Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Ate Another Big Brownie (& the Problem of Divine Hiddenness)

The Big Brownie
My family took me to Mongolian BBQ in Ann Arbor on Sunday for a birthday lunch. On my way there a plan was formulating in my mind. I would eat a Big Brownie for dessert, all by myself, since this was my birthday lunch. I trembled to think of this. It's been four years since my last one!

Divine Hiddenness
The problem of divine hiddenness against the existence of God can be stated this way.
1. If there were a perfectly loving God, He would see to it that each person capable of a personal relationship with Him reasonably believes that He exists, unless a person culpably lacks such belief.
2. There are capable, inculpable nonbelievers.
3. Therefore, there is no perfectly loving God.
(From Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser, Divine Hiddenness: New Essays, 4)

The Big Brownie
I love eating at Mongolian BBQ. They bring a bowl to your table. You take the bowl to a buffet-area and fill it with raw, fresh food. I filled mine with shrimp and scallops and all kinds of vegetables and pineapple and then mixed three sauces together. I took the bowl to the grill area, a large circular flat hot metal grill. The griller took my bowl and laid the ingredients on the altar. After mixing them and slicing and dicing them with his long spears he laid on the sauces. After that it was but a moment before he slided my meal onto a platter and gave it to me.

Divine Hiddenness
"Inculpable nonbelief": the idea that there are people who lack belief that God exists and do so through no fault of their own. "It is perhaps noncontroversial that infants and certain mentally impaired adults, for example, fall into this category. Some philosophers contend that a large number of normal adults are included as well." (Ib., 5)

The Big Brownie
My food was delicious. Often, at M-BBQ I will request a second bowl, and go through the line again, this time mixing different foods and sauces. But not this time. I had another plan, another telos, on that day. The waitress returned to our table. "Would you like another bowl? she asked? "No." I hesitated, and then spoke the request that had been grilling in my mind for days:

"I would like a Big Brownie."

Divine Hiddenness
We see the matter, at times, of the hiddenness of God in Scripture. For example:

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Get up! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you look the other way?
Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?

-Ps. 44:23-24

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?....I cry by day, but you do not answer....
-Psalm 22:1-2

But I, O Lord, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?
-Psalm 88:13-14

Howard-Snyder and Moser write:

"Psalm 10 complains about God's hiding, as follows: "Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1, NRSV; cf. Job 13:24). Psalm 30 laments God's hiding after a time when the psalmist had confident security. "When I felt secure, I said, 'I will never be shaken.' O Lord, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed" (Psalm 30:7, NIV; cf. Psalm 104:27-29). Psalm 44 expresses outright annoyance at God's hiding, suggesting that God’s hiding is actually morally irresponsible. "Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?" (Psalm 44:23-24, NRSV).

The subject of God’s hiding is no merely theoretical matter in the Hebrew Psalms. It cuts to the core of the psalmists’ understanding of God and of themselves. Thus at times it prompts sincere lament from God’s people. Isaiah 45:15 likewise sums up a central Jewish view of God: "Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior." God's hiding is sometimes a response to human disobedience and moral indifference toward God (Deuteronomy 31:16-19, 32:19-20; Psalm 89:46; Isaiah 59:2; Micah 3:4), but this is not the full story behind divine hiding. The Jewish-Christian God hides at times for a range of reasons, not all of which seem clear to humans." (Ib.)

The Big Brownie
If life was all a "waiting for Godot," in this story "Godot" arrived.

The Big Brownie.

It stood before me.

It's attributes were unveiled.


It was Big. Nestled and hidden within mounds of ice cream coated with caramel and hot fudge and whipped cream was the Brownie - still warm in this world of coldness. Showing self-restraint I slowly took my camera and photographed it. Dessertus non-absconditus.

Divine Hiddenness
Michael Murray, in his essay "Deus Absconditus," reasons that God remains hidden from us is because "failing to do so would lead to a loss of morally significant freedom on the part of creatures. The reason, in brief, is that making us powerfully aware of the truth of God's existence would suffice to coerce (at least many of) us into behaving in accordance with God's moral commands. Such awareness can lead to this simply because God's presence would provide us with overpowering incentives which would make choosing the good ineluctable for us." (In Ib., 63)

In other words, God does not reveal Himself to us in the unmediated glory of His omni-attributes, since to do so would take away our choice to love Him or not. God wants us to freely love, trust, and obey Him. Otherwise, "we would be coerced in a manner incompatible with love." (Ib., 9; "love" requires free will; without free will love is meaningless.)

The Big Brownie (BB)
The presence of BB before me was Moses-like, when Moses was on the mountain. Except that the BB showed me all of its glory. When this happens, viz., when something so transcendent consents to revealing its entire, unmediated omni-glory, the word "No" cannot come to one's lips. I could only say "Yes." I could not not-resist. At this point free will is gone. I was coerced into eating the BB. And, of course, I did. I ate the entire Big Brownie as my family looked on, still consuming their platters of food.

The Big Brownie and the Presence of God
On Sunday I spent time at a restaurant I enjoy with the family I love and topped it off with a mountain of sweetness. At this moment life is good, and I am blessed.

Life, with its struggles and ups-and-downs and crises, contains for me many moments where I think of Heideggarian questions like "Why is there something rather than nothing" (still one of the Very Big Questions for me) and biblical questions such as "What is man that You, God, are mindful of Him?"

God has given me more than enough evidence for His existence. He mediates His presence through His creation, through the miracle of consciousness and the vastness of the universe, and through His coming into our world as a Human to rescue us all and bring us freely into His presence forever.

And, He created a world that contains delights like the Big Brownie.