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The Problem of the Problem of Silence IV
September 19, 2013 D.J. Clark

The Problem of the Problem of Silence IV

Posted in Forum Post

Well rehearsed by now, the so-called Problem of Silence:

  1. If there exists a loving, fatherly God, then he would pursue communion with his human creatures.
  2. If a loving, fatherly God were to pursue communion with his human creatures, then he would make himself present or at least available to his human creatures (or at least those who do not oppose finding him and/or who earnestly seek him).
  3. But God is not thus present or available to (all or most of) his human creatures; plenty of us who don’t oppose finding God and/or who earnestly seek him do not, in fact, find him.
  4. Thus, there does not exist a loving, fatherly God.

We are in the midst of considering objections to this argument. In the previous post we considered familiar objections to premise (3); in the present post we will consider familiar objections to premise (2).

Virtually every objection one hears to premise (2) takes the form, “But perhaps silence is good for us thus-and-so, and this reason is sufficient for a loving, fatherly God who longs for communion with us to nonetheless remain silent,” where ‘thus-and-so’ is the blank that gets filled in. Among the reasons that have been offered to fill this blank are the following:

* Silence opens the door to discovery. When God is silent, we are provided with the valuable opportunity to discover Him or His purposes on our own.

* Silence preserves human freedom. For some people, a God who is vividly present to them would detract from their freedom in the way that a parent who is perpetually looking over his/her child’s shoulder would detract from the freedom of that child (snooping of which one is aware can be coercive).

* Silence demands a response from us that is made for the right reasons. Not a response that is made merely because we are afraid of God’s power or overwhelmed by his presence.

* Silence instills in us the virtues of searching and longing.

I find all of these apologetic reasons offered for the silence of God to be interesting. I also find them rather insightful; I think each of them points to something true about the potential goods of silence. But I do not think these reasons — on their own or taken together — are sufficient to undermine premise (2) of the Problem of Silence. The reason is this: for each rejoinder you give to premise (2), the premise can be reformulated in such a way as to undermine the force of the rejoinder. Consider the first response, that silence opens the door to discovery. Even if we assume both the truth of this claim and that this really is God’s reason for remaining silent, premise (2) could simply be reformulated this way:

2. If a loving, fatherly God were to pursue communion with his human creatures – a God who keeps himself surprisingly hidden from his human creatures for the sake of preserving the good of discovery -, then he would at least make present or available to his human creatures the knowledge that he remains silent for this good reason.

See the problem? The same intuition (piggy-backing off the analogy of God as Father) that supported the original premise (2) supports this reformulated premise (2): If God really loves us, and loves having a relationship with us, then he would not allow some of us to disbelieve in him or walk away from him simply because they cannot understand or come to terms with his silence. If God has good reason to remain silent, then surely he would at least let us know what that reason is. Right? I mean, an earthly father would at least let us know that he was going on a business trip for a week and that we wouldn’t hear from him until he got back.

Plug in any of the above four reasons, and you will run into a similar situation. It seems, then, that if an objection to premise (2) is to be successful, we need a different (or at least an additional) reason for God’s silence — a reason that is not, itself, vulnerable to this same defense. In my next (and final for this series) post, I intend to suggest just such a reason. But first, your thoughts on the problems and possibilities for rejecting premise (2)?

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