Silent, still, with forest foliage blends;
Is God like this? Hints subtle sends
Signs and clues, allowing us to choose:
Threads to pursue with ardent heart
Or let shutters down and barely start
To trace the face of holy love…
Let grace embrace, below, around, above.
I sometimes hear people express the opinion that either God isn’t there, or he’s doing a pretty good job of hiding. As if at some point in their lives they counted to a hundred, hunted around a while, but gave up quick when he didn’t show up in any of the expected places. Either that, or more tangible distractions and amusements acted as an effective ‘tea’s ready!’ call, and they promptly stopped looking and forgot all about him. I’m also intermittently bothered by an objection to Christian faith commonly made by atheists and sceptics: there’s no evidence. ‘Not a shred of evidence’ as one friend rather emphatically puts it.
Now any number of thinking believers do offer up evidence, served in varying depth and detail in no end of publications. Sceptics often find it unconvincing – to the extent that they examine it – and to be fair I sometimes sympathise; I too have read some pretty simplistic, question-begging stuff. But today I want to consider one pertinent reason why a sceptic’s attitude and approach may effectively blind them to the reality of God if he is indeed there. I’m responding to a talk (with accompanying notes) called ‘Not enough evidence?: why God hides’ by Andrew Fellows, which addresses how God both conceals and reveals, and how ‘defective seeking’ can sabotage our search efforts.
It’s sometimes said that ‘God (or the Holy Spirit) is a gentleman’. Not primarily meaning that the divine personage wears a suit, tie and drinks tea at Claridge’s – though no doubt he hangs out there too – but rather that God is neither pushy nor forces himself on us. He’s always been cool with #MeToo.
One of the first things Fellows points out is that God’s hiddenness is necessary, true to his being – God simply doesn’t fit into categories of creation. I get that. Though the astonishing Christian claim is that God did once appear and live in human form in the person of Christ, there was hiddenness even there; no one easily grasped his divine credentials. It’d be frankly disappointing if God just met our expectations and magically materialised as an old man with a beard in the sky. More seriously, I’m bothered by sceptics’ demands for a particular (and particularly narrow) kind of testable evidence. As if the Creator of the universe should meekly roll over and say “Sure, happy to go along with your experiment, I’ve nothing on today and it sounds fun”. Not gonna happen.
Fellows then outlines the rather more indirect ways that God has been understood to disclose, reveal and make himself known – primarily nature, scripture and as alluded, in the person of Jesus Christ. Take nature: the biblical view that it reflects qualities of its creator – grandeur, beauty and all the rest, are in contemporary western culture widely regarded with a mix of scorn, yawn and incomprehension. People have an awe for nature, but tend to see it merely as an end in itself, missing or ignoring its ‘signposting’ capacity to point beyond. Yes, there are some ‘horrid’ critters and processes too in nature, but they hardly detract from the overall ‘wow’ effect.
The key problem is that, if we think about it at all, we tend to elevate reason in apprehending ultimate reality, neglecting a rounded, fully human, personal response and more oblique lines of revelation. Ironically, in plenty of other areas of life we highly value these. Relationships and romance depend on them – it’s how we naturally get to know someone. They’re also essential to good humour, poetry and drama. Just take current BBC hit ‘Bodyguard’, where oblique rapid lines of thought produce crackling dialogue, and where speech and action (not direct exposition) reveal character.
The signs and images Jesus deploys in John’s gospel in particular – water, bread, shepherd and others – are designed to woo us, revealing dimensions of God’s nature that become personally real as we act in the light of them. Desiring relationship, He honours our freedom; as Blaise Pascale intuited, we’re given enough light to enable trust and action, but not so much as to force belief.
God can only be sought, found and engaged with as he is. To insist on only a narrow, particular brand of evidence, is a bit like turning up on a date not with humility and a listening heart, but with a list of demands. No surprise if the encounter is pretty truncated and you don’t get a second coffee. Or perhaps even a first.