Templeton.org is in English. Only a few pages are translated into other languages.


Usted está viendo Templeton.org en español. Tenga en cuenta que solamente hemos traducido algunas páginas a su idioma. El resto permanecen en inglés.


Você está vendo Templeton.org em Português. Apenas algumas páginas do site são traduzidas para o seu idioma. As páginas restantes são apenas em Inglês.


أنت تشاهد Templeton.org باللغة العربية. تتم ترجمة بعض صفحات الموقع فقط إلى لغتك. الصفحات المتبقية هي باللغة الإنجليزية فقط.

Skip to main content
Back to Templeton Ideas

When the Roman general Pompey the Great conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC, he greatly desired to enter the most sacred sanctuary of the Jews to look upon the image of their God. Instead, when Pompey pushed aside the curtain to enter the Holy of Holies, he discovered only emptiness. No statue of God stood high in the holy niche and no crafted image of the Creator was to be found. In the place of the visage of divinity he was faced with a bare block of stone. 

Outside the Jerusalem temple, Jews who defended God’s most sacred place with their very lives were being led into captivity as trophies paraded before their pagan foes. As their groans of anguish ascended to the heavens they entreated their invisible God to make himself known. But there would be no glorious rescue or redemption for them that day and their howls of lament were met only with a deafening divine silence.  

Where is God when God is silent? When we do not perceive God’s presence, does this mean that God is absent, or is it that God was never there in the first place? How would we even discern the difference? 

Among philosophers, the experience of God’s invisibility is known as the problem of divine hiddenness. At the heart of this philosophical quandary is the question, “Is the prevalence of unbelief, the uneven distribution of religious experience, or feelings of divine absence—in short, divine hiddenness—evidence against the existence of God?”

Seeking the Hidden Face of God

The question of God’s hiddenness is an ancient dilemma. As “Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God” in their sin (Genesis 3:8), so God hid his face from Adam’s race, veiling his righteousness, justice, and glory. In the midst of his profound suffering Job asked God, “Why do You hide Your face?” (Job 13:24), and the Psalmist likewise lamented, “How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). When Moses beseeched God to show him his Glory, God answered “that it is impossible for a human being to see God’s face.” 

Even in the Christian understanding of the incarnation, God’s divine nature is ultimately veiled. Rather than appearing in the fullness of his glory, we read that in Christ, God “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). Despite all of our efforts to understand God, the Apostle Paul tells us that, “God’s judgments are unsearchable,” and “his ways beyond finding out” (Romans 11:33).

According to one theological tradition, God’s hiddenness is intentional and a means of drawing humans closer to God. “The ways that lead to knowledge of God remain untrodden and impassable,” says Gregory of Nyssa. “For the nearer we draw to God the more we come to realize His incomprehensibility, and this unknowing knowing increases our reverence and piety.” For John Chrysostom, “[It] is an impertinence to say that He who is beyond the apprehension of even the higher Powers can be comprehended by us earthworms, or compassed and comprised by the weak forces of our understanding.” For Chrysostom, the hiddenness of God is a fact of God’s transcendence, and God’s invisibility is a consequence of nearsighted human vision.

Others have argued that the hiddenness of God is a necessity entailed by the possibility of true faith. According to them, having faith in God requires that the fact of God is not objectively clear to us. Thus, explains Søren Kierkegaard in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript:

Without risk there is no faith. Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of the individual’s inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe.

For Kierkegaard, risk and uncertainty are crucial for personal growth into selfhood and individuality. The existential quest for authenticity requires being objectively uncertain. In this way, “religious faith is like a passionate love affair—not calculating, but spontaneous, risky, and deeply fulfilling.”

In the same way that Kierkegaard sees humanity’s relationship with God as an affair of the heart more than a matter of the mind, Blaise Pascal suggests that the Divine enters into human history through hiding. In this way,

God’s action may be understood as progressive concealment. God hides himself first of all in nature itself. He then veils himself in the words of scripture, and once more beneath the literal meaning of those words, in the mystical sense of the text. In time he hides himself within the visible human nature of Christ. Finally and most fully, he conceals himself beneath the homely species of the Eucharist.

The generations following Kierkegaard continued to raise the vexing question of God’s nondisclosure. Some, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, declared the “hidden God, full of secrecy” to be dead. How, asked Nietzsche, could a living God allow “countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out the prospect of frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of truth?” Is it not the “duty of God to be truthful towards mankind and clear in the manner of his communications?”

Others, however, would continue the search for God while affirming that “The true God is the hidden God.” For leading twentieth-century systematic theologian Karl Barth, “God is known only by God,” and “we can know God only where God has made himself known.” The very concept of God’s hiddenness presupposes that God is also revealed. Indeed, it is only possible to speak of the “hiddenness of God” because God is simultaneously not hidden in some other way. 

At the close of the twentieth century analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga pointed out that faith is required by both theists and atheists, and he contended that believers in God are warranted to believe even if they cannot muster evidence that would convince a skeptic. The believer, said Plantinga, is epistemically entitled to faith in God, and belief in God is permitted even in light of God’s hiddenness. For Plantinga and analytic theologians who follow his lead, God’s hiddenness is “not a problem for a knower to have a warranted knowledge about God, because fundamentally, God is not as hidden as humans think.”

While Plantinga suggested that humans may have a sensus divinitatis—a natural, or innate, disposition to believe in God, the philosophers of the age did not enquire about the scientific status of their assertions. It would remain for cognitive scientists of the twenty-first century to empirically test these claims regarding innate theism, and for the next generation of philosophers to reflect on the results. 

Editor’s Note: This article is the first part of a two-part series on why God hides. Read part 2 here.