Excusing God’s absence


A few days ago I published a piece by a Christian apologist who goes by the handle “Mighty Timbo,” on the topic of why Mormonism is false. He has a web site devoted to Christian apologetics, so I thought I’d stop by and see what kind of defense he has to offer to the kind of disproofs he levels at the Mormon church. And I found this.

One of the more common questions we get from Atheists is “If God is actually real, why doesn’t he prove it? Why doesn’t God show himself and eliminate the faith?”

That’s certainly a valid question and if you’re a Christian you may have asked it yourself at weak spiritual moments.

I’ll get to his answer shortly, but first I want to point out that he has the question really, really wrong. First of all, if God were to show up, it would not eliminate the faith, it would eliminate the doubt. There are all kinds of people who show up all the time, and yet I have no faith in them whatsoever (and a bunch of them want to be President of the USA, apparently). True faith is a confidence that is built up by repeated real-world experience, and God’s being here would only help that. Mighty Timbo is confusing faith with gullibility—the willingness to believe what men tell you in the absence of real-world confirmation and/or presence of real-world contradictions of the things they say.

Secondly, the real question is not, “Why doesn’t God prove Himself?” (though that’s not a bad question). The real problem here is that the God of the Gospels is presented as an almighty, all-wise, all-knowing, and all-loving deity Who wants a personal relationship with each of us badly enough to literally die for it. If such a Being existed, with that kind of power, and that sort of desire, we would not be learning about it from some third-party web site like Mighty Timbo’s. God would be here with us, right now, not to “prove” Himself, but because that’s the most direct and effective way to achieve the real, personal, two-way relationship He allegedly wants. And being all-wise and all-powerful, He’d get what He wants, because by definition there’s nothing powerful enough to prevent Him from having His own way. Even if you presume that some people will reject Him and that He is too nice to impose Himself on them, He’s still going to be here for the ones who are willing to have a personal relationship with Him.

So the real question is not “why doesn’t God show up to prove Himself?” but rather “why don’t we see God behaving in real life as though He cared enough to show up and say ‘Good morning,’—let alone suffering and dying horribly for us?”

Mighty Timbo’s answer seems a bit light.

I think the real answer to the question is that God hasn’t made a point out of hiding himself from anybody. From day one he walked with Adam and Eve in the garden personally, then, rather than being faithful to that relationship and trusting the God of the whole universe they defied him.  It doesn’t seem like knowing him personally did a whole lot of good.

Say that again? Knowing God personally doesn’t really do a whole lot of good? That seems a bit counter-evangelical, doesn’t it?

The old testament is littered with God’s clear encounters with his people (and his miraculous provision for them) only to be followed with his people’s rejection and faithlessness. God showing himself to people has only had a limited, short-term impact (in-terms of their faith) at best.

There’s two things we can learn from this: when God goes away, faith falls away as well. So why does He keep going away? Remember, the thing God wants most, the thing that’s supposedly the whole point and purpose of all of history, is this personal, intimate, two-way relationship with each and every one of us. And yet the Bible tells us that time and time again God ran away from this relationship, to the detriment and damnation of the very people He supposedly wants to be saved.

A real, omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving deity would not leave behind such an ambivalent record when and if He ever did show up in real life, even if—contrary to His own alleged motives and desires—He spent most of the time avoiding the very relationships that are supposed to be the whole point. A much more reasonable explanation of God’s failure to have a more positive influence on Old Testament history is that these so-called appearances are merely legends, and that God did not show up in the past any more than He does today.

There’s only one way to know the difference between what’s true and what isn’t. Truth is consistent with itself, and thus whatever is not consistent with itself, and with reality, is not the truth, by definition. Men can tell us stories about a God who loves us and wants to be with us, but the reality is that we only encounter this God in the stories told by men. We don’t find God showing up in real life, acting as though HE believed what the Gospels say. Therefore we have a choice. We can believe what men say, and call it faith (even though it’s gullibility). Or we can believe what we actually find in the real world.

A real God would know that, and would act accordingly.

Comments

  1. DonDueed says

    “[W]hen God goes away, faith falls away as well.”

    Which raises the question, why does he go away? He seems to be prone to fits of pique. “Don’t trust me? Well, nuts to you, I’m outta here.”

    Deacon, I’m wondering why you still capitalize pronouns referring to nonexistent deities. Forgive me if this has been asked and answered before.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      I find capitalization a helpful convention that saves me the trouble of using more verbose ways of disambiguating which antecedent the pronoun “he” might be referring to. It’s laziness, pure and simple.

    • KG says

      In English, “God” (as opposed to “god”) is a proper noun, referring specifically to the god of Christianity. That this god, God, is a fictional character, makes no difference at all grammatically, any more than it does for “Gandalf”. Failing to capitalise the initial “G” demonstrates grammatical ignorance, not fervent atheism.

  2. Alverant says

    According to the NT, God appeared before Paul which changed Paul from a mass murderer to a saint. So when does this apologist explain why that doesn’t happen today? God has yet to appear before Kony and Cheney to get them to change their ways.

