In the book “Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity” there appears an article by Paul G. Hiebert, a former missionary to India. He tells the story of a time when there was an epidemic disease in the village and the Christians were asked to help contribute to buying a water buffalo to sacrifice to one of their goddesses so that the goddess would take away the sickness. The Christians refused to participate. As a consequence, the villagers would not let Christians draw water from the village well and the merchants would not sell them food. Then one of the Christian girls got sick and the villagers said it was punishment from the goddess because the Christians would not help them with the purchase of the water buffalo. Paul Hiebert was asked to pray for the sick girl to be healed and everyone in the village watched to see if the Christian God would heal the girl. The girl died and Paul Hiebert felt totally crushed. He had prayed for healing and did not receive an answer. He needed God to show Himself so that others would come to believe in the true God. But God remained hidden. However, the Christians had hope and joy that their beloved little girl would be resurrected and live forever in God’s future Kingdom. Soon, reports came forth that other villagers were becoming Christ-followers because they saw how the Christians responded to this tragedy. Paul concluded that in this case God remained hidden and did not heal the girl because the people of the village believed in spirits and magical powers, and if God had healed the girl, they would have made God just another part of their magical powers to be called upon in time of need. A similar thing appears in the Bible. (Acts 8:9-22)
A problem with God remaining hidden is that people can use God’s hiddenness as an excuse for their unbelief. The reason they do not believe, they say, is because God does not make Himself known in such a way that they can clearly see Him. If only God would reveal Himself by some direct and unmistakable voice or appearance or miracle, they would believe in Him. But He doesn’t show Himself, so how can they be expected to believe? I would respond by saying that unbelief in God is not because there is a lack of evidence, rather, unbelief is due to a person’s unwillingness to see and believe what God has made known. In the Old Testament, God clearly showed Himself many times, but people still did not believe. In Exodus, God delivered His people from Egyptian bondage by many great miracles. He then led them through the wilderness by His clear presence in fire and cloud; He spoke to them in an audible voice from a mountain and gave them His commandments through Moses. But they still ended up making a golden calf to worship in place of God, even when He told them not to have any gods but Him. (Exodus 32:1-14) They remained skeptical and still would not entrust their lives into His care and build a loving relationship with Him. In the New Testament, people asked for a sign from Jesus that would enable them to believe. (John 6:30) Jesus gave them many signs, including the resurrection of bodies from the dead (John 11:44-48, 53; Matthew 28:1-13), and yet, many people still would not believe and entrust their lives to Him. Jesus told a story which concluded that people would not believe, even if someone were to rise from the dead. (Luke 16:25-31) God is under no obligation to show people more if they will not believe what has already been given to them. (Matthew 21:23-27) The truth is that many do not want God to rule over them. They want to continue running their own lives without God interfering. When God does reveal Himself to people set in their unbelief, they try to suppress the truth and refuse to submit to God. (Romans 1:18-21)
Another problem concerning God’s hiddenness comes from believers who think that God has abandoned them in their time of need. Should we only believe in God and trust Him because He shows up to protect us from evil and pain? What if He heals my child or myself from cancer? What if my family is in a serious car accident and everyone escapes unhurt? Surely, we give credit to God and we are thankful and believe in Him. But, what if the next time my loved one dies of cancer, or is killed in an accident? Will I stop believing and trusting God because God did not show up to protect me or do what I wanted Him to do? Does my trust in God depend on whether He is always there for me when I want things to turn out a certain way? A God who meets all my wishes and answers all my prayers the way I want is not a God worth trusting. That is a God who is my servant. A God worth trusting is a God who knows the end from the beginning; a God who truly knows what is needed for my good. I would like to be the one who determines what is good for me and what is not good for me. But do we know what is truly good for us? Do we trust that God is good and knows more than we about what is good for us, no matter what evils we may experience? True faith and trust in God is the ability to see beyond present appearances and conditions. It is like being in the midst of a blackened sky with dark clouds and thunder and wind and storm, and knowing that this is not how it will always be. We know that the sun is still in the sky and will shine again. Likewise, God is still there, and His good purposes for our lives will prevail. Although God does intervene miraculously in lives, the truth is that when God remains hidden, He has a purpose, and an unshakeable belief in the reality of God’s promises needs to be our primary focus. A person in the Bible named Job experienced the goodness of God and also some of the worst pain and suffering a human being can go through. What was His attitude toward God? He said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord…Shall we accept good from God and not adversity?” (Job 1:21; 2:10)
