Do some general goods risk, require, or result in Divine Hiddenness?
Clarifying the question
The question most directly relates to the problem of divine hiddenness (i.e. if a loving God exists, then wouldn't that God make sure everyone knows it, so everyone is at least able to be in relationship if they wanted?)
One response says that greater goods might risk, require, or result in God's existence being unclear to certain persons, either temporarily or permanently.1
- At the same time, goods are also lost--goods that would obtain if God's existence were clearer.
- Robert McKim: “To each of these apparent disadvantages, or costs, of God's hiddenness there corresponds an advantage or benefit that, it appears, would accrue if God were not hidden. Thus, if God were not hidden, and the facts about God were clear for all to see, it appears that belief would be easier for us, a personal relationship with God would be facilitated, more people would worship God, religious disagreement would be less likely to exacerbate social tensions, and there would be fewer opportunities for people to pose as experts and to acquire power and influence over others.” [Religious Ambiguity and Religious Diversity (Oxford University Press, 2001), 13-14.]
- At the same time, goods are also lost--goods that would obtain if God's existence were clearer.
Hiddenness buys more relationship goods
While one could focus on benefits or goods associated with divine hiddenness in general, one could also focus in on goods that are specifically the same genre of good, namely the goods of relationship, like the existence of more relationships or stronger relationships or higher quality relationships. With that in mind, it truly does seem to be the case that Divine Hiddenness allows for more relationship goods of this sort.
This page analyzes two arguments:
- Hiddenness may buy more total divine-human relationships, and humans being in relationship with God is one of, if not the, highest sort of good that can exist.
- Hiddenness may buy more quality in divine-human relationships
If hiddenness allows or results in more of these relationship-type goods then that entails it results in more goods in general (since a relationship good is certainly a kind of good).
Hiddenness buys more justice (punishing sin)
More justice (punishing sin) in the world may come at the cost of hiddenness.1 This is relevant because, like mercy, justice (treating sin as it ought to be treated) is also a great good.
But so what?
- God hides from innocent children as well.(See response)2
- Mercy (love) is greater than justice[Forthcoming]3
- There are two ways in which it can cost justice.
First, God's making His existence clear to sinners may be a travesty.
Second, in the Christian tradition, sinners being punished to the right degree for wrongdoings is not a bad thing; it is a good thing. If God chose to deal with all men justy, it would be a great good. If God had instead ensured more persons believe in Him, then it may be that more receive God’s free gift of salvation. This is good, but the downside is that it results in less justice. So hiddenness buys more justice.
• Travis Dumsday: “…in our current state of moral corruption, are we worthy to have a personal relationship with God? Are we worthy, that is, to enter into intimate communion with a Being who is perfectly righteous, “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”? Or is it instead the case that we deserve to be excluded from such communion, at least for the time being? Based on the record of our past actions and omissions and the state of our characters, what do we deserve before God? I would submit that we deserve exclusion … we are justly excluded from relationship,” [“Divine Hiddenness as Deserved” Faith and Philosophy 31:2 (2014): 293.]
Matthew 13:13-15 -- I speak to them [sinners] in parables; because… ‘otherwise they would… hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal [save] them.’).
- The argument here is that if hiddenness is meant to allow/increase justice, then what about children? Since children are innocent, and therefore not due for just punishment, God's hiding from them does not increase justice in their case. That is to say, God should not be hidden to innocent children. By way of response, however,
• Many in Christian thought believe even children are guilty or corrupt.
• The utility of the justice response need not be in its explaning everything. It can be important insofar as it can factor into explaining most cases of hiddenness. • Consider too that “if God were to reveal Himself in the manner recommended by Schellenberg, such that all children had a powerful experience of the divine, this would surely trickle up to adults; we would notice the peculiarly consistent (indeed universal) story coming from the children, the evidential force of which would surely compel a recognition by adults of the truth of theism. And as we have seen, such knowledge might actually be bad for us.”
- The main proponent of the hiddenness argument insists that we only focus on God's love, and set aside concerns of justice.