  3. davidcortesi says

    M. Timbo asserteth,

    The old testament is littered with God’s clear encounters with his people…

    Excuse me, but I believe this is incorrect. I am not aware of even one “clear encounter” of Y*V*H with “people” — meaning, visible and audible to multiple people simultaneously.

    There are plenty of individual encounters in which prophets and leaders claimed afterward to have received direction from god, but none (that I recall) reported a face to face chat; and if any did, well, people have had life-changing hallucinations before. Individual revelation is useless as proof of anything.

    Even in the critical moment of the giving of the Commandments, when all the people purified themselves and assembled at the foot of the mount, all they ever saw was a cloud on the mountain top. Moses went up alone to fetch the tablets. So unimpressed and unexcited were the people that they had switched allegiance to another god before he returned!

    Perhaps M. Timbo can fill us in with some citations of the other “clear encounters” with “people” — which to qualify, I insist would have to include multiple, simultaneous witnesses with consistent stories of something that clearly couldn’t be natural. I’d be no more impressed with a cloud than the Israelites.

    • Anat says

      Well, Exodus 20:14 is translated “And all the people perceived the thunderings,” but a closer translation of the Hebrew is ‘And all the people saw the voices” – must have been some collective trip. In Jewish apologetics this is the Kozari argument – 600,000 men do not tell the same lie! (Yes, it’s silly.)

      • Len says

        Just out of interest, did someone ask all the 600,000 what they saw? Or did someone just write that all 600,000 saw it?

      • wholething says

        Yes, they did. Anyone who admitted that they did not see it were run through with spear.

  4. peterwhite says

    I have to take issue with your redefinition of faith being “confidence that is built up by repeated real-world experience”; that is evidence, not faith. The bible doesn’t get many things right but the definition of faith we find in it I think is correct.

    Hebrews 11:1
    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    Your definition sounds like the Christian apologist version which attempts to make science and reason look like religions.

  5. freebird says

    Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, provided you have a good reason for hoping for those things not seen.

    If I have a friendship with you and I learned I could rely on you time and time again, and you told me something where you could be lying or telling the truth, my faith in you telling the truth about whatever thing not seen would be justified, because I have a past history of evidence of you being reliable.

    If I have no such history, I am gullible for taking your word for it for not having a good reason to do so.

  6. says

    I’ve had the pleasure of beginning a discourse with Atheist and Blogger Deacon Duncan. We’ve had the opportunity to have some good conversations and I’ve been thrilled to have him examine some of the articles here on CA. He recently ran across an article entitled “Why Doesn’t God Show Himself to Us” and wrote a response. I have appreciated his comments and his taking the time to think through the article and I’ve taken the time here to respond to his rebuttal: http://christian-apologetics.tk/why-god-doesnt-show-up-debate/

  7. Alex SL says

    Mighty Timbo is confusing faith with gullibility

    Well, cut him some slack – that confusion is kind of underlying the whole concept of religion :-)

  8. Patrick says

    I’m getting impatient in my old age. When I hear arguments like that, I just say, “Oh, so you’re denying Christ, then? Guess we agree on more than I thought.”

    Seriously, this seems a minimal demand for Christian apologetics: they shouldn’t accidentally deny that Christ rose from the dead, and then be surprised when someone points it out. And yet they do.

  9. jacobfromlost says

    I had this “why doesn’t god prove himself” discussion with a theist a while back, but I never brought that question. The theist just assumed that’s what I was asking when I asked for evidence of his god.

    But as I explained to him, the “why doesn’t god prove himself” question is beside the point entirely. We can demonstrate that gravity exists, and yet gravity isn’t TRYING to prove itself. Finding evidence for gravity doesn’t mean gravity was trying to PROVE itself, and neither would finding evidence for a god. (Nor does NOT finding evidence for something mean it is hiding, whether or not it exists.)

  10. Azuma Hazuki says

    This is one of those things the weaselly believer will always have some way to squirm out of, honestly. It all boils down to “but he DOES, you just don’t exist right to perceive it!” i.e., sensus divinatitus and other such claptrap.

  11. Daniel says

    I’m enjoying your blog. I’m a former Mormon who came over following a link to your discussion about Mormonism. It’s awesome when a Christian takes down Mormonism, and then reason takes down the Christian. It’s like Matroyshka dolls. Or dominoes. One reaction I had to this post:

    You said that, “Truth is consistent with itself,” When dealing with a finite issue, such as faith, the Bible, or the existence of God, I think internal consistency is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for truth. The specific truth we’re considering has to be consistent with itself, but it also has to be consistent with every other fact in the universe, even the ones we don’t know yet. Truth is only consistent with itself if you’re considering all truth within a closed system.

    Unfortunately, most of the time, the apologist is going to take a narrower view. Truth is “God’s truth.” Truth is a synonym for theology. In other words, Truth is the finite set of propositions he believes, regardless of how consistent they are with the scientific facts of the universe. Noah’s ark can still be true, even if there’s no scientific evidence for the flood. It’s consistent with everything else he believes about God and the Bible. So, even if he accepts the need for internal consistency, he won’t necessarily see the need for external consistency. If he can argue that his theology is internally consistent, (which is admittedly difficult to do), he’s going to claim that he’s proven it true according to your definition. “My theology is consistent with itself. Therefore it’s true.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>