Here’s something I’ve heard many times, often called the problem of divine hiddenness, recently articulated to me by a Facebook friend:
It would seem that an all loving god would not make it so damn hard to understand and believe when it could be so easy to make somone believe by any number of means. In fact god would know exactly what it would take to make me or anyone believe. why not do that?
Like the question, “When did you stop doing drugs?” this is not the sort of question we should answer directly, because it makes several bad assumptions:
1. It assumes that belief = faith
But James 2:19 says that even the demons believe. Imagine God provided special evidence to an atheist that compelled her to believe he was real. Would she love him as a result? Or would she maintain that even though she was certain he existed, Yahweh is a monstrous deity not worthy of worship? Most atheists—especially new atheists—would say the latter. So if God wanted them to have a loving trust in him (faith), it doesn’t seem like proving his existence would get the job done.
2. It assumes that God has not already given sufficient evidence
But as (1) suggests, the problem atheists have with God is not strictly evidential in the first place; it is relational. Which is why Romans 1:18ff notes that, far from not knowing the truth, all people naturally do know about God, since his existence is clearly perceived in creation—but they suppress it in unrighteousness. Now, atheists obviously won’t tend to admit this, even to themselves; just as I would not have when I was an atheist. But looking back on my attitude and beliefs during that time, it is very obvious to me now that I was deceiving myself, and that Romans 1 was exactly right. Indeed, the Bible’s ability to accurately expose the human heart was something that I found quite convincing when evaluating its claims. It has the ring of truth about it.
3. It assumes there is such a thing as convincing evidence to an atheist
But if the Bible is correct that unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness, then any evidence for God will be suppressed in the same way—reinterpreted, no matter how implausibly, to point away from God. In Luke 16:31, Jesus observes that, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.” I’d lay good money that if an atheist saw someone rise from the dead, she would look for a scientific explanation—and assume there was a scientific explanation regardless of her success—rather than believe it was a miracle. That being the case, what could God possibly do to convince her, when she will resolutely reinterpret any evidence to fit her godless worldview?
4. It assumes God wants everyone to believe in him
But where is this taught in the Bible? Scripture is explicit that, because we are naturally enemies of God, none of us will ever love him without he himself taking the initiative and fixing this relational problem we have. It isn’t something we can do. Left to our own devices, we will always hate God. He must change our attitude; make us willing to see the obvious. That is what the phrase “born again” means—to have God replace our “hearts of stone” with “hearts of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
This is why Yahweh has always chosen whom he will save, and left the rest. That is what Israel is a model of. God does not intend to save everyone. Rather, as Romans 9:16-18 puts it:
So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I caused you to be raised up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then, he has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires.