Thinking about God is not a waste of time. Or so I’ve argued. Admittedly it’s hardly a surprising thesis coming from the mouth of a theologian. But the reasons for its importance go far beyond my own need to protect my profession and paycheck. If God is there, he’s the most important reality there is. (You might prefer to say She’s the most important reality there is, or perhaps It’s the most important reality there is. In that case, I’ll invite you to make the mental substitutions at the appropriate places as you read.) What is more, it would hardly be surprising if our human flourishing were tied in some very basic way to our relationship with him … and our beliefs about him.
It is at this point that we immediately run into large and difficult questions, precisely the kind of questions that we need to be wrestling with. In short, if being related to God and believing certain things about him are important to our human flourishing then why isn’t it easier to establish if we are in relationship with him and when we believe the right things about him?
The dilemma was stated well when R0c1 responded to my article “Is thinking about God a big waste of time?” by commenting:
“If God really requires that I believe a thing before he can stop my annihilation or torture, I wish he’d let me know. Where is he hiding?”
Now let’s start by noting something very important: the assumptions of some theists are such that R0c1’s question is not — indeed cannot be — an honest question. The reason is because they believe that God is in plain view and that those who claim not to see God are simply denying the knowledge they have of him.
This may be true. Since Freud first led us into the depths of the subconscious we have now become much more acquainted with the suppressed depths of our own consciousness. More specifically, we are acquainted with the fact that there are these suppressed depths, if not what is contained within them. For example, we may not have come to terms with the fear we feel for a neighbor’s dog or our hatred for a coworker, even though the evidence of our fear or hatred is written on our face for others to see. Is it possible that some people have locked in the basement of their subconscious knowledge of God that is essential for their relationship with him?
Yes, that’s possible. But it really doesn’t answer the question. After all, God is the one who structured our psychology and thus the one who hived out a basement of the subcsoncious fit for us to stuff whatever we don’t want to confront in our immediate awareness. And God knew that people could and would be stuffing beliefs like “God loves me and has a wondeful plan for my life” into that basement, thereby leaving their tortured consciousness to ask where God is hiding.
Put it like this. Imagine that you wake up one day and find yourself strapped into a fat suit at the back of a china shop. Suddenly the fire alarm goes off leaving you to scramble and stumble to the front door. As you go you teeter and totter, bump and whump the glass shelves all around you, resulting in Royal Doulton tea cups and Crown Staffordshire figurines crashing to the ground. When you finally get to the entrance you see the sign “If you break it you bought it” along with a stern looking salesperson and a security guard.
I suspect that’s the way some doubters feel. They may concede that it is possible that they’ve suppressed some knowledge of God important for their flourishing in a manner analogous to you breaking the tea cups and figurines. But they can still wonder why God gave them a complex “fat suit” psychology that would allow them to suppress knowledge that is so essential to their own flourishing. To put it bluntly, answering the question “Where is God hiding?” with “In the depths of your subconscious” merely shifts the problem.