Sunday, July 7, 2013

Detecting and Finding God

 (Last updated/edited 6/23/14)

This blog should be read in conjunction with my other blog HERE.

Some theologians like Gordon Clark point out that (assuming the concept of God is logically coherent) it would be difficult to disprove the existence of God since it would be like trying to prove that there is no naturally buried gold in Alaska. To prove that there IS natural gold buried in Alaska would be as simple as finding said gold. It might be found one foot away and one inch deep from where you first started digging. However, to prove there is NO gold in Alaska, one would have to search all of Alaska and then, after that exhaustive (LITERALLY, *g*) inductive search could one finally make the claim with certainty that there is no gold buried in Alaska. However, most modern atheists don't believe they need to disprove the existence of God since they claim the burden of proof is on those who assert God DOES exist.

According to a widely believed story, the great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on 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!'"

Atheists also like to quote W.K. Clifford's maxim, "[I]t is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." However, how much evidence is "sufficient"? Must the evidence be of such a kind and such a degree that it forces/compels one to believe in the existence of God in order for it to be "sufficient" and for human beings to be morally responsible before God? Why assume that?

Also, is it even possible to inductively prove with apodictic certainty that God exists? Isn't it logically possible for even the angels and saints in heaven to rationally speculate (assuming we're limiting ourselves to inductive reasoning at present and ignoring issues like the Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit) that they might be in a computer simulation or that there might be a greater God who is above and more powerful than the one they have been worshipping? It seems that no matter how many demonstrations of His power and wisdom God may provide finite creatures, those finite creatures can only experience and examine the demonstrations in a finite way. Also, since (as the saying goes)  "the finite cannot contain the infinite," no amount of direct experience of God could lead one to apodictic certainty that it's an experience of the one true and greatest God. Furthermore, any sentient being who lacks omniscience could always question the veridical nature of his/her conscious experiences.

How then can theists solve these problems?

As a Calvinist, I can only speak as a Calvinist. Calvinists surmount these problems by the Biblically derived teachings of election, regeneration, the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and the self-attesting nature of Scripture. These are in addition to other standard/common Christian beliefs about our mental faculties being designed by God for rationality, our ability to acquire information, the general reliability of our sense perceptions, of our brains, bodies, minds and environment being adapted to one another etc.

According to Calvinism, God elected some humans to salvation "before" the creation of the world, and in time God regenerates them by enabling them to be able to understand and accept spiritual truth. Then, by the self-authenticating internal testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the elect coupled with the external testimony of Scripture (or Scriptural truth if one doesn't have access to the Bible) elect believers can know with fallible but yet sufficient certainty that Christianity is true.

[Historically, there has been disagreement among Calvinists about the nature of "assurance". Specifically, whether Christians can have an infallible certainty of their gracious state (and therefore by extension their election). This disagreement seems to have implications regarding the nature of the universal knowledge of God, whether it's actual and whether it's infallible.]

As one notable Calvinist put it, "I believe in this infallible book, in the last analysis, because 'of the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in my heart.' " [alluding to the WCF]

Does that mean that humans can't affect their eternal destinies by looking for God and examining the various evidences for God? No, it doesn't. One cannot change their pre-ordained destiny, but one can affect it because God ordains both the ends as well as the means; all the while upholding causal relations. In other words, God providentially predestines not only what will happen, but how they will happen.

So, if God ordained that a person will be saved, then God also ordained the means to their salvation. That can include things like their 1. seeking for God, 2. examining the evidences, 3. praying, 4. reading the Bible, 5. studying apologetics et cetera.

It will be argued, "Sure, God may also ordain the means, but people will not actually seek God unless and until God first regenerates them so that they can genuinely and sincerely seek after God." The charges and assumptions being, that it's not possible for people to initiate a search for God. And that therefore there's no point in admonishing people to search for God. Also, unless they first have reason to believe they are regenerated (and/or numbered among the elect), they have no reason to have confidence or expectation that their search will be fruitful and that they will, in the end, actually find God. But those are false inferences. God's promise that those who sincerely seek Him will find Him stand (e.g. James 4:8; John 6:37b; Matt. 11:28-30; Isa. 55:6-7; Jer. 29:13; Ps. 145:18; cf. James 1:8.; Luke 11:9-10; Heb. 11:6). That's true whether one is regenerated or not. Moreover, God doesn't require either the elect or non-elect to know they are regenerated or elect before they can seek after Him. Humans are free moral agents (even if they don't have libertarian free wills as Calvinism implies). Being free moral agents created by God, all humans have the duty to seek after God and believe in Him regardless of the possibility of their success in that search.

Given Calvinism, both the elect and non-elect can "search" for God, but only the elect will sincerely, honestly and persistently search for Him because of regeneration. Since a knowledge of one's regeneration isn't essential to saving faith, everyone can have personal psychological hope that they might find God by searching for Him.

Therefore, regarding those who are currently non-Christians, for all they know, God will use their search for Him (whether it's currently sincere or insincere) to eventually find Him. Their search which may have begun insincerely may end up being sincere by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. So, we are all without excuse if we fail to search for God.

