God’s Hide And Seek


How do we narrow the gulf between a hidden God and a revealed God? Why does God choose to hide Himself?

One of the thorniest theological issues in Judaism (or any religion) is how to tackle this question of a hidden God or, in more familiar terms, a world which seems absent of God’s goodness and justice, a world in which evil people go unpunished while the good tragically suffer. In his path-breaking work, “Faith After the Holocaust,” Rabbi Eliezer Berkowitz explores God’s “hiddenness” as it appears in different contexts in the Torah. I’d like to review these in order to attempt a glimpse into the Divine notion of justice in this world.

God promises that He “will surely hide My face [because of] the evils they have perpetrated, in that they have turned to other gods” [Deuteronomy 31:18]. A “hidden God” is punishment for abandoning His ways if we sin. The more we sin, the more hidden shall the face of God become. This idea of hiddenness as punishment is very logical if we posit the mutuality of the God-human relationship; the Almighty will relate to us in direct proportion to how we relate to Him. If we hide ourselves from Him, estrange ourselves from His ways of compassion and loving-kindness, so will He hide Himself from us, seemingly estranged from our tragedies and suffering.

In this manner we can begin to understand the Prophet Isaiah and the connecting relationship he posits between the God of hiddenness and the God of salvation: “You are a God who hides Yourself, the God of Israel who brings salvation” [Isaiah 45:15]. Earlier, the prophet declares, “And I shall anxiously await a Lord who hides His face from the House of Judah, and I will hopefully anticipate Him” [Isaiah 8:17]. Strangely enough, Isaiah’s vision calls for redemption and our most anticipated yearnings as emanating from a hidden God. What can this possibly mean?

Fundamental to Jewish theology is the idea that the Almighty created an imperfect, incomplete world, “The (Creator) of light and the Creator of darkness, the Maker of peace and the Creator of evil, I am the Lord who makes all these things” [Isaiah  45:7]. Who will perfect and complete this world? Who will bring the hidden God out of His hiding place? God’s human partners, created in the Divine image; the human being has freedom of choice, and a portion of God to help him make the right choice, empowering him to enthrone God, enabling goodness to reign (as in Aleinu’s Al Kein paragraph after every Amida).

‘If we search hard enough … we shall certainly make Him appear.’

When will this perfection occur? When humanity lives in peace; overcomes the evil instinct; respects every human as free and inviolate; dedicating ourselves toward curing disease and solving problems of natural calamities; when the wicked will turn to God and His laws. At that time God will become manifest in the world, He and His name will become One, and the world will be perfected under the kingship of the Divine.

God created such a world because He has full confidence that His creature-partners will eventually repent, repair and perfect humanity and the world. Until this ideal state comes about, God’s face will remain hidden. His glory and goodness will not be totally in evidence.

A story is told about the Spolyer Zeyde (grandfather), a chasidic master who once came upon children playing hide-and-seek. When he saw one of the children crying, he asked, “Why the tears?” The child answered that he’d been hiding for the longest time, but no one came to look for him. The Spolyer Zeyde looked up to heaven and cried out, “Master of the Universe, I know You’re hiding because You want us to find you, but what happens if You continue to remain hidden and Your children stop looking? Before it’s too late, reveal Yourself!”

If we could address God as directly and simply as the Spolyer Zeyde, what a huge step we’d be taking towards revealing the “hidden face” of God. It is crucial, however, that we never stop looking for Him. If we search hard enough, and understand that we must perfect ourselves even as we search for Him, we shall certainly make Him appear. And He promises, through all of our prophets, that at least a faithful remnant will never stop looking, and that we will make Him appear in a perfected and repaired world [Isaiah 2; Micha 4].