Many people make logical arguments that begin with assumptions about God. The latest one I saw was a syllogism beginning with the following premise: God desires all humans to know Him…. As the syllogism goes, it states that all people do not know God, and it ends with the conclusion. “Therefore God does not exist.”
The critical thing about syllogisms on the existence of God is that initial premises make some assumptions about God. Immanuel Kant famously developed a logical syllogism proving that God exists; then he turned around and developed a logical syllogism proving God does not exist. Both syllogisms were well-constructed, and the conclusions logically flowed from the initial premises.
That’s the thing with logic: we need to set the initial assumptions, and the conclusions are dependent on those assumptions. The logical syllogism I saw this morning seems solid at first glance, but it leaves out a critical word that makes all the difference.
Logic can be abstracted from reality and still make sense. The exact terms of the assumptions are critical. If the assumptions are inaccurate or poorly stated, our conclusions will be false, no matter how logical they are.
In this case, the assumption is that God desires for all humans to know Him. For the assumption to make real sense, though, we would need to add one word.
Implicit in this premise is that God desires only for humans to know Him, and He has no other desire, purpose or goal. If the initial premise is that God desires only for humans to know him, that God has no other desire, purpose, or goal for humans, then the logic follows.
If God’s only desire, purpose, goal is for humans to know Him, He could so dominate and overwhelm us that we would have no choice but to know and acknowledge Him. The fact that people are not overwhelmed or dominated by God, and that people do not know God, would prove, on this syllogism, that God doesn’t exist.
We have to ask, though: Is that really God’s only desire, purpose, and goal for humans is to know that He exists? Is God that simple-minded?
If God is really God, God is (at least) as complex as the universe He created. Taking note of the sublime nuances of physics, quantum mechanics, biology and chemistry, we should assume God is (at least) as sublime and nuanced as the world He made with these elements.
Does it make sense that God has one singular desire, purpose, and goal for humans? Is the entire thrust of creation summed up by an unconditional desire by God for humans to know Him and acknowledge His existence?
The problem with logical syllogisms is in the initial assumptions. We have to presume to know the mind and purposes of God. If we are wrong, even if God really does exist, we will come to the wrong conclusion.
As finite, limited creatures of an infinite Creator of the universe, we do not have the capability of knowing on our own why God created the world such as it is and what His purposes are. I believe we have no capacity to know these things apart from God revealing them to us.
The Bible purports to be that revelation from God to man, so let’s take a look at what it says. If we are going to be “scientific” about the Bible, we shouldn’t come to it with preconceived notions. We should consider what it says on its own merits and come to our own conclusions.
I can think of at least one verse that reveals that God doesn’t desire mere belief. In the letter that James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, he says :
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder [bristle].James 2::19 (NIV)
The Bible reveals that demons are created beings who oppose God. They don’t have any problem believing that God exists. The issue isn’t mere belief. They don’t deny that he exists, but they bristle at His authority.
God doesn’t simply desire to be acknowledged. He doesn’t desire simply that people know He exists and bow down to Him in obsequious submission. If that is all He desired, He could so overwhelm and dominate us that we would have no choice. (And, we might also bristle at Him for dominating us into submission.)
(As an aside, God could have created us without any choice in the matter. He could have created us with a natural instinct to obey. He could have programmed us like robots, but He didn’t do that.)
His desire for us to know Him is necessarily much more nuanced. The whole sweep of Scripture reveals God’s desire is not only that we know Him, but that we enter into a mutual relationship with Him.
I often go back to a theme that I first heard from Frank Turek. God desires to love us and for us to love Him. Love, however, cannot be manufactured, forced or coerced.
Turek uses the example of the young man who falls for a young girl who rebuffs him. He confesses his love for her, but she is unmoved and ignores him. If this young man took her by force and had sex with her, we wouldn’t not call it love; we would call it rape!
We instinctively know what love is. We know that love values the object of affection for its own sake. We know that love cannot be forced. We know that love is voluntary and consensual. Anything else is not love.
Thus, God, who is the very embodiment of love (1 John 4:16), does not force Himself on us. If He did, we wouldn’t call that love.
Paul says, “[S]ince the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) Yet, people still deny that God exists.
People who claim to know God, will say that it’s obvious that God exists. People who deny God’s existence (or simply claim there is no proof) are equally confident of their conclusions. This is what we would expect in a world in which God desires people to know Him without force, coercion, or necessity.
Some people call this the “hiddenness of God”. I believe this is part of God’s purposes – that He isn’t “in your face”. He is apparent and able to be found by those who sincerely want to find Him and are willing to engage Him on His own terms, but He is not so apparent (hidden) to those who are not as sincere or willing.
He is “not a tame lion”, as CS Lewis famously says of Aslan, the Christ-figure in the Chronicles of Narnia. Just as Aslan was a lion, God is God – the Creator of the Universe, Maker of all that is seen and unseen; He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the God of all gods, the Lord of all lords, the King of all kings.
Yet, He created us in His image. Among other things, I believe means he created us with agency (the ability to chose our way), and He desires to enter into relationship with us as a father has a relationship with his children.
He wants to love us and for us to love Him. Not because we have no choice, not because He is so overwhelming to us that we are completely overtaken by Him, but because we truly desire to know Him and to love Him.
We look for a Holy Grail, a secret potion, a fountain of youth, a hidden, but earthly treasure, that will make us wealthy and healthy and wise in this world, but God offers us an alternative. God offers us Himself, and He promises us eternal life with Him. If we don’t want Him, however, if we want Him only on our own terms, He doesn’t force Himself upon us.
Yes, God does want us to know Him, but that is not all there is to it. The demons know Him, and they bristle at the mention of His name. God wants us to love Him for who He is and to love us as a father loves His children. He wants us to desire Him as He desires us.
Our search must take us past our desires for earthly blessing; it must take past ourselves. God wants us to yield our desires for this world in exchange for Him. Not because we desire treasure, but because we desire to know Him. Yet,
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,1 Corinthians 2:9
Nor [has it] entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
I have been fascinated with the 1st Chapter of John’s Gospel since I first read it in 1979. It begins this way:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…..”John 1:1
The portion of John’s Gospel that comes to mind in the context of the “hiddenness” of God is the following passage:
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
The idea of the “hiddenness” of God is not an atheist trope conjured up to batter the faith of beleaguered believers. We find evidence of God’s “hiddenness” throughout Scripture. It’s a common thread that God is “hidden” to people, even sometimes to people who purport to know him, to follow Him, and who consider themselves to be His people.
People find it mysterious that God seems to be found and known by some and not be others. The reasons why, however, are clearly stated in Scripture. Here is a sampling:
For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.
Toward the scorners he is scornful,
but to the humble he gives favor.
He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
land exalted those of humble estate
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5
Humble yourselves, therefore under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
1 Peter 5:6
Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”
For it is by grace you [are] saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.