Why doesn't God — if he exists — show himself to humanity? Why doesn't he appear and put an end to all the suffering and grief here on earth?
A PAIR of glasses for God to wear? That's what the handwritten sign irreverently suggested. It was posted in the middle of a scorched, wind-eroded field. Severe drought had devastated the area. In desperation local farmers hung a battered bucket on a weathered fence pole and tacked this sign above it: "Please contribute coins here to buy God a pair of glasses so he can see the suffering of man and beast." The words were clearly legible in the light of the blazing sun. It wasn't that the farmers were atheists. To the contrary, some of them had probably gone to church repeatedly to pray for rain. But no rain fell on the parched land. Not a drop. Why? Didn't God see? Didn't he comprehend? Similar questions must cross the minds of many who find themselves victims of violence in places such as Lebanon, Central America or Northern Ireland. Or who are homeless because of storms and earthquakes. Or whose lives are ripped apart by domestic strife, drugs, alcoholism. Or who are lying in hospitals and emergency rooms. Where in the world are there not victims of tragedy and misfortune who wonder: "Where is God? Why doesn't he do something?" That's really a fair question. Where is God? Does he know what is taking place here on earth? Does he care? Or perhaps is it that God is indeed aware of the problems and troubles we face, but his power is limited so he can't do a whole lot to remedy the situation? That's the explanation of the school of thought called "Process Theology." It holds that God knows what human beings are going through, and that he has an enormous amount of sympathy. But alas, he doesn't have the power to do everything he would like to do. He's not really, according to this popularized concept, "Almighty." Could that be true? If so, why doesn't he at the very least extend his sympathy in person, explaining his limitations, appearing visibly so we can see him? Surely God has that much power? Wouldn't that act by itself tend to alleviate a great number of the problems humanity faces? For one thing, if he were visible, atheists and skeptics could hardly continue to quibble about whether he exists, could they? And he could straighten out so much confusion. Take the realm of religion, for example. So many of mankind's problems are the direct or indirect result of religious confusion. In various areas of the world religion has perpetuated, if not caused, squalor and ignorance. Clashes between religious factions have spawned suspicion, hatred and bloodshed. Think of the numerous divisions — the disagreeing sects, cults, splits, schisms and denominations. Couldn't God end all that if he would simply appear and say: "This is how I want you to worship. This is the true religion"? Why doesn't he? And surely the prospects for world peace would be considerably brightened — efforts to avoid the nuclear nightmare would receive a tremendous boost — if God would appear before the United Nations, if he would spend some time in world capitals. With his superior knowledge he could lead the way to solving so many of the baffling difficulties with which humanity grapples. The elimination of catastrophic illnesses, pollution, criminality, mental disease, social injustice, poverty — it would all at last be within our reach if only God would show himself and tell what he knows. Why doesn't he? It's time to face this issue squarely! For too long theologians have hemmed and hawed on this question. They have produced answers that are nonanswers. Or they have changed the subject. The suggestion that God is all good, but just not powerful enough to prevent calamity, is only one of the attempted explanations. Some in religion counter with: "God is indeed all-powerful. But our sufferings are due to the fact that God is not totally good." Others dismiss the entire subject as a "mystery," something we can't understand in this life. There are some who seek to get around the question by denying ' the existence of evil in the first place. If there is no evil, they must reason, there is nothing for which to blame God. In any case, none of them are able to give an adequate explanation as to why the God they profess. to worship cannot be seen! It is little wonder atheism and agnosticism flourish. It is little wonder even sincerely religious people have doubts concerning this most basic of all questions: Why does God apparently stand aloof while humanity suffers? Why does he allow pain and evil? In short, why does God hide himself?
How It All Began
We needn't be In doubt. We can know. The Bible makes no secret that God does indeed respond to certain circumstances and situations by withdrawing himself — hiding himself, if you please. "Truly You are God, who hide Yourself," exclaimed the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 45:15, Revised Authorized Version throughout). In the midst of grievous physical affliction, the patriarch Job once used a similar term when he sought to learn why God was hiding from him (Job 13:24). And, "Why do You stand afar off, O Lord?" is the question posed in Psalm 10:1. "Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?" "How long, Lord?" asks another psalm, "Will You hide Yourself forever?" (Ps. 89:46; 13:1). Yes, how long and why? Countless times in the anguished course of human history such questions have been echoed in response to calamities, pain and suffering. There is a reason. It all began with the first human beings — Adam and Eve. After God had created them and placed them in a splendid garden setting, the Creator God talked with them in person. He was right there, giving them instructions on how to live happy and successful lives. He taught them about an eternal law. Humans were not just created and then left to fend for themselves, to determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong. Instead, the Creator God personally gave to them complete information about the right way to live. Living God's way produces happiness, peace, health, prosperity and eventually leads to eternal life. But rejecting God's way, doing what seems right to the natural reasoning, brings misery, sickness, war and everything evil (Prov. 14:12). It is God who defines what is right and what is wrong. To place confidence. in human reason alone is folly. Adam and Eve had to make a choice between two ways of life, symbolized by two trees described in Genesis 2 and 3. They relied on their human reason. Even if you have had little interest in religion, you probably are familiar enough with the often — referred — to account to be aware that Adam and Eve chose the wrong tree. They sinned — transgressed God's spiritual law — rejected God's government. Notice a significant point, though, that most overlook. Adam and Eve immediately knew they had disobeyed. Guilt and shame welled up within them. The next time the Creator came in person to talk to them, "they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and [notice it!] Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Gen. 3:8). So who was the first to hide? Not the Creator God! It was the humans he had created who first hid from him. It was they who wanted to establish and maintain a distance — a separation — between themselves and God. The tree of which Adam and Eve ate symbolized humanity's desire to try to define for themselves good and evil — by reasoning, by experience, by experimentation. Call it the way of trial and error. Call it the school of hard knocks, or self-will. Whatever you call it, humanity has followed that way ever since and it is that very way of life that has produced all the grief, suffering and woe this world has known. And God allowed it! He said, in effect: "All right, you won't listen to what I say. You want to do things as you see fit. You want to hide from me? I'll hide myself from you instead. Go ahead, then. Build your civilizations, form your societies your way. I will step into the background for 6,000 years and give you the chance to 'do your thing.' Only I warn you, you are going to regret the results. With every cry of anguish and pain, with every tear and heartache, with every act of greed, cruelty and injustice you and your descendants inflict upon each other, you are going to regret the results of the direction you have chosen. "You — mankind in general — will call out to me, but I will not answer until finally you come to the end of your rope, to the very point of destroying yourself and all life on earth with your own inventions. Then I will step in and save you from yourselves." Now do you begin to understand? Mankind was cut off from God because of rebellion, and God, in turn, withheld from mankind, in general, access to his Holy Spirit. Consequently, God withdrew his hand, gave mankind free rein to write indelibly and for all time the lesson in human tears and blood that, apart from obeying God's laws, universal happiness, peace and prosperity are impossible. That lesson is still being written today. It wasn't only Adam and Eve who chose to have it that way. All their mature descendants did likewise. The whole Bible is a record of human beings — with the exception of a few individuals — rejecting God's ways and suffering for it. Did you ever wonder, when reading the Bible, why some of the terrible accounts it contains are included in it? The reason is, the events described form a part of the lesson being written by human experience: the lesson that breaking God's revealed spiritual laws results in suffering and misery. Hear what God says to a human race bent on self-destruction: "Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you." God doesn't enjoy seeing people suffer. But he wants them to learn their lesson well. Continuing: "Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, they would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies" (Prov. 1:24-31). Why is there anguish and suffering on earth? Why is there so much heartache and pain? Humans have been eating the fruit of their own ways and they insist on continuing to do so. Though men have formed their own religions and though many have professed to seek God, they have not found him, because they are too often like those prophesied of in Hosea 5:6: With their religious accoutrements "they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn Himself from them." Why? Listen to the prophet Micah: "Then they will cry to the Lord, but He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them at that time, [and here is the reason] because they have been evil in their deeds" (Mic. 3:4). "When you spread out your hands [in prayer]," God says, "I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear" (Isa. 1:15). Isaiah put it this way: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isa. 59:1-2). God hides his face because of sin (see also John 9:31; Deuteronomy 31:17-18; 32:20).
God, However, Can Be Found
It is important to understand that while God has throughout history maintained an overall hands-off policy, he has intervened when necessary to work out his plan. He has dealt directly with select individuals, even appeared and spoken to some of them, giving his Holy Spirit as needed. But to mankind as a whole, he has personally remained "hidden." Those who have ears to hear are told to seek God and to keep looking until they find him (Isa. 55:6-7; Jer. 29:13). It is God's will that people of every nation "should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27). He can be found. But one needs to call out to him in obedient earnestness. Few seem willing to do that, however. Even to those who do, seek and find him God has chosen at this time to remain invisible. The reason God now remains invisible even to those who follow his ways is that he is developing their faith and perseverance. Surrounded as we are by the tangible, material world, it requires a special daily effort to seek the spiritual values and to keep one's mind on that plane (Col. 3:1-2). Thus we are instructed that we should "not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (II Cor. 4:18). It's easy to believe what is visible. But "faith is... the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). Jesus pronounced a special blessing on those who remain faithful to him without ever seeing him in this life. He said to one of his disciples: "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). When Jesus was on earth, however, few even of those who saw him with their own eyes believed. That ought to tell us something. Here he was, having come to earth on the human level. He came as a mortal, flesh-and-blood man — God in the flesh — capable of being seen, talked to, even touched. And what happened? Was he accepted with open arms? Was he welcomed and given due respect? No, he was "despised and rejected by men.... And we [all of us, because all of our natures are fundamentally inclined to react in the same way] hid, as it were, our faces from Him" (Isa. 53:3). How shallow are the taunts of those who jeer, "Why doesn't God show himself?" He did. He appeared on our level, came out of hiding, so to speak. And we murdered him, nailed him to a stake. Think that one over! Nor is that the end of it. To this day, society as a whole rejects the true God and the message of the government or kingdom of God he has had his chosen representatives proclaim. Because of rejecting the rule and the laws of God, evils are multiplying at a dizzying speed, fast bringing mankind to what would be self-annihilation — except that the Creator God is once again going to appear. This time it will be in power and majesty, "and every eye will see Him" (Rev. 1:7).
When God Appears Again
God shall save human beings from themselves and reestablish his government on earth. An awesome lesson shall have been written. Those who are still alive amid what will then be the rubble and ruin of man's civilization will finally come to real repentance, forced by the evidence — 6,000 years of suffering and woe — to acknowledge the futility and error of being cut off from God. No longer will the Creator God keep himself in the background then. He will be plainly visible here on this planet, dwelling among human beings in a peaceful and happy new world order (Ezek. 43:7). Of that splendid age, God declares: "I will not hide My face from them anymore" (Ezek. 39:29). You may now wonder about the thousands of millions who have already lived and died cut off from God. How and when will they be able to benefit from the lessons of history they themselves have had a part in writing? God in his fairness has not left out all these thousands of millions of people. Read the eye-opening article "Is This the Only Day of Salvation?" You've never read anything like it, yet it is the truth straight from the pages of your Bible!