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Theologians are often challenged by the following: If God exists and desires our adherence to a certain way of life, why does He remain hidden from man? Why is God’s theological system so obscure to us?

The questions are valid ones. Secularists would argue that the balance of evidence has shifted against a compelling religious case. The religious responses center around concepts of freedom, to the effect that in order for man to have true freedom of choice, he must have equally a secular and religious path open to him?584 If the religious path were overly compelling, he would have no true choice.585

As Norman Lamm points out, the Baal Shem Tov interprets a key biblical verse on Hester Panim, “And I will hide the hiding of My face from you” (Deuteronomy 31:18), as meaning that “the Hester Panim itself is in hiding! The obscurity itself is obscured.”586

Note also the following:

The Hebrew word for world, olam, comes from a root that means “hidden,” for, in this world, the existence of God is hidden. . . . God does not drill faith into our minds and hearts; He places us in an olam-world of hiddenness and expects us to find our way to the truth because He has given us enough tools-just enough, barely enough-to find the truth if we really want to find it.

In a phrase with which Bonhoeffer has made us familiar, the world is etsi deus non daretur, as if there were no God. That is to say, the cosmic order is systematically ambiguous, capable of being interpreted either theistically or naturalistically. In such a world

——————- NOTES ——————-

584 See Berkovits, God, Man and History, p. 146. “…the encounters had to be extremely rare in history, in order to leave room for doubting, and, thus, to safeguard man’s spiritual freedom, which is the most noble quality of faith. God is hiding from man most of the time so that man may believe in Him without compulsion.”
Cf. ibid., p. 147. “Such indirect and, therefore, not altogether convincing intervention in the affairs of men, which the human being is free to recognize or to reject, may well be one of the ways in which God discharges His responsibility to His creation.”

585 See Emanuel Rackman, “Replies to Gershon Mamlak,” Midstream, November 1984, p. 26. “The medieval philosophers did debate whether belief in God was one of the 613 mitzvot. But if it is not, then there may be good reasons why it was not included. Philosophically speaking, if God had commanded belief in Him, then one’s freedom to choose not to believe would have been curtailed. And perhaps God wanted to expand, rather than limit, man’s exercise of his free will.”
Cf. Scherman, “An Overview: The Period and the Miracle,” p. xxv. “Often, the prophet himself may not understand the full import of the Heavenly words conveyed through his lips. The classic example is the prophet Jonah. His prophecy was—’and Nineveh will be overturned.’ To him it was clear that he was foretelling the destruction of the great city. Nineveh would be overturned just as Sodom and Gomorrah were overturned. When the population repented and was spared, Jonah thought that he would be branded a false prophet. But Jonah did not know the true meaning of his own prophecy [Sanhedrin 89bl. Nineveh was indeed overturned, but in the moral, ethical, and religious sense.”
Cf. ibid., p. xxvi. “When God wants His people to understand His words clearly, He makes them known clearly. But countless prophecies, including those foretelling the coming of the Messiah, the ultimate redemption, and the end of the days, were not meant to be explicitly clear. . . . Every Torah school child ‘knows’ that God told Abraham of a four-hundred year exile that would begin with the birth of Isaac. But this knowledge did not become absolute and public until future events will illuminate the apparent obscurities of the Torah like a flash of lightning.”

586 Lamm. The Face of God. sec. 4.

587 Scherman, “An Overview: The Period and the Miracle,” pp. xxxiv-xxxv.


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