• J. L. Schellenberg: “[I]f only God’s justice need be saved, the theist may always point to the possibility that everything will even out in the end – that those who fail to benefit from belief in this life will be compensated hereafter. Or else she may claim that it is not unjust to give a gift to someone while not giving it to others, unless everyone can be shown to be entitled to it.” [_Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason_ (Cornell, 1993), 4.]
However, God's being all-loving does not necessarily imply that God will do loving things when possible, and especially not the most loving thing. After all, an all-good God could also be perfectly just, and consequently be in situations where treating someone justly is incompatible with treating someone lovingly. In such a situation, God may be properly torn between the two good options and just choose one or the other, perhaps on the basis of higher-order goods. Sometimes then, a perfectly good God may choose to deal with someone justly to the exclusion of treating them with loving mercy.
Hiddenness buys more mercy
More mercy (refraining from just punishment) may come at the cost of more divine hiddenness. [Forthcoming] This is relevant because, like mercy, justice is also a great good.
Hiddenness buys more moral knowledge
Moral knowledge in the world may come at the cost of more divine hiddenness.[Forthcoming] This is relevant because moral knowledge is good.
Hiddenness buys more seeking of God
More seeking of God in the world may come at the cost of more divine hiddenness.
This page analyzes one evidence:
Hiddenness buys more uncoerced moral choices
More morally significant freedom may come at the cost of more divine hiddenness.1
For example, hiddennes buys...
This is relevant because such uncoerced choices are required for morally significant freedom, and morally significant freedom is a great good. We know this because…
- We can intuitively recognize free will as intrinsically good
- Freely loving God is good
- We can also recognize it as instrumentally good, allowing for…
- Freely making truly significant moral decisions,
- Freely forming bonds of love in response to evil
- Freely helping others in general,
- Freely performing honorable acts in general
- Freely cultivating and forming our own character is good.2
But wait, awareness of God has not coerced Satan, Adam & Eve, nor many believers3
- Immanuel Kant: “…suppose further that we could really reach as much certainty [of God] through this knowledge as we do in intuition. Then in this case all our morality would break down. In his every action, man would represent God to himself as a rewarder or avenger. This image would force itself involuntarily on his soul, and his hope for reward and fear of punishment would take the place of moral motives. Man would be virtuous out of sensuous impulses.” [Lectures on Philosophical Theology, trans. by Wood & Clark (Cornell, 1978), 123.]
- Eliezer Berkovits: “Since history is man's responsibility, one would … expect [God] … to hide, to be silent, while man is about his God-given task. Responsibility requires freedom, but God's convincing presence would undermine the freedom of human decision. God hides in human responsibility and human freedom.” [Faith after the Holocaust (KTAV, 1973), 64.]
- Michael Murray: “For if the moral environment contained… [overwhelming incentives for creatures to choose only good or only evil], the creature with the capacity to choose freely would be precluded from exercising that ability and thus blocked from engaging in the sort of soul-making that makes freedom (and the earthly life) valuable in the first place. The result of all this is that God must remain hidden to a certain extent to prevent precluding incentives from being introduced.” [“Deus Absconditus,” in Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (eds.) D. Howard-Snyder & P. Moser (Cambridge, 2002), 65-66.]
- If one believes reports about Satan and Adam and Eve, taking them to be real historically accurate reports, then one could argue that these foster counterexamples. But as philosophers have pointed out, some people may be more suspctible to coercion than others. That is to say, Satan may not be as easy to coerce, but other people from whom God hides could be sufficiently prone to coercion.
Hiddenness buys more spiritual maturity
- Robert T. Lehe (Philosophy professor at North Central College): “Perhaps God, in his benevolence, sometimes allows persons to struggle with doubt for a time in order to help them attain ultimately the highest level of spiritual maturity of which they are capable. This suggestion is consistent with the testimony of many Christians…” [“A Response to the Argument from the Reasonableness of Nonbelief,” Faith and Philosophy 21(2) (2004): 164.]