The feeder and the fish tank

Developing our fish tank example of recent posts, imagine this environment in which tropical fish are kept – the water is oxygenated, treated and heated to a certain temperature. Now imagine that the tank is created by a person who we shall call the ‘feeder’. The feeder takes care to protect the fish and makes the tank in a unique way so that it is almost a completely sealed unit – the only access into the tank is via a minuscule opening at the top where food and oxygen can be supplied to sustain life. As the fish move around the tank, some of them wonder about the existence of the feeder. Some fish observe the shadowy image that feeds them which is distorted through the refraction of the glass. Others think nothing of it, though a few fish mistake their own reflections in the glass, thinking it the image of their provider.

But the fish are unhappy and wonder why the feeder doesn’t reveal himself. The feeder senses the fishes’ unhappiness and longs that they understand him through the world that is sustained around them. However, the feeder also knows that there is no way that their request can be met, short of breaking into their world, releasing the water and exposing the fish to an alien environment. So the dilemma facing the feeder is that if he obliges them, the fish will have their answer but their world will be irreparably damaged. Conversely, if the feeder refuses their request, their aquatic world is given time to continue for a while with the possibility that the fish might find their answer by some other means.

From this example, it will hopefully be seen how God’s reluctance to be fully revealed in our world may be motivated by a concern that humanity continues and develops unhindered. But this raises the question: why wouldn’t God choose to be revealed in some other way in which the fullness of the Divine presence might be displayed in a different form? Of course, believers are quick to remember instances in the Bible where God has been revealed through a burning bush or pillar of fire. However, sceptics are as quick to point out that these episodes have proved to be exceptions to the rule in that they have not been repeated since. This requires us to question why God might not reveal himself in some sort of acceptable lesser measure – a blazing angel or the like.

One possible answer is that even the smallest measure of God’s presence in the world might be totally overwhelming for humanity. Consider a different example taken from the television series ‘Star Trek’. In this programme, the ship’s crew always take care not to interfere with the delicate balance of life they encounter on other planets. They do this by taking steps to safeguard the environments they visit, keeping inhabitants safe from experiencing and seeing things (particularly technology) that might be in advance of what they can understand and use. The crew’s overriding concern is that nothing happens to cause the people harm or damage the progress they might be making.

Now, in applying such thinking to God’s revelation to humanity, a similar case might be argued that rather than being passively indifferent to our pleas for proof, the Divine might actually be acting in ways which are for our greater good. God might be taking care not to overexpose humanity to the Divine Presence if He knows this would inadvertently cause people to change in the light of this experience. And because the revelation of the Divine would be likely to have a consequence – particularly in regard to the issue of freewill – we become aware of how easily our humanity would be compromised by such an event. This revelation of God would affect both individuals and their communities as people would change in the way they think and act.

This brings us to the end of our initial examination of this series of six questions on proving the existence of the invisible God. Hopefully, you will have gained a better understanding of the problems and objections, though it is just as likely you will have also found that there are no simple answers to these issues – just better questions to be asked and considered. All the best moving forward!