According to general Evangelical Christianity (whether Calvinist, Arminian, Lutheran etc.), there is sufficient evidence for God's existence in many fields and sources of inquiry and experience. Among Evangelicals there is disagreement as to what that sufficiency entails. By "sufficient" most Evangelicals mean there is enough evidence so that God's existence not only can be detected, but that it's sufficiently clear and pervasive that all humans are without excuse. Some Calvinists even insist that the evidence for God's existence cannot be escaped and that it is necessarily the case that all humans know God. That is, that all humans directly know that God their Creator, whom they are accountable to, exists. While I'm open to that position (being a Van Tillian apologetically), my tentative/provisional position is that all humans existentially know that God exists, even if they don't necessarily or always rationally know (on the surface of their consciousnesses) that God exists. [See the following links for an article by Paul Manata that has led me to no longer dogmatically hold the traditional Van Tillian view that all human beings actually know God. The links are HERE or HERE of the same article. It caused quite a stir in the Van Tillian community, e.g. HERE]

This is where certain quotes from Blaise Pascal are useful for the Christian apologist/evangelist and the non-Christian seeker. Here are those quotes from his Pensées:

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, God so regulates the knowledge of himself that he has given indications [or "signs"] of himself which are visible to those who seek him and not to those who do not seek him. There is enough light for those to see who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.

Elsewhere in his Pensées he wrote:

The prophecies, the very miracles and proofs of our religion, are not of such a nature that they can be said to be absolutely convincing. But they are also of such a kind that it cannot be said that it is unreasonable to believe them. Thus there is both evidence and obscurity to enlighten some and confuse others. But the evidence is such that it surpasses, or at least equals, the evidence to the contrary; so that it is not reason which can determine men not to follow it, and thus it can only be lust or malice of heart. And by this means there is sufficient evidence to condemn, and insufficient to convince; so that it appears in those who follow it, that it is grace, and not reason, which makes them follow it; and in those who shun it, that it is lust, not reason, which makes them shun it. [bold used for emphasis by me]

According to these quotes, the disposition of the seeker is a determining factor as to whether people will actually find God. The persuasiveness of the evidence is "in the heart of the beholder." A useful analogy would be the multiple possible perceptions of optical illusions. For example, is the picture below that of an old or young woman? Depending on one's neurological "wiring", one will naturally see a young or old woman upon first encountering this classic illusion.

 Another analogy that can help explain how one's attitude, point of view and disposition can influence the interpretation of the evidence is the old "Half Full or Half Empty" rhetorical question.

It can also be explained in this following anonymous story.

The Cricket

A Native American and his friend were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, the Native American said, "I hear a cricket."

His friend said, "What? You must be crazy. You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!"

"No, I'm sure of it," the Native American said, "I heard a cricket."

"That's crazy," said the friend.

The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed.

"That's incredible," said his friend. "You must have super-human ears!"

"No," said the Native American. "My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you're listening for."

"But that can't be!" said the friend. "I could never hear a cricket in this noise."

"Yes, it's true," came the reply. "It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you."

He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.

"See what I mean?" asked the Native American. "It all depends on what's important to you."

It's true that for Calvinists, we believe regeneration by God is what provides the disposition to be convinced by the evidence and to believe. But as I explained above, we are all naturally able to "search" for God in some sense and therefore are without excuse if we fail to search or stop searching because there is sufficient evidence (at the very least) in General Revelation. And since there are plenty of pragmatic and prudential reasons for believing in God, or at least to continue seeking after God for one's entire life even if the various rational arguments (thus far presented) for God's existence (allegedly) fail. See my A Rational, Pragmatic and Prudential Argument for Believing in God 

In his An Introduction to Systematic Theology Cornelius Van Til wrote:

That even Reformed philosophers and theologians do not always make full use of the riches found in Calvin's Institutes may be briefly pointed out by a reference to the work of Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosohy of Education. He says that the position of the atheist and pantheist in actually or virtually denying that there is a Creator is untenable. If a discoverer of an uninhabited island were to search its confines for a particular form of animal life, he might fail to find it. [He then quotes Gordon Clark]
He could not be sure, however that the particular animal had never lived on the island, because, even though the search had been diligent, still tomorrow the remains might be discovered. Similarly, it is clear that no finite amount of searching could rationally lead one to deny the existence of God. During the time of the atheist's investigation of this earth, it just might be that God was hiding on the other side of the moon, and if some rocket should take the atheist to the moon, there is no reason to hold that God might not go over to Jupiter–for the express purpose of inconveniencing the atheist.
[Van Til goes on to comment] But a God who can thus escape to the moon or to Jupiter is not inconveniencing the atheist at all. On the contrary, he shows himself to be so finite, so insignificant, that the atheist can cover the whole earth without being confronted by him [i.e.  God]. This is the exact reverse of the teaching of Calvin, based on Paul, that God is divinity and power [ I suspect this is a typo and should read "that God's divinity and power" ], being always and everywhere so obviously present that he who says there is no God is a fool. The foolishness of the denial of the Creator lies precisely in the fact that this Creator confronts man in every fact so that no fact has any meaning for man except it be seen as God's creation. [pages 173-174 2nd edition edited by William Edgar; bold used for emphasis by me]
 I agree with Van Til that the evidence for God's existence is sufficient that one cannot escape being confronted with evidence for God's existence. However, I'm not so sure that all humans actually rationally know that God exists, even if I am certainly persuaded that they OUGHT to know that He exists because of the evidence in general revelation (both within them and external to them), not to mention the self-attesting evidence of special revelation found in the Bible (of which, admittedly, not everyone is exposed to). So, even if it is the case that not all men know that God exists, they nevertheless ought to know God exists since there is the moral category of culpable ignorance as well as vincible ignorance. This doesn't contradict my earlier statement that while not all men necessarily know rationally that God exists, they do so existentially.

