If God Is Real, Why Doesn’t He Make Himself More Obvious?

Written By Dan Paterson, Australia

Dan Paterson is an itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and based in Brisbane, Australia. An ordained pastor, Dan speaks regularly to audiences on how the gospel connects to life’s biggest questions and on the popular objections to the Christian faith, particularly on the question of suffering. Dan is married to Erin, and they have two young sons, Josiah and Zachariah.

Anyone who has believed in God for any extended period of time shares something in common. Disappointment. At some point we ask ourselves: Why don’t I feel my faith anymore? Why do I feel so lonely if God with me? Why hasn’t my life turned out how I hoped? Even King David cries to God, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

It seems having a relationship with an all-powerful and all-good God isn’t always what we imagined it would be. Why can’t we feel God when we seem to need Him most? Why does He hide from us?

In search of answers to this question, let’s explore just three biblical scenes: The Garden of Eden in Genesis, Gethsemane and Golgotha in the Gospels, and the Garden City in Revelation. In looking at these scenes, perhaps we will see that God’s hiddenness isn’t a sign that He doesn’t love us. Instead, God hides precisely because He loves us. His presence and His absence are intentional acts of a God who is so big and so good that only He knows when and how we need to experience His presence.

 

Scene 1: The Garden of Eden in Genesis

The Bible begins with a powerful friendship between God and humans. Our first parents Adam and Eve were said to have walked with God in Eden’s garden. We were made for God’s presence. For intimacy. To talk with God face to face.

But in Genesis chapter 3, humans sinned. We traded our friendship with God for an illicit pleasure. We fell from our high calling as God’s image bearers and became broken. Where once humans could be completely open before God and each other without feeling shame, now the story describes how we began to hide behind fig leaves and ferns.

Humanity started hiding long before God ever felt distant.

And in reaction to human sin, God hides as well. No longer would He walk with us in the cool of the evening. But why? The complex answer is that it is both for our punishment and protection.

Separation from God’s light and life and love is part of sin’s penalty. And it’s a penalty that leads to death.

But God hiding is also an act of protection, mercy, and hope.

God’s holiness is like the sun. A ball of raw energy. Anything that isn’t already like the sun and tries to approach, is destroyed. Which is precisely why the Bible speaks of God as a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), or as living in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16). No one can, in sinful flesh, stand in God’s actual presence without being killed.

Heaven would be as Hell for anyone who stands before God without becoming a New Creation.

 

Scene 2: Gethsemane and Golgotha in the Gospels

For centuries God had kept humanity at arms’ length, with hotspots of His presence reserved for mountain tops and temples. Then Jesus came. He was the promise of God’s actual presence once again being with us, but even He was subject to dark nights of the soul.

At Gethsemane’s garden, Jesus prayed to avoid the agony of the cross. He was overcome with the weight of what He was about to experience—as so many of us so often feel in life—yet His prayer seemed to bounce off the sky. Instead of being delivered from excruciating death, Jesus endured divine distance at His most painful moment. On the cross He cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

God knows what it is like to question God.

Surely, God the Father loves Jesus the Son in a way we cannot comprehend, and yet from our earthly perspective Jesus is seemingly abandoned—until Easter Sunday, where what looks like defeat is reversed at the resurrection. Things unfold precisely as God planned. And we see the picture of why God remained silent.

Through Jesus’ death, God purchases atonement for whoever believes. And through Jesus’ resurrection, God offers eternal life to whoever believes. And we can now be filled with God’s relational presence. God can come to dwell within us now by His spirit.

God hides to achieve some greater good through the distance and the darkness.

 

Scene 3: The Garden City of Revelation

The final three chapters of the Bible describe Jesus’ return and the beginning of forever. And the scene is pictured twofold. As a final judgment, and as a wedding. The question is, who will we come as?

You see, at the judgment, all those who cling to their evil rather than to Jesus are exiled from God’s future world.

God is coming close, to make all things new, and the glory of His actual presence is set to replace the sun itself. In its power, nothing sinful can stand. And so the end of God’s hiddenness spells the end of the corruption of evil.

