Divine Hiddenness, Part 2: You Are Here with Me Always

July 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Catholic Apologetics, Featured

cloudsA lot of people want to have a relationship with God, but can’t find him, and many who “have” a relationship with God may be inclined to wonder from time to time (or all the time, in hindsight) if there is any external participant in that relationship.

Knowledge that the “other” exists is universally agreed to be the starting point in any normal relationship. When it comes to our interrelation with God, though, it seems that the rules are suddenly changed such that the basics matter least in that relationship which is, ostensibly, most important of all.

Quoting the first article in this series:

“The slightest of evidence [for God’s existence] produces a great deal of consolation for those who want a relationship with God, but the available evidence leaves something to be desired in the minds of very many. Further, the perplexity is redoubled for both believers and unbelievers alike when the experience of God’s hiddenness is also the occasion of intense suffering.  Some people suffer in a profound way due to God’s apparent absence, and others just carry on. Either way, though, it appears to make no difference in God’s willingness to show himself. If God exists, then he surely has the power to convince us that he is real. He doesn’t do it, though. Even though we ask, he doesn’t do it, and even though good people travail (to the point of despair in a lot of cases) he still doesn’t do it. This is worrisome given that God supposedly loves us and wants us to know that we are loved.” (New Apologetics, Divine Hiddenness, Part 1)

We consider this problem of “divine hiddenness” to be a species of the problem of evil, or the “problem of suffering” as some may put it. Many people suffer from the apparent absence of God, and if they are not consciously suffering from that experience of absence, then they are at least unknowingly suffering the absence of an experience of the very great good that would presumably obtain from a good God making his existence and goodness more apparent.

If you want to know the answer to the “why” of all this, we’d like to tell you.


WHAT ABOUT RESPECTING THE MYSTERY?

We are proposing to conclusively solve the problem of divine hiddenness over the course of this series, and this may seem to be the height of arrogance, as if we claim to able to understand the mind of God and penetrate all mysteries. However, the Christian definition of “mystery” is far from being something we don’t and can’t possibly understand and therefore shouldn’t try to explore. God actually wants us to know him. He doesn’t forbid access to mystery, but bids us to walk upon the sea with him as far as we would like to go:

“A Mystery in short is an invitation to the mind. For it means that there is an inexhaustible well of Truth from which the mind may drink and drink again in the certainty that the well will never run dry, that there will always be water for the mind’s thirst.”  (Frank SheedTheology and Sanity)

Furthermore, believing that God has revealed himself such as to provide “the definitive, superabundant answer to the questions that man asks himself about the meaning and purpose of his life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 68), we have no reason to doubt that an answer to the problem of evil/suffering/divine hiddenness is possible and that the answer is right under our noses in the Deposit of Faith even if anyone hasn’t noticed it yet.


A REVIEW OF ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND

“We can never give too great prominence to the Scholastic principle that God never does through Himself what may be achieved through created causality… For any result which does not require actually infinite power, God will sooner create a new spiritual being capable of producing that result.” (Abbot Anscar Vonier, The Human Soul)

In the Theodicy of Divine Chastity Part I, we explained that, due to the absoluteness of God’s self-gift, every power and role of importance that can possibly be delegated to creatures is actually given away to creatures. This is done in order that those made in God’s image be maximally important in the unfolding of all of creation, and are, as a consequence, perfectly integral to one another in community.

The extent of this sharing of power on God’s part is so great that God only retains for himself those powers and roles of responsibility that cannot logically possibly be delegated to creatures. Examples of such non-delegable powers include actions in the league of creating the universe from nothing, or endeavors such as the omniscient providential guidance of all things to their final end.

Apart from these types of undertakings, though, God says “everything I have is yours” (Luke 15: 31)

We are, therefore, “co-creators” with God in a very real sense, and each person is truly important to the whole community of created persons. Not one is superfluous. The actions of one affect all, and the actions of the many affect every individual. By God’s own generosity, we are made (almost) as important in representing the gift of God to all others as God is himself.

 

NON-GIFT AND THE “GOD OF THE GAPS”

The world was intended to be the gift of God mediated through creatures, and (most importantly) as mediated through the self-gift of created persons made in God’s image. However, a gift demanded is no gift at all and we don’t have to say “yes”.

Consequently, when any person departs from right relationship to God, a gap in the relational structure of the world is formed. Some contribution which ought to have been there is now permanently unavailable. The missing aspect is in the broad sphere of actions which has been irrevocably given over to persons made in God’s image, and the results are sweeping and serious:

“When I destroy a relationship, then this event–sin–touches the other person involved in the relationship. Consequently sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it. To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationships is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt.” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, In the Beginning)

Now that there are so many defaults on the part of those representing the gift of God to every other, we experience God’s offering to us as something like metaphysical swiss cheese. Any apparent “no” to our just prayers (or even to our legitimate God-given desire that we see more of him) is the effect of the cumulative relational damage caused by the network of creaturely “noes” said to God throughout history. The weight of the disorder of the past imposes itself and disturbs the harmony of every present moment, and it must be so if we are to be loved by God, as ourselves, in our authentic individual importance to the overall community.

The question of why it is that God, knowing of the abuses which would follow from his endowment of maximal importance to us, did not choose to modify that endowment so as to lessen the impact of evil is covered in The Theodicy of Divine Chastity, Part 2. As it is, though, God has permanently committed to working through creatures in most matters, and when any person says “no” to God, it has the effect of seeming like God is saying “no” to us.

 

“GIVE ME MY HANDS AND I WILL GIVE YOU PEACE”

Therefore, despite being omnipotent, God also “has his hands tied” because powers have irrevocably been given over and then misused. Metaphysically speaking, God has the ability to do “skywriting” or some such thing to convey the truth, but due to God’s radical self-gift, he has no material hands in the world other than ours. This may seem surprising, but in reality, it’s what is meant by the term “Body of Christ”:

“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours…” (St. Theresa of Avila)

Because what was given was truly given, God is not morally free to intervene to remedy the omissions on their own terms without annihilating the essence of those maximally important persons who are responsible for the omissions. In order to preserve our radical individual importance (i.e. our dignity of bearing the image of God and therefore cooperating in God’s self-offering to every other) God is forced, by the perfection of his own charity, to work with exactly what we give him.

This is the primary reason why the world seems quite a lot like God does not exist even though his love holds all things in being.

So why not more consolation, why not more obviousness of God’s being there? It could be anything for the people who are suffering. Just a little bit of “you’re not alone.”

Because he can’t. 

When he can get through, it’s because of people who give him permission; He can act through them. But there are not enough people giving permission, and the world is very much in darkness because of the omissions.

This is just one aspect of the solution to the problem. There are several other facets, each just as important and integral to the overall solution. We will cover those in the remainder of the installments in this series.

It is important to recognize, though, that while the “answer” to the problem of divine hiddenness is available, in another sense, there can be no answer. To one suffering acutely from this apparent divine absence, whether atheist or theist, the giving of an “answer” to why they are suffering is an offense of nearly incomparable magnitude.

This form of suffering is basically the reason that God is against sin; namely, what he wishes to communicate to us, he cannot.

Though our felt experience of this absence is due to God’s unwavering love and self-gift in all things, it is also this same love for us which caused the Lord himself to feel abandoned on the cross. While he may appear to be hidden, the Lord is himself suffering in every human person, so that there need be no loss of actual unity even in a person’s agonized cry of “my God, why have you forsaken me?” This experience must be reverenced for exactly what it is, while we can also affirm with St. Paul that:

“neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8, 38-39)