Why does god hide?

It must be really frustrating to be a thinking person who believes in god because he doesn’t help you in the least. Since god does not seem to actually do anything that you can point to as incontrovertible evidence of his existence, believers have to look in obscure corners of knowledge, as was the case with so-called intelligent design. God seems like this passive-aggressive personality who wants you to believe unquestioningly in his existence and worship him but doesn’t give you anything in return. As a result, believers have to confront the question of why god is so elusive.

A rabbi by the name of Alan Lurie has taken up the challenge and written an essay titled “Why Does God Hide?” His essay lays out the problem clearly enough:

This notion, that God’s presence is hidden, is a significant dilemma for many, and for some is clear proof that God does not exist. Why, one asks, would the creator of the Universe be so difficult to spot? Surely if such a creator exists, there would be obvious evidence. And why wouldn’t this creator, in order to silence disbelievers and recruit more faithful, simply appear on the White House lawn, announce his presence, and miraculously end all war, hunger, and disease? For some, this hidden presence is evidence that even if a creator deity does exist, such a being is not worth worshiping. What kind of a god, who religious people say loves us, would stand by as horrible atrocities happen, and silently allow us to suffer? Such a god is either not all-powerful, not all-knowing, or certainly not completely benevolent. Many site [sic] the Holocaust, for example, as clear proof of God’s impotence or indifference.

Why yes, rabbi, these are excellent points and exactly what we atheists say. But please go on.

The question of God’s hidden presence is not new, and has been an essential theological question for at least 2,000 years. The Bible itself continuously wrestles with this question, and God’s apparent capriciousness is the theme of the Book of Job. Of course a simple answer is to say, “The reason for the struggle is that there obviously is no god. Let go of this idea and the struggle disappears.” OK, that’s a perfectly fine response.

Again, rabbi, you are perfectly right, that answer does solve every single theological problem, doesn’t it? So can we simply agree that the problems have been solved and stop the discussion? Alas, no. At this point, the rabbi abandons his reasoning powers and descends into the usual woolly language and thinking of apologists.

He goes on to make four points, presumably to explain why god exists but is so elusive.

  1. A Misunderstanding of the Nature of God

    He says that the popular conception of god “as a person, perhaps like ourselves, only much, much bigger, smarter, etc.” is childish and must be abandoned because the “great theologians, mystics, and spiritual guides have all recognized that what we call “God” is not a limited being.”

    Ok, but what is his conception of god then? Alas, after that buildup, we are let down because the rabbi punts. “Well, not to be evasive, but this is not a simple answer that can be written in a short blog, and whatever I write will be inaccurate, misunderstood, and radically incomplete.”

    As Jerry Coyne says, Lurie is ‘pulling a Fermat‘ here, saying that although he knows what god is really like, he cannot do so is in the limited space available to him so he won’t even try. What a tease! But let’s move on to his second point.

  2. A Misunderstanding of the Nature of Religion

    Lurie resorts to the tired, old ‘two worlds’ model that argues that science and religion address different questions, saying that “Religion is a compilation of humanity’s yearning to find meaning and purpose, to document the encounter with the Divine realm, and to help facilitative such encounters for others…. the true purpose of religion is to help us recognize that we are more than our momentary desires, our fleeting thoughts, and our painful sense of separation from each other and nature.”

    Here Lurie is pulling a Marilynne Robinson, piling words upon words to convey deep emotion about god as a solution to existential angst without addressing the point of his essay. What has all this got to do with the elusiveness of god? Let’s hope he gets to it in point three.

  3. A Misunderstanding of the Means to Experience God’s Presence

    Lurie challenges the notion “that evidence for God should be immediately obvious to anyone” saying that “The experience of God requires deliberate and sustained effort, as well. That is why all religious and spiritual traditions teach us to meditate, pray, practice gratitude, and seek God’s presence on a regular, deliberate basis.”

