Divine Hiddenness, Part I: We Don’t Know What We Know

August 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Catholic Apologetics, Featured

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We apologists don’t always make mistakes, but when we do we poison the hope of billions of people.

Here’s a prime example:

“The possibility of the world being filled with evil of all kinds while God is perfectly and omnipotently opposing every evil with all the power of his holiness seems like a definitive logical vacuum. …if God were perfectly opposing evil with the fullness of his being, he would surely be more successful. Thus, appearing to be logically impossible, explanations of theodicy in terms of a ‘perfect opposition’ between God and evil have not been attempted. Instead, we have opted for explanations in terms of God holding back his opposition because of there being some ‘purpose’ to evil.”
 (New Apologetics, A Line in the Sand)

It takes a while sometimes, but we can also learn from our mistakes.

The Theodicy of Divine Chastity, Part I opened new and habitable real-estate where there was previously thought to be only a conceptual black hole: We proposed that, though the world is full of horrors, there is a coherent way to explain God’s non-prevention of evil despite his omnipotence and infinite goodness being set in perfect opposition to every evil.

In that article, we considered the possibility that God’s non-prevention of evil has nothing to do with that evil being a means to some good end. Though God will not fail to draw forth a greater good from every evil, the explanation for the non-prevention is found, ironically, in God’s perfect opposition to evil. In opposing evil absolutely, God is not morally free to do evil as a method of preventing the very evil he opposes. He could do so (in power), but he can’t (in love). God’s unconditional love standing in total non-cooperation and non-compliance with the demands of evil is, ironically, the reason why evil has any power at all.

It’s a good start, but here is still a lot of explaining to do.
 In this series of articles, we address a more trenchant species of the problem of evil – the problem of divine hiddenness. To wit, there are people who are freely willing to enter into a relationship with God and yet they remain non-believers because they can neither encounter God nor can they secure any evidence for God’s existence that is meaningful to them. These facts, in and of themselves, argue that there is no God – at least no God interested in forming a relationship with created persons. If he is there, and interested in relationship, then why is God hiding?

The slightest of evidence 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.

Our aim is to solve this problem of God’s hiddenness cleanly.

Over this series of articles, we will address each aspect of the problem based on the idea of God’s chastity (as first expressed in The Theodicy of Divine Chastity series). The explanation to be set forth is neither too lofty for human comprehension, nor is it beyond the capacity of any honest inquirer troubled by the problem.

In this first article, we set up the problem and leave the reader hanging in hope of an answer. We’re not being sadistic so much as trying to break it all down into manageable chunks.
 We also demonstrate that it is not at all out of line for us Catholics to claim a definitive solution to the problems of evil and divine hiddenness. It’s not arrogance to think we have the solution, but is something we should expect to have if the teaching of the Church is correct.

A cautionary note: Concerning the answer to the problem of evil, the Church teaches the following:

“Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: …There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 309)

The answer to the problem of evil/divine hiddenness is inextricably intertwined with every aspect of the Christian message, but it needs to be held in view all at once in order to see it properly. The problem with that is that it isn’t possible for us to say everything at once. In our act saying any one thing thoroughly, our audience may be inclined to interpret the focus upon what we are presently saying as the intentional disregard of what we are not yet saying. In stating any one point in a clear way, it may seem as though we are brazenly denying another. Rest assured: We’re not, and we’ll get to everything.

This series and all the work of New Apologetics (past, present, and future) is offered in full and unconditional obedience to the teaching of the Magisterium and in loyalty to the Holy Father in every respect.

[NOTE TO READERS: It is our hope that, in addition to our Catholic audience, we have visitors of many Christian denominations, as well as those of non-Christian faiths and skeptics. Although we assume the truth of the Catholic teaching authority, for the purposes of reading this article it is not necessary either to agree that Catholic teachings are correct, or even to assume that any part of the Christian worldview is correct. In this series, our aim is not to prove that Christianity is true or even likely to be true. Rather, we are only proposing for the reader’s consideration a coherent theory of the “relationship” between God and evil in a new way that neither denies nor diminishes God’s power, knowledge, or goodness; and at the same time affirms the dignity of the human person by clearly naming innocent human suffering as an evil. Those who do not share the faith are not being asked to agree with any of our assumptions, but to simply make a decision to temporarily suspend disbelief in order to understand the coherence of the proposed explanation on its own terms. Our expectation is that, as the series of articles unfolds, those who do not share our view will have the opportunity to consider how the paradigm expressed thoroughly explains much of the data which otherwise would appear to be evidence against the existence of God and the message of the Gospel.]


Let’s just assume that there are lots and lots of honest people seeking relationship with God who, nonetheless, go without any clear evidence that God exists. That, in itself, is pretty hard to explain.  If an all-good and all-powerful God exists, then why are we in what appears to be a God-ordained simulation of God’s own non-existence?
 Word has it that any relationship is helped out very much when one person knows for sure that the other person is real. Why are these honest seekers apparently spurned? They surely don’t know, but God surely does.

And it is not just unbelievers who get the silent treatment. Believers are ignored, too. And, adding insult to injury, it doesn’t matter that it takes place amidst even the most galling sufferings.

If the Lord hears the cry of the poor, then why does he not respond? Non-prevention of evil is already a stumbling block, but God’s apparent unwillingness to return the calls of both believers and unbelievers alike, whether horrendously suffering or not, is a flaming stumbling block, plus a croc pit, and we only have one life to live.

