I am sitting in a tiny Mexican cachina in midtown with a student. It’s a different meeting than the sort I a m used to because he is a vocal and self-conscious skeptic of all things Christian. For some reason, he has been attending our Bible studies regularly and wants to meet for lunch. He has been sucking down margaritas for about a half hour now, and he announces that he has a question.
“Why is God hiding?”
“Okay, I’ll bite…why is God hiding?” I say confused.
“I mean, if God wants people to believe in him so badly, why doesn’t he make himself more obvious? Why all the cloak and dagger? Why not just come out of hiding and let everyone know that he is absolutely here?”
I love/hate to tell this story to my incoming freshmen. I love/hate it because of the inevitable answer I get from them when I ask them what they would say to my half-lit friend.
“Well, if God made himself obvious, then we wouldn’t have to have faith,” they, without fail in my 12 years of student ministry, say.
There’s that word again: faith. I am becoming more and more convinced that this is the single most misunderstood word in all of evangelical jargon. Why? Because that answer is just wrong. Think of the logic: God actually is hiding (to use my friend’s wording) but he does so in order that he can draw from me some mental leap, some momentary purge of doubt that magically transforms our relationship into one of perfect kinship and peace.
Set aside for the moment the hopelessness of trying to determine if I actually have really made that leap or not, OR if I was sufficiently purged of enough doubt to get me over that magic line of salvation. I want to challenge my friend’s question first before I answer the question of the nature of faith. The two are closely related.
First of all, nowhere in the Bible are we allowed to believe that God is not actively making his presence known. Psalm 19 demonstrates that nicely. And that presence is so obvious that men are “without excuse,” says Paul in Romans 1:18ff. So what must be true if I don’t see God, but he assures me that he’s making himself known?
It can only be the case that it is not HE that is hiding, but ME! Apparently, according to the Bible, I am not quite the objective observer that I figure myself to be. As a matter of fact, it is in my nature to twist the truth, to bend it to my own ends. Those ends, as it turns out, are determined to oust God from my life and curtail any influence he wants to have on me, not the least of which is acknowledgement of his active presence in the world.
Hence, my next question to my friend, “If you were being deceived, would you know it?” Of course not, is the answer. That’s what it means to be “deceived.” So what if God is not only NOT hiding, but he is actively, endlessly, desperately revealing himself in every electric moment of my life…I just don’t want to see it. I’ll have nothing of it. This, it seems, casts quite a different light on the so-called “apologetic moment,” does it not?
Does it not follow then that the only way a deceived person begins the process of seeing the world aright is by a bold admission of his self-deception. In other words, a confession of his emptiness must come before the spell can be broken and he begins to listen to the words of the all-seeing, all-conditioning, and never-deceiving God.
This, I suggest, is the definition of faith. Faith cannot be a “work.” It can only be an admission of an inability to work. In our evangelical world, we have raised a generation of young people who have been told that faith is “asking Jesus in your heart” or “accepting him as your personal Lord and Savior.” Therefore, they are a fickle, doubting crew, at best; and, at worst, they have raced right past the first step of true Christian experience: utter dependence.