In this, the first a three-part bi-weekly point/counterpoint-style debate, James W. Iman and John Forcey begin their debate in the hiddenness of God. In two weeks, they will continue their debate and respond to each other’s articles from this week. Your comments are appreciated.
The question of hiddenness is one that must be framed within a specific context. That is, for the hiddenness of God to really be a problem there must be a problem which it creates. Framed as it has been “classically,” this problem is a moral one. At its root, then, the problem of so-called “divine hiddenness” is one that calls into question the moral conduct of the deity it indicts.
The existence of God is not apparent to me in the same sense that my own existence is apparent to me. The mere fact of introspection makes my awareness of my own existence inevitable. Introspection does not, however, lead necessarily to the same conclusion about the existence of God. So, we say, God is hidden. This, though, is not sufficient to indict God for his hiddenness; taken singly, this fact is inert.
Belief in a God is hardly exceptional; likewise, adhering to the teachings of a particular person is barely remarkable. What makes Christianity of particular note (a noteworthiness it shares with the current, predominant monotheisms) is the imperative of belief. Christianity proposes that the existence of God (along with limited other theological claims) must be affirmed to avoid a negative consequence.
Plainly put, Christianity suggests that if we do not believe God exists that we will go to hell for not believing. For our purposes it does not matter just what is meant by “hell,” it only matters that “not hell” is preferable. This imperative is one part of the problem.
Clearly, one can only believe in God and more importantly only believe the Christian conception of God if one has been presented with it. Obviously, we can only affirm propositions which have been proposed. What, then, are we to make of those who have lived and died and not been in a position to affirm Christianity?
Here we have an (apparently) important distinction to make. There is (arguably) a difference between someone whose non-affirmation of Christianity is resistant—that is, they’ve been presented with the proposition and rejected it—and someone whose non-affirmation is non-resistant. As a category, the latter group is far larger than the former.
Is it morally good to condemn a person for not affirming a proposition that has never been proposed to them? We can come up with any number of analogous thought experiments and (with rare exception) we all agree: it is not morally good to condemn a person for not affirming a proposition that has never been proposed.
God is supposed to be good—all good in fact. The sheer act of creation is an act borne out of this goodness. So we have the rest of the problem.
If God is all good, if there is an imperative to affirm his existence, then the occurrence of non-resistant non-belief is in direct opposition to the nature of God. Either this problem must be rectified or it stands as evidence against the existence of the God proposed by Christianity.
There are only so many responses to this problem. Unfortunately, the words of Jesus have made the responses limited in their scope: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes unto the father except through me” (John 14:6). The Christian’s hands are tied—they cannot simply suggest that there are other ways to avoid the consequences of non-belief.
The responses that remain are confined to some variation of somehow serving a greater good. That is, yes it’s bad that God is hidden and non-resistant non-belief persists, but there is a greater good served by God’s remaining hidden that could not be achieved through his revelation.
I don’t want to anticipate any of these responses from my opponent, but I will say that such justifications for the continued hiddenness of God have proven to be unconvincing at least and flawed at most.
Given the Christian conception of God it is my position that hiddenness is inconsistent with God’s character.