Four Types of Divine Hiddenness of God


Clay Jones

Article ID:



Apr 1, 2024


May 13, 2023

This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 44, number 4 (2021).

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​For us to have a robust free will, there must be an amount of divine hiddenness, or what John Hick called “epistemic distance.”1 Divine hiddenness is the teaching that for humans to act out of free will, God’s existence (or presence) can’t be too obvious. Not surprisingly, this is a doctrine that many Christians misunderstand and over which skeptics howl. Many Christians ask, and even sometimes complain, that God should make His presence more apparent. Skeptics complain that if God really loved us (in other words, if God were really a good God), He would make His existence unmistakable.

But the Lord absolutely doesn’t want to do that. Why? Because the Lord doesn’t want us to feign loyalty. As I wrote in my book, Why Does God Allow Evil?, God could have designed the universe so that when we looked up, even if we were indoors, we would always see a Giant Flaming Sword, and if anyone rebelled against God, that Giant Flaming Sword would immediately cut him in half!2 Omnipotence could easily do such a thing. But how many people would be Christian in such a world? All of them! Everyone would, at the very least, feign loyalty. But how many true worshippers would you get in such a world? You don’t get true worshippers in that world. Worship, like love, must be uncoerced.

As C. S. Lewis put it, “there must perhaps always be just enough lack of demonstrative certainty to make free choice possible: for what could we do but accept if the faith were like the multiplication table?”3 In other words, if Christianity were unmistakably true, then people would lack the free will to rebel against it and they would instead feign loyalty. Thus, God gives us enough evidence of His existence that those who want to worship Him will have their beliefs justified, but not so much evidence that those who don’t want to worship Him will be compelled to feign loyalty.

But some object that God could give still more evidence without negating free will. For example, not long ago I was driving to speak at a venue with a well-known apologist. He said that God could give us more evidence of His existence and we could still rebel because God gave the children of Israel a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night and they still rebelled. So, he argued that there can be significant evidence of God’s existence and people would still have the free will to rebel. I’m glad he asked me that question, but we didn’t get a chance to discuss it because we were literally turning into the church parking lot when he said that. The short answer is it depends: God could give us more evidence of His existence and we could still rebel because that’s only one type of divine hiddenness that affects belief in God. Here are the four major types of divine hiddenness.

Is There a God? The first type of divine hiddenness regards whether God exists. That question would not have even occurred to the ancient Israelites or Egyptians. There is no evidence of atheists in Egypt at that time; they all believed that a God or gods existed. That there wasn’t a god wouldn’t even have crossed their minds!

Who Is This God? The second type of divine hiddenness regards which God or gods deserve our worship. The Israelites coming out of Egypt didn’t know much about the true God, Yahweh, beyond some amazing stories and that He identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So, if the Lord wanted to establish His name, who He is, and how He should be worshipped, then there had to be some continuity so that when He revealed Himself through Moses to Israel, they would know that the God who did the miracles in Egypt was the same God who was leading them into the desert and who gave His law to Moses. Thus, the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire provided continuity regarding the identity of the true God.

In fact, the Lord told Israel that He was doing exactly that in Deuteronomy 4:33–35: “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him” (emphasis added).4 Why was it shown to them? So that they would know that the Lord is God and there is no other! If God hadn’t led them out by pillars of cloud and fire, once they left Egypt they might have believed that the God who did miracles in Egypt was a different God than the God who was later doing miracles in the wilderness.

In fact, even though they had the pillars of cloud and fire, they still struggled over who God was. When Moses was gone for 40 days on Mount Sinai, the Israelites asked Aaron to make them a god because, “As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exod. 32:1). Verse 8 says that Aaron made a golden calf and told Israel, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” They still didn’t understand the identity of the true God.

