Do some “relationship goods” require, risk, or result in divine hiddenness?

  • Clarifying the question

    A man kneeling down with a hand shovel working on a plant in front of him.

    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 that everyone is at least able to be in relationship if they wanted?) As one philosopher asks,

    • Robert McKim: “The personal relationship in question is understood to involve trust, respect, and, above all, ongoing intimate communication. Is it not reasonable to suppose that if God were less hidden, this sort of relationship would be more widespread?” [Religious Ambiguity and Religious Diversity (Oxford, 2001), 13.]

    One response would be, “no!” It aims to undercut the premise that God would make sure all believe, saying that is far from clear that greater goods of relationship would come about if God were less hidden.

“Yes, after all…
  • Hiddenness buys more relationships total

    The existence of a greater number of divine-human relationships could require God's existence being unclear to many (to some for a time, or unclear to others perpetually).1 This is relevant because divine-human relationships are a great good.

    William Lane Craig: “…for all we know, [ensuring a that a given non-theist becomes a theist] might result in circumstances in which another person would then not come to a saving knowledge of God, so that the overall balance of saved and lost would be worse! For all we know, in a world in which the existence of God were as obvious as the nose on your face, an even smaller percentage of the world’s population would come to know and love Him than in the actual world.” [“Middle Knowledge and Christian Particularism” at]2, 3

    1. One could imagine a number of scenarios where a greater number of persons enter into relationship because God remains hidden to some non-believers. Here are three very simple examples:
      Perhaps fewer love God because of God's effrontery

      William Lane Craig: “If God were to inscribe His name on every atom or place a neon cross in the sky, people might believe that He exists; but what confidence could we have that after time they would not begin to chafe under the brazen advertisements of their Creator and even come to resent such effrontery? In fact, we have no way of knowing that in a world of free creatures in which God’s existence is as obvious as the nose on your face that more people would come to love Him and know His salvation than in the actual world.” [William Craig & J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP, 2004), 157]

      Perhaps fewer would love God because suffering becomes more personal:
      For example, consider a world where relationship with God was accessible, dynamic, and common. God would still have his reasons for permitting suffering and so, inasmuch as there would still be suffering, this God would more explicitly refuse the cries for help from his friends. Imagine one's daughter suffering to death, with a family-familiar God verbally refusing the father's request for help by saying, “I have my reasons,” or giving him reasons he won't like. Consequentialist notions of a greater good, and/or goods which the father/family may not agree with, may often not be seen as justifying at the time. With more explicit refusals to help from God, individuals may feel betrayed, feeling that God (“their friend”) is obligated in some sense to help despite the greater good. This could yield a dynamic that might result in many enemies and haters of God very quickly that would not otherwise exist. These situations can also catalyze movements, as humans can galvanize other friends, and family, or fans (e.g. great writers) into their cause of hating God. Demons, if such things exist, could also can make heavy use of these situations. Perhaps fewer love God because fewer C.S. Lewis figures come to exist:
      Philip Vander Elst: “It is difficult to exaggerate the importance and impact of C.S. Lewis. Although he died in 1963, most of his books are still in print and have sold around 200 million copies in more than thirty languages. During the 1998 C.S. Lewis centenary celebrations, the American magazine, Christianity Today, described Lewis as the Aquinas, the Augustine and the Aesop of contemporary evangelism,” [“The Relevance of C.S. Lewis” at]
      C.S. Lewis was not always a theist, but through his struggles he not only came to faith, but took up the mantle of apologist, and today has influenced more people (directly and indirectly) to fall in love with Christ and Christianity than perhaps any other author of the modern era. Lewis is an exaggerated example, but several others in virtue of their story or non-theistic background are able to (directly and indirectly) do far more good, not merely for the number of people who believe God exists, but for the number (and quality) of divine-human relationships in the world.

