One of the most irritating things in the world is to be ignored. My kids are in the “ignoring phase” of their lives. They have discovered its power of irritation. However, Kylee is the one who stands out the most. When she is in a bad mood or has her attention set on something else, she will just ignore you. Well, she knows better than to ignore me, but she has no problem ignoring the other kids. It drives them crazy.
Ignore: v. the act of not responding to the calls of another when you know they are beckoning for your attention and you are able to respond.
The other day my three-year-old son Zach and I were talking about God and he said out of nowhere, “I don’t hear him.” “Hear who?” I said. “God. Why doesn’t he talk?” Now that is a good question. Just the type of question that you would expect from a child. It is reasonable enough.
I don’t know of anyone in this world that I have such a peculiar relationship with as the one I have with God. I talk to him, but I have never heard him respond. I don’t know what his voice sounds like. I can’t read his facial expressions. In no way have my five senses been alerted to his presence like they are with every other relationship I experience in life.
I doubt there is anyone, young or old, who has ever escaped the subject of “divine hiddenness.” Maybe you have not termed it as such, but you have often wondered why God does not reveal himself in a way that is more satisfactory to our longings for experiential intimacy with him. “With him” may not be the right way to put it. A better, more inclusive, way to say it for our purpose here would be that we long for experiential intimacy with “the other side”: God, Jesus, heaven, angels, demons, loved ones who have crossed the bridge of death, and the like. As someone has once said, “One out of every one people die.” These are pretty good odds. We know that one day we will die and experience that which awaits us beyond death. Yet this life is virtually void of definite signs from the “other side.” When we do get a sign, it is rather allusive. In a way, all we have to work from is what Phillip Yancey terms “rumors” of another world. There is quit a bit of mystery, even for Christians, as to what exactly “the other side” will be like—what it will be like to see and hear God. This can scare us. In fact, it can scare us so badly that we avoid death at all costs and suspend our beliefs about God and the “other side” until after death.
Of course, as Christians, we do have faith that this “other world” is real and that heaven is an actual place where God awaits us. We also have faith that God, from this “other world,” has spoken to us through Scripture. Yet we long for an experiential intimacy that parallels the norms of our lives today. We want to hear the voice of God. We have questions for him. I have questions for him. We desire a sense experience that is often referred to as “empirical.” We want to see vivid signs of the other side that will solidify our faith and alleviate any residue of doubt that might does exist.
Is he ignoring us? Why is God so silent?
Wrong answer #1: God is not silent. I hear his voice all the time. The better Christian you are, the more you should expect to see his face and hear his voice.
As Christians, God’s silence—God’s hiddenness—should not come as any surprise. In other words, no one, no matter how good a Christian should expect to hear or see God.
Yes, I might do things differently. Were I on God’s board of directors, I might give him some gentle encouragement to be a little more open to showing himself, especially to his own children. But the fact is that we should not expect to see God, hear God, or touch God in the way we so desire. If we did, the Christian worldview would be compromised as the Scripture tells us that our faith will not be verified though such empirical means.
Peter says, “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1Pet. 1:8-9). You see, Peter here assumes that those in his day—even those so close to the life and death of Christ—have not seen Christ (or God or the Holy Spirit). Peter’s point would be moot if he did not mean to include all other forms of experiencing God empirically. The fact is that when Christ ascended into heaven, that was the last we have seen or heard from him in such a way. The door to the “other side” was shut.
If Peter’s statement was not enough, the Apostle Paul also says that the Christian life is a life following after the unseen: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). He goes on by telling us that we “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Christ even told Thomas, who needed to see him before he believed, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The “those who have not seen” are us, and we are many. John could not be more clear here: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20, emphasis mine). John does not say, “Whom he has probably not seen.” He works under the assumption that everyone reading his letter has not seen God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and (if I can be so bold) the “other side.”
Finally, the author of Hebrews defines faith as something hoped for which is not seen: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). The very definition of our faith is that we have conviction about truths that cannot be empirically verified. This does not mean that faith is irrational, as we will see. It just means that we should not expect to have it verified through our senses.
Wrong answer #2: God cannot be evidenced in any way. Faith is a blind leap into the dark.
When I say that we should not expect to see God with our eyes, please understand I did not say “That God was only active in biblical times.” Big difference. The point is that we do not and will not directly experience God through our eyes, ears, or hands until Christ returns.
There are a lot of things I believe in that I can never see. For example, just about every event in human history prior to 1972 is beyond my ability to personally experience in any way. But this does not mean that there is not sufficient evidence for these events. I did not see the discovery of electricity, but there is sufficient reason (indeed, obligation) for me to believe that some time in history past electricity was discovered? Why? Because while I don’t experience its discovery, I do experience its effects. I have lived in Oklahoma all my life, but I did not experience the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. But you know what? I believe it happened and am justified in doing so. Other things I believe in which I have never seen: wind, my heart, and cold fronts. But, like the others, I believe in these because I both see and experience their effects.