Attempts to dismiss the problem are transparently empty. For example, shortly after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the following comment appeared as part of an editorial in a local Catholic paper:

“‘God, why is there this evil?’ The fact that the question lacks a pithy answer is not because God is mute in the face of evil. The problem is not with God, but with the nature of evil. Evil cannot be inserted into a chain of reasoning… Evil has nothing to do with reasoning, because it has nothing to do with what is reasonable.” (David and Angela Franks, Asking “Why” on Marathon Day)

Pace Drs. Franks, it is an undisguised fact that the question lacks a pithy answer precisely because God is (at least for those asking the question) mute in the face of evil. Consider that if God were not silent, we wouldn’t be preoccupied by rating the worthiness of any answer; there would simply be no need to bother asking the question at all.

Our consternation lies not with the mere unreasonableness of evil, but in the just expectation that God is better than the unreasonableness of evil. He is Truth itself. He is Love itself. He is also silent and apparently indifferent to that which is maximally offensive to truthful and loving people. It is a problem.

So, what exactly would we expect if atheism were true, and how does this present state of affairs differ?


We, at least, are real. So, if God exists, why does he seem to treat us as if we aren’t?

If the devil’s goal is to cause us to despair of the possibility that God loves us, God’s own policy of what appears to be blasé unavailability is likely much more effective towards getting converts for the dark side. Is there anyone who hasn’t felt that whatever God’s love is, it must be more than just a little out of touch? And if it’s not a love we want, then what good is it to us?

Some people say that God holds back evidence of his own existence from honest atheists and abstains from offering believers perceptible help in times of appalling distress because he wants us to have faith. Those people are wrong.

Trust us: Faith like that doesn’t matter to anyone who cares about you or anyone else according to any coherent standard of what “cares about” possibly means. Let’s look at a case study to prove the point:

“If God killed my two kids because of a bet with the devil, and then made up for it by giving me three more, I don’t think it would help much. It makes me think of the deadbeat dad who runs over his son’s dog, buys him a new one and wonders why he’s sad. ‘Hey, why are you sad? I replaced the dog.’” (Paul Rimmer, Reasearch Fellow, St Andrew’s University, Scotland) 

Though this hypothetical dad is inept in his attempt to bring justice to his son, there is an attempt. If this situation were real, this father, probably because of his great desire to do what is right, and because of his likely experience of unwillingly accruing failure upon failure, found it too painful to squarely face the fact that he’s actually hurt someone he loves in a serious way.

It is entirely possible (and quite likely) that the apparently tone-deaf and loveless statement, “Hey, why are you sad? I replaced the dog.” is a veiled expression of hope that things are going to be okay.

It’s not an option to look at the reality of the pain he’s caused because to do so, by his best light, is a kind of death with no possible resurrection. He wants to live and not die, and he desperately wants his son to live, too (and wants his son to love his dad).

So, the moral of the story:

At least this dad didn’t do relational harm on purpose to generate some kind of sicko faith quota from his son.

That means that this poor man is a paragon of virtue in comparison to the character of the deity defended by many. Why do we say so? Because, human dads make mistakes, but God doesn’t.


If God exists, the lesson appears to very many to be,“You’re on your own, kid.” And the rejoinder from the loyal opposition so often goes, “God is mystery, now stop doing the things that feel good.” The incoming fashion is to simply deny that there is a God (at least of the kind who wants us to know him).

God is, indeed, infinitely mysterious, but according to Church teaching, God actually wants us to know him, and that makes all the difference to our concept of mystery:

“Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 50) 

God is mystery, but has freely chosen to communicate himself. Moreover, God’s act of self-communication is chaste in that it is not adulterated by any degree of self-withholding.

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” (Heb 1: 1-2)

 Guiding us to realize the radicality of this scripture, St. John of the Cross writes:

“In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say… because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.” (St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel)

The Church teaches that God is not holding back his self-communication to us in the least, but has given all there is to give such that there is nothing more to say. In other words, if God exists, he is definitely not hiding. Therefore, if the Church is to be taken seriously, then a fortiori we know that, since God is not hiding at all, then he surely is not hiding for any hidden purpose.
 Now for some action:

This makes the problem of divine hiddenness take on an out-and-out red alert status for any believer in the self-revealing God of Catholic Christianity. The claim that God has revealed himself in a maximal way (such that nothing more can be done by God) jacks the problem of divine hiddenness to the point of being just shy of a conclusive proof for atheism. The argument might look something like this:

  1. If God exists and has said all there is to say to us, then we wouldn’t be addled by hope-endangering quandaries on those matters most important to the meaning of our lives.
  2. But we are addled by hope-endangering quandaries on those matters most important to the meaning of our lives.
  3. Therefore, it is not the case that God exists and has said all there is to say to us.

So, either we have answers to the toughest questions already, or God doesn’t exist.
 Boy, that escalated quickly.

It’s a big relief to us to know we’re not out of line for thinking we have a solution to the problems of evil and divine hiddenness. Some say that it is an exercise in hubris to claim a solution or even to attempt to seek a solution. However, it seems that such a solution is a pretty important thing to have if we are going to be Catholics.

And it’s not just us. The Church’s teaching is so consistent that it is admirable even if one happens to not believe it:

“By love, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. He has thus provided 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) 

Superabundant means “excessively more than enough”. If we believe the Church’s teaching, then we must conclude that, despite all appearances to the contrary, God is not holding back at all, and that we are already in possession of everything we need to fully answer the questions we seriously ask about matters of ultimate truth.

The answer has to be right under our noses in the Deposit of Faith, and the only reason why we think otherwise is because, for whatever reason, we assumed it wasn’t there such as to really not try looking openly and expectantly. 
This means that if the Church is right, the problem of evil (in all forms) and the problem of divine hiddenness are essentially solved, even if nobody has yet noticed.