With his face and a fist to the air, I watched a young man (whom I’ll call Devon) challenge God. “If You are real, show up right now!” He yelled. And then, … “See, nothing!”
It was 2005, and I was in Green River, Wyoming with a youth outreach group. Devon was a high schooler; I was inviting him to the week’s upcoming event. Suddenly, the invitation turned into an opportunity for Devon to vent.
“I’ve urinated on all the churches in this town,” Devon unashamedly proclaimed.
I took his admission as an attempt to shock me. It worked briefly, but the underlying issue was more my concern than his alleged exhibitionism. Eventually I got to the root of it: a wreck of a home life, a dad who didn’t care, and almost no biblical knowledge of God – just what he thought he knew. Devon admitted that he was a younger teen when he decided to not believe in God. All the same, he certainly did display anger toward God.
Many people like Devon bring up a challenging question, especially since the God of the Bible presents himself as everywhere present all the time. Why doesn’t God show himself, if he is real?
I’ll try to be as straight forward as possible. My aim is not to present proofs of God’s existence but to supply the means by which one may himself experience God. Besides, nothing is as convincing as experiencing a subject first hand.
Consider the real possibility that God is revealing himself, but one may not recognize it. “Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet man does not notice it” (Job 33:14). God may not reveal himself in the way you want him to or in the timing you want. However, that does not mean God is absent and silent. It might mean that you’re missing his communication to you. According to biblical and historical accounts, God has revealed himself in the past by many means (including physically and bodily). In fact, his name Jahweh communicates the idea he is always revealing himself, wanting to be known. And, there are reports in the Middle East that Jesus is appearing to those who would otherwise never hear, implying that if one has access to the Bible or to a Christian, then God expects one to realize He has already provided a witness of Himself. [Please see What About Those Who Have Not Heard?]
Also, since He is God, should he bow to your commands, as if you are greater than he?
Thirdly, the reason mankind “misses” God’s communication is not God’s fault. God states in various ways throughout biblical passages that he wants to be accurately known by mankind, not for the false concepts mankind has of him. The real reason mankind in his natural state does not know God’s presence and communication is that mankind’s natural state is faulty.
Man received a spirit from God (Genesis 1 & 2). That spirit is part of (if not all) the reason man is said to be in the image or likeness of God. Having a spirit allows mankind to interact with God and know him, even though God may not physically appear. Should that spirit receive damage, mankind would be cut off from God, or “die” (Genesis 2:17); and, sin (breaking God’s revealed will) damages the spirit irreparably. Again, God equates it to death (Genesis 3; Ezekiel 18:4; Ephesians 2:1), because a sinful soul cannot know God, since evil and goodness are like oil and water. They do not mix. What is more, sin infuses man’s nature to such a degree that mankind cannot rightly understand God when God does reveal himself. He either views God as a threat, or believes his own misconceptions of the true nature of God (Romans 3:11).
So, we have come to it. A person who is in disbelief cannot realize God’s presence, even though He is there, because his nature and God’s nature are incompatible. Since “God is a spirit,” (John 4:24) an individual in the natural state of spiritual deadness is cut off from God as much as one dimension is cut off from another. The erroneous conclusion of the natural man is: “God is not here” or “God is not as He claims.” Yet, he does not realize he is completely wrong, nor that the problem is with himself. As Dr. A. W. Tozer writes in his book, The Attributes of God – Ch. 7, Our Remoteness from God:
Two creatures may be in the same room and yet be millions of miles apart. For instance, if it were possible to put an ape and an angel in the same room, there would be no compatibility, no communion, no understanding, no friendship; there would be only distance. The shining angel and the slobbering, gibbering ape would be far, far removed from each other.
The reason we sense that God is remote is because there is a dissimilarity between moral characters. God and man are dissimilar now. God made man in His image, but man sinned and became unlike God in his moral nature. And because he is unlike God, communion is broken. … There is an alienation there—and that is exactly what the Bible calls that moral incompatibility between God and man. God is not far away in distance, but He seems to be because He is far away in character. He is unlike man because man has sinned and God is holy. The Bible has a word for this moral incompatibility, this spiritual unlikeness between man and God—alienation.
Since the problem is spiritual deadness from offenses and since the result is alienation, then what is the answer except RECONCILIATION and REGENERATION? A starfish can regenerate its own body parts after their being severed, but a member of humanity cannot regenerate his own spirit once cut off from God. Thankfully, God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ provides both reconciliation and regeneration. By his death on the cross, Jesus provides pardon for every offense that every one has committed against God. One must believe on Christ’s ability to provide it, and so, proclaim Him as the Savior (Romans 5:10). Furthermore, Jesus spoke of being “born again” (John 3). That new birth is actually a resurrection of one’s dead spirit, and it happens when one is reconciled to God. The life-giving Holy Spirit takes up residence in the new believer (John 14:17; Ephesians 1:13) and provides His very own life there in a perfect spiritual union (1 Corinthians 6:17, 19; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
I had little time that night in 2005 to say to Devon what I write here. Unfortunately, Devon never came to the event that week, even though he was invited. Similarly, Jesus will not turn away anyone who comes to him (John 6:37). And, God says he is not far from every one of us, if only we would “feel” for him (Acts 17:27).
God does reveal himself, even today. He is constantly using life, circumstance, the voices of believers, and seeds of truth to speak to everyone. Particularly, God declares that he speaks to us these days through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1). A voice came from Heaven when Jesus once revealed himself in his glory on a mountain top. The voice thundered out, “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). And, I write as an ambassador for Christ, … “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).