Saturday, April 29, 2017

Divine Hiddenness and Miracles

Why doesn’t God show Himself more? Why don’t we see miracles today like we did in biblical times? These are deep and interesting questions that gesture toward the problem of divine hiddenness. The problem of divine hiddenness amounts to the fact that many people think God should make His existence more obvious. How He should specifically do so varies from person to person. It is not clear from those typically raising this objection whether an audible voice should be heard, cloud writings, or specific types of medical or physical miracles. Maybe it would be all of these things. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell once said “Not enough evidence!” when asked what He would say to God if he (Russell) met Him (God).

The atheistic argument is that, because God’s existence is not more manifest, one might justifiably doubt Him. Further, it seems that the biblical accounts are full of divine action in the world and there is a dearth of such action now. Why did God stop acting miraculously in the world? Wouldn’t it make more sense for God to continually show people that He is there and acting in the world as He did in the days of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus? Miracles, events in the space/time universe that are supernatural, would seem to be concrete and irrefutable proof that God exists. Maybe if Bertrand Russell had seen a man instantly healed of leprosy before his eyes he would have considered it sufficient evidence of a theistic miracle (I have my doubts).  

Since the scope here is small, I will only explore a certain aspect of the problem of divine hiddenness; though I believe the implications could be drawn out much further. The brief point I want to sketch is that miracles are not a particularly manifest proof of God’s existence. If more miracles occurred, there would not be any marked increase in belief in God. 

For the classical theist, God is not hidden in any kind of problematic way. His effects are constantly observed. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that He “upholds the universe by the word of His power.” In Acts 17:28, the apostle Paul says “In Him we live and move and have our being.” It is believed by scholars that Paul is quoting Epimenides of Crete, yet the apostle endorses such a view of God as correct. Both Scripture and unaided reason show that the evidence for God is immediately evident to any rational person because God is causing all things to exist at any moment in which they do. This is the doctrine of divine conservation, also sometimes called causality. God is the First Cause of the universe because He gives existence to all things that are.

Everything but existence itself (God) stands in potency to its act of existing. That is, everything but God is always contingent upon God. There are no exceptions to this and there is no ‘existential inertia’; God is not the ‘watch winder’ and spectator, dabbling His finger here and there into creation as He sees fit. The exact opposite must be the case if there is anything at all. God conserves every contingent thing, always, in the most fundamental way. Anything but God could cease to exist at any time (God cannot cease to exist because such an action would involve actualizing a potency in God. But God, as Pure Act, has no potentiality; there is no potency to actualize in God.  Everything else but God has potency to at least non-existence, and so necessarily receives its act of existing from God).

Thus, any effect in the world, a car, a pencil, a molecule, etc. is manifest evidence for God. The fact that any contingent thing exists serves as the beginning point of a demonstration for God’s existence. If God did not exist, then nothing at all could. From this it follows that miracles are not a particularly special evidence for God. In fact, without a notion of God, the notion of a miracle would be altogether nonsensical. It seems that a coherent notion of God is explanatorily prior to a miraculous event,and others have made this very case. It should not be thought that man has a notion of God and a miraculous event confirms that notion. Rather, the reasoning from effect to cause from the most common things in creation are, again, evidence for a sustaining existential cause. It is only from this framework can a miracle be understood as revelatory and intelligible.

It is only the ‘watchmaker’ view of God that can allow one to think that He only acts in creation (after it is made) by miracles. This view of God sees the elegant design of the ‘watch’ as pointing to God and the occurrence of miracles as further proof that God cares to act in creation after He initiates and shapes it. If God is seen as a distant observer of creation, or a as programming the machine and then letting it go, then miraculous events are perhaps needed to truly affirm theism (as opposed to deism).

For the classical theist, the absence of biblical-type miracles in the post-apostolic era is not any kind of evidential problem for God. The fact is God is not hidden at all. His effects are manifest at every moment, and so His conservation of such effects is manifest. It should be noted the Divine Essence itself is not experienced by man in its absolute fullness. One need only consider Isaiah 6:1-7 to understand that, even within a vision, the holiest man in Israel fell completely apart when glimpsing the presence of God. God, in His grace and mercy, allows man to experience Him in ways that befit the Creator/creature relationship.

Yet, despite this, man still demands to have a god that he can completely comprehend, to have a god that is small and pocket sized. This god fits man much better than One that is holy, infinite, and incomprehensible. Because God is incomprehensible, some think that He is not able to be apprehended. But this is not the case. Man can know that God is, and know some things about Him, through divine revelation and natural reason. Further, God can be known in an intimate way by man through Jesus Christ, the God-man.

Because miracles are not per se evidential proof for God does not mean that they have no value. Their value is great in the context of God’s revelatory purposes. Miracles are not necessary ‘special’ acts of God in the world in the sense that God was not acting, and now is acting when Moses parts the Red Sea, or Jesus feeds 5,000 people. Miracles are meant to teach us something, to authenticate the teachings and words of a prophet. Miracles deliver knowledge to man about God, His nature, and His desire for us. I think it would be beneficial if we would understand and focus on communicating miracles in this context. 

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