There are a lot of seemingly intelligent people out there who don’t believe in anything that can’t be proven with absolute certainty. Everything is debatable until you can see it right before your eyes, like a mountain perched on the horizon.
No one can refute the claim that Mount Everest is, in fact, a mountain. And not just any mountain– it’s the tallest in the world. It’s literally the highest place you can reach while still standing on the surface of the earth. You can imagine why that was such an enormous accomplishment by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. I can imagine that was quite the toast when they finally made it back to where they could actually breathe normally. More on that in a moment.
I recently heard two very legitimate questions from agnostic friends of mine. They have the opinion that God is either of no importance or a fantasy altogether simply because of the confusion surrounding Him. They don’t like our inability to pin Him to a cork board or trap Him in a test tube. And to them, simply having any questions about God is reason enough to believe He is most likely just a figure of our imagination.
It’s honestly a legitimate issue to have. Everything else we know as genuine and trustworthy has been given that status by our own scientific observations. We’ve had the ability to hold, touch, and plainly see that it is, in fact, real. I can understand why someone would take issue with God not adhering to the same rules and principles as His own supposed creation– even while I also believe that it would be pretty ridiculous for that to be the case.
It doesn’t bother me that this prevents so many people from having faith because I believe that God has been in the practice of revealing Himself to various people in various, unnatural ways since the first conscious human being roamed the earth. And neither my faith nor my own thoughts have ever had anything to do with that process. That is completely up to God to give them the personal evidence they need. It might start from something that I was a part of or something I said, but ultimately, it was God’s impression on them that put them over the edge– not mine.
To me, it’s not surprising that the arguments of an unbeliever seem incomplete and illogical– just like they think my faith is incomplete and illogical. All I can do is keep showing confidence and evidence (although it may only be evidence to me) that reasonable answers exist. Beyond that, I can only wait patiently for God to do the rest inside their hearts (or whatever you call the place where faith in something is planted, even if you can’t put it in a test tube or shove tacks through it).
But enough rambling. Here are the actual questions:
- Why doesn’t God just reveal Himself in a way that cannot be disputed by anyone anymore?
- Why doesn’t God just allow us to understand Him?
At first, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to suggest anything logical to rebut their questions. Afterall, there are many questions that just don’t have satisfactory answers for someone who wants concrete evidence– even though “concrete” is itself a subjective measurement of ideas. So, whether an agnostic would consider them personally “concrete” or not, here are a few ideas that came to mind.
To the first question:
Why doesn’t God reveal Himself in an undeniable way? In other words, why can’t He just let us find Him as plain as we see the mountain on the horizon in front of us?
I get the sense that this calls for a different argument than the Christian’s claim that God has been doing exactly that for thousands of years through the names of Moses, dozens of prophets, Jesus, and billions of other independently-thinking people who have been able to trust in something higher than themselves (along with the existence of the entire cosmos).
I’m not sure what larger revelation they feel they need, but let’s give it a try. I’m willing to set the “Christianese” down and think more practically.
Maybe God doesn’t reveal Himself as plainly as Mount Everest because we ignore what is plain to see. It’s part of being human. We lose respect for what we already have. We stop pursuing what we no longer have questions about.
Think about a relationship– the girl (or boy) you had a massive crush on. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but when I was a little kid, knowing that a girl undeniably liked me without me pursuing her and working for her affection made her somehow less attractive to me.
A middle school crush isn’t Mount Everest. I get that. The first man who saw Mount Everest on the horizon may have been seriously impressed (even with the undeniability of its “mountainness”). His second thought, however, was likely this: I want to climb that. With our inflated egos, to climb something means to conquer it. And once we’ve conquered something, how can it continue to be our God? Again, I’m not saying that’s admirable. But then again, there’s a lot of things that aren’t so admirable about the selfish nature of mankind.