The hiddenness of God is common. When bad things happen and God fails to show up to help; atheists, agnostics, and some believers are skeptical and doubt that there is a God of love. Tragedy and death happens to well-meaning people and children all over the world every day. God does not seem to care and lets it go on. Where is God? The Bible definitely portrays God as a supernatural being with great power who frequently enters our world and does miraculous things. And, because these acts of God are written about so frequently in the Bible, we can easily think that this is God’s normal expected activity. We must remember that the Bible primarily emphasizes the saving acts of God during certain periods of history, but that there are very long periods between these wonderful acts of God when God is relatively silent and remains hidden from view. (2 Peter 3:4) Although we are encouraged when we hear of miraculous things that God does in our day-to-day world, and we have confidence that God does answer prayer, God will not appear again with the same frequency of mighty miraculous acts we read about in the Bible until the end of this age. (Matthew 24-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; the book of Revelation) In the mean time, we must learn to trust an often hidden God. Actually, He is mostly hidden from the unbelieving world (Psalm 31:19-20; Matthew 11:25; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4), but to us who love Him, we can believe He is at work every day. There are times, however, that God seems absent when needed most, and this can be troubling, even to the strongest believers. (Job 13:24; Psalm 13:1; 22:1-2; 44:23-24; Psalm 88; Isaiah 8:17; Habakkuk 1:2, 13; Matthew 27:46)
For many people, trusting is not an easy thing to do. Maybe we grew up in an environment where we trusted the adults, but they violated our trust to such a degree that we have determined not to entrust our lives to anyone ever again. When people have betrayed us, or let us down time and time again, our will to trust is greatly dampened, making it difficult to trust anyone, even God. This feeling that I can’t trust anyone is reinforced when God does not seem to hear our prayers and we struggle and suffer through bad things without God giving us what we want or need. We feel alone in our problems. It is easy to wonder, “Where is God? Why isn’t He answering my prayers? Why does He let these things happen? Hasn’t God promised that He would always be with us?” Many of us have experienced that God does not always make things to turn out as we hoped they would. Unfortunately, we may have come to believe that a good God, if He cares about us, should have made things turn out differently. When we go through difficulties in our lives, and also witness the horrendous sufferings in the world around us, it reinforces this belief in an uncaring God. Thus, by repeated disappointment, and feelings of betrayal, many have concluded that they cannot trust others, including God. Some even come to the conclusion that there is no God.
Because we have learned that we cannot trust others, we turn to the only person we can trust – ourselves. The fact that we humans possess the curse of self-centeredness further enhances our resolve to depend on ourselves for our safety and well-being. When we do rely on others, it is only to help us out of trouble, and when we are out of danger, we return to self-reliance. Our basic belief is that since God and others have not protected me from hurt, I must protect myself. Thus, we go to great lengths to protect ourselves from every kind of physical and emotional pain. We have come to believe that when we trust others, it doesn’t work. Since we rely mostly on ourselves we are very cautious about whom we will trust, and we guard ourselves against letting anyone fail us or hurt us again. This seems like a good rule given the kind of evil world we live in, and we do have to be cautious. However, we do live in a world of necessary dependence upon others. This necessary dependence extends to God and the Bible encourages us to trust Him. (Proverbs 3:5) The fact that He chooses to remain hidden, or unresponsive to our condition, does not mean that He is inactive in our situation, or uncaring, or non-existent? The truth is that God loves us (John 3:16) and wants us to live and not die. (Ezek 18:32; John 11:25-26) Therefore, what explanation can be given for His apparent absence or hiddenness in the midst of people’s cries for help? What is there for us to see that is beyond our present painful circumstances?
There are multitudes of events that happen every day in which God is at work. But we don’t see God because we seldom see the meaning of those events. The hiddenness of God will remain until the true meaning of life’s events becomes clear. Once we see true meaning behind the events, God no longer seems hidden. The apostle Paul had a distressing problem and wondered why God would not hear his prayers and heal him. Paul had a difficult time understanding this until God revealed the meaning behind it. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) God can be seen in the events of life, but not by all. As the Bible says, only those with ears to hear and eyes to see discover the hidden God who is at work behind the scenes. (Matthew 11:15; 13:10-17) Consider the event of Christ dying on a cross. Some observers of that event would conclude that Christ must be a criminal and is now receiving what he deserves. Others, who knew more, might have said that Jesus is a good man and is being unjustly put to death by wicked people who want him out of the way. Still others would see this as the end of their hopes and dreams for a Messiah who would come and set their world right. They see his death as a disappointment and they feel betrayed, thinking that Jesus really was the Messiah, when in fact; he had tricked them and was actually an imposter. Others might talk about the cross event as “hey, did you hear the latest news” without any realization that an act of God was taking place. And, many would ignore it altogether as having nothing to do with them, being totally unaware of God’s love for them being portrayed in this horrible event. God seemed hidden, but He was working all the while. God and His acts of salvation for all mankind would have remained hidden had it not been for the resurrection of Jesus and enlightening His followers about the truth concerning the meaning of His death. (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47) People were not able to see God in that event until the meaning of the event was revealed to them, coupled with their desire to accept and believe it.