And so, it is logically possible for the evidence for God to be sufficiently clear that all should and could know that God exists, and yet at the same time the evidence could be sufficiently vague enough (by God's design) so that God's existence is not rationally coercive.

A final and highly important consideration must also be factored into the issue of the detection and finding of God. It is the issue of the effects of the Fall on people's hearts and minds. The three main branches of Christianity (Catholicism, Protestantism, Orthodoxy, not to mention Anabaptism and the various other ancient Catholic churches etc.) differ on the nature of Original Sin and depravity (e.g. it's effects and whether they are passed on or not et cetera). The issues are complex and can't be dealt with here. But a common thread in the various views is that somehow sin affects our ability and/or willingness to accept God's existence.

In the history of Christianity there have been 4 basic views on the nature of our receptivity to God. I'll summarize (maybe oversimplify) them here:

1. Pelagian view

2. Semi-Pelagian view

3. Prevenient Grace or Initiating Grace view

4. Sufficient Grace or Efficacious Grace view

1. The Pelagian view teaches that all humans are born in the moral state Adam was created in. According to this view, people can live in such a way that they can both merit and earn salvation by their own works apart from the salvation provided in Christ. The grace of God can help and aid in one's salvation, but it's not absolutely necessary. This view has been universally and categorically rejected by the Christian church.

2. The Semi-Pelagian view teaches that God's grace is absolutely necessary for salvation (unlike Pelagianism). People cannot be saved without the grace of God. People do need God's grace, however they are already free enough morally to exercise their free wills to accept or reject God's grace for salvation apart from the internal work of prevenient grace taking the first step. In Semi-Pelagianism, God OR MAN can initiate man's salvation. That is to say, man can, of himself, respond to God's grace and offer of salvation apart from God's grace making the first step and initiating salvation. God's grace (in this view) doesn't need to first work in a person to draw them to a response to God. Sometimes Semi-Pelagianism is interpreted to mean that ONLY man can initiate his salvation. But historically Semi-Pelagianism's error was more modest than that. Technically, Semi-Pelagianism doesn't deny that God could (and sometimes does) initiate salvation. The error of Semi-Pelagianism is the idea that SOMETIMES MAN CAN INITIATE his salvation by his free will response to offered grace. Semi-Pelagianism was rejected at the (2nd) Council of Orange (in 529 A.D.). The decrees and teaching of Orange were somehow lost for most of the Middle Ages but approximately around the time of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation they were rediscovered. And so now, at the present time, Catholicism, most branches of Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy (and others) all reject Semi-Pelagianism and Pelagianism. In summary, the error of Semi-Pelagianism is NOT that it denies the necessity of subsequent grace (or  co-operating grace in Catholicism) in living the Christian life (after becoming a Christian). Rather, the Semi-Pelagian error is in denying the NECESSITY of initiating/prevenient grace (or operating grace in Catholicism) in order to become a Christian. Here's a link to Arminian Roger Olson's blog on Semi-Pelagianism and Prevenient Grace.

 [Nota Bene: I used the phrase "becoming a Christian" rather than "conversion" because "becoming a Christian" is the more general and all encompassing phrase. Becoming a Christian is understood differently by different denominations since some believe children become Christians upon infant baptism, while others believe it requires conscious and intentional conversion. As a credobaptist Protestant, I believe in the latter (i.e. conversion). Whereas a Catholic would believe there is initiating grace infused during infant baptism. For adult converts, Catholics would agree that before the person believed on Christ, God's initiating and operating grace was first working in the person which lead the person to be able to freely convert. Besides the various Catholic denominations, there are also Protestant denominations that practice infant baptism and so sometimes also believe prevenient grace is involved.]

The following TWO views correctly reject the idea that SOMETIMES man can initiate his salvation, or that ONLY man can initiate salvation. The following two views affirm that ONLY GOD can initiate salvation.

 3. The Prevenient Grace (or Initiating or Enabling Grace) view is the majority view in the Church. Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and most Protestants and Evangelicals (e.g. Arminians and other non-Calvinists) hold to this view. It teaches that God's grace must first work in the hearts of people before they can then freely accept God's grace for salvation (hence the word "initiating" and the "pre" in the word "prevenient"). It's a pre-regenerating form of grace. While Catholics believe one can merit one's salvation (by the enablement of grace), and Evangelicals deny it can be merited, both Catholics and Evangelicals deny one can earn or strictly merit salvation (since they both reject Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism). For Evangelicals who hold to prevenient grace the Fall wounded men's minds and wills such that God's grace must first heal it so that it can now freely receive or reject God's free offer of salvation. Prevenient grace doesn't leave men merely indifferent or neutral. It also draws and woos people to respond to God's grace. As Roger Olson described it, " is an operation of the Holy Spirit that frees the sinner’s will from bondage to sin and convicts, calls, illumines and enables the sinner to respond to the gospel call with repentance and faith (conversion)."

