Why Does God Remain Hidden?
Do you remember the great book by Robert Fulghum that was popular twenty-five years ago called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? There was a story in that collection about neighborhood children playing hide-n-seek (I blogged about it once before for a different reason. See that blog here: http://www.bayardinc.com/twil-blog/its-time-to-take-off-the-masks/). At the end of the reflection, Fulghum reminds us that Medieval theologians referred to God in hide-n-seek terms, calling God Deus Absconditus, or the Hidden God.
Don’t we sometimes wonder why doesn’t God become visible to us? Certainly God could do that, and then we wouldn’t need faith and we wouldn’t have any doubts. Why does God play hide-n-seek? If responding to God’s love with love is essential to our salvation, then wouldn’t God save more people by a wonderful theophany than by concealment? How can we love what we do not know, and how can we know God if God remains hidden from us?
God, it seems, wants us—at least for now—to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus said, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” Why not reveal Him to everyone? Why faith and not sight? Perhaps the reason for this is that God does not want to love and be loved so much as to make us sharers in the life of Love itself, which is the divine life. If God revealed Godself to us, we would be capable of loving God without the kind of faith St. Paul was talking about; but it would be the love of a creature toward the Creator across an infinite differential. We might call this vassal love. It seems to be the kind of love that existed between God and our first parents in Eden before the Fall. While it is a beautiful thing, God wants more for us. God wants to bring us by participation into the divine life which is God’s by nature.
In a theophany, God would be known to us, and we would be capable of loving God, but–critically–we wouldn’t learn to love as God loves. If we saw God, who is absolute Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, every one of us would be so completely drawn into the love of Love Itself, that, in a sense, we would have no freedom at all. Think of when you fall for another person. It just happens. You are overtaken by the beauty. You are captivated. You fall. How free are we really at that moment? With God, we would have no freedom. We would simply be pulled by a divine magnetism we could never resist. And so, we would be attracted to God, but God wants more for us. God wants us to be like God, to be divinized to use the Eastern Christian term for it.
To be like God, though, means to share God’s life, which is to share God’s way of loving and being Love. If God became visible as God, in the divine essence, before us, we would fall in love, quite naturally with that which is perfectly Good and True and Beautiful. But that is not how God loves. God loves us, who are not good nor true nor beautiful. God loves us as sinners. God loves us in our weakness, our ugliness, and our brokenness. We heard in the Psalm today, “The LORD is gracious and merciful slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works… The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” This is the kind of love God wants us to learn.
If our love is to be like God’s, then God must remain hidden so that we are able to learn to see one another and all of creation as God sees it. We engage in divine tutelage, growing in our ability to love, even to the point of loving our enemy. Then, we can say our love is not compelled, but freely offered and freely chosen. Then, by God’s grace, our lives are joined to God’s life, which is the divine fire of Love itself.
It is for the sake of love that God must remain veiled from our eyes. It is the only way we can learn to love as God loves, and thus enter into Love Itself in the very heart of the Trinity.