WHY DOES GOD HIDE HIMSELF?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-17-86 7:30 p.m.
Where is God? In all of the violence and storms and terrors of the earth, how does God separate Himself from us and look upon such unmitigated sorrow, seemingly unmoved and indifferent? Some of most tragic stories you could ever think for are enacted before our eyes every day. Child abuse—where is God when a child is hurt? Women abused—where is God when these who are drunken or addicted or crazed sometimes cut a woman to pieces? How does God look upon that? And there is no family and no member of any family that somewhere, sometime, does not face sorrowful pain and suffering. Where is God when the time of trial and tribulation and sorrow overwhelms us? Does He look upon it with indifference, or does He even bother to see it?
I read in preparing this message a thing that is almost blasphemous, but it kind of illustrates the longing of our hearts for a recognition of our sorrowful plight on the part of God, “A Pair of Glasses for God to Wear.”
Yes, that’s what the handwritten sign irreverently suggested. It was posted in the middle of a scorched, wind-eroded field. Severe drought had devastated the area.
I walked over the fences of our farm when I was a boy. And the fences were beneath my feet: the eroding sand of the continuing drought, the wind-blown soil caught against the tumbleweeds of the barbed wire fence built up and built up, and I walked over those fences beneath my feet. Where is God in a devastation like that?
In desperation, local farmers hung a battered bucket on a weathered fence pole and tacked this sign above it. “Please contribute coins here to buy God a pair of glasses so He can see the suffering of man and beast.” And the words were plainly legible and visible in the light of a blazing sun.
Why does not God do something? Why does He allow such suffering? Does He know and does He care?
One night, a man in agony stayed on his knees all night long begging God to reveal Himself. He cried, “Just one word, O God. Anything. Just say something. Let me know for sure that You are there, and I will believe all the rest.” There was no word spoken and no answer from heaven.
Where is God when we see the incomparable devastation of human hatred, war, marching millions? Most of us were cognizant, old enough to read of the marching armies of Hitler. Eighteen million men lost their lives in that conflict. Where was God in that terrible war? And we read and see pictures every day of famines that are in the earth—starvation, little children who have no opportunity even to exist, and, of course, finally, the universality of death. I had a funeral today. I live in that kind of a world. Well, there are three possibilities as we ask, “Where is God and why does He hide Himself from our sorrows and pain and trouble?”
The first possibility is that God is aware of our sorrow and our pain, but His powers are limited. He is not really almighty. That’s one possibility. A second possibility is that God may be almighty and powerful, but He does not care. He is not really and totally good. A third possibility—we can dismiss the whole thing as a mystery and try to forget it. As the Epicurean said, “Let us eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” [Luke 12:19; 1 Corinthians 15:32]. But we cannot dismiss this longing in our hearts for God, or drown it in drunkenness or in merrymaking or debauchery. We cannot do it. I cannot do it. You cannot do it. We have in our hearts a longing for God that will not die nor diminish.
- Isaiah 64:1-2: we hear the prophet cry, “Oh that God wouldest rend the heavens, that He wouldest come down to make His name known.” Our hearts cry out just like that.
- Job 13:24: “Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face, and holdest me for Thine enemy?”
- Psalm 10, verse 1: “Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest Thyself in times of trouble? . . .
- The wicked say in their hearts, ‘God hath forgotten: He hideth His face; He will never see it’ [Psalm 10:11].
- Arise, O God, forget not the humble” [Psalm 10:12].
- Psalm 13:1: “How long wilt Thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?”
- In Psalm 89:46: “How long, Lord? Wilt Thou hide Thyself forever? Shall Thy wrath burn like fire?
- Remember how short my time is” [Psalm 89:47].
- And Isaiah 45:15: “Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel.”
Now, the answer: why does God hide Himself? Does He see our sorrows and our troubles and our inevitable and coming death? The answer; who hides himself, man or God? Who was the first to hide Himself? Now, I want you to take your Bible. Everybody take his Bible. Everyone of us, take his Bible. There’s one in your pew rack, or your neighbor has one. Who hides himself? Who was the first to hide himself?
The first book in the Bible, Genesis, chapter 3, verses 6-11. Genesis chapter 3, verses 6-11. Now let’s read it out loud together. Remember, we’re finding out, who is it that is hiding? Who was the first to hide? Genesis 3:6-11 now together:
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
And he said, I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
And God said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
Who was the first to hide? Was it God? It was we! It was our first parents: “I heard Thy voice, and I was afraid, and I hid myself because I am naked” [Genesis 3:10]. It is we who place a distance between ourselves and God. We do it. We separate ourselves from the Lord God. We do it. I want us to read one other passage. Turn to Proverbs, the Book of Proverbs, chapter 1 again, Proverbs, chapter 1. We shall read verses 24-31; Proverbs 1—Job, Psalms, Proverbs—Proverbs 1:24-31. Now, let’s read it together.
Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;
But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:
I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;
When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:
For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord:
They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.
Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.
It is we who place the distance between us and the Lord God. The Lord made us and created us to be together with Him for fellowship [John 17:23].
I remember years ago, somewhere—I can’t remember where, but I remember being seated in a great auditorium and looking at a play, a black play entitled, Green Pastures. There is one scene in that play that has stayed in my mind. It was this: when the Lord God Almighty had created the universes, the heavens, the stars, the planets, the suns, the satellites, and had created this verdant and beautiful earth with its mountains, and its rivers, and its oceans, and its streams, and its forests—when He had created all of that, in that play, the Lord God sat down and He looked at His creations, at His stars and His mountains and His oceans, and the Lord God said, “I am lonesome!”
That has stayed in my mind as a great personal reality. You’re made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], and you are like that! What fellowship and what comradeship, what love or intimacy could there exist between God and an ocean, or a mountain, or a forest, or a satellite? And you’re that way. How is it that we could ever find the longing of our hearts for love and companionship and fellowship in a tree, or a rock, or an ocean? God’s like that. God said, “I am lonesome!”
And He made man to be with Him, to answer, to talk, to walk with Him, to be close to Him. God made us for Himself. What separated us is sin. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” [Isaiah 59:1-2]. God cannot fellowship with evil and still be God. Habakkuk 1:13 cries saying, “Thou, O God, art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity.”
God withdraws His presence and leaves us as a human family to our own devices. This is the reason why suffering and pain and death: we are reaping the reward of our own ways. Deuteronomy 31:16-18:
When this people forsake Me . . .
Then My anger shall be kindled against them . . . and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them . . .
and many evils and troubles shall befall them . . .
And I will surely hide My face from them in that day for all the evils which they have wrought.
Isaiah 1:15: “And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you: yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear.” Hosea 5:6: “They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord; but they shall not find Him; He hath withdrawn Himself from them.” Micah 3:4: “Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them because they have behaved ill in all their ways.”
Now I want us to look at ourselves as a people. We say, “But if God were to come down and live in our midst, we would serve Him. We would bow down before Him. If He would just come down and be one of us; if God would just show Himself, we would believe and accept Him. We would.” Sweet and dear people, God did just that. “His name shall be called Immanuel, Immanuel: God is with us” [Matthew 1:23]. He did just that. We could see Him, and touch Him, and talk to Him, and come to Him, and bow down in His presence. What did we do? The prophet, before seven hundred years that He came, cried, saying, “We hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” [Isaiah 53:3]
Matthew 21:38: “When the husbandmen saw the son, they said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him!’” And they did [Matthew 26:67-68]. We did just that! Slapped Him [Matthew 21:39], and pulled out His beard [Isaiah 50:6], and said, “What is my name? Who am I?” [Luke 22:63-64]. They spit upon Him. They scourged Him [Matthew 27:26, 30]. They nailed Him to a tree, and He died [Matthew 27:30-51; Luke 22, 63-64]; God, in our midst! [Matthew 1:23]. What a depraved and lost people we are!
The visible signs of God, do they lead us to Him? In the Old Testament is the story of the deliverance of the children of the Lord out of Egyptian bondage [Exodus 1-13]. And the Lord was a fire to protect them in the night and a cloud to overshadow them in the day [Exodus 13:21], and the Lord gave them manna to eat in the wilderness [Exodus 16:15]. Did they reach the Promised Land? No! They all died in unbelief except Caleb and Joshua [Numbers 14:20-30; 32:11-13]. With such marvelous signs of the presence of God, and they died in rejection and in unbelief [Numbers 26:64-65].
Could there be any life so full and rich and beautiful as the affirmation of the presence of the Lord God in His Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus? All of those affirmations—I’m preaching as you know, in the morning, on the Lord’s Day, through the Gospel of John. John never uses the world “miracle.” He uses sēmeion, “sign.” These were signs, affirmations from heaven that this is the Son of God. Did they believe, though He raised these from the dead [Mark 5:35-42; John 11:43-44], though He fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes? [John 6:1-13]. Did they believe? The signs of God are about us, and around us, and above us, and beneath us every day that we live, in our time and in our hour.
