How often do we want to cry out: “God, if you’re really out there, show me!”

Why doesn’t God just show up? Why does faith have to be so hard?

IF there is a God, why doesn’t He give us a clear, unambiguous sign of His existence? Especially if our response to Him is the whole point of this life, if it determines our eternal destiny. You would expect Him to show Himself somehow so we could fulfill the purpose of our being.

This “hiddenness” of God is perplexing. It’s a real obstacle to faith.

If you’ve ever taken philosophy, you’ve probably heard of Pascal’s Wager.

Blaise Pascal was a genius. He only lived thirty-nine years, from 1623-1662. But in that time he laid the groundwork for many scientific advances, including probability and decision theory, the mathematics of risk management, calculating machines, and proving the existence of the vacuum which provided the foundation for quantum physics. He also invented the vacuum pump and detailed our understanding of outer space. His work enabled the first transportation systems, the insurance industry, management science, the jet engine, internal-combustion motors, the atomic bomb, and mass media. (see James McDonald, Vertical Church, Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2012, pp. 56-57)

Despite these mammoth accomplishments, Pascal is best remembered for his famous “wager”. This is usually how it’s put: when it comes to what is potentially the biggest wager of all—our eternal destiny—belief in God is the far better bet. If we believe and it turns out that God exists, we win the greatest prize possible, Heaven. However, if we don’t believe, and it turns out that God exists, we suffer the greatest loss possible, Hell. So the only safe bet it to believe. Kind of like having “fire insurance” (pun intended) for eternity.

But this isn’t Pascal’s point.

Pascal wasn’t just a brilliant intellect. He was also a man of profound faith. As he explains elsewhere, his rationale for believing goes way beyond fire insurance.

Pascal’s real point—and his own personal experience—was that God won’t reveal Himself to you unless you are willing to commit, to entrust your life to Him. If you believe, in the sense of trust, of staking your life on the claim that God does exist, you will come to see that He really does exist. Pascal claims that God provides enough evidence of His existence that the one who sincerely desires to see will see it. However, God remains hidden enough that the one who doesn’t truly want to see—who doesn’t want God to exist—won’t see.

His wager was designed to encourage people to commit, to believe and thereby see for themselves; to see what Pascal claims to have seen.

But if this is true, why would God make it this way?

Epistemic Distance.

This is the term philosophers use to explain why God can’t just show up. Simply put, He must remain hidden in order to preserve our free will. If He just showed up, if He revealed Himself as He is, in all His glory, He would overwhelm us. We’d have no choice but to acknowledge Him, to bow down and worship Him. If he just showed up, if He eliminated all ambiguity about His existence, it would strip us of our free will.

It's like when Saddam Hussein held elections in Iraq. He won by some absurd percentage, something like 99.7 percent of the vote. (And the other .3 percent were probably beheaded!) Fear of reprisal made freedom a sham. In the same way, God’s manifest presence would make rejecting Him impossible.

God can’t show up without undermining His entire purpose in creating us—to have creatures that are capable of genuine love, of freely entering into relationship with Him.

So He remains distant enough, obscure enough, that we can find legitimate reasons to reject Him. No one in the right mind would say: “I know God is real but I’m going to reject Him anyway, consequences be damned!” Instead, God respects their desire not to know Him by remaining obscure enough that they can find good reasons to reject belief in Him, and thereby retain their free will.

Thomas Nagel is a good example. A highly respected, retired NYU philosopher, he is one of the leading atheist minds of our generation. He’s been very honest that he doesn’t want God to exist. Consequently, he’s found many good reasons why God can’t exist.

There’s enough built-in ambiguity to life that the person who wants to see will and the person who doesn’t won’t.

Pascal would say that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work, how God designed it.

Jesus even said so. Once when He was trying to explain to the disciples His reason for teaching in parables, He said that they are meant to be obscure so that only those with ears to hear will hear and those with eyes to see will see. He goes on to say that it is those who “turn” to Him—literally “repent”—who will be given ears to hear and eyes to see. (Matthew 13:10-17)

Huh? I thought Jesus’ parables were designed to make things easier to understand? No, according to Jesus, they can only be understood by those who are willing to turn to Him, to commit to Him.

And above all, whoever is willing to trust Him with their life will be able to see that Jesus HImself is God incognito.

He has shown up!

But isn’t this delusional? Some kind of mind trick? If you believe hard enough, you’ll see. In my previous blog, I said that you had to want God in order to be a sincere seeker. How is all of this not just seeing what we want to see, fooling ourselves into thinking something is real when it really isn’t? How is it not like believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy?

It would be, except for one key distinction.  

Christian faith says you don’t need to desire to believe in God to see the evidence He exists. You only need to desire the Truth, to be willing to stake your life on wherever the evidence leads. If you are committed to this, if you are open to believing in Jesus IF that’s where the evidence points, then, according to Pascal, according to Jesus, you will be able to see.

Openness to the Truth, and not a desire for God, is the only prerequisite to God revealing Himself to you.

And seeking Truth doesn’t prejudice you one way or another vis a vis God.

Please hear me clearly, though. I haven’t demonstrated that this is true, that the evidence will enable any open-hearted seeker of Truth to see that Christianity is true. All I’m claiming—for now—is that, if the Christian God exists, this “hiddenness” makes perfect sense—it’s necessary to preserve our free will.

Why do people play hard to get? They want to see if the person who is showing interest in them really wants them, really loves them.

Likewise, God remains hidden to see if we really want Him. To ensure that we have real freedom. To give us the opportunity to genuinely love Him—or not.

That’s why faith has to be so hard.

That’s why He can’t just show up.

But for the one who desires Truth, who is willing to commit their life to wherever it leads, they will be given the eyes to see that, in Jesus, God has shown up.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and/or questions. Please go the Contact E.J. Page of this website or visit us on the Raising Jesus Facebook page!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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