    In other words, god has decided that you must eat your spinach before you can have dessert, that you must commit yourself to a long and rigorous regimen before you can “experience” some emotional state that you can then interpret as god’s presence. God punishes those who are not willing to go to religious boot camp by denying them his presence or, as Ringo Starr might have sung,

    You got to pay your dues
    If you want your god to schmooze
    And you know it don’t come easy

    This explanation seems rather self-serving and not convincing. After all, Mother Theresa at the end of her life expressed deep frustration that she had not experienced god and few would argue that she was a slacker who did not put in an enormous amount of effort into trying to experience god. In addition, the experiences reported by believers tend to be indistinguishable from hallucinations. I have written previously about my own “experiences” of god’s presence.

    It seems to me that Lurie is saying that you must commit yourself to a state of willful self-delusion, the way people in the charismatic movements like the Pentecostals do, in order to “experience” god.

  4. A Misunderstanding of the Proof

    Lurie seems doubtful of the power of traditional ontological, cosmological, and teleological proofs for god, saying “Few people, I suspect, are truly convinced by any of these “proofs,” and all have been rigorously challenged.”

    That is true but oddly enough, he then simply moves on and does not provide a defense or an alternative, essentially conceding the point that the arguments used by theologians for centuries are useless.

When someone writes an article with the title “Why Does God Hide?”, one expects to find answers. Instead what we get here is one statement saying that he has an answer that it is too complicated to even sketch out its outlines, one in which he says that if we don’t personally experience god, it is our own fault because we have not worked hard enough at it, and two irrelevant digressions.

What is truly amazing about theologians is how they can talk and write so much while saying so little.

POST SCRIPT: Ringo Starr and It don’t come easy


  1. says

    Shalom Mano,

    More than a decade ago I took a course at the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies with Rabbi Roger Klein that focused on Jack Miles book God: A Biography.

    Miles, a former Jesuit, asked the question: why did the rabbis who set the Hebrew Canon arrange the books in the order they did? He makes the case in the book that the order is one of a diminishing and finally hidden God. The narrative arc stretches from Genesis where God is constantly present to Job where God is silenced to Daniel where God is referred to as The Ancient of Days.

    At the time it seemed to me that the books were ordered in this way as an attempt to wean the people of Israel from the idea of an interventionist God and to guide them to some point in the future where God would be relegated to the realm of folklore.

    My view is not a popular one because we seem to have gotten stuck and unable to make that final leap. I think, however, that we are still on that path.



  2. says

    From the little bit of theology that’s come my way it seems the most plausible guess made by believers at why their God is so elusive is that God wants people to be responsible for their own actions, their own choices in life, by giving them the freedom to choose. And the only way this freedom to choose can exist is by being as unobtrusive as possible… to the point of not appearing to exist. Otherwise, he’d just be another tyrant. And if life were easy, we’d never be faced with hard choices, never be tested, never learn who we really are or want to be.

  3. says

    Jeff and Devil,

    The issue is that people:

    1. assume god exists
    2. realize that this creates all manner of theological problems
    3. need to devise complicated reasons to explain why god is not visible or does not seem to do anything.

    But the problem is the starting assumption. If you don’t make it, then everything is fine, no?

  4. says

    I would say God exists only for those who want to believe in this existence. They don’t need any evidence and they are not really interested in explaining it, especially to non-believers. When they try to do it, they give extremely difficult to follow reasons as everything exists only in their heads. I’ve had many interesting discussions with strong believers and all of them argued in the same way: It’s a question of faith, either you believe in God or not.

  5. says

    It is indeed a misunderstanding. One of the best resources is the Kabbalah. You cannot really know God until you know yourself. Kabbalah lets you become aware of your highest self -- the self that has been created in God’s image. Kabbalah meditation raises your consciousness to see God in you and in those around you. It makes God a reality for you.

  6. Jared A says


    You’ve just redefined god to mean a combination of self-awareness, introspection, and perhaps humility. By this definition, god actually exists!

    But words have actual meanings and this isn’t the core meaning of the word god.

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