Divine Hiddenness: New Essays

Divine Hiddenness: New Essays

Wood, Charles M

Divine Hiddenness: New Essays Edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul K. Moser Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002. 242 pp. $60.00.

The notion of the hiddenness of God can be construed in a significant variety of ways. In the traditions shaping-and then shaped by-the Bible, talk of God’s hiddenness seems to have originated mainly in situations of an experienced absence of God, taken to be deliberate. God has, it seems, turned away, and a community or an individual relying on God’s presence, guidance, and strength is now suddenly deprived of them. At other points in those traditions, God’s hiddenness becomes not so much a matter of God’s withdrawal as of human inability to perceive. God is present, but “hid from our sight.” It may be that our sin has deprived us of a capacity we would otherwise have enjoyed or that, in our immaturity, we have not yet developed that capacity; it may be that the transcendent God is, simply, cognitively inaccessible to the creature, at least in this earthly life, and so must be “hidden” even in self-manifestation; or it may be that we are looking for God in all the wrong places. On any of these renditions of divine hiddenness, God’s reality is emphatically not in question. It is the utter conviction of God’s reality that makes the experience of God’s absence problematic.

Almost as old as the notion of God’s hiddenness is the suggestion of another possibility: that what is being construed as divine hiddenness is really evidence of God’s nonexistence. This ancient suspicion has been newly articulated in considerable detail by the philosopher J. L. Schellenberg in Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (1993). The present collection of essays grew out of a conference convened to reconsider the theme in light of Schellenberg’s challenge. The authors are philosophers of religion with historical, theological, and religious sensibilities. In addition to Schellenberg himself and the two editors, the contributors are Peter van Inwagen, Michael J. Murray, Laura L. Garcia, William J. Wainwright, Jonathan L. Kvanvig, M. Jamie Ferreira, Jacob Joshua Ross, Paul Draper, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. With some differences among them in religious conviction and philosophical approach, they have together produced a set of essays rich in insight for anyone seriously concerned with the subject.

Several features commend this collection. Each essay responds in some way to Schellenberg’s thesis and argument, and this shared orientation lends coherence to the volume and enables the reader more readily to identify likenesses and differences among the writers as they address a common problem. At the same time, few of the contributors are content with Schellenberg’s way of posing and pursuing that problem. Many of them turn to actual examples from Jewish and Christian tradition of the experience and discourse of divine hiddenness, to locate the phenomenon in context and to explore its range of meanings. Often, this exploration not only opens up neglected aspects of the phenomenon, but also brings out new resources for reflection on it. Especially noteworthy in this regard, in my judgment, are Wainwright’s “Jonathan Edwards and the Hiddenness of God,” Moser’s “Cognitive Idolatry and Divine Hiding,” and Ross’s “The Hiddenness of God: A Puzzle or a Real Problem?” Schellenberg’s own contribution to the volume, an imaginative dialogue entitled “What the Hiddenness of God Reveals: A Collaborative Discussion,” carries the theme deeper into theological territory and (not so incidentally) portrays how new understanding can arise through serious and disciplined discussion. On the whole, the essays demonstrate an unusually effective and helpful combination of philosophical rigor and sensitivity, both personal and practical, to the issues involved.

Taken together, these essays offer a surprisingly comprehensive treatment of the question of divine hiddenness, exposing something of the variety and complexity in the subject and making it accessible to reflection. The critical and constructive observations in several of the essays have fairly profound implications for normative conceptions of God and of the relation of God to God’s creatures in all the traditions affected. Theologians and biblical interpreters, as well as philosophers of religion, should be grateful for the ways this book furthers our understanding of this perplexing theme.


Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

Dallas, TX

Copyright Theology Today Apr 2004

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