In Paul’s sermon at the city in Antioch in Acts 14:17, he says to those heathen who were worshiping idols, he said, “The true God has not left us without witnesses,” then he names the marvelous presences of God seen in the world above us and around us. They are everywhere, the signs of the presence of God. They are in nature. They are in natural signs of the affirmation of God’s care and presence.
The earth rotates; a thousand miles does it move an hour. If it slowed or changed, all of life would cease to exist; the faithfulness of God. The atmosphere that we breathe, oxygen and hydrogen: if it changed a fraction, we would die. Gravity, the mystery of gravity; we can depend upon it. It is something of heaven. I read of a great scientist who said, “The miracles of nature make those of the Bible seem like commonplaces”; the marvelous miracles of the presence of God that we see all about us.
A haze on the far horizon,
The infinite, tender sky,
The rich, ripe tint of the corn fields,
And the wild geese sailing high.
And all over upland and lowland
The charm of the goldenrod.
Some people say, “This is autumn.”
But some of us say, “This is God.”
[“Each in his own Tongue,” W. H. Carruth]
They are everywhere, the signs of God, all around us—and above all, and most poignant of all, the presence of the Lord God in us; our moral sensitivity, our response to the holiness and righteousnesses of God who made us; that is so seen universally; God. Jeremiah said when they persecuted him for the word of the Lord, “I said, ‘I will speak no longer in His name.’” Then he adds, “But His word was in my bones as a fire burning in my very soul, and I could not forebear” [Jeremiah 20:9].
God; moral sensitivity; when Jezebel had Naboth stoned to death [1 Kings 21:5-14], she said to her husband, “Ahab, arise, possess. Naboth is dead and not alive” [1 Kings 26:15]. And Ahab arose to possess [1 Kings 21:16]. And when he went down to the vineyard in Jezreel, there stood, in the center of the inheritance of Naboth, Elijah, like an embodied conscience! And Ahab looked at him and said, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” [1 Kings 21:17-20]. God; and we cannot escape His presence, nor can you. The Lord God in our souls, in our hearts, in our daily lives; we meet Him every hour of every day of our existence. And how much more do we find the presence of God when we open our hearts to Him and commit our lives to Him in a confession of faith, in a great spiritual resolution, in a mighty act of consecration—God living in our souls, meeting us in prayer, guiding us in our devoted service and worship to Him; “the Lord with us, Immanuel” [Matthew 1:23].
May I close with just the great prophecy? Someday, some final, consummating day, some ultimate and glorious day, He will come. We shall see Him [1John 3:2].
Strangest thing: I was walking down the street this afternoon and heard a voice call my name. And I turned, and the man driving a truck had come to a red light and stopped. And when I asked, “What did you say?” he said, “I said, ‘Preacher, are you watching the eastern sky? Are you looking for Jesus?’” [Matthew 24:27]. I said, “Brother,” I have no idea who he was, I said, “Brother, I am. I am.”
Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him.” That’s God in our presence, on the way; and may it be, Lord, we are prepared in heart and soul and life to receive Him. “Even so, come, blessed, blessed Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20], if I know in my heart, I’m ready. Any day, any time, any hour, Lord, come.
Brother Denny, we are going to stand and sing us a song, and while we sing the hymn, somebody you, to give your heart to the Lord Jesus; somebody you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church; a family you: “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m on the way. Here I stand. Here I come.” A thousand times, welcome. Make it now. Make it tonight, while we stand and while we sing.
WHY DOES GOD HIDE HIMSELF?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Terrors of earth
1. Violence, child abuse, pain, war, famine, starvation
2. Why not do something?
1. God is aware but is power limited, not really Almighty
2. He is Almighty powerful but just doesn’t care
3. We can dismiss the whole thing as a mystery and forget it
III. The answer
1. Who hides himself? Genesis 3:6-11
2. We place distance between us and God. Proverbs 1:24-31
3. Sin separates us from God Isaiah 59:1-2
4. God cannot fellowship with evil Habakkuk 1:13
IV. We say, “But if God were to come down here, live in our midst, we would see Him.”
1. That is exactly what God did and we rejected Him.
2. Immanuel – “God With Us”
3. Isaiah 53:3 – we hid from God when He came
4. Matthew 21:38
5. We tried and crucified Him.
1. Signs of God are all around us in nature Acts 14:17
2. Moral Jeremiah 20:9
3. Spiritual – call of Christ and the Christian commitment
VI. Someday He will return Revelation 1:7