Revealing by Concealing: Revelation in Nature, Divine Hiddenness, and Religious Imagination

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation

Description

In The Hiddenness of God, Michael Rea argues that the human experience of divine hiddenness is a consequence of the clash between certain human expectations and divine transcendence. While not everyone experiences the pain of divine hiddenness, it is a reality that should be considered not merely as a problem to be overcome but also a cue to fine-tuning natural theology. This paper connects it to a statement by Maximus the Confessor in one of his famous Ambigua or Problems that both nature and Scripture ‘simultaneously reveal and conceal’ the divine Logos. Being invisible by nature, the Logos ‘is concealed in his manifestation’ and ‘manifested through concealment’.

I argue that the dynamism of revealing and concealing is based on certain metaphysical principles which make it pervasive in divine-human interactions. It applies to all created mediations of the divine, including historical and scriptural revelation, miracles, religious experience, and metaphysical arguments drawn from the observation of creatures. The paper explores the implications of this dynamism for contemporary natural theology.

Three consequences are identified. The first is the importance, highlighted by C.S. Lewis, of the cultivation of religious imagination through myth and narrative. It is necessary to transcend or go beyond the created mediation of revelation, and the reason why imagination can help is that it does not so much prove truths as it suggests possibilities beyond that which is known. There is a similar idea in Pseudo-Dionysius’ interpretation of Romans 1:20, according to which it may even be advantageous to apply distant metaphors to God because they are less likely to fool us into thinking that they correctly represent God.

Second, the contribution of argumentative natural theology is nevertheless retained, among other reasons, because it is needed to purify the errors of myth and the confusions of the metaphoric. It may be argued that just like reason and faith are like two wings with which the human spirit rises to the knowledge of God, so also reason and imagination need each other in natural theology.

Finally, it is argued that the fundamental challenge in the divine-human interaction is not information but transformation. The goal of revelation is not merely the knowledge of God but the creature’s transformation and elevation to divine life. Divine hiddenness may paradoxically serve this goal.
Period17 Jul 2021
Event titleNatural Theology in the 21st Century
Event typeConference
LocationOxford, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational

Keywords

  • natural theology
  • divine hiddenness
  • religious imagination