But for Christians, for those who have come clean with their evil, been forgiven, and made a new creation through Jesus, God’s coming heralds a great celebration. From then on, we get to enjoy the intimacy of being face to face with God, living the lives we were designed for, with every atom of our resurrection bodies flooded with God’s goodness.

And if the future is Jesus coming back for a bride made ready, then our present is the engagement period: a time marked by intense longing. For as we draw closer to God relationally, we desire ever more to see Him face to face. And since love is our final goal, God is hiding now to teach us to be better lovers.

God hides to help us become the seekers we were always meant to be.

That is the 30,000 foot overview of God’s presence and absence from Genesis to Revelation. And we need it. For while it is often hard to navigate in the shadows of a dark night of the soul, a sense of what God is doing in the BIG picture can help ground us, and be the guiding light in how we can move forward. So let’s recap a few of the reasons God may seem distant.

 

Reason #1: God seems hidden because you’re hiding, not Him

Sin obscures our sense of God, and even Christians can experience God’s absence because of it. Sometimes God gives us over to our sin for a time to help us realize that trying to find happiness in anything other than Him is like trying to satiate hunger with a grain of sand.

If God seems hidden because you’re hiding from Him, you are still loved by God. He doesn’t hide because He doesn’t want you. He hides to guard you from his holy presence, and because He refuses to share your devotion with dumb idols.

 

Reason #2: God hides in order that we become heavenly rather than hellish beings

God doesn’t answer all our prayers or immediate desires. Why? Because God is committed to giving us what we need, not what we want. To making us ready to enjoy His presence and to fulfil our eternal vocation, which is to steward all creation as gardeners and governors of God’s garden city and planet.

When I parent my boys, I’m struck by the thought that the endgame is that I’m raising adults, not kids. Which means I don’t always jump when they cry. I watch from a distance, making sure they are okay, in order for them to learn to shake off the small stuff, learn independence, and build resilience. My hiddenness serves a purpose. And if my hiddenness or distance can be intentional and driven by love, how much more so an all-wise Heavenly Father?

The dark nights of the soul, the unanswered prayers, the divine silence—all of these are part of our preparation. To make us more like Jesus, as far as finite beings can reflect infinite love, wisdom, power, and knowledge.

 

Reason #3: God hides because He wants you to seek

Even the demons believe that God exists, but it only hardens them towards Him. God has no interest in simply proving His existence to people who don’t care. Instead, He wants to build deep and meaningful relationships with those who do.

God is interested in making us better lovers.

Since seeking out the other is a huge part of love, God has ordered the universe as a cosmic game of hide and seek (Proverbs 25:2). And God promises that to those who seek with all their heart, He will be found (Jeremiah 29:13). And in the meantime, He is building in us an eternal hunger for His presence.

 

So how are we to respond? In the dark nights of the soul, what is the way forward? Well, it’s to change our perspective on God’s hiddenness. God’s hiddenness is not a sign of His non-existence; nor is it a telltale sign that He doesn’t love us. He hides precisely because He loves us. He is committed to helping us grow up. And the invitation of the Bible is clear for everyone who believes in God: draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

And so, like King David in Psalm 22, the very psalm Jesus quoted on the cross, the way forward is to speak to our soul. To remind ourselves of the story we’re in. And to turn the sense of God’s absence into a hungering after His presence.

Here is the promise of the Bible: God will eventually be found by those who seek. The dark night will eventually dawn. And the eternal day will be brighter than you ever dared imagine.

Editor’s Picks: Best of “Why Do I Feel?”

As we started the new year, we embraced Luke 10:27 as our anchoring verse, and spent the first three months digging into what it looks like to love God with all of our hearts. We were blown away by the generous contributions from our global volunteer contributors, and wanted to share with you a few of our best articles—ones that have already encouraged thousands, that we hope can encourage you too!

Jesus Doesn’t Celebrate the 4th of July

When my plane touched down at my port of entry to the United States after four months of studying abroad, I made my way with the crowds to the customs and immigration line. Right away, my eyes fell on the label for a special, dedicated line that read, “US CITIZENS”.

