A doubting friend once said to me, “If God exists, why doesn’t he tell us plainly? Why doesn’t he write it across the sky for everyone to see?”
That question is based on an assumption that is patently false and, upon reflection, even silly: the assumption that God’s aspiration for humans - his end goal in creating them - is their assent to the fact that he exists. This is to woefully underestimate both God and humanity.
God’s objective is the creation of a race of great and good beings who can interact with him as they add to the love and blessedness of the universe. The biblical pictures of this - of humans reigning with Christ, crowned with glory and filled with joy - is nothing short of spectacular. Once we have seen this, the idea that God’s big plan is merely to get people to believe he exists is laughable.
Still, the problem remains: why is belief in God so difficult? Why are there so many obstacles to faith in the awe-inspiring God and Father of Jesus? That there are obstacles is undeniable. The church has never said otherwise, and the biblical data confirm it. Included among the obstacles are: the presence of evil which, on the surface, seems to contradict the existence of a loving and good God; the lack of incontrovertible evidence; and the discrepancy between what those who claim to believe in God say and how they act.
On the one hand, it is difficult for us to understand why God would allow such obstacles. On the other hand, if the biblical God does exist, it must be assumed that the presence of such obstacles does not hinder his efforts in forming a glorious, joyful and powerful humanity, but rather advances it.
There is a curious scene in the Gospel account of Jesus’s life. After a brief respite, Jesus returns to his home base and carries on his work of healing and teaching. People flock to him by the thousands, and many bring relatives and friends to be healed. These people suffer from a variety of physical ailments and the text says that Jesus healed them.
So far, so good. That’s sounds like something we would expect a benevolent and powerful being to do. Now here is the curious part. To get to Jesus, people had to ascend a mountain. Some were blind. Others had physical disabilities. Many had limited mobility. So why would Jesus meet these people on a mountain rather than, on level ground? Why set things up so that it would be so difficult?
This is an all too familiar picture for some people who would believe in God, if they could find sufficient evidence for his existence. Does it make sense that God would require the spiritually disabled to come to him by means of an uphill climb beset with both internal and external obstacles?
People who believe in God might well be the biggest obstacle. This too finds a parallel in the Gospel accounts: four friends try desperately to get their paralyzed buddy to Jesus but Jesus’s own followers block their way. Sometimes it is Christians - the things they say and claim to believe - that prevent other people from believing in God.
Whether the obstacle is unexplained evil or inexplicable Christians, one is still left with the question: why does God allow obstacles to belief? It is almost as if he intends belief to be difficult. Could there be a reason for that? Might the effort somehow advance God’s goal of creating a race of good and great beings who can interact with him in bringing about the blessedness of the universe?
It seems to be so. The very effort of seeking God changes us. It is the struggle of belief that lays the groundwork for a life of faith.
God has arranged things so that one doesn’t find him without seeking. This protects free will by allowing one the option of ignoring God, at least for a time. More importantly, the act of seeking is itself transformative. God has woven it into the process by which humans become the great and good beings he intends, who are capable of interacting with him for the blessing of the universe.
Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.