4. The Sufficient Grace or Efficacious Grace view is the view that Calvinists hold. Calvinism goes further than (far beyond) the prevenient grace view and says that not only is God's grace necessary, it's also sufficient. That when God begins a work of salvific grace in a person, that person  will definitely, certaintly and inexorably come to saving faith in Christ and be saved. This is my view. It is usually considered a form of Augustinianism. While prevenient grace is sometimes called a form of Semi-Pelagianism, I personally think that's a poor label. In my opinion, it's erroneous to call Prevenient Grace a form of Semi-Pelagianism. Unfortunately, many of my fellow Calvinists do so. I think the prevenient grace view should be called a form of Semi-Augustianism. Either that or call it Augustinianism and the Calvinist View Ultra-Augustinianism (or Supra-Augustinianism) since there are facets of Calvinistic theology that go way beyond Aurelius Augustine's own doctrines. Rather than the human search for God as the reason why some humans find God, in Calvinism God is ultimately the one who "finds" human beings (i.e. reveals Himself to them) [cf. Rom. 10:20].

Both Calvinistic Evangelicals and (most) Non-Calvinistic Evangelicals (e.g. Arminians) believe that humans are so depraved (apart from grace) that they suppress the evidence for God's existence because there is a universal (but unnaturally natural) aversion to God, His Holiness and His commandments/requirements. So that has bearing on the issue of the "sufficiency" of the evidence for God's existence. For many Arminian-like Evangelicals, they believe that God is constantly wooing non-Christians by his Prevenient Grace, but because of their depravity and their use of the libertarian free wills they often continue to suppress the evidence for God in their hearts and so continue to reject God (even though Prevenient Grace has enabled them now to freely accept or reject God's offered salvation since it offset the effects of natural depravity). Calvinists on the other hand believe that all humans are beneficiaries of Common Grace, but that only God's redemptive Special Grace is sufficient to overcome natural depravity. That is why for the Calvinist depravity is "Total" while for the Arminian it is not "Total" since it teaches that human free will coupled with prevenient grace is sufficient to overcome depravity if people properly apply their free wills aided by grace.

To sum up, options #3 and #4 are within the pale of Christian orthodoxy and should be factored into the issue of the possible detection and discovery of God along with whether there is "sufficient" evidence for God's existence.

 I recommend another of my blogs where I explore possible reasons why God might intentionally make His existence somewhat vague: "Unveiling" The Hiddenness of God

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Unveiling" The Hiddenness of God

(Last updated/edited 9/17/16)

This blog should be read in conjunction with my other blog HERE.

Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
O God of Israel, the Savior.
– Isaiah 45:15

Many of the various objections to Christianity are directly or indirectly related to the topic of the Hiddenness of God (sometimes abbreviated in this blog as "HoG"). For example, the HoG has bearing on the Problem of Evil and Suffering ("PoE").  PoE is considered by most authorities (philosophical, theological, apologetical,  atheological etc.) to be the number one objection to Christianity [both logically and emotionally]. In recent years many books and essays have been written addressing the HoG. But in comparison to the problem of evil, the HoG has barely been addressed or grappled with. Here are some of my thoughts concerning the HoG. In the following I'll be combining and highlighting the insights that other writers have made with my own comments. Obviously, I won't be able to cover all the worthy contributions made on this topic by better writers.

A basic objection to Christianity based on the HoG is often stated this way, "Why isn't God's existence more obvious and clear? Why hasn't God made His existence undeniable?" For example, why doesn't God use the stars in the sky to write in every major language "I, God, exist and Jesus Christ is my Son"?

In Christianity, God not only created humans, but He also created angels. When He did, He created them in such a way that it was impossible for the angels to not know He existed. That is, they couldn't escape knowing that God exists. The angels had that epistemological advantage of knowing with certainty that God existed. But the disadvantage of that scenario was that their belief, obedience, and devotion to God was, in a sense, "coerced." They didn't have the opportunity to demonstrate their obedience and devotion as being willing and freely committed. That's the exact opposite when it comes to the situation human beings find themselves in.  Unlike Adam and Eve who were directly created by God or Moses and the Exodus generation, humans are generally born in situations where God's existence is not absolutely and rationally certain (or nearly so) or coerced due to strong evidence (e.g. the miracles in Moses' ministry). In that sense, human beings are that much freer (than angels) to willingly choose to believe, obey and be devoted to God despite all obstacles, difficulties and doubts. We humans have the opportunity to show by our daily living that we desire God to exist and are committed to believing and obeying Him, even when it gets difficult to believe or when faith is wavering. Humans get the opportunity to more freely choose for or against God and His ways and whether to willingly serve or disobey Him. Thus, with their lesser knowledge, it allowed for the greater potential praise and reward of humans; just as the angels, with their greater knowledge, resulted in the greater potential for blame and punishment.

Apparently, God chose to make (at least) two kinds of sentient species (angels and humans) under these different circumstances. Two additional differences between the creation of angelkind and humankind are 1. (apparently) each individual angel is created directly by God and is not the offspring of a parental angel or angels; unlike humans who are born from parents of the same species (with the exception of Adam & Eve). 2. (apparently) angels were not created with a Federal Head whose actions had ramifications for each individual. Unlike humans who had Adam as their Federal Head and whose Original Sin had ramifications on the rest of his species (i.e. his wife and descendants).

Above I explained the advantage and disadvantage of the angelic situation as well as the advantage of the human situation. What then is (or are) the human disadvantage(s)?  They can be exemplified in the following questions. "How does one come to know or be convinced of the existence of God? If the evidence for God is not sufficiently strong enough, how can one come to justifiably believe in God, or justifiably be judged by God when His existence wasn't evidently clear?"

