Is God Silent? Making Sense of “Divine Hiddenness”
Is God silent when we can’t sense him? Although many who seek God find him, others experience him as hidden and absent. What are we to make of this “divine hiddenness”?
Often, we struggle to believe in and trust God, not necessarily because we fail to recognize His existence or suppress evidence of His existence, but rather because, at times, He just seems so silent. Perhaps you’ve cried out to God, and it seemed as if He didn’t answer you. Or maybe you received a different answer than the one you were hoping for. So, why isn’t God more obvious? What are we to make of God’s apparent silence?
Many who struggle with God’s silence aren’t just struggling with His apparent absence in general; after all, deists who believe God created the world yet remains uninvolved in it can make peace with divine silence. Rather, many who struggle find themselves facing feelings that God is nowhere to be found in the times when they need Him most. And what a chilling silence it can be! Before jumping from God’s apparent absence to His nonexistence, we might ask ourselves why, if a good God does exist, he might have set things up this way.
Is God silent? We’re not the first to wrestle with the problem.
It might be surprising that God’s silence is a problem with which biblical authors themselves have wrestled. The psalmist asked in Psalm 10:1, “Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” King David prayed in Psalm 28:1, “To You, O Lord, I call; My rock, do not be deaf to me, for if You are silent to me, I will become like those who go down to the pit.” The prophet Isaiah, after having seen the destruction and judgment of his people cried out to God, “Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent and afflict us beyond measure?” (Isaiah 64:12).
“Will you keep silent and afflict us beyond measure?”
God’s silence isn’t just a problem for Old Testament saints. Much more recently, Mother Teresa wrote to a Protestant pastor, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness are so great that I look and do not see, listen, and do not hear.” Many have wrestled with the apparent silence of God at some time or another—even people we would assume have a special immunity from such “dark nights of the soul,” an expression interestingly coined by another saintly Christian, St. John of the Cross.
Is God silent? Here are some possible explanations.
So, why does God remain hidden so often? Or, at least, why does it sometimes seem that way?
Well, first it’s important to acknowledge that he’s not quite as hidden as we can make it sound. The truth is, God has revealed himself in lots of ways so that we can have significant clues that he’s there. For example, creating a universe out of nothing, and a statistically improbable life-permitting universe at that. He also sent his Son Jesus to teach us about himself. The Bible calls Jesus the “Word” of God, meaning that Jesus is the message God spoke to humanity to show us himself and to save us. It’s also true that Jesus told his disciples to make more disciples, of all the nations, spreading the message about Jesus all across the earth.
None of this sounds like God is trying to stay hidden. In fact, in Genesis 3, which narrates the first rebellion of humans against God, it’s God who seeks them out and tries to reconcile, when it’s the humans who are afraid of God and run and hide from him.
“It’s God who seeks them out and tries to reconcile, when it’s the humans who are afraid of God and run and hide from him.”
However, it’s also true that many people have experienced God’s apparent hiddenness, especially during hard and confusing times in their lives. They call out to him but feel like they’re receiving silence in reply.
Divine hiddenness is similar to the problem of evil
The problem of God’s hiddenness is similar to another problem people can have with Christianity, called the problem of evil. Here’s how the problem of evil can look: If God is as good and powerful as the Bible says, then why is there suffering in this world? It’s not a bad question, and it too is something that people within the Bible struggled with. The problem of God’s hiddenness can be worded in a similar way: If God is as good and powerful as the Bible says, then why is it that some people experience his absence, even as they’re trying to find him?
Wouldn’t it make sense that God would want people to live happy lives free of suffering (contrary to the problem of evil)? And wouldn’t it make sense that God would want people to know without a shadow of a doubt that he exists (contrary to the problem of divine hiddenness)? A good God wouldn’t like suffering or doubt, would he?
And it’s true that the God of the Bible doesn’t delight in suffering, and he doesn’t want people to doubt. But it’s also true that this is a God who has given us some things which make suffering and doubt possible.
“It’s also true that this is a God who has given us some things which make suffering and doubt possible.”
For one thing, he gave us a free will to make moral or immoral decisions, and a ton of suffering that we experience traces back to humans making immoral decisions. For another thing, he gave us a free intellect so that we don’t have to accept truth. We are free to ignore what’s true and believe what’s false. We are free to tell each other lies the same as we are free to tell each other the truth. By God giving us a free will and a free intellect, God made it where humans can mar the world with sin and lies, fueling suffering and doubt.
But does it make sense that God would give us a free will and a free intellect when that means that some people will take those as clues that he isn’t even there? Isn’t God’s goal for us to believe that he’s there?
A different goalpost than just affirming his existence
Actually, according to the Bible, there’s something God wants more than just that we know that he’s there. Just believing that God exists isn’t the point, according to the Bible. After all, even demons believe that God exists, but that hasn’t made them more moral (see James 2:19). If that were God’s main goal, then sure, God could have made a world in which it was impossible not to know that he was there. But that wasn’t God’s goalpost for us.
