Does Believing in an Invisible God Make Sense?
Christians and atheists alike often find the invisibility of God to be puzzling. By “invisibility,” I mean:
- We cannot see God.
- Many people have never heard audibly from God.
- Many people have never witnessed a miracle from God (or, even if they have, they explain it away with a more naturalistic explanation)
Why does God choose to not make himself more visible? If God desires humans to love him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:36), it may strike you as silly that he would not personally and powerfully reveal himself to every human on the planet. It is almost as if God is deliberately choosing to hide himself!
If we’re honest, the invisibility of God seems to support atheism. After all, if God isn’t real, isn’t this exactly what we would expect? If God is a mere figment of our imagination, we would not expect him to appear, speak to us, or do miracles.
However, while the invisibility of God may initially seem confusing, it actually makes a lot of sense when one digs deeper into it. There are at least four main reasons why God’s invisibility should not trouble us:
- The Bible teaches us to expect God to be invisible.
- God is not as hidden as many think he is.
- God has powerful reasons for not directly revealing himself.
- Jesus fulfills our longing for God to be visible!
Let’s briefly look at these four reasons.
1. The Bible Teaches Us to Expect God to be Invisible
Is our relationship with an invisible God unusual according to the Bible? No… it is not. The Bible plainly teaches that God is invisible, for he is a spirit. Consider these verses:
“No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18).
“Now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:17).
“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).
So, God is an invisible spirit, and it is actually good news for us that God is this way. As a spirit, God is not limited to the constraints that we have as corporeal beings. While our existence is localized within a miniscule, finite space, God’s existence fills every inch of creation. This is necessary for us to have immediate access to God at any time and rightly claim that God is always with us. Therefore, it’s not a challenge for God to spend time with you or care about the intimate details of your life.
Amazingly, the Bible even teaches that God’s presence is permanently within the bodies of believers. The spirit has no physical form that enables us see this reality, but it is nevertheless true.
So, it is not unusual that God is a spirit and is invisible by nature. For eternity, Christians will relate to God as an invisible being, yet we will still have amazing fellowship with him and enjoy the benefits of his omnipresent, incorporeal nature.
2. God is Not as Hidden as Many Think
Although God is invisible, does that mean that he is truly hidden? I don’t think so. As I wrote in my previous article about faith, our trust in God is grounded evidentially. God has revealed plenty to us for us to be confident of both his existence and his love for us.
The Apostle Paul goes as far as to claim that belief in God is obvious. He writes in Romans 1:19:
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (emphasis added).
Now you may not personally find God’s presence to be obvious, but the Bible is making the strong claim that the evidence is right there in front of you. Paul would probably tell you that if you really think God isn’t there, you’re kidding yourself.
There is plenty of evidence staring you right in the face:
- The supernatural generation of the universe (a supernatural explanation is the only possible one unless a person has reason to believe the universe could create itself)
- The beauty of life and its incredible complexity (implying a designer)
- The undeniable reality of objective moral truth (requires a moral law-giver and enforcer)
- …and other evidence as well. I’ve written about this elsewhere.
Furthermore, while many imagine that God never speaks today and never does miracles, there are good reasons to believe that this idea is false. Christians disagree over exactly what it looks like to hear God’s voice today, and no orthodox Christian believes that God is still giving us fresh revelation with the same weight as the Bible. Nevertheless, many Christians confidently believe that God provides direction for their lives.
There are thousands of testimonies of God doing supernatural work today and literally millions of claims of the miraculous happening throughout history. While it’s possible that every single claim has been wrong, this seems unlikely considering the inexplicable things that have happened and the unshakable confidence of many of the people reporting these accounts.
The strongest displays of God’s direct presence are recorded in the Bible. He personally spoke to many people and displayed incredible acts of power that rippled throughout the world.
You may protest that God has not given you the same personal revelation that he has given to others. However, just because you have not experienced something personally does not mean that it is untrue. We believe things all the time based on the reliable word of others.
