I’m currently reading a book where the author said that God remains hidden from us today so that we may freely choose to love him or not. You can’t generate love through compulsion, he argued. And he’s right about that. As an illustration, he gave Kierkegaard’s story about a king in disguise:
Once upon a time, there was a king who longed to marry. One day, as he was riding through his kingdom, he happened to see a very beautiful young lady in a poorer section of the kingdom. He was struck by her beauty, so he found reasons to travel through there more often, even getting the chance to speak to her on occasion. As time went by, he realized he wanted to pursue a relationship with the woman, but how should he go about it?
As king, he could have her brought to the palace so that he could court her, or even propose marriage immediately. It would be very hard for her to refuse the king, but he wanted to marry for love. So he also considered dressing as a peasant in order to get to know her, and only revealing his true identity if she genuinely fell in love with him. But the dishonesty inherent in that approach was unappealing.
He finally thought of a real solution. He would give up his station as king and move into her neighborhood as a regular citizen, perhaps taking up a profession like carpentry [wink, wink]. Then, if she came to love him, they could marry, and he would know that her love was truly for him and not his position.
It’s a nice story, and its application is clear. God loves us and wants us to love him. Because of his position, he could command our love, but then it would not be genuine. His solution was to come in the flesh as Jesus, giving up his position in Heaven so that we could come to know him and love him legitimately.
But when you think about it, this isn’t an accurate illustration at all. In the story, the young woman only stands to gain. If she never meets the king, or if she never falls in love with him, then her life is no worse than it was before. But this is not what Christianity teaches. It claims that all humans are sinful, and we need saving. A better illustration would be a story where people on a cruise have fallen overboard. Someone still on the ship offers to throw the people a life preserver. Will those people first try to get to know him before they accept his offer? Of course not! They’ll happily take any help they can get. All that they really needed was to understand how serious their situation was.
To show the effectiveness of this, consider so many of the conversion accounts in the Book of Acts, especially chapter 2. Peter preaches to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost, and (supposedly) about 3000 of them were converted to Christ that day because of Peter’s message. Did they really know who Jesus was? Did they really have a deep relationship with him at that point? No. The implication is that they simply became convinced that they needed what only he could offer. They were drowning, and they needed rescue. According to that passage, that’s all that was required.
But since God is so well hidden that we can question his very existence, many of us don’t even know we need saving. Oh sure, there are people from a thousand different faiths telling us we need salvation, but the evidence they give to support this claim is woefully inadequate. Why doesn’t God give us a bigger sign, if we’re really in trouble? Why doesn’t he just tell us directly? Why aren’t all these people who are so ready to believe in God united by a single religion? It’s hard to believe there’s a fire when there’s no trace of smoke.
The most glaring problem with this story is Hell. Not all Christians believe in a literal, torturous Hell, but many do, including the author of this book I’ve been reading. How is Hell not compulsion? To fit it into the illustration, we’d need to change a few details. Instead of the king passively waiting to see if the maiden will accept him, he promises his love, but also promises to roast her alive if she refuses his advances. It’s not quite so nice a story when we add in that detail.
When you get right down to it, Christianity is all about compulsion. God loves you, and he doesn’t want to force you to love him or serve him. Of course if you don’t, you’ll be tortured forever.
This only shows that the problem of God’s hiddenness hasn’t been solved at all. The author of this book, as well as many other Christians, say that God is hidden so we can have the “freedom” to either believe in him or not. But their reasoning is faulty, since Christianity gives us no such freedom. It’s like saying you’re free to commit murder in the US, even though it could earn you the death penalty in most states. The fact that there are laws prohibiting it means you aren’t free to do it. When you consider that the Christian God has every reason to let us all know he exists and that he expects certain things from us, the fact that he doesn’t do this is really all the evidence you need to see that he’s either not real, or he’s not all-loving and all-good.