It is a common objection to the existence of God: why doesn’t he make himself more obvious? And, of course, if God was inclined he could spell out ‘God exists’ using stars to make himself known if he wanted. So why doesn’t God make his existence more undeniably obvious? Here are some reasons.
One answer the Bible gives is that everybody has enough evidence of God’s existence through the natural world. Paul writes:
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.Romans 1:20
We might not be content with that, but it is one of the answers the Bible gives us. God’s existence is plain enough so that anyone with eyes to see can draw the evident conclusion that everything did not come from nothing and a creator is behind it.
Problem of holiness
Some insist that if God himself appeared to them, then they would believe in him (a claim we will come onto later). But even were God willing to do that, he states to Moses:
“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. . . . But . . . you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live”Exodus 33:19f
As sinful people, we cannot see God as he really is. Not only can God not be in the presence of sin, but sinful people cannot be in the presence of God’s unadulterated holiness and live.
Person of Jesus
Of course, God has made himself manifest in the world. Not just generally in creation, but specifically in a person: Jesus Christ. John’s gospel states:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
18 No one has ever seen God; the only God,[d] who is at the Father’s side,[e] he has made him known.John 1:1-3, 14, 18
By veiling his glory in human flesh, sinful human beings could look God in the face. Jesus was able to say, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). God has made himself manifest, and appeared to people, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Would it make a difference?
Despite all this, there is no evidence that God making himself more obviously known would cause more people to believe in him. Nicodemus admitted to Jesus that the Pharisees, ‘know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus did many signs and miracles in the presence of people and yet, despite seeing them, many refused to believe in him. There is no reason to believe that reaction to Jesus would be any different today and that many wouldn’t see his signs and continue to deny his deity or the very existence of God himself.
But someone might argue that God appearing as a man is not enough. Leaving aside the problem of God’s holiness, what if God did personally appear to each individual and state, ‘I exist!’ There is no reason to believe that this wouldn’t be explained away in similar ways to the miraculous signs of Jesus.
God’s ultimate purpose in creating the world was to glorify himself and to invite us into his glory. As John Piper helpfully outlines here, God’s highest goal is his glory. There are good reasons to believe that in God’s glory is our good, but we can leave that for now as it is not specifically relevant. Note at this point, God’s highest goal is his glory.
The reason why God doesn’t make himself more obviously known than he has already is because people believing on the grounds he has given us already brings him more glory than if it was more obvious. Nonetheless, the Bible is clear that all those who would ever believe in Christ will believe in him (cf. John 6:37; 10:27). God has given enough evidence of his existence that everyone who would believe under any circumstances in him will believe in him under the circumstances he has given us. God knows all things, not just what is, but what could have been. There is biblical reason to believe that God has created a world that brings him maximal glory, which includes the maximal number of people who would ever believe in him. There is evidence that there are no circumstances under which some people would believe (cf. the Pharisees).
That, of course, doesn’t change that God could change hearts himself. Reformed believers like me recognise that God is sovereign over all things, including even the choice to believe in him. Arminians and Molinists would point to the importance of freedom of choice at this point. But Reformed believers point back to God’s glory. If his ultimate purpose is his glory, it is entirely possible that his glory would be diminished if he simply made himself known in differently and he worked through different means. So, God has created a world that maximises his glory, including the means he uses to draw people to himself. It is possible that use of different means would, in fact, not lead to the salvation of those who already believe in him. There may be no possible world in which everybody is saved and, even if there were, it would not be the best of all possible world’s because it is this world that is the one that maximises God’s glory which, if diminished, would equally diminish the good of those whom he has saved. As it is, Paul writes in Romans 8:28: ‘for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.’ God is glorified more in this world than another possible one.