07/12/2012 10:33 am ET Updated Sep 11, 2012

Deus Absconditus: Why Does God Hide Himself?

In 2005, I took a class at the University of Chicago Divinity School entitled "Deus Absconditus: The Hidden God." In this class, I grappled with the question "Why does God hide Himself?" is asked at times, not only by the atheist or agnostic seeking to cast doubt on God's existence, but also by believers seeking a personal experience of God.

A biblical perspective in God's hiddenness encourages us not to become overly anxious. God does, in fact, reveal Himself but perhaps not in the way some demand. In one sense God is indeed hidden because He is Spirit and cannot be seen physically (John 4:24). The demand for certain types of physical evidence of God will leave us wanting, and may be misplaced, as it people's hearts, drawing closer those who believe, while turning away from those who turn from Him (Deuteronomy 31:17; Isaiah 59:2). Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face? (Psalm 44:23-4). We all want to witness through sight the glory and presence of God especially in the midst of recession and calamity.

As an ELCA Lutheran, I do believe that is those times as the Psalmist declares God hides his face is beyond human understanding yet revealed in the suffering of Christ on the cross. Toward the end of the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther offers interesting points in explaining Deus Absconditus in the description of a theologian. In theses 20-22, Luther describes a theologian as one who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross; a theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross call the thing what it actually is. That wisdom, Luther concludes is seen in the invisible things of God in works as perceived by humanity as completely puffed up, blinded and hardened.

Luther's theology of the cross in explaining the Hidden God is not much different in most Christian doctrine or God's revelatory powers superseding humanity. Luther, however, had a drastically restrictive view of revelation. These revelations of God to humanity are found in the Incarnation, when he manifested himself in human flesh, and the supreme moment of that revelation was on the cross at Calvary. Indeed, Luther sometimes referred to Christ crucified as the point of which God appeared to be the very contradiction of all that one might reasonably have anticipated him to be.

I am glad that I am restricted in even seeing a mere glimpse of the Glory of God but find comfort in knowing that the height of God's revelation was on the cross of Christ. To those who question the Hiddenness of God, I wonder how they deal with the notion of a God who comes down and loves the unlovely and the unrighteous before the objects of his love have any inclination to love him or do good? The cross shows that God identifies with those who suffer in the manifestation of God's glory in Jesus Christ. This is a message of hope that human beings cannot determine who God is and how he acts, he requires no prior loveliness in the objects of his love, and rather prior love creates that loveliness without laying down preconditions. Such a God is revealed with amazing and unexpected tenderness and beauty in the ugly and violent drama of the cross.