Is This God Powerful? The third type of divine hiddenness regards whether God is powerful enough to meet our needs. After all, we can decide that there is a God and that we know who this God is, but what if He isn’t strong enough to take care of us? While Christians believe God is omnipotent — all powerful — the Israelites did not know that. Indeed, when Pharaoh and his army were about to overtake Israel, the people complained in Exodus 14:11, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” But then the Lord parted the Red Sea, again demonstrating His power over the so-called gods and horsemen of Egypt! (An aside: skeptics trust that their god Lucky Chance caused the universe to pop into existence out of nothing.5)

John Milton, in his theodicy Paradise Lost (1667), suggests that Satan rebelled because he thought that his rebellion would succeed. In it, Satan says of God:

Sat on his Throne, upheld by old repute,

Consent or custom, and his Regal State

Put forth at full, but still his strength conceal’d

Which tempted our attempt, and wrought our fall.6

Yale professor John Rogers explains: “Satan’s saying that before the war in heaven, God’s power just seemed like any other king’s power, as if God sat on the throne of heaven merely because of those humanly constructed reasons of tradition, or of old repute or consent or custom. Now alas for Satan, it turned out that God’s monarchy was actually based on genuine strength. It wasn’t simply that God just happened to be wearing the crown and just happened to be sitting in the best chair.”7

In other words, Milton portrays Satan as saying that they obey God because that’s just the way they have always done things, but that doesn’t mean God deserves our obedience now. Satan in essence says, “We thought we could take Him! And we tried! But He was more powerful than we thought, and it led to our downfall.” Indeed, we don’t really know how strong a force is until we try to resist it. In Satan’s case, the Lord turned out to be very strong indeed.

Is This God Good? The fourth major type of divine hiddenness regards whether the true God is good. Now, when it came to the Israelites, even though there was the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, that didn’t teach Israel that God was good. To teach them that He was good, the Lord regularly employed divine hiddenness regarding His goodness. The Lord did this by bringing Israel into places that lacked food or drinkable water. When this happened, the Israelites questioned God’s goodness, “You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exod. 16:3). But then the Lord delivered them, demonstrating His goodness and care.

Similarly, when Satan told Eve that God wasn’t acting in her best interest — that God was holding back things that would otherwise benefit her — he was telling her that God wasn’t good. And where was the Lord while this was going on? He didn’t make His presence obvious to Adam and Eve while they were being tempted. Apparently, they even believed they might be able to successfully hide from Him.

We also see the Lord talking about hiding in Genesis 18:17: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” What the Lord means is that He had decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their great evil. He could have just sent fire down on them one day and not told Abraham why He did that. But if the Lord had hidden that from Abraham, then neither Abraham nor anyone else would have understood the Lord’s motives. They would have just had to trust the Lord. But the Lord explains His intentions to Abraham. In Genesis 18:23–25 we read Abraham’s response: “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked….Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Well, Abraham ultimately asks, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” And the Lord replied, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (v. 32). This conversation regards whether God is good. Abraham says straight out: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Abraham is saying that a good God wouldn’t act in an unjust way.

In Genesis 19 we learn that God sends angels to Sodom to warn of impending judgment and to rescue Lot and his family. This is an example of the Lord choosing not to hide Himself. It demonstrates that we can trust that God will do what is just.

We also see an example of divine hiddenness with Jesus in Mark 4:37–40. There, Jesus and His disciples were in a boat and “a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling,” but Jesus was asleep. So “they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” Jesus calmed the storm but says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” There it is again. Asking “Do you not care?” questioned His goodness. I suspect that if they had simply awakened Jesus and asked, “Sorry to wake you up, Lord, but would you help here?,” there would have been nothing to rebuke.

Sufficient Evidence. Nonetheless, skeptics complain that God should give everyone more evidence. But when asked for more signs, Jesus responded, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt. 12:39; cf. 16:4). Of course, by “the sign of the prophet Jonah,” Jesus referred to His resurrection, and unless someone doesn’t want to believe, in Jesus’s considered opinion, His resurrection is sufficient evidence to justify our belief.

Clay Jones is a visiting scholar at Talbot School of Theology and has authored Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions (Harvest House, 2017) and Immortal: How the Fear of Death Drives Us and What We Can Do About It? (Harvest House, 2020). His website is


  1. John Hick, Evil and the Love of God (1966 repr., UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 181.
  2. Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2017).
  3. A personal letter from C. S. Lewis to Sheldon Vanauken, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, vol. 3, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 106.
  4. Scripture quotations taken from ESV.
  5. For more about the atheist appeal to luck and chance, see Clay Jones and Joseph E. Gorra, “The Folly Answering Distracting Atheist Arguments,” Christian Research Journal, January 25, 2015,
  6. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book One, Lines 639–42, in John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey, 1957), 227.
  7. John Rogers, “Milton: Lecture 1” (Transcript, Yale University, n.d.),


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