Anticipation and delight swelled up inside of me. I was home! This was my country! There was familiarity here . . . and predictability! I could speak my own language, use my cultural references, and finally be free from working so hard to communicate every moment of every day. Right then, I embraced my identity as a US citizen with enthusiasm, walking with my head held high through the special line, labeled just for me.

In recounting my travel experience, I’ve often joked that this moment was the time I’ve felt most patriotic in my entire life. While my appreciation for my country that day had more to do with the fact that “America” and “home” were synonymous in my mind than any sort of extreme patriotism, it does still cause me to think about what I value about my citizenship, and more importantly, how much I’m valuing it.

I live in a country where sometimes, Christianity and our national identity are so tightly wound, the two seem to conflate. In church, we celebrate military holidays, and we hang American flags. In school, children recite a pledge that declares the US as a “nation under God.” The declaration—the very document that marks our annual 4th of July celebration of independence—mentions God as man’s Creator.

When the line between faith and nation gets too blurry, it’s easy to (intentionally or not), begin to place faith in institutions, principles, or political parties that are imperfect and can distract us from the ultimate kingdom we owe our allegiance to—God’s!

So, as I consider my country and all that it means to me, I’ve found that it’s helpful to constantly check my loyalty—whether it’s to a country, people group, celebrity, sports team, or the like—against two standards that can help us focus our delight and satisfaction where it belongs.

 

1. Thankfulness that leads to humility, not pride

A big part of the 4th of July celebration for me has always been to think of all that is great about being a citizen of the US. I’m thankful that we have freedom of speech to protect the right to voice unpopular opinions. I never want to take for granted the religious liberties I’m afforded, or the heroic sacrifices that have been made by servicemen, women, and their families that allow me to live and work in peace. I owe a deep sense of respect to those who have fought for the freedoms I enjoy.

But as I revel in the blessings that God has poured out, I remind myself that none of them are mine to claim. When we experience blessings, it’s easy to start convincing ourselves that we actually deserve them, and begin to expect more of them. Expecting blessings can make us feel entitled to them when, in reality, we’re not.

So as I think about my country, I want thankfulness to lead me to humility instead of pride, remembering that I don’t earn or deserve any of these blessings. James 1:17 reminds us where good gifts (including blessings) come from:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

I pray that my thankfulness—not just about my country, but in all things—turns my eyes to the One who gives perfect gifts. I will direct my thanks to God because of the great mercy He has given me. Every single good thing that I experience is from God. He is the only one worthy of my heart’s praise.

 

2. Assurance of where our truest allegiance lies

Even in the midst of decking out in red, white, and blue every year and celebrating how far our nation has come, I can’t help but acknowledge that there remain great injustices. Especially in 2019, marriage, sex, and life—which should be held in a sacred light—have been marred and contorted by society’s modern ideals. Centuries of institutionalized racism means that the impact of discrimination based on race is still active, causing all sorts of injustices and undue burdens.

These sobering realities are a stark reminder that my country, and every single human-built entity, is so broken—plagued by the curse of sin in this world. No country, institution, or political party can address our needs and heal our wounds fully—only God can. And this means that my full allegiance and hope should be in God alone. Paul reminds us in Philippians that our true citizenship—the one we should be most focused on—is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). After all, the gospel story is all about how God saved us so that we could be a part of His heavenly kingdom—the kingdom of light and of His Son (Colossians 1:12-13)!

So this 4th of July, as many of us take time off from work, travel to attend parades and celebrate being an American, let us remember our identity in Christ first and foremost. May it keep our national identity from becoming an idol, and inspire us to adopt God’s global-minded concern for loving and serving others. And every day for everyone, may all of our other loyalties fall into their rightful place, paling in comparison and leading us into thankfulness and assurance of our place in God’s global body.

 

Lord, let Christians’ identity as members of Your eternal kingdom drive them to seek Your will in loving and serving their neighbors both near and across the globe, always holding their heavenly citizenship before any other loyalty.

Sri Lanka Easter Bombings: How Should We Respond?

Screenshot taken from Guardian News Video

 

Written By Asiri Fernando, Sri Lanka

Asiri graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, USA with a Master of Divinity and is now working for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. Asiri is a speaker, Bible teacher and a singer songwriter. Asiri blogs at http://asirifernando.wordpress.com.

