stage and arranged the props to serve his own storyline. Contrary to Nietzsche, there are legitimate reasons why a good God would not force his creatures out of their doubts against their will; when doing so would harm them and undermine the good plans God has for them.

If this is true, a God who hid himself might be both good and wise, which is precisely how St. Paul thought of God’s decision to remain hidden. He wrote, “In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom.”

A serious study of Scripture will lead to the conclusion that God values human freedom and stubbornly resists the violation of people’s free will. In practice, this must be a remarkably complicated procedure because God — for lack of a better way of putting it — is so big and humans are so small, there is a constant danger he will overwhelm them. Preserving human self-determination in the presence of God is like preserving a butterfly’s flight in a hurricane. Yet God has designed the world of matter and energy so ingeniously that he is able to do it.

To maintain human free will, God makes himself avoidable. He either hides us, as he did with Moses in the cleft of the rock, or he hides himself. When God comes to humanity, it is in a modest and remarkably resistible fashion: Through a still, small voice; in the form of a baby; and, when that baby grows up, through parables people can receive or ignore, as they so choose.

God does this because free will is more than an arbitrary prerequisite to human fulfillment; it is integral to the entire process, from beginning to end. Nietzsche seemed to think a good God would, in humanity’s best interests, suspend human freewill. What he didn’t realize is that, were God to do so, humans would no longer be human. Were God to make himself unavoidable, as Scripture promises he will do someday, the process of human development would end immediately.


Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County (Mich.). Read more at shaynelooper.com.


 

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