I agree with William Lane Craig's following statement regarding the hypothetical situation in which God repeatedly makes his existence rationally coercive (or nearly so) to each individual human. Imagine God speaking in a booming voice every 12 PM noontime in every time zone saying "I, God, exist and Jesus is my Son. Believe in Him." Or imagine a theophany of God following you around and intruding in your most private moments in the bathroom or bedroom. Or personally warning you every time you're tempted to commit some sin. A kind of divine "Big Brother." Craig says,

"Indeed, I could well imagine that in such a world, after a while, people would begin to chafe under such brazen advertisements of their Creator. And in time, eventually come to resent His effrontery for such brazen advertisements of His existence." (paraphrase of a statement he's made in various texts and in debates; e.g. HERE and HERE, similarly HERE)
Apparently, that's what might have happened in the angelic realm. The existence of God was so commonplace that that familiarity bred contempt. It may be asked, "Could not the same thing happen with humans in heaven after countless eons of living in the presence of God?" This delves into a topic that's outside the purpose of this particular blog. But I'll give a brief truncated answer. I speculate that the knowledge of God angels had before any of them fell into sin was probably limited and therefore allowed for the possibility of some of them thinking they can join forces to successfully overthrow and replace God.

 It seems to me that if they fully knew that God was truly omnipotent (i.e. ALL-powerful, not merely VERY-powerful), it would have made little sense for them to attempt to overthrow God. It would be totally irrational to attempt to rebel against an omnipotent Deity. Even 1 Peter 1:12 declares that the angels are learning things about theology and the plan of God as they watch the human drama unfold. The Redemptive History of mankind is not only for the instruction of humans, but also of angels. It may have been that before the angels fell they weren't fully informed, for example, of God's omnipotence or absolute sovereignty (and by extension predestination). That answer might explain how angels COULD fall. Another possibility is that they were told of God's attributes like omnipotence, but they gradually began to doubt that God had the powers He claimed to have because of their limited experience of God. God may have continually manifested Himself to the angels in a theophany whereby He could be seen sitting on a throne. Some of the angels may have wrongly inferred from that theophany that God was limited in the ways they themselves were and so eventually plotted to overthrow God once they started doubting His claimed attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence et cetera.

Now how do we go about explaining how redeemed humans in heaven WON'T fall again for a second or third or fourth time (ad infinitum)? While some theologians allowed for repeated falls and redemptions (like Origen), most modern Christian theologians reject the notion. The more Arminian-like theologians often argue that the soul-making property of humanity's earthly life forms and sets (as in the hardening of clay) the character of humans so that by the time they get to heaven it would be impossible for them to fall again. Especially since they are now exposed to the full glory, holiness and grace of God (unlike the angels, per my speculation). That coupled with their being able to appreciate the benefits of redemption after having experienced for a lifetime the misery of a fallen world.

These are things which may have been denied angels by the circumstances of their creation. Yet, they were nevertheless responsible because of the limited knowledge they did have which included the certain knowledge of their Creator and heavenly Father (Heb. 12:9) who was, in their clear observation, (at the very least) extremely powerful and extremely benevolent. Adult human offspring don't normally rebel or conspire against loving parents. Teenage children do, but that's partially due to their rational powers not having yet fully developed. Whereas angels were created extremely intelligent from the start. Stephen Charnock wrote, "Unbelief was the first sin, and pride was the first-born of it." Again, my speculation is that the angels were originally given sufficient knowledge of God that they knew for certain God exists and had certain attributes. But that knowledge of God wasn't complete, though it did render them morally culpable for rejecting God. According to my speculation (and Charnock's quote), "Lucifer" (conventionally named so) or some other angel, first started to doubt God's power and goodness. This doubt spread through angelkind, and in pride one (e.g. Lucifer) or all of them deluded themselves into thinking they could overthrow God and have one in their own ranks take God's place. From the Christian perspective, the attempted coup d'état failed. For all we know, demons still think it's possible to overthrow God and usurp His authority. That might explain why they still fight against God's Kingdom. Another possibility might be that they live in a different timeline since they also live in a different dimension (another speculation), though I'm disinclined to believe it. But that might explain why they continue to fight God even after the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

Returning to the issue of explaining why the saints in heaven won't fall; the more Calvinistic-like theologians argue that God can so sanctify human beings and conform them to the image of Christ (and His character) such that they will willingly be unable to sin. This answer is similar to one of the Arminian-like answers but is more consistent with Calvinism because Calvinism denies libertarian free will (usually in favor of compatibilistic free will). Given libertarian free will, it is difficult to conceive of finite creatures being unable to sin. But I'll set that issue aside.