 

I was at my packed church on Easter Sunday (Apr 21) in the central hills of Sri Lanka when a friend told me that bombs were going off at church services around the country. Upon returning home, I watched the news in disbelief as it reported scores of people killed in the bombs that went off in three hotels and three churches around the country.

To date, more than 250 people have lost their lives in the explosions and close to 500 have been injured. These figures include the sister of a ministry leader I know who suffered serious head injuries and is currently fighting for her life. A former member of the same ministry died in the bombings. Another youth who attends my organization’s sports ministry lost a leg.

As I reflected on the tragedy that hit the church and our nation as a whole, these two thoughts struck me about how we as believers should respond:

 

1. Embrace the spiritual oneness of the body of Christ

As many who died were church-goers, I had to pause and reflect on the spiritual oneness I shared with the suffering. One of the great marks of being a Christian is that we are part of a family in whom the resurrected Christ dwells (Ephesians 3:17). This may give the impression that we are all living in isolated places as Christ dwells in us. But the Bible says that we are together in Christ too!

A great miracle that took place on the cross apart from our salvation was that God was bringing together a body of people who as a result of the cross will be made irreversibly “one”. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:21b “. . . That they may also be in us”. Paul, in Romans 12:5 says “we are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (ESV). The NIV renders it as “belonging to one another”. Isn’t that the language of married couples? We were never saved to live in isolation but saved into a oneness that we together share in Christ. The New Testament shows that we are incorporated into Christ’s body. In a wonderfully spiritual way not visible to our eyes, the Bible says that we were crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), buried with him (Colossians 2:12), baptized into Christ and his death (Romans 6:3), united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5). We are now together one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)!

As a result of this glorious truth, the Bible commands us to avoid identity markers as we see Christians from another race, color, nation, social standing, gender etc. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27–28). By the use of the words “neither” and “nor”, Paul, in his writing to the Galatians, says that the primary way we see another Christian is as someone who is clothed with Christ!

As someone from the Sinhalese race, this means that I would see a Christian who is Tamil, not as a “Tamil Christian” but someone who is “clothed with Christ”. While the Bible elsewhere does ask us to celebrate our various identities that make us unique, as we see here, we are to hold lightly to them because of the greater identity we have as those who are clothed with Christ.

All this goes to show the extent of the oneness we share with the body of Christ regardless of where we are in the world. It is because of this oneness that when one part of the body is suffering, we suffer together with it. This would mean that regardless of where we are in the world, as believers, we should pause from our busy schedules, get rid of all distractions (especially the digital ones) and cry out to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

 

2. Reach out to those of other faiths

As the aftermath of the tragedy unfolded before our eyes, the question on everyone’s minds was who was behind it. It was confirmed 24 hours later that the bombers were those influenced by extremists Muslim ideologies.

Romans 12-13 makes it clear that justice will be meted out on the perpetrators. God is serious about punishing wrong and has given earthly rulers the authority to execute judgement (His wrath) on wrongdoers. As Christians, we must condemn evil, and even urge the authorities to act justly. We can also be certain that regardless of what happens in this life, He has also set a day to judge the world.

At the same time, because of the actions of some, the entire Muslim community in Sri Lanka has suffered severe shame and are overcome by deep sadness, fear, and anxiety as they move in public places. I know this is a reality for Muslims in western countries too.

The moment the identity of the perpetrators was revealed, I wrote to my high school Muslim friends assuring them of my love for them. Later on, I also visited the home of a Muslim youth living in Kandy (my city) who is very dear to me. I spent several hours with him, wanting him to be affirmed that my love for him had not changed.

We must do all we can to be close to the those of other faiths who are suffering. If we have not learned to look at them through the eyes of grace, then perhaps we have not fully appreciated all that God has done for us (Romans 5:10). May God open our eyes to see His great love for them and how much He desires for them to know Christ.

 

While we mourn over the lives lost after a horrific tragedy like this, we must keep our two-fold commitment to the body of Christ and to the rest of the world that desperately needs Christ. May we be filled with the Spirit to carry our cross for the glory of God in every season.