Countless people have wrestled over the years with the problem of divine hiddenness. In particular, they’ve wondered why, if there is a God, he isn’t more readily apparent in the world. More than three centuries ago Pascal provided the following answer:
“It is not in this manner that He has willed to appear in His advent of mercy, because, as so many make themselves unworthy of His mercy, He has willed to leave them in the loss of the good which they do not want. It was not, then, right that He should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him. He has willed to make himself quite recognisable by those; and thus, willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart, He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.”
This answer offers a possible resolution according to which God is sufficiently visible to those who truly want to know of his existence and be in relationship with him, and he is sufficiently obscure for those who don’t want to be bothered to know.
There is something appealing about this explanation. After all, there are many folk — those commonly called “anti-theists” — who really appear to be openly hostile to the very idea of God. They say that if there were a God they’d rebel against him. They insist that they don’t want there to be a God. These people are presumably “those who seek Him not.” And so their current disbelief is readily explained.
Or is it?
Here’s the problem with Pascal’s claim. For those who are truly anti-theists, knowing whether there is a God would seem not to make any difference. If they really will refuse to serve God no matter what then their die is cast, their fate is sealed, their way is laid out before them, and so there would seem to be no good reason to keep them in ignorance.
And that’s not all. What about those other atheists, agnostics, doubters, skeptics and the like who insist that they really do want to know if there is a God but who still find themselves unable to conclude that there is? Are they among “those who seek Him not”?
And that’s still not all. What about those who call themselves theists or Christians but who find their belief wavering, fluctuating, like a ship at sea heaving on the waves of uncertainty? At those moments when their faith is at a low ebb are they too to be counted among “those who seek Him not”?
I don’t discount Pascal’s advice. But it does seem to me that it introduces a significant problem which must be addressed. In short, it appears to be reminiscient of health and wealth (or Word of Faith) theology which attributes all sickness and poverty to the lack of faith of the suffering individual. Similarly, Pascal’s advice seems to set us on a course of attributing all doubt to a rebellious rejection of evidence. No matter how earnest the doubter may seem, they are accounted in those moments of doubt among “those who seek Him not.”
If this parallel with health and wealth theology exists, then perhaps a response to health and wealth theology can be borrowed for the beleaguered doubter. Scripture certainly leaves it open that some sickness and poverty is attributable to divine punishment. But woe to the individual who surmises that all is. Remember when the leaders assumed that a man must have been born blind for som sin — his own or that of his parents — Jesus replied: ” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)
Likewise, some doubt may be the result of rebellion. Some doubt may well be an indication of those who seek Him not. But let us not assume that all doubt is explicable in these terms.