Therefore, the claims that God is totally hidden from us are quite exaggerated. We have plenty of reasons to know that God exists despite that he often chooses not meet our specific demands to prove his existence on our terms.
3. God Has Powerful Reasons for Not Directly Revealing Himself
Still, even if God is not as hidden as people make him out to be, why doesn’t he directly reveal himself in a tangible way to anyone who asks? He could definitely do more than he is currently doing to prove his presence.
I believe that God refrains from irrefutably revealing himself because he desires to be sought. While God doesn’t give us exhaustive knowledge of his plans, those who genuinely seek after him will often find out more than enough, whereas those who don’t care will never receive God’s blessing. I have to qualify this statement with “often find out more than enough” because, at the end of the day, we can’t understand anything about God unless he first chooses to reveal himself to us (Matthew 11:27). It’s his decision, not ours.
Let’s look at some passages from the Bible to learn more about God’s desire for us to be seekers.
Consider Matthew Chapter 13. In this chapter, Jesus reveals that he has chosen to teach in parables (despite having clearer options for communication) because people who deliberately reject God will be unable to understand it. This shows Jesus’ concern with people who are not willing to seek him.
“Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
You will indeed hear but never understand,
And you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:11-15).
Here are two other parables that Jesus taught to demonstrate how God wants us to seekers, this time in reference to his kingdom:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field” (Matthew 13:44).
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45).
The author of Hebrews makes it clear how delighted God is when we trust him and seek after him:
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
We also know that Jesus did miracles as evidence for the validity of his message. However, he purposefully withheld doing miracles on several occasions because of the unbelieving hearts that the people had already set for themselves (Matthew 13:58; 16:1-4).
Beyond desiring us to be seekers though, God likely has other purposes for his behavior that we can only speculate about. CS Lewis famously offers one possibility in his work The Screwtape Letters. Through the fictional character, Screwtape, CS Lewis suggests that God removes his felt presence from his children at times so that they may mature in ways that would not be possible if God’s presence was always irrefutably perceived. Screwtape explains,
“He (God) is prepared to do a little over-riding (of the human will) at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest of temptation. But he never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be” (The Screwtape Letters, Letter 8).
Whether you find Lewis’ idea to be convincing or not (I personally agree with some aspects of his thinking but not others), I hope you can see that there are very good reasons why God might not directly manifest himself in all the ways that we want him to.
Even if after hearing all of this you remain skeptical and are inclined to disagree with God’s decisions about how he reveals himself, I hope you will agree with me that there is still far too much evidence to outright dismiss his existence. After all, you can only disagree with someone if he actually exists!
4. Jesus Fulfills our Longing for God to be Visible
Now, I’ll admit that everything I have said so far, even if it is logically sound, may not be emotionally satisfying. Many Christians sincerely desire to love God from the very core of their being, and there is a deep hunger within us to interact with God the same way we interact with our closest human relationships. We want to have back-and-forth conversations with God. We want to play with God. We want to watch movies with God. We want to go on hikes with God. We want to share a meal with God. And the list could go on!
In light of this very real hunger, let me give you some astonishing news: God has done the unthinkable. Jesus loves you so much that he took on a human body and will fulfill your desire for human-to-human companionship with him FOREVER.
Therefore, even though God is invisible, he will forever be tangible to us through Jesus (Colossians 1:15). Only Christianity offers such fantastic news about God!
A few extremely blessed people have had the privilege of already interacting with Jesus while he was here on the earth. The rest of us are going to have to wait for that. However, it is certainly coming! So let’s hang in there.
God’s invisibility is no cause for alarm. The Bible teaches us to expect this about him. He is not outright hidden, and he has a good reason for not revealing himself more. Best of all, he doesn’t leave us hanging in our desire to interact with him tangibly: Jesus fulfills that deep desire. Therefore, you’re in good hands! And if you’re currently in the middle of a tough season of life and wish that God would powerfully reveal himself to you at this moment, let me leave you with this verse to encourage you:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:13, emphasis added).