When it comes to our faith, while it is very doubtful that we will ever experience God or “the other side” first hand in this life, this does not make belief in such unwarranted. Creation itself screams for a creator. The very existence of Christianity calls for a resurrected Christ. The intelligence needed to write this argument (limited though it may be!) beacons for a greater intelligence to explain it.
I was driving down the road the other day with my kids. My daughter got upset because she left her No.2 pencil that she needed for her homework at home. She asked me to pray that God would intervene and make it so that she did not leave it. I accommodated with a short prayer. She looked again and, alas, still no pencil. I said to her afterward, “Katelynn, I don’t think God exists anymore. I mean, think about it. Isn’t he powerful enough to make a pencil you forgot appear? And isn’t he good enough to want to grant you this small request? Nope, there is no God.” “But dad,” she quickly responded, “If there was no God, then there would not even be a pencil to forget in the first place.” Good girl. She recognizes the indirect necessity of God’s reality even when we don’t see him directly.
While we don’t see God with our eyes, we do experience his reality in so many ways.
So why doesn’t God allow us to hear him with our ears and see him with our eyes. Faith would be so much easier, wouldn’t it?
Allow me to take an all too familiar turn here for a moment.
Following my sister Angie’s first attempt at her life six years ago, she felt great shame. The shame itself seemed to be enough motivation for her to try again. “I tried to kill myself, Michael!” she said when I tried to encourage her. “Everyone is always going to think I am crazy. I am crazy!” “You are not crazy Angie,” I responded, not really knowing what to say. She quickly answered, “Yes, but you have never tried to kill yourself.” I was not sure what this meant, but it was obvious that her definition of “crazy” was based upon a comparison of herself to those who, in her mind, were sane. “You are right,” I said, “I have not ever tried to kill myself. But there are circumstances where I might.”
Under what circumstance might I try to kill myself? When would I consider suicide?
[Just hang with me. I think this is going somewhere.]
You must remember that, among other things, death is a crossing point to the “other side.” It is the point where “rumors” of another world fade into the reality of the other world. I was watching my all time favorite show Justice League with my son Zach the other day. It was an episode where Flash went so fast that he actually began to die and cross over to the “other side.” The molecules in his body were completely unstable and he was stuck between this world and the next. When prodded to come back, Flash had a hard time. He said, “But it is so beautiful over here.”
You see, the lines were blurred between this life and the next and Flash wanted to go to the next. He could not concentrate on this world any longer due to his exposure to the next. In other words, he wanted to die due to his empirical exposé to the “other side.” He needed to have an experiential breach between this life and the next in order to remain here and accomplish his mission (gettin’ them bad guys).
I don’t think this make believe story is too far from reality. You and I also need an experiential (empirical) breach from the “other side.” We need not to see Jesus. We need not to talk to Jesus. We need not to hear Jesus.
The disciples, understandably, did not want Jesus to die. When he spoke of his death, they were so bold as to desire to die with him. Thomas, of all people,—doubting Thomas—when he thought Jesus was going to die, said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). I love the simple faith this expresses. Peter was no different (Lk. 22:33). All who were with Jesus had experienced the “other side” in the person of Christ and they were not willing to let that go, even to death. In Acts 1:6, they still had hope that Christ had blurred the lines permanently: “Is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” But they had to watch as Christ was taken into the sky, never to be seen again until his second coming (Acts 1:9-11). The point is that the disciples would have gladly gone on a suicide mission with Christ if it meant a continuation of their exposure to the “other side” in the person of Christ.
You and I would do the same. Were God to show himself in the ways we so often think he should,—were he to do things the way we would do them—we would never be able to accomplish our mission. We would continually be wanting to die in order to cross over. We would be like Flash, having empirical involvement in the world to come, but still having one foot in the previous world. However, unlike Flash (who had Superman and Wonder Woman pulling him back), we most definitely would cross over. Why wouldn’t we? The mysterious would be unmysterious. The lines between this life and the next would be so blurred that we would not hesitate to take that extra step of death, even by our own hand.
While I don’t claim to have all the answers as to why God does not allow us to experience him in such empirical ways, I suspect there is some truth to what I have said here. It is odd to say, but God’s silence may actually preserve his mission for us. The ability to be stable here in this life is actually facilitated by God’s (empirical) silence. I am not saying this is the only reason God is silent, but it does make sense.
Most importantly, while we should not expect to see God with our eyes nor hear him with our ears, God is not ignoring us. His presence is evident and he is not silent.