“God could have made a world in which it was impossible not to know that he was there. But that wasn’t God’s goalpost for us.”
The goalpost God has for us is actually that we would trust and follow him. But in a world in which humans tend toward sin and pride, it wouldn’t actually be to our advantage to have a perfect world in which nothing bad ever happens and in which we know everything without any confusion or doubt. Imagine if God always answered everyone’s prayer requests exactly as each of us wanted, and He always showed up in glory when summoned. Many hypothetical scenarios arise from such a thought experiment; however, one thing would seem certain: We humans would likely begin to treat God as a genie in the lamp or a sugar daddy—one whose only purpose is to fulfil our every wish. We would likely misuse Him for our own benefit, and not learn to trust and follow Him as our Heavenly Father as He is revealed in Scripture.
In fact, it’s because we sometimes suffer and struggle to know what’s true that we are drawn to trust somebody higher than we are. Suffering and doubt might present obstacles for some people when it comes to believing that God exists. But just getting us to believe that he exists was never his main point. Again, His main goal for us was that we trust and follow him. And when it comes to suffering and doubt, these are things that, if we’re willing, actually draw us to realize how much we need him. It’s these things which humble us and get us to admit that we need God, and that’s actually a good place to be spiritually.
“When it comes to suffering and doubt, these are things that, if we’re willing, actually draw us to realize how much we need him.”
It’s as we experience suffering and doubt that we recognize that we need help from above. So, for those who can humble themselves, suffering and doubt actually lead them to the point of life—to the actual goalpost God has for humans: to trust and follow Him. Having somebody who gravitates toward sin and pride experience a perfect life with no doubt or confusion would actually be counterproductive to God’s actual goal for us.
In light of God’s ultimate goal for us, it makes sense that we would experience God working in subtle ways which slowly vindicate our trust as we surrender to him—but ways which don’t force us if we are unwilling. After all, our faith response is meant to be on his terms. As Christian sociologist Os Guinness asked in his excellent book God in the Dark, “And above all, what does it mean to let faith be faith to such an extent that it will, in turn, let God be God?”
Christian philosopher Paul Moser explained it this way: “A person can reasonably believe that God exists but hate God. So God must be careful, and at times subtle, to have God’s loving self-manifestation elicit a freely given response of humble love rather than fear, indifference, arrogance, or hate….God cares mainly about how we love, not just what we believe. God aims that we treasure God; for where our treasure is, there is our heart.”
Four Subtle Ways God Reveals Himself to the Willing
Since God’s goalpost is that we trust and follow Him (not just believe that He exists), here are four of the subtle, almost hidden, ways in which God slowly reveals Himself to the willing:
First, there’s the draw of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus describes as something mysterious, like the wind. He says, “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (John 3:8). I’m reminded of the visions that numerous Muslims have seen of Jesus as they seek God. These visions continually point seekers to Jesus.
Second, there’s the whisper of nature, which hints at God’s power and intelligence to those who respond with awe and gratitude.
“…the whisper of nature, which hints at God’s power and intelligence to those who respond with awe and gratitude…”
Third, there’s the power of Scripture, as God’s eternal word continues to echo throughout our lives even today. As Hebrews 4:12 puts it, “The word of God is alive and active,” and many of us who are willing have experienced Scripture’s power to disrupt our habits and transform our hearts.
Fourth, there’s the invitation of Jesus. Why am I placing Jesus under the category of subtle ways in which God reveals himself to the willing? It’s because of how Jesus brought us salvation. Salvation through Jesus was offered in such an uncoercive way that He was literally pinned up on a cross, giving humans complete freedom as to how they would respond. Some responded by getting worse, shouting “Crucify him!” and mocking him from the audience. Others responded in humility, such as the centurion who watched him die at his own direction and then acknowledged, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). As Simeon had prophesied decades before, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34).
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.”
Perhaps the apparent silence of God seems deafening as some wait to hear from God, but all the while God awaits their response to His final Word: the Word made flesh (see John 1). I wonder sometimes, what if it’s not God’s turn to speak, but ours? Could God be waiting our response to His definitive revelation of Himself?
Hebrews 1:1-2 explains, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”
Galatians 4:4 says, “But when the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.”
“Could it be at times that God remains silent as He waits for us to look to His best answer already offered us in Christ?”
Could it be at times that God remains silent as He waits for us to look to His best answer already offered us in Christ? That is, if God were to always answer us with the detailed and specific answer we think we need, He could, in fact, be undermining His best word ever spoken, namely, His incarnate Word: the Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us!
I pray that you would find the strength to trust in God’s best answer, His final word, His Word made flesh given to us when the fulness of time came.
 Os Guinness, God in the Dark: The Assurance of Faith Beyond a Shadow of Doubt (Wheaton: Crossway, 1996), 19.
 Paul K. Moser, Why Isn’t God More Obvious? Finding the God Who Hides and Seeks (Norcross: RZIM, 2000), 13.
For more from Brett, see KAPOL Kontakt Apologetics.