I think sometimes we wonder why God does not reveal Himself to us in a more visible fashion. Why has He limited His communication to the written word? Why would He not just speak and let His presence be known? Why can’t we have that kind of demonstration from God?
First, we should remember that God did speak audibly to certain individuals like Abraham, Moses, Job and the apostle Paul.
The clearest expression we have, of course, is the revelation of Christ himself, God in the flesh, coming into the world. As the scripture says, the truth became flesh and dwelt among us and we were able to behold the physical presence of His glory. In and through this person, Jesus, God spoke audibly into people’s lives.
I think the primary reason God speaks to us through the written word is if the infinite God of the universe regularly spoke audibly to us, we would be terrorized into loving and listening to Him. Such a direct and demonstrative communication would create a situation in which God virtually forces himself on mankind. Serving and listening to Him would become compulsory. There is no freedom in compulsion; and love cannot be generated out of terror.
A parable of a young king, who was single and desired a queen
The great Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard examined this issue and gave great insight into it by sharing a wonderful parable. It is the parable of a young king, who was single and desired a queen. His palace overlooks the marketplace, and one day he sees a young peasant girl come out to do her shopping. He’s quite taken by her beauty and her easy smile. He notices how kind she is to everyone and how they light up when she says hello. She walks to a food stall, buys some food, and, then, she disappears into the crowd. The king is quite taken by her, yet she has no idea that the king of this country has any idea who she is.
The next day, he looks for her and again he sees her. Before long, he looks for her every day at the same time out in the marketplace. One day he realizes that he is hopelessly in love with this peasant girl, who has no idea he has been watching her. Now he realizes that as king, as the sovereign of this country, he could force her to marry him and be his wife and queen. Yet, he also realizes that forcing her won’t really make her love him, and, he would never know if she truly loved him. And so he makes the decision to take off his crown, take off his royal clothes, and dress as a peasant. The king goes out to win her love, knowing she just might reject him.
The young king proves his wisdom in recognizing that true love exists only when we choose to love from a condition of freedom. And this is what the God of the Bible chose to do. He sent his son, from his throne of glory, into the world as a mere man. In the process, Jesus served as God’s special revelation, also demonstrating His great love for mankind.
Philip Yancey, in his book Disappointment with God, offers some powerful insight on this, recognizing that God’s open demonstration of power in the Old Testament did not encourage spiritual development. In fact, the Israelites in the desert had no need of faith at all. God’s clear presence took away freedom, making every choice that confronted them a matter of obedience and not faith.
God did not play hide-and-seek with the Israelites; they had every proof of His existence you could ask for. But astonishingly – and I could hardly believe this result, even as I read it – God’s directness seemed to produce the very opposite of the desired effect. The Israelites responded not with worship and love, but with fear and open rebellion. God’s visible presence did nothing to improve lasting faith.
God, in His omniscience, does not regularly appear in a visible, powerful way
Shortly after I came upon Yancey’s insight, I happened to come across a biblical expression of this same human tendency in the book of John. Jesus, after performing many miracles, including raising Lazarus from the dead, a miracle witnessed by large numbers of people, was not received as one would have expected.
But though He had performed many miracles before them, yet they were not believing in Him. (John 12:37)
God, in His omniscience, does not regularly appear in a visible, powerful way, but, I might add, He has not hidden himself. He can be found by any who truly seek Him, and, in fact, He makes this promise to mankind,
If you seek Me, you will find Me.
Through the recorded truth of the Bible, God continues to reveal Himself to us. He relates to us, in one sense, in the same way the wise king of that parable expresses his love to the peasant girl. By coming into the world as one of us. In doing so, God reveals Himself to us by demonstrating His love in a most extraordinary way – by forfeiting His life on the cross, rising from the dead, and leaving us with the written word as testament of that truth.