To those paying attention to the argument, it might be noted that I still haven't addressed the questions I posed on behalf of my hypothetical critics. As a reminder, here are the questions again,

"How does one come to know or be convinced of the existence of God? If the evidence for God is not sufficiently strong enough, how can one come to justifiably believe in God, or justifiably be judged by God when His existence wasn't evidently clear?"
A beginning answer can be found in a few quotes by Blaise Pascal. He wrote in his Pensées:

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, God so regulates the knowledge of himself that he has given indications [or "signs"] of himself which are visible to those who seek him and not to those who do not seek him. There is enough light for those to see who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition. [Quoted by William Lane Craig HERE and HERE]

Elsewhere in his Pensées he wrote:

The prophecies, the very miracles and proofs of our religion, are not of such a nature that they can be said to be absolutely convincing. But they are also of such a kind that it cannot be said that it is unreasonable to believe them. Thus there is both evidence and obscurity to enlighten some and confuse others. But the evidence is such that it surpasses, or at least equals, the evidence to the contrary; so that it is not reason which can determine men not to follow it, and thus it can only be lust or malice of heart. And by this means there is sufficient evidence to condemn, and insufficient to convince; so that it appears in those who follow it, that it is grace, and not reason, which makes them follow it; and in those who shun it, that it is lust, not reason, which makes them shun it. 
God's apparent absence can also be compounded and explained by the fact that God uses relational distance as a form of judgment. Isaiah 59 says,

1    Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
        or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2    but your iniquities have made a separation
        between you and your God,
    and your sins have hidden his face from you
        so that he does not hear.
3    For your hands are defiled with blood
        and your fingers with iniquity;
    your lips have spoken lies;
        your tongue mutters wickedness.
[The remainder of the chapter continues in the same vein]

Another compounding factor in the apparent absence of God is the reality that we ourselves as sinners hide and run away from a holy God like Adam and Eve did because of their guilt and shame. We naturally try to suppress, repress and resist the presence and reality of God.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.– Gen. 3:8
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.– John 3:19-20
 Or as C.S. Lewis put it in Surprised by Joy, "Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God'. To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat."

The beauty of the two quotes I gave of Pascal is that they can be appealed to and used by both Arminian-like Christians and (most) Calvinistic-like Christians (if understood in a particular way by a Calvinist). Even by Van Tillian Calvinists who believe that all things in creation are (in some way) evidence for the existence of God. The evidence for God can be sufficient so that all humans are without excuse, without that evidence having to be rationally coercive. I interpret Van Til to teach that all men know existentially that God exists, rather than knowing in a rationally coercive way. More Pascal quotations can be found at this link HERE

Returning to William Lane Craig's insight, I can imagine that most humans (especially before their salvation) would NOT want God continuously watching them knowing He is also continuously "recording," weighing and judging their thoughts, words, and actions. Most people, because of their sinful nature, wouldn't want a God to exist who sees all the sins they commit (with their "heads," "hearts" and "hands") at work, in their bedrooms, against their families, friends and neighbors and against themselves (not to mention against God Himself).

If God's existence were clearly evident people would end up either begrudgingly feigning love and obedience out of fear. Or "obey" out of a sycophantic desire for rewards and not out of genuine respect, love and gratitude. Similar to how people tend to slow down and drive exactly at the speed limit when they know a police car is driving behind them. Often times, the longer the police car drives behind them, the more anxious and resentful they become (with feelings of possible guilt rising up) because they suspect the police officer is "just LOOKING" (i.e. eager) to catch them in a violation.

Richard Swinburne said concerning the Hiddenness of God, that it's like being in a nursery. You don't hit your brother when you think your mother is there and watching. Rather, you hit your brother when you think she isn't there and watching. By partially veiling His existence, it provides an opportunity to make all the more free choices for God and goodness, or against God and for evil. God's hiddenness provides opportunity to develop and/or prove one's character. To develop virtues like compassion, courage, love, perseverance, patience, self-sacrifice, faith and trust in God. It provides opportunities for activities like evangelism, apologetics, discipleship, acts of charity and mercy (all of which God will reward). It provides opportunity for a truly willing devotion and commitment to God which angels can't demonstrate, prove or participate in to the degree humans can.  

So, in a sense the HoG (i.e. God's regulated epistemic distance) is a gift of God to man. A gift that has the potential for greater degrees of praise and (not to mention different kinds of) rewards for humans which angels cannot partake of. Angelic rewards will be different, but no less real. That's the paradoxical nature of both 1. the Hiddenness of God and 2. of the requirement of faith. On the one hand the HoG is an impoverishment, on the other hand it presents an opportunity for greater blessings. Similarly, in one sense faith is non-meritorous and is a means to magnify men's weakness and insufficiency to save themselves and conversely magnify God's sufficiency, grace and power to save. Yet, in another sense when Christians persevere in faith despite (and in opposition to) the presence of trials and obstacles, it affords a way for Christians to "graciously merit" greater rewards. Hence the paradoxical phrases used to describe this seemingly contradictory concept. John Piper used the phrase "conditional unmerited grace" in his book Future Grace.  John Gerstner was willing to use the phrase "works of super-erogation" in a Protestant sense in that good works (which are rooted in faith) can add to a Christian's rewards, even if it in no way contributes to his justification. Yes "gracious merit" is an oxymoron, but the concept was what Augustine was alluding to when he said that God crowns His own gifts when He rewards believers, since their ability to believe and do good deeds flow from God's own grace.

Back to the topic of the HoG.

In contrast to the fault finding trigger happy Policeman who is looking for any excuse to write up a ticket, the loving, forgiving and merciful heavenly Father, is "looking" for reasons to bless and reward people for the good they do. All things being equal that is; and not in a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian way since orthodox Christianity denies both and opts for either Prevenient divinely initiated Grace as in Catholicism and Arminianism or Sufficient effectual Grace as in Calvinism [see my explanation of the differences in THIS blog].

