Schedule of Lectures 2017

“Though The Darkness Hide Thee”: Seeking the Face of the Invisible God

Professor Michael Rea, University of Notre Dame

The 2017 Gifford Lecture series will take place in Parliament Hall and will all start at 5.15pm.

Lecture 1

Monday 27 March 2017

Lecture at 5.15 until 6.15, followed by a reception.

Lecture 2 Tuesday 28 March
Lecture 3 Wednesday 29 March
Lecture 4 Monday 3 April
Lecture 5 Tuesday 4 April
Lecture 6 Wednesday 5 April


Lecture 1: Hidden God

The term divine hiddenness evokes a variety of phenomena—the relative paucity and ambiguity of evidence for God’s existence, the elusiveness of God’s comforting presence when we are afraid and in pain, the palpable and devastating experience of divine absence and abandonment, and more. Many of these phenomena are hard to reconcile with the idea, central to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, that there exists a God who is deeply and lovingly concerned with the lives and well-being of human creatures. Accordingly, the problem of divine hiddenness, which is the focus of this lecture series, has come to rank alongside the problem of evil as one of the two most important and widely discussed reasons for disbelieving in God. In this lecture, I explain in some detail what I mean, and what others have meant, by ‘divine hiddenness’, and then I go on to articulate the problem of divine hiddenness and explain its relationship to the problem of evil.

Lecture 2: God and the Attributes

When we imagine divine love on analogy with the best, most noble kinds of human love and concern—for example, parental love, spousal love, the love between close friends—we find ourselves arriving at expectations for divine behavior that are persistently violated.  The hiddenness problem reasons from the fact that these expectations are violated to the conclusion that there is no perfectly loving God. But why take the expectations seriously?  In this lecture, I argue that, due to God’s transcendence, the gulf between divine love and human love is significant enough to cast doubt on our natural expectations about how divine love would manifest itself.  This, in turn, undercuts a key premise in the problem of divine hiddenness.

Lecture 3: Divine Love & Personality

In Lecture 2, I argue that the doctrine of divine transcendence casts doubt on a central premise in the problem of divine hiddenness. This lecture seeks to accomplish the same goal in a different way.  The premise in question depends on the assumption that divine love is an idealized version of the best kind of human love. In this chapter, I explain why, even if we bracket the doctrine of divine transcendence, divine love should not be identified with idealized human love. I also explain why divine hiddenness doesn’t have to serve greater human goods in order for God to be justified in permitting it or bringing it about.  Consequently, the problem of divine hiddenness can get no purchase on us by way of rational reflection on the nature of love.  Nevertheless, the problem does get some foothold by way of apparently reinforcing negatively valenced analogical characterizations of divine love and undercutting positive ones. The remaining lectures in the series aim to address this concern.

Lecture 4: Divine Presence in a Material World

This lecture offers a conception of “divine encounters” according to which God’s presence, as well as certain kinds of divine communication, are, and always have been, widely available—to a much greater degree than is typically credited in the literature on divine hiddenness—to those who have the concept of God, and especially to those who have access to scripture and the liturgies of the church.  This conclusion does not address concerns we might have about God’s love for those who lack the concept of God, or access to scripture or church liturgies. But it does undermine a key motivation for the view that negatively valenced analogies—God as distant or ghosting lover, for example—are more apt than traditional positive analogies for characterizing the attribute that we call ‘divine love’.

Lecture 5: A God to Contend With

My concern in this lecture is with people whose relationships with God are intensely conflicted. Human lovers, insofar as they excel at loving, avoid letting their love relationships become intensely conflicted; they tend to pursue resolution and reconciliation when conflict arises.  God’s creative and sustaining activity points to a kind of original love for all of creation; the incarnation and atoning work of Christ point to God’s dramatically loving willingness to supply a path by which God’s grievances with human beings might be addressed. But for those whose relationships with God are intensely conflicted, the problem is not that they fail to benefit from God’s general goodness to all of creation; nor is it that they fail to have some path to being forgiven by God. The problem is that they seem to have in some sense legitimate grievances against God, and, as a result, have no path forward for participating in a positively meaningful way in their relationship with God. Divine hiddenness seems only to exacerbate this problem. So here again we find motivation for the view that negatively valenced analogies are more apt than traditional, positively valenced ones for characterizing divine love. This is the problem that I aim to address in the present lecture.

Lecture 6:  The Scandal of Particularity

One of the central ideas underlying the problem of divine hiddenness is that a perfectly loving God, if there were such a being, would see to it that every capable person is in a position to relate to God just by trying.  Previous lectures have provided reason to think that a great many people—particularly those who have the concept of God, access to the Christian scriptures and liturgies of the church, and the capacity to engage God relationally via worship or protest—are in a position to relate to God just by trying, even if they aren’t necessarily in a position rationally to believe in God.  But these conditions are not universally satisfied; and so here again we face reason to doubt the aptness of positively valenced analogical characterizations of divine love.  This might be seen as a version of the so-called ‘scandal of particularity’, and it is the problem that this final lecture in the series aims to address.