One of the questions I have been asked on several occasions is something like this. “If God does exist and wants people to know him, why is he so hard to find?” My answer has always been that he isn’t. That he’s clearly revealed himself in Creation, his Son, his Word, his Actions, and through the Holy Spirit, that General revelation by itself is fully revealing and gives man no excused.
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 ESV)
But that’s not necessarily to take the question seriously, I’m starting to realize. Yes, we may be able to to perceive God in some sense, to feel Him there with his Spirit, or to see Him in his Son Jesus, or to hear from Him in his Word. But these are still specific circumstances upon which we hear from Him. The men of Jerusalem saw and touched Jesus, but still did not believe, and Israel after Miracles and Movements would quickly forget.
Part of this is due to our sinful nature to be sure, but is there another explanation? Is sin simply one of the results of divine hiddenness? William Lane Craig argues that there are many plausible explanations of why God might be hidden from us in some sense. The one he prefers however is that God created us at sort of an “epistemic arms length”, that he lets us see him “in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”1 This would allow us free will to sin and fall on Earth, but not in Heaven, where we are sealed by the absolute presence of God should we have chosen to follow him. This makes earth into the “Vale of decision making” as he argues.2
I think this makes a degree of sense. Aristotle argued that the “Final End” of everything was directed towards the Prime Mover. That the Universe moved in a great act of imitation of the thing that is the source of all its motion.3 4 If it is true that true reason for Human action is to “be like God” then this makes sense. Our sin and elevation of ourselves is an imitation of God’s ultimate position as that which receives worship, only we are not fitting receptacles for that. Instead, we wish to become more like God which is what the Serpent promised us falsely, but Jesus promises us truly. As St. Irenaeus put it “the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” 5 Our goal through the grace and work of God is to become more like Him, that we might enter into communion with Him fully, face to face, at the end of our lives.
But not now. To encounter God face to face would destroy us now. Not just because of our sin, but because of our finitude as well. We cannot even encounter things such as trees or rocks or people without pulling a bit away from them, keeping ourselves at a distance from them.
“The abstract is the symbol of the concrete. This may possibly seem at first sight a paradox; but it is a purely transcendental truth. We see a green tree; it is the green tree which we cannot understand; it is the green tree which we fear; it is the green tree which we worship. Then because there are so many green trees, so many men, so many elephants, so many butterflies, so many daisies, so many animalculae, we coin a general term ‘Life.’ And then the mystic comes and says that a green tree symbolises Life. It is not so. Life symbolises a green tree. Just in so far as we get into the abstract, we get away from the reality, we get away from the mystery, we get away from the tree. And this is the reason that so many transcendental discourses are merely blank and tedious to us, because they have to do with Truth and Beauty, and the Destiny of the Soul, and all the great, faint, faded symbols of the reality. And this is why all poetry is so interesting to us, because it has to do with skies, with woods, with battles, with temples, with women and with wine, with the ultimate miracles which no philosopher could create. The difference between the concrete and the abstract is the difference between the country and the town. God made the concrete, but man made the abstract. A truthful man is a miracle, but the truth is a commonplace.”
~G.K. Chesterton: “The Speaker,” May 31, 1902.”
Augustine even argues that we are epistemically disconnected from ourselves. “”Don’t you believe that there is in man a deep so profound as to be hidden even to him in whom it is?”6 We exist at an epistemic distance from everything, even ourselves, and so this gives even more credence to the view of Dr. Craig. That our inability to choose the good is not due only to the weakness of our flesh, but also due to the distance we have from the Good. This is why philosophers and scientists cannot even prove that we exist beyond a doubt, or that the external world exists, or that God exists. We are always slightly at a distance.
In this manner, I agree with Keith Ward who argues that what we believe has to be reasonable, but our contact with the truth must be through additional means than reason alone. God is a mystery. He makes good sense, but we cannot get our head around it with a simple explanation.7
Life then is, as the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I titled his book on Eastern Orthodoxy, “Encountering the Mystery” and we will be judged for how we encountered it. For this mystery imposes itself upon us but keeps itself at a distance at the same time.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12 ↩
- http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-people-in-heaven-sin ↩
- Interestingly as a side note, Sufis twirl for this reason. That in their spinning they might imitate the rotation of the heavens and be at one with that which gives it motion. (At least that’s the explanation given in Ibn Tufayl’s book.) ↩
- “The object of desire and the object of thought move without being moved” (Met., 1072a26–27) ↩
- Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface. ↩
- Source Unknown. Obtained from here, http://www.egs.edu/library/augustine-of-hippo/quotes/ ↩
- http://cct.biola.edu/resources/christianity-philosophy-questions-and-truth/ ↩