Again, in such a world (where the knowledge of God's existence were coercive on earth) there would be sycophants who would obey God *merely* for the benefits rather than out of genuine love. But in both the cases of the anxious driver AND the "brown noser" [forgive the mental image], the problem wouldn't technically be the rationally coercive evidence of God's existence (since the saints in heaven have that and so have the unfallen angels from the time of their creation). Rather the attitude of the people involved will be what makes the difference. So, this would especially be true post lapsis (i.e. after the Fall) due (in part) to the natural depravity of men.

Still others, in such a world would respond to such irrefutable evidence in the opposite manner. They would, like Lucifer and his minions, rebel against God. As the saying goes, "Familiarity breeds contempt." J.P. Moreland has argued that after death humans will not have an opportunity to believe and repent because they will be exposed to such an abundance of rationally coercive proofs for the existence of God that it will no longer be the free kind of decision that those same humans had the opportunity of exercising before death. This might partially explain why the angels, as a species, were never given an opportunity for salvation. God may not have provided redemption for fallen angels because angelic sin was against way too much light. This means, because of redemption, the saints in heaven (i.e. saved humans) will relate to God on the basis of grace in a way that angels won't be able to. The "elect [unfallen] angels" never have their sins forgiven because they never sinned and (presumably) never will sin. Whereas saved human beings, will have greater reason to love God in heaven (not to mention now here on Earth) because, as the Lord Jesus said in Luke 7:47, "...he who is forgiven little, loves little." (cf. Luke 7:41-43). By implication, those who are forgiven greatly, can love greatly. Christians who have experienced the grace and love of God that non-Christians haven't experienced sin against greater light and love and therefore ought to love God that much more greatly.

Again, I suspect part of the reason why God has providentially made His existence partly vague the way He has is so that there would be opportunity for people to willingly/freely (not necessarily libertarianly) seek, find, choose, and love God. God isn't merely interested in humans merely coming to believe THAT God exists. That's relatively unimportant to God. God wants humans to believe IN Him in the sense of of having a personal loving and trusting relationship with them that results in 1. the greater eventual manifestation of His glory and 2. greater remunerative (gracious) rewards partly in this life and ultimately in the afterlife. Constant rationally coercive evidences in this life would be a hindrance to that (to some extent as it was to the angels).

God has ordained the amount and limitation of knowledge for both angels and humans in the differing (and contrasting) ways He has in order to:

1. prove through His differing creatures that He Himself is truly worthy of such love and devotion from both those who do have such undeniable evidence (like the angels who didn't fall) and from those who don't have such evidence like fallen human beings on earth.

2. provide opportunity for greater reward for His human believers who persevere in faith, obedience and faithfulness even when there are times when God's existence is in doubt; or when while His existence is believed, yet His seeming indifference seems to be more the case. Since, as C.S. Lewis said, there is a kind of faith (or faithfulness) that believes and perseveres despite adversity (including challenges to belief in God's existence and/or trust in God's goodness).

In a time of doubt C.S. Lewis wrote in his A Grief Observed, "The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer..' "

Catholic saint (or not-so-saint) Theresa of Avila accordingly said, after being bucked off a horse and into a muddy puddle or river, "[God,] If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few."

In times of trials, sufferings and deprivations there is the special opportunity to believe God's promises that to those who love, believe and trust in Him, and believe He also loves them, He will compensate and console them for it all in the next life (if not also to some degree in this life).

It takes a special (as a Calvinist, I would argue a God given) persevering faith to believe "behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face," as the hymn God Moves In A Mysterious Way states.  Nevertheless, the experience of Christians down the centuries also shows that Charles G. Trumbull wasn't being too hyperbolic when he said, "Those who are readiest to trust God without other evidence than His Word always receive the greatest number of visible evidences of His love." That's not necessarily true in this world. But ultimately it will be true in the next for the Christian.

Martin Luther wrote, "But surely it is preferable to lose the world rather than God the Creator of the world, who is able to create innumerable worlds afresh, and who is [Himself] better than infinite worlds! For what comparison is there between things temporal and things eternal?" Not just anyone can believe what Luther wrote in a way that doesn't make God a means to an end, rather than an end in Himself.

All the above things mentioned gets to the issue of where such faith (and faithfulness) and love can come from with the amount of evidence 1. "for" 2. "against" and 3. "neutral on" God's existence. For the most part, most of what I have already said could be affirmed by both Arminian-like and Calvinistic-like Christians. I encourage my Arminian-like fellow Christians to avail themselves of the arguments I've so far mentioned. However, this is where we must part ways. As a Calvinist, I believe the human faith to savingly believe in, love and trust God are all ultimately the gifts of God that flow from His Sovereign Grace. That is to say, as a Calvinist I believe in predestination. That God elects some to salvation while passing over others through non-election.

In light of my Calvinism, these further quotes from Pascal's Pensées are also useful for the various high predestinarian point of views.

577 There is sufficient clearness to enlighten the elect, and sufficient obscurity to humble them. There is sufficient obscurity to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clearness to condemn them, and make them inexcusable.—Saint Augustine, Montaigne, Sébond.

574 All things work together for good to the elect, even the obscurities of Scripture; for they honour them because of what is divinely clear. And all things work together for evil to the rest of the world, even what is clear; for they revile such, because of the obscurities which they do not understand.

562 It will be one of the confusions of the damned to see that they are condemned by their own reason, by which they claimed to condemn the Christian religion.

