Epistemic distance.

September 19, 2014.

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t directly reveal Himself to the world? I am taking a online class in apologetics, and it never ceases to amaze me that even in fields where I think I am relatively well versed in that I can still learn of concepts that I had never really thought about. A lesson that I listened to today dealt with this question. Why would God not so reveal Himself to the world in a manner where no one could deny his existence? There would be none who could claim to atheism or agnosticism, as the direct evidence or proof for God would be right there, obtainable by the senses. Have you ever wondered this? I guess I’ve always assumed that that was just how He wanted to do it. The lecturer set out to propose an answer to this question to which at first I was quite skeptical.

The answer was in no way a new thought, as philosophers and theologians of well past have expounded on, yet it was somewhat new to me. It dealt with our mild nature. When you think about it, as described by Pascal, everything we sense or everything we take in cannot be extreme. We cannot sense to much light, or we would be blind. We can not hear too loud of a sound, or we will go deaf. Everything about our senses takes for granted that we must experience our world in a mild manner. Now take that observation and imagine what it would be like to experience God in His purity. There are several Biblical passages that address this very situation.

“And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
(Exodus 33:17-23)

So we see that the full glory of God cannot be made manifest to man, lest we be consumed because of our physical nature. But someone might say, why then do we have a physical nature? Why not just make us like the angles who it seems can indeed behold the glory of God without being consumed. Then we solve both problems, since God can reveal Himself to us, and we can behold Him. No one would be able to deny! Indeed, this does seem to be an attractive fix to a situation that we deem as broken, but we must ask, is the situation actually broken?

To imply that there is a better way of doing something than what has been done by God is basically to say God made a mistake, or didn’t do his best. Perhaps there is a reason that things are the way they are; perhaps it isn’t a broken situation. This is the second thing that was prosed in class, the idea of epistemic distance. The work ‘epistemic’ finds its root in the greek word meaning knowledge. Epistemic distance proposes that that there is some distance between God and man, not physical distance, but in knowledge, like His glory has been veiled from our direct sight. This idea of a veil is actually very prominent in biblical theology, yet it is not exactly the idea we are talking about here. This idea has to do with free will.

Why would there need to be a veil? Well, the very notion that beholding His full glory would make it impossible to be an atheist is actually the reason why a veil must be there. It has been said that if we are forced to believe in God, then there really is no merit in believing. This is not to say that faith is blind and there is no way we can know there is a God, because this would not fit with biblical theology, but rather to emphasize the importance and method of free will.

Epistemic distance answers the questions of why doesn’t God just reveal Himself to us, with, well, He does. Just not out right. There is enough revelation for those who wish to find Him to be more than adequately satisfied, yet enough room for those who do not wish to find Him to justify not believing in God. This is what allows man to have free will, and choose for himself of whether he will find God, or not. I think Paul hits on this idea when he addresses the areopagous, who were basically a bunch of philosophers:

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…”
(Acts 17:22-27)

I like the way Paul ends this, saying that we should seek God, and that He is not far from us. Thus, I think this idea of epistemic distance is backed up in scripture, and it really makes the world and God make more sense to me. I don’t know if it has helped you, but I hope this rational will lead you into a deeper relationship with Him. There is coming a day when this distance will be removed, and indeed there will be no more room for doubt.

“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
(Romans 14:10-12)

On that day it will be too late to choose, because the choice will be taken away. Every knee will bow. There will be no doubt, no epistemic distance, so to speak. Will you be ready when that day comes?

Suggested Daily Reading: Exodus 33, Isaiah 6, Acts 17, Romans 14.

The Lord grant you wisdom.

-Walter

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