I engaged in a discussion with a group of atheists the other day in response to one of the group’s members asking why God does not reveal Himself in an obvious way if He is real. Then, the atheist claimed, all witnesses would believe. At first glance that sounds rational, doesn’t it? How many times have each of us either longed to see a sign from God or directly asked for a sign? How often do we pray and yearn for a sign that God is listening? As the seeds of doubt sprout in our minds, perhaps we need just a small sign to give us comfort that what we believe is real. Is that too much to ask of God? We can empathize with the atheist’s question, can’t we? And yet, the Bible shows God revealing Himself to the world time and time again to no avail.
God reveals Himself in nature so that man is without excuse.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Yet many look at the wonder of nature and feel nothing. God led the Jews out of Egypt in a pillar of fire and smoke and parted the Red Sea, and yet many Jews still turned from Him. Jesus came in the flesh and performed miracles, and people still did not believe. So how many ways will we demand that God reveal Himself? Hasn’t He already demonstrated that the world rejects His revelation?
Below is a clip from the initial question posed by the atheist:
I asked my preacher friend the other day a question that gave him pause; I don’t think he had ever thought of it. I asked him why, if God was omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, without beginning or ending, and desperate to get man’s attention, so that man could be saved – why doesn’t he reveal himself NOW, in a way that is unmistakable? Why not use today’s technology? Technology that can send internet messages around the world simultaneously. Why not take control of all the computer monitors and TV screens and simply “REVEAL” Himself? Why leave mankind with such shoddy evidence, i.e., disputed, ancient texts that are full of mistakes, contradictions, forgeries, and un-original platitudes. This is the best that the Creator of the Universe can provide, as His only (perfect, according to some) means for reaching humans with this most infinitely, important message? Really?
My good, Christian friend just looked at me for a second and said – “That’s a good question.”
My initial response was to quote the following scripture:
24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
In the foregoing passage, Jesus was in the flesh performing miracles, and yet the Jews still did not believe and demanded proof. In fact, they asked Jesus a startlingly similar question as the atheist.
[W]hy doesn’t he reveal himself NOW, in a way that is unmistakable?
How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.
It gives you chills, doesn’t it, when you find yourself inside a Bible story?
As you might expect, the atheists rejected anything from the Bible. They wanted reason. ‘You cannot prove the Bible is true, so give us our reason!’ Yet to the Bible I will return.
So how does God reveal Himself today?
Are we justified in asking Him to appear again in an obvious way so that we and others will believe?
Do we need to plunk our fingers into Jesus’ wounds before we believe?
God continues to reveal Himself to the world in nature. He also reveals Himself to believers in answers to prayer, healing, miracles, angels, dreams, visions and sometimes even voices. God doesn’t appear to everyone in the same manner. And many times He reveals Himself and is still not seen.
But far and away the biggest method God reveals Himself is by the Holy Spirit. And by the Spirit we know that God is real. The Bible tells us very plainly that faith comes from the Holy Spirit. [Please see my article titled, “A Tangled Dance: the Will and the Holy Spirit,” for an expanded discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit in the mechanics of faith.] Briefly, scripture says that those without the Spirit cannot submit to God nor understand the Gospel:
The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.
Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:3.
He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6.
These scriptures demonstrate that no matter how God chooses to reveal Himself, those who do not have the Spirit in them will never acknowledge Him. God can take over all of the televisions of the world or send mass e-mails to all who can receive them, and yet those without the Spirit still would not believe. God has plenty of experience being denied in response to His revelation. And yet, God continues to reveal Himself, even if the world cannot see Him.
The Holy Spirit, though present among believers from the beginning, was sent into the world in a new way after Jesus was crucified and ascended into Heaven. The Holy Spirit was sent to open the eyes of the blind and to unstop the ears of the deaf. The Spirit was sent to remove from God’s people their hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. This role of the Spirit was prophesied about in the Old Testament:
“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
Before His ascension into Heaven, Jesus told the disciples about the coming Holy Spirit:
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
. . . .
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
Notice that Jesus said the Spirit was already living among the disciples and yet would be “in” them as well in the near future. There was an “already” as well as a “not yet.” The Spirit was among them already, both in the form of Jesus and as Spirit, but Jesus was “not yet” living inside them until after He ascended into Heaven and He indwelt them by the “Spirit of truth.” Jesus said in the passages above that He would not return until judgment day but that the Spirit of truth was coming, who would reveal Jesus to those “whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:39.
The Spirit Jesus talked about in the above passages came upon the disciples at Pentecost, which is described in Acts 2. The Spirit empowered the disciples to spread the Gospel to all corners of the Earth. By the Spirit, they performed miracles, and many believed and were added to the number of the Church. In Acts 2, Peter addressed the crowd of people around him telling them to repent and be baptized. And the Holy Spirit was then given to all the believers, who empowered them to spread the Gospel.
The Spirit of truth opens the eyes of the blind and makes the believer stand firm in Christ:
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22.
And here is an amazing message: those who have faith in Jesus know by that faith that God has revealed Himself and Jesus to them. They know this because only by the Spirit are they able to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12:3.
So, what do we learn from all of this? That no matter how many different open and obvious ways God reveals Himself to the world, it will continue to reject Him. Therefore, there is no reason for Jesus to appear again in the flesh or for God to reveal Himself in another obvious way to the world. Jesus ascended into Heaven not to return again until His Second Coming. Until then, while we do not see Him, we know Him by the Spirit that was poured out on His people.
So for those who believe, God has revealed Himself to them through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. And by that Spirit, the believer is to spread the Good News to the far reaches of the Earth. By sharing Jesus, the Spirit then works on the hearer who has been called by God and given to Jesus (see John 6, 10).
As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
While the world will always reject Jesus, God reveals Himself to His people by the Holy Spirit. By their faith, believers have confidence that God is real. If believers continue to demand proof, are they any better than doubting Thomas, who proclaimed: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe”? John 20:25. And how did Jesus respond to Thomas?
Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.