In this post questions are raised that lead on from the discussion on the soteriological problem of evil and its solution in the previous post, A hell of a problem? Part 2.
Is the problem that God could have created a world in which everyone freely believes the gospel and is saved?
It may not be feasible for God to create such a world. Given that God desired free creatures, he had to accept that some might freely reject him.
Is the problem that God would create a world when he knew that some people would not believe the gospel and be lost?
The happiness and blessedness of those who would freely accept God’s love and salvation should not be precluded by those who would freely spurn him. Those who reject God’s love and salvation shouldn’t be able to have a veto power, as it were, to dictate which worlds God is free to create. God is able to minimise the amount of people who are lost and maximise the amount of people who are saved.
Is the problem that God did created a world in which he knew that some people would freely believe the gospel if they had heard it, and yet were lost because they did not?
There are no such people. God has seen fit to arrange the world so that everyone who would accept the gospel if they heard it, are in the times and places that the gospel spreads to. No one who would have accepted the gospel had they heard it is born in a time and place where he fails to hear it.
Such a solution is attractive on the basis of what the bible has to say regarding the perfection of God’s knowledge of contingent and from Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus to the Athenian philosophers recorded in Acts 17.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and . . . gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ Acts 17:24-28
Is the problem that God remain so hidden, so that the religious confusion the world has is not cleared up?
This is the problem of the hiddenness of God. The great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on the judgement day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’”
“Why does God hide himself?” or “Why does God reveal Himself to some people, but not to others”. My answers follow.
1. The objection supports a low view of the project of Natural Theology. This low view will have to be argued for, rather than assumed. Most people are ignorant of the arguments for God’s existence, and so just mentioning them is enough to shut their mouths. For those who enquire further, you may then share the intriguing cosmological, design, moral, and historical arguments.
2. It presumes too much to accept out-of-hand that God does hide himself.
First it presumes that every way which God reveals Himself is known. Secondly, it presumes that all are capable of recognising those methods God uses. It is possible that some people simply aren’t listening, or aren’t listening in the right way.
3. It is possible that the Bible is correct: that deep down people don’t want to believe.
Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened Romans 1:21
In confirmation of this point, the prominent atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel, in a moment of candour, admits the following in the book The Last Superstition, by Edward Feser;
I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism in our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind.
Edward Feser, The Last Superstition
It is not altogether clear that if God were to reveal himself in an obvious manner that this would produce the free and loving response that God so desires from us. People may well become resentful of a God who was a show off, writing things in the sky for all to see, signing his name on cell, and appearing in the nick of time every time to prevent a tragedy. God may not want a world that is a haunted house any more than would desire it.
Finally, Blaise Pascal, the french philosopher and mathematician in his book Pensees response to the hiddenness of God with the following.
God has willed to redeem men and to open salvation to those who seek it. But men render themselves so unworthy of it that it is right that God should refuse to some, because of their obduracy, what He grants others from a compassion which is not due to them. If He had willed to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, He could have done so by revealing Himself so manifestly to them that they could not have doubted of the truth of His essence; as it will appear at the last day, with such thunders and such a convulsion of nature that the dead will rise again, and the blindest will see Him. “It is not in this manner that He has willed to appear in His advent of mercy, because, as so many make themselves unworthy of His mercy, He has willed to leave them in the loss of the good which they do not want. It was not, then, right that He should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him. He has willed to make himself quite recognisable by those; and thus, willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart, He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.
Blaise Pascal, Pensees, Section VII, 430
Pascal concludes with the following;
‘Instead of complaining that God had hidden Himself, you will give Him thanks for not having revealed so much of Himself; and you will also give Him thanks for not having revealed Himself to haughty sages, unworthy to know so holy a God. Two kinds of persons know him: those who have a humble heart, and who love lowliness, whatever king of intellect they may have, high or low; and those who have sufficient understanding to see the truth, whatever opposition they may have to it.’
Blaise Pascal, Pensees, Section IV, 47