How many events in daily life would reveal God at work if only we had eyes to see and ears to hear? Those who believe in God and who may wonder why God at times seems to have abandoned them by letting bad things go on, need to trust that God is good and is at work, though unseen. We may not like our circumstances, but once we love the God who we know is good and right in all He does, we can accept our situation, endure the sufferings, grow from them, and even pray like Job 13:15, “though He slay me, I will hope in Him”, or like Habakkuk 3:17-19, though bad things are happening, “yet I will exult in the Lord.”
One of the reasons God remains hidden is to test our hearts. (Psalm 11:5; Proverbs 17:3; Job 1:8-12) Things that happen in this life, both good and bad, serve as tests of our hearts to reveal whether we will trust God and be committed to Him, or whether we will disbelieve in God and leave Him. If good things happen to us will we forget God because we think that we don’t need Him? (Deuteronomy 6:10-12) If bad things happen, will we leave God, concluding that we cannot trust Him, that He is not there for us, that He does not love us? God is testing the hearts of people to see whose side they are on; God’s, or their own, or Satan’s. (Joshua 24:15) We could look at every challenging event as a test of our hearts, whether we trust God’s love and goodness, or not.
One of the reasons God tests hearts is that He is creating a people for a new age and a new world. (Ezekiel 11:19-21; 2 Corinthians 6:15-16; Revelation 21:3) God uses life’s events to grow us in faith, hope, and love. He wants to develop a godly people that will be suited for life and participation in His Kingdom. (1 Peter 1:3-10, 13-17) If God were to save us from every bad thing that comes our way, the kind of person we need to become would not happen. It is all right to seek relief from pain, but we don’t want to focus so totally on getting out of our sufferings that we lose the opportunity to deepen our faith and love toward God. We grow stronger through life’s adversities. God cannot create a new world and have ungodly and unloving people living in it as is the case in this world. (Revelation 21:27; 22:12-14) If He did, the next world would be spoiled and become just the same as this one. In a real sense, this world is a preparation for entering the next. (2 Peter 1:5-11) Some might ask why God can’t create a new world where no wrong-doing is allowed, and let all people enter into it. It is because, somehow, human free will, as well as God’s determined destiny, both play a part in the formation of God’s created universe. God determines what will be, but free will means that some may choose to be on God’s side, and others may choose decidedly against God, refusing to be under His rule. God wants a kingdom of people who freely choose to love Him. Life’s events reveal peoples’ responses one way or the other; to grow more in love with God, or to grow more in rebellion toward Him. God’s final judgement will be based on the responses we have made to the events of our lives. (Matthew 16:24-27; 25:34-46; John 5:24, 28-29) We will not be able to argue with God about His final judgement, for the tests of life will clearly show what side we are on. I can hear some people thinking, “If God allows children and innocent people to suffer, I don’t want to believe in a cruel God like Him.” You can think that about God if you want, but what if such sufferings in an evil world like ours are the only way; and therefore the kindest way, for people to be awakened to the point of choosing God and avoiding being lost to His eternal kingdom? (Luke 13:1-5) Consider also that some tragic deaths may not have the same frightful connotations to God as they do to us. (Psalm 116:15; 2 Samuel 12:13-23; John 11:25-26) Thus, we see that as God is preparing a people for the next age, some of His testings serve as wake-up calls, for others they build godly character and hope, and for others they result in judgement and banishment from God’s kingdom. I heard someone say, “Love not tested is not really love at all.” God’s hiddenness and testing is a part of God’s necessary plan for creating a new and righteous world and for determining who is worthy to enter.
Here is a closing prayer from the Psalms that addresses God’s hiddenness in time of trouble. (Psalm 44:23-26)