    2. While many scenarios can be imagined where hiddenness is best for relationship numbers (see footnote above), this need not even be appealed to. It is enough to reference the butterfly effect.
    3. As Craig explains elsewhere:
      William Lane Craig: “There is no reason at all to think that if God were to make His existence more manifest, more people would come into a saving relationship with Him. Mere showmanship will not bring about a change of heart (Luke 16.30-31). It is interesting that, as the Bible describes the history of God’s dealings with mankind, there has been a progressive “interiorization” of this interaction with an increasing emphasis on the Spirit’s witness to our inner selves (Rom. 8.16-17). In the Old Testament God is described as revealing Himself to His people in manifest wonders: the plagues upon Egypt, the pillar of fire and smoke, the parting of the Red Sea. But did such wonders produce lasting heart-change in the people? No, Israel fell into apostasy with tiresome repetitiveness.[William Craig & J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP, 2004), 157]
  • Hiddenness buys more quality in the given relationship

    The existence of an everlasting higher quality in a given eventual divine-human relationship could require God's existence being unclear for a time to that individual.

    For example,…

    • A way where God is everlastingly appreciated more.1
    • On the basis of reasons which are better for relationship quality.2
    • A way which better fits God's personality (which is inherently good for relationship).3

    This is relevant because an everlasting higher quality in a given divine-human relationship is a great good.

    1. Hiddenness can everlastingly take an eventual relationship to a level it could never match otherwise.

      Robert T. Lehe (Philosophy professor at North Central College): “One sometimes observes that recent converts who come to faith after a long struggle are more zealous in their faith than are lifelong adherents, and some people who seem never to have entertained the slightest doubt that God exists seem to have very shallow faith. The struggle with doubt is a feature of the religious life of even some of the most zealous devotees of the Christian faith, and some who have struggled with doubt attest to the fact that their struggles have deepened their faith and love of God.” [“A Response to the Argument from the Reasonableness of Nonbelief,” Faith and Philosophy 21(2) (2004):166.]
      Ted Poston & Trent Dougherty (Professors at Southern Alabama & Baylor respectively): “…the kind of relationship God wants is one in which the agent longs for God in a way that is best accomplished in many individuals via a period of doubt…. This has been the testimony of many current theists, including the authors…. It sounds trite to say that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ but the testimony of many a Christian is that a trial of doubt greatly enhanced their desire to commune with God.” [“Divine Hiddenness and the Nature of Belief” Religious Studies 43 (2007): 184, 187, 195]

    2. Daniel Howard-Snyder & Paul Moser (Professors at Western Washington and Loyola-Chicago respectively): “Inculpable nonbelievers are either well-disposed to love God upon believing or they are not. The well-disposed either are responsible for being so disposed or not. If not, God lets them confirm their good disposition through choices in the face of contrary temptations before making Himself known. If so, they are well-disposed for unfitting reasons and He waits for them to confirm their good disposition in a purer source before making Himself known. Inculpable nonbelievers who are not well-disposed to love God upon believing and who are not responsible for failing to be well-disposed are given the opportunity by God to change before He makes Himself known.” [“Introduction: Divine Hiddenness” Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (Cambridge, 2002).] (First proposed in Howard-Snyders', “The Argument from Divine Hiddenness” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 26 (1996): 433–453.)

    3. [Forthcoming]
  • Hiddenness buys more quality total

    The existence of an everlasting higher quality in relationships could require God's existence being unclear (to some for a time, or unclear to others perpetually). This is relevant because an everlasting higher quality in divine-human relationships is a great good.

    But so what? Even one additional divine-human relationship is worth the cost of any amount of relationship quality in other existing divine-human relationships.(See response1)

    1. There are several ways in which relationship quality could be increased throughout the world. For one example, of several, there could everlastingly be more things to worship God for, ways which require God's hiddenness. For an example of this, we might everlastingly worship God more because God allowed us to participate in God's work, as friends of God.
    2. Is one additional divine-human relationship worth the cost of any amount of relationship quality in other divine-human relationships? People's intuitions will clash on this. The goods might even be incommensurable, having no common standard of measurement.
  • Hiddenness buys more participation in God's work

    A greater total quality in relationships may require some divine hiddennes, for example the quality afforded by allowing persons (as friends) to participate with God in God's work.