If God’s purpose was to engage us in an active relationship, then it strangely makes sense to me that He would keep us from ever having the same undeniable feeling about Him as we would have about the new car we just financed, or the new gadget we just convinced ourselves that we needed. Those things most definitely exist. They’re each undeniable by an agnostic’s scientific standards, but they are also among a very long list of things that people are known to quickly lose interest in. That very fact is partly why the United States runs the largest economy in the world– we fall for the shiny new thing and then we get sick of it and buy the next shiny new thing. Once we finally have it, it’s not long until we hardly think about it anymore. The time that passes between “this is the best thing ever” and “meh” will vary, but the clock is definitely ticking. Our culture’s divorce rates reveal that it takes an unnatural and very intentional effort to avoid this principle even inside our relationships with each other.
Another practical example is a light switch. There was a time when electric light was the most fascinating invention in the history of the world. It revolutionized the way industries run (in fact, it paved the way for 24/7 operation, which was a movement that we now call the Industrial Revolution). It absolutely changed the world.
The most interesting part, however, is that light in itself is still almost entirely a mystery. And yet, who walks into the bathroom to brush his teeth each morning and thinks of the miracle of light when he flicks the switch? I’m not sure any of us even look at the light switch anymore. We just grope in its general direction because our muscles and brains have grown accustomed to exactly where the light switches are. We don’t think about its mystery or where it comes from. When something loses its deniability, it loses our interest altogether.
Personally, I’m okay with God positioning Himself so that we will never grow tired of Him or take Him for granted. If His purpose is to be glorified, loved, and worshiped, then that is a very smart move on His part. No surprise there.
And to the second question:
Why doesn’t God let us understand Him? In other words, why wouldn’t He let us be able to explain Him in the same way that we can explain other, simpler things?
The “Christianese” answer is that God isn’t simple. How can He be? There are plenty of unbelievers out there who think that if God wants us to believe in Him, then He should dumb it down and let us figure out the mystery once and for all by using mathematics and other smart-person stuff like that. Except I have trouble believing that God’s point in making us was to be eventually made into a scientific diagram.
You may have heard it said before that the essence of the painter is not found within the painting. It’s the same way with God and His creation, which brings me to my first practical idea about this question.
The way that science and numbers operate in the first place shouldn’t logically allow us to explain how they came into existence. Science is simply based on the observation of natural things– created things. They have and will never seep into the explanation of how those natural things came into existence (supernaturally). In fact, the very concept of how we can “observe” is, in itself, indescribable. I’d like to see a scientific article that explains why humans are able to think, imagine, focus, or even communicate.
There might be theories about what happened, but science is ill-equipped and was never intended to explain why those things happened. So to expect science, which is always about observing and, at most, predicting the natural order, to be an appropriate tool of understanding the supernatural is just not logical. Maybe that’s why many scientists (including the one who theorized that the earth orbits the sun) are Christian. It’s not a matter of science or God. Having both has always led to a more complete worldview. From my understanding, even the most modern science has only proved what the Bible has been saying all along.
It actually goes even deeper than that, and this is where it gets pretty similar to the first question. Think about everything that mankind has ever understood. In the case of every scientific discovery, what has been the very next question we asked? It’s this: How can we use it? How can we control and manipulate it to do what we want for ourselves?
It becomes a tool that we use to give ourselves what we want and make boo-koos of money by slapping a patent on it and claiming it was our discovery and therefore now under our control. White-coated lab techs can now step in to test and discover how we can use it to make the person signing their paycheck even wealthier. That’s the name of the game, isn’t it? Charity and “for the good of humanity” exist, sure, but someone looking for a profit is never far behind even the most charitable efforts. I’m not trying to be overly cynical. It’s just our selfish nature.
Every discovery involving DNA and genetics, a field that used to be completely far-fetched and mysterious, has grown into discussions about how to control outcomes. It becomes a project that can make something yield more fruit and resist more pests.
I can’t seriously imagine that God, knowing this trend, would allow Himself to ever be understood. By our own definition of an ultimate and legitimate God, He would naturally remain far above the threshold of manipulation and control.
Again, these are just ideas. They might not resonate with some people. But to me, the personal answers and ideas about them actually confirm and legitimize who I view God to be.