Some Christians cite free will as a reason why God does not openly reveal himself to us. Supposedly we would be unable to make a sound decision about whether to follow God if we actually knew he existed. Other Christians throw a little extra into the mix: apparently our mental faculties would be overwhelmed if God revealed himself to us, and this would adversely affect our ability to make a properly free choice about following him.
There are at least three problems with this argument.
1. Consider the following analogy. I would like to buy a new car. I start visiting all the dealerships in town, and eventually make a decision. However, a year later I discover that there has been a big conspiracy in the car sales business. Bizarrely, about half of the town’s dealerships have deliberately disguised their properties so that they do not look like dealerships at all. Only if you happen to wander in through a back door will you discover that cars are being sold there. When I was looking for a car, I didn’t find any of these places, so I missed about half of what my town had to offer. I was not fully informed about the available choices. Indeed, I might have picked a much better car had I known about the hidden dealerships.
This is essentially what Christians are arguing when they say that God hides himself. They are saying that I am expected to make a free choice about whether to follow God without even being sure that he exists in the first place. This simply doesn’t make sense. People cannot make free choices if they are not sure about the options available to them, or if some of these options are being deliberately hidden from them.
2. The second problem is that it makes God look rather cack-handed. Apparently his only two options are to completely hide himself or to completely overwhelm us. There is apparently no middle route which affirms his existence in a gentle yet secure way. I’d be surprised if Christians really believed their God to be incapable of such subtlety.
3. God has, according to the Bible, revealed himself to quite a number of people in the past, including some of the biggest names: Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, etc. It’s a long list. By Christians’ own argument, then, the free will of these founding characters of Judaism and Christianity was compromised by the overwhelming presence of God. And if they weren’t acting on their free will, then they were being coerced by God. Is that really how Christians want to see things? Finally, even if Christians retracted their claim that the presence of God is overwhelming, they would still have to acknowledge that God nevertheless revealed himself to people. And if he revealed himself to some, then why not to others? Why not to us?
My own conclusion, then, is that if a deity existed, and wanted us to make a choice about following him or not, he would make his presence obvious to us, so that we could be properly informed. He would also avoid overwhelming us and, crucially, he would not threaten us with exorbitantly disproportionate punishments if we made the “wrong” choice.