One of my favorite complaints concerning God is that He seems impossible to discern. He sends no phone calls, no emails, and not even a tweet or two when I could use some advice. In fact, more often than not, the Divine Person appears quite hidden. His existence cannot be proven and those who doubt Him are impatient for evidence. Of course, this complaint is not mine alone. Just about every Christian I talk with has expressed, now and again, the same objection.
My first step in dealing with this whiny complaint is Holy Writ. And the more I read in those pages, the more it strikes me that God has a similar complaint against me.
There was a prophet named Elijah who, after witnessing God’s power, was found hiding in a cave out of fear of Queen Jezebel. In those pages, there is story after story of human doubt and a rejection of God by His own people. And just in case we Christians think that our New Testament brethren were made of sterner stuff, the disciples went into hiding when Jesus most needed them. Each of the Apostles wrote letters to Christians who were behaving badly. And these are the people who became the Church which all-too-often in its history has been known for really bad theology, deep doubts, weaknesses, and hypocrisy. After all, is anyone more adept than Christians at hiding the Gospel under a bushel?
We also often forget that the problem is not limited to humans. Holy Scripture tells us that God created remarkable beings called angels – a large number of whom rebelled against their Creator. Out of sheer will and pride, these beings rejected heaven, and now, the Bible tells us, they do everything they can to keep people from God. Would one not think that if a person was in heaven or in the Garden of Eden, was a recipient of direct communication from God, was at the first Eucharist, the Crucifixion, or witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus, that such a person would have no doubt of God’s existence, power, and love?
What does God have to do to get our attention? Speak through a prophet? Send a fiery cloud? Raise someone from the dead? Become one of us? I must remind myself that He has done all of that. Indeed, the witness of the Scriptures and of the saints through the millennia proclaims His real presence and desire to be known. When it comes to hiddenness, it must certainly be argued that God has a more profound complaint against me.
And what, you might rightly ask, does this rambling have to do with our autumn semester at Hillsdale College? I write to argue that our studies offer each of us an opportunity to better know God. Historians might be drawn out into the open by finding something of God’s providence in the events and persons of history. The student of literature might be drawn toward the light of God’s Truth in epic tales or through the music of poetry. Gerard Manly Hopkins – translating Aquinas – is quoted on the south window of our beautiful chapel: “Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.” The philosopher will remember again the sun outside of Plato’s cave, and is there nothing the student of psychology wants more than to understand how wounded humanity might be drawn out of dark places?
It is equally true for those archaeologists of science, the physicists, chemists, biologists, and mathematicians, who uncover elements, processes, equations, and laws established aeons ago. Even the scholar of political science might find himself drawn into a profound understanding of the “Laws of Nature, and of Nature’s God.” You see, if I could just stop complaining about God’s apparent absence, and through my studies respond to His invitation to be drawn into the open light of Truth as it is manifested in His time and creation, I am certain to perceive something of His presence. He is, after all, that Shepherd who seeks His lost sheep. He is the Father who watches for the Prodigal’s repentant reappearance. He is Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven.” Our dear Lord is in need of nothing. But He desires one thing. He has sacrificed Himself for that one thing. He desires that we accept His invitation to cease living as hidden men.
Kenneth Calvert is a professor of history at Hillsdale College.