    Travis Dumsday: “To be in positive relationship with God involves engaging in cooperative work aimed at the achievement of common goals. Therefore to be in a positive relationship with God involves such cooperative work.” [“Divine Hiddenness and the Responsibility Argument” Philosophia Christi 12(2)(2010): 364.]

    For a distinctly Christian perspective:1, 2

    John 15:15 -- the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
    1 Corinthians 3:9 -- For we are God’s fellow workers; (cf. Mt 28, the Great Commission)
    Phillipians 2:13 -- for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

    1. Swinburne and Wainwright both say something similar of inter-human relationships:

      Richard Swinburne (Philosophy professor at Oxford): “Any goal which is good for humans to pursue is . . . especially good if they pursue it cooperatively. In the pursuit of this very great good, the knowledge of God, it is good that humans cooperate, cooperate in investigation when none have found the great good; and when some have found it and others have not, that those who have found it should try to help those who have not, to find it. What a good thing it is that those who know should be able to teach those who do not--in all matters, but above all in this most important of matters!” [Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford, 1998), 211.]
      William J. Wainwright: “‘exchange’ is a great good as Charles Williams points out. That is, that each receives his or her good from another, and then bestows that good on a third, is itself a great good. But the greatest good we can either give or receive is faith. Hence, our (partial) dependence on others for it is also a great good.” [“Jonathan Edwards and the Hiddenness of God,” Divine Hiddenness: New Essays, ed. D. Howard-Snyder and P.K. Moser (Cambridge, 2002), 113.]

      It is a great benefit to us:
      Robert T. Lehe (Philosophy professor at North Central College): “It is a great benefit to human beings to be allowed to play a role in striving and working to obtain some of the goods that God wants them to enjoy, and in collaborating with God in the building of his Kingdom, even though this policy increases their suffering. The benefit that persons enjoy in being allowed the privilege of contributing to the building of the Kingdom of God is not one that God can unilaterally bestow. It requires that persons willingly act to make their contribution.” [“A Response to the Argument from the Reasonableness of Nonbelief,” Faith and Philosophy 21(2) (2004): 167.]
      Travis Dumsday offers this argument:
      1] Being in relationship with God involves working with God to achieving God's ends (which, as friends of God, are also our own freely adopted ends).
      2] Since our highest good involves being in relationship with God, and since He loves us, He wants us to cooperate with Him in achieving these ends; and not just any ends, but the highest and most important.
      3] Among the most important tasks that could be undertaken in this life is that of introducing people to God, bringing them to a knowledge of His existence and nature, thus enabling them to choose whether or not to enter into a relationship with God. (Important because, as Schellenberg correctly notes, entering into such a relationship is essential to human well-being. In fact, it is our ultimate good. And since the greatest possible benefit that a human being could bestow on another human being would be to help that person achieve her highest good, consequently the greatest possible good that one human being can do for another is to introduce that person to God. God, by allowing us to cooperate with Him in doing so rather than by doing it all by Himself, gives us the tremendous privilege by being able to bestow the highest possible good on another human being that can be given by a human being. God allows us to be benefactors in the highest and most profound way conceivable for us.)
      4] Therefore God, out of love for us, allows us to undertake this task with him.
      5] But this means that the world must contain at least some temporary nonbelief . . .
      6] Therefore God will allow some temporary nonbelief.” [“Divine Hiddenness and the Responsibility Argument” Philosophia Christi 12(2)(2010): 365.]

    2. Consider too the friendship built between God and Moses, as Moses learned to trust God in doing work with God (cf. Exodus 3:11), as well as other Biblical heroes.

      Isaiah 41:8 --“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend,
      James 2:23 -- and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.