576 God has made the blindness of this people subservient to the good of the elect.

Blaise Pascal, being Roman Catholic, wrote these things as someone who, while rejecting Jansenism as heresy, nevertheless held to a high view of predestinating sovereign grace. Evidently, he was influenced by the Jansenists whom he was exposed to in his youth and attempted to hold to an Augustinian view permissible under Catholicism.

Some will argue that these comments and answers regarding the HoG won't satisfy the requests for reasons, evidences and arguments that non-believers may have in order to believe in Christianity and trust in Christ. It wasn't a purpose of this particular blog to provide positive evidence for the truth of Christianity. My other blogs present such evidences and arguments as well as providing links to other resources. [Here's a LINK to my blog on the the issue of the sufficiency or insufficiency of the evidence for Christianity.]

But even if this particular blog did provide positive evidence, we Calvinists heartily agree that non-Christians, if they remain unregenerate, will never be satisfied with the sufficient evidence. Since they will be judging by the criteria of their unbelieving, arbitrary, inconsistent, and question begging standards. "Standards" which they use to examine and judge what are often strawmen representations of Christianity. We believe that apart from the grace of God, they will do this by suppressing the evidence for God's existence due to their sinful depraved nature (which we were all born with).

When Desiderius Erasmus fully realized the implications of Martin Luther's doctrine of predestination, Erasmus (essentially) asked, "If predestination is true, who can come to believe that God actually loves them personally? Or who can bring themselves to love such a God?" (paraphrase). Luther's answer was, "I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! But the elect shall believe it; and the rest shall perish without believing it, raging and blaspheming, as you [Erasmus] describe them. So there will be some who believe it."

That's because it takes God given faith to believe that God is truly good even when there seemingly appears to be evidence to the contrary both in the world and in the Word (i.e. in truly Biblical doctrines like that of God's sovereignty). Nevertheless, the persevering Christian's experience bears out the reality of God's goodness. As Psalm 73 declares.

1. Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked....

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end....

21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.

In his book The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther wrote:

Keep in view three lights: the light of nature, the light of grace, and the light of glory (this is a common and a good distinction). By the light of nature, it is inexplicable that it should be just for the good to be afflicted and the bad to prosper; but the light of grace explains it. By the light of grace, it is inexplicable how God can damn him who by his own strength can do nothing but sin and become guilty. Both the light of nature and the light of grace here insist that the fault lies not in the wretchedness of man, but in the injustice of God; nor can they judge otherwise of a God who crowns the ungodly freely, without merit, and does not crown, but damns another, who is perhaps less, and certainly not more, ungodly. But the light of glory insists otherwise, and will one day reveal God, to whom alone belongs a judgment whose justice is incomprehensible, as a God Whose justice is most righteous and evident - provided only that in the meanwhile we believe it, as we are instructed and encouraged to do by the example of the light of grace explaining what was a puzzle of the same order to the light of nature.

Lastly, another response to the atheistic argument for the non-existence of God based on the hiddenness of God and/or the insufficiency of the evidence is the Calvinistic belief that God doesn't intend to save all human beings. The assumption of most standard arguments against God's existence based on the hiddenness of God and/or the vagueness of the evidence for God's existence is the false premise that God has the benevolent desire to save every human being equally. Based on that false premise atheists argue that therefore God would provide ample evidence of His existence. Since God hasn't provided such evidence (to their satisfaction and their definition of "ample" and "sufficient"), God therefore doesn't exist. While some Calvinists believe that God has no benevolent intentions and/or salvific desires for the non-elect, other Calvinists do believe that in some sense God is benevolent (not merely beneficent) toward the non-elect, and may even desire their salvation in some lesser sense. Regardless of which Calvinistic view one holds, it denies the false atheistic premise. And as I said above and elsewhere, the evidence can be sufficient without it being coercive.

It may seem to some that my solution is contradictory in that on the one hand, as a Calvinist, I deny libertarian free will; yet on the other hand argue that the reason why God has regulated the evidence for His existence in the proportions He has (pros and cons)  is to preserve our willing choices so that they can be rewarded or punished. Even Christians who are not Calvinists have critiqued Calvinism on this point since it seems self-evident that both praiseworthiness and blameworthiness depend on libertarian free will. However, Calvinists do affirm and have philosophical arguments in defense of the possibility, reality and appropriateness of merit and demerit.

See for example, Paul Manata's book Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Reformed Theology: A Contemporary Introduction


In the future, I'll be adding relevant links below. Here are some preliminary links:

The Hiddenness of God article at the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries website

Why doesn’t God give us more evidence of his existence? by Wintery Knight
Divine Hiddenness of God by William Lane Craig
Divine Hiddenness of God by Douglas Geivett

Related blogs of mine:

Detecting and Finding God

Christian Apologetics: Who Needs it? by William Lane Craig  

Book Reviews of Recent Atheist Authors by Christian Apologists

Evidence and Arguments Against Materialism and Naturalism

Answering Moral Objections to the Bible

Could God Command a Christian to Kill?

Resources for Dealing with Alleged Bible Contradictions, Discrepancies and Errors

Dealing with Christian Doubts

A Rational, Pragmatic and Prudential Argument for Believing in God 

At the present time I strongly lean toward supralapsarianism. Here's a link to a blog regarding whether reprobation is conditional, unconditional or both. It's touches on the justice or injustice of reprobation.

More relevant Pascal Quotes