Monday, August 8, 2011

The Hiddenness of God

A few men and I have been reading and discussing Klaus Issler's book Wasting Time with God: A Christian Spirituality of Friendship with God (IVP, 2001).  I am enjoying the book and it is challenging in that Issler, at times, comes from a slightly different theological perspective.  Issler writes from a non-Reformed perspective on the will and his language tends to reflect this.  The challenge is to read in a sympathetic manner without unnecessarily throwing out good ideas due to the fact that they are communicated in a manner not congenial to my theological perspective.

As an example, we read chapter five--"Commitment: Seeking the God Who Hides"--in which Issler discusses the concept of the "hiddenness of God."
Can Christians admit that, in a sense, God is hidden now, that God has not fully revealed himself this side of heaven?  Hiddenness is not a word usually associated with God, for God is known as the one who reveals himself.  But does he at the same time also intentionally conceal himself?  Upon consideration, most would agree that God is not fully revealed now in this world.  If God revealed more of himself, perhaps believers would never ignore his trademark.  For example, maybe he could make a rainbow shine every morning to start the day, and end the day with a heavenly choir singing his praises to accompanying the sunset.  God could do much more, but he does not.  Apparently God now conceals some of his glory--to hide himself to some extent--so that, among other purposes served, believers may be able to pursue a genuine and deeper relationship with him.  (pp. 125-126)
 So God "hides" himself to create the space for us to seek him.
Thus, God graciously cloaks his greatness for believers so he will not overwhelm us or coerce our loyalty.  Such divine hiddenness provides sufficient room--a measure of "relational space"--for believers to respond to God's initiatives of love.  If we wish, we may remain at a surface level of acquaintance with God, or we can pursue a deeper friendship.  Obedience to divine commandments is important to God, but God desires much more: the development of an ongoing and mutually willing relationship of love between God and each one of his children.  (p. 127)
Granted, there are ways of understanding this kind of statement that is at odds with a Reformed understanding of the human will and divine sovereignty.  But is this necessarily the case?  Is there a way to affirm this concept?  The best way to do this is ask, "Is there a biblical category that might make sense of this?"  I think there is.  The Bible recognizes a concept of "feigned obedience" or "pretended obedience" as indicated by the following scriptures.
Foreigners pretend obedience to me; as soon as they hear, they obey me. (2 Samuel 22.45; also Psalm 18.44 where it is repeated)
Say to God, "How awesome are your works!  Because of the greatness of your power your enemies will give feigned obedience to you.  (Psalm 66:3)
Those who hate the Lord would pretend obedience to him, and their time of punishment would be forever.  (Psalm 81.15)
The scriptures provide us with a psychologically sophisticated account of the depth of the human heart and its devotion.  It is able to probe the depths of the intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4.12).  Our God desires full-hearted devotion and not merely lip-service of half-hearted devotion (Isaiah 29.13; Mark 7.6).

There is a way to construe Issler's remarks that do not need to buy in to all of his assumptions about the human will.  His comments can be seen to be consistent with certain scriptural categories as seen above.  Once this is done Issler's remarks can be profoundly shaping for us.  God does seem to hide himself in the ways Issler describes but he does this to create "a measure of 'relational space'--for believers to respond to God's initiatives of love." This makes sense.  It certainly seems like an obvious truth that some Christians know God "better" than others.  I speak here of not just intellectual cognition of the propositions of God character and ways--although this is very important.  Rather, there are some Christians whose relationship with God is deeper and more profound at an existential level.  This is in large measure due to their tenacious seeking of the living God and his allowing them to find them (2 Chronicles 15.2, 4, 15).  This relentless seeking of the living God by his children is pursued in faith and empowered by grace.  Yet it is, nonetheless, a true seeking and true finding.  There is the individual's self-consciously chosen paths of seeking and hungering for God's presence.  And this is the kind of seeking the Father desires.
You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.  (Jer. 29.13)        
With the above in mind, Issler's comments can be informative and encouraging for our pursuit of God.
God does not force his full presence on us; rather he partially hides himself to encourage a genuine response of friendship.  It is as if God walks a precarious tightrope of giving enough clues about himself so that we could know he desires a deeper relationship, but not enough to overwhelm us or coerce us toward him.  God maintains a delicate tension between self-revelation and being hidden in order to assure that believers respond to his initiatives and pursue a relationship willingly.  Ultimately God will fully live in our midst and show us his face (Rev 22:5).  But now, God's invisibility poses a problem: it is easy for us to become distracted from seeking God.  
Issler then adds,
Believers must not mis-interpret God's intentions.  The relational distance he offers never indicates any indifference toward us.  (p. 128)
So we can approach the hiddenness of God with hope.  Sometimes the hiddenness is itself a summons to him; a summons to experience more of him.  It is a goad God gives to us to seek him for he knows that as we draw near to him, he will draw near to us (James 4.8).