Atheists love to say blithely that there is no evidence for God. Virtually all believers intuitively understand that there is something off-kilter with this objection. For what the atheist really means is that there is no material proof for God’s existence in the material world. Of course there isn’t! Christians believe in an immaterial God, so to demand material proof of his existence is nonsensical. This is why we say that God is transcendent or supernatural. Note the Latin prefix: super, meaning above or beyond. Since God is “beyond” nature, he is not an item within the universe, or the “nature,” that he created. But, if we use a colloquial definition of evidence that allows for reason; philosophy; experience; and indirect empirical clues that, like fingerprints, point to God, we find good reasons to believe.
At this point a derivative (and far better) objection may creep in: why isn’t there more evidence for God? Perhaps there is some evidence for God, but surely God could make himself so obvious that no one would question his existence?
In my estimation, Christianity addresses this issue in a way that no other faith can. The objection implies that God has no good reasons to avoid making himself unquestionably obvious. It assumes that God’s primary desire is a remote, intellectual acknowledgement from humanity. Under the Christian understanding of God, however, mere intellectual acknowledgment is useless, even dangerous.
The goal of the Christian life is friendship with Jesus, which allows us to take our place as the adopted sons and daughters of the divine family – the Triune God. The deepest relationship, a familial relationship, is at the center of Christian faith, and no relationship can be predicated upon abstract knowledge. Imagine knowing the mere fact that you have a biological mother (that you have never met) versus knowing her as the loving woman who selflessly raised you during the most vulnerable time of your life. That gives you some idea of why an abstract acknowledgement of God’s existence, without more, is so problematic. At best, it does nothing. At worst, it encourages us to settle for the God of the Philosophers and never even bother with the real business of divine friendship.
Moreover, like all friendships, we need to have the option of declining for it to be genuine. This point is summed up in the famous one-liner of John’s Gospel that “God is love.” Quite right: God is love, not a rapist. He won’t force us into anything. If God made himself so obvious that everyone would have to encounter him, even without wanting to, the Christian understanding of God would be thrown out the window. The 17th century apologist Blaise Pascal said it best, “There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.” And given the infinite gap between us and God in terms of power, perfection, and everything else, an unquestionably obvious God would prompt widespread servile fear, which is so far off base that it is arguably worse than unbelief. The late Christopher Hitchens, who frequently stated that he found the very idea of God disturbing, illustrates both points. A hidden God respects for our free will and, for many, is a mercy.
This is not to de-value the many rational warrants to believe in God. Indeed, they are the gatekeepers to an adult faith in many ways. At the same time, the existence of an unquestionably obvious divine being would actually disprove the Christian understanding of God. Christianity would make no sense unless everyone, even the smartest among us, has a credible option to avoid God and the friendship he offers. God leaves room for unbelief because it’s the only way to leave room for love.
If encountering God were purely a matter of the mind, then the brightest among us, no matter how cynical and self-absorbed, would know God the best. Of course, as Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes, that is just not how he works: “Blessed are the clean of heart for they will see God.” Regardless of intellect, those with large, humble, prayerful, and compassionate hearts know our Lord the best. It’s only when we kneel before the cross and walk the path of radical self-forgetting love that God can be seen clearly.
C.S. Lewis articulated this point beautifully in his novel Till We Have Faces. The book deserves a full reading to fully appreciate its insights, but a short snippet will have to do for now:
When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
Unless we rid ourselves of our pride, self-pity, duplicity, cowardice, self-centeredness, and all the other flaws that prevent us from even seeing ourselves clearly, how can we possibly expect to see the face of God?
This way of thinking is at the heart of Christian spirituality and theology. From a Christian perspective, asking “why isn’t there more evidence for God?” is less like an objection and more like a starting point for the spiritual journey. “For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Mt 7:8.