The ignorable God

December 8, 2009 | 28 comments

One of the things that bothered me most when I was first exploring religion was the fact that God is invisible. As I was reading up on Christianity, struggling with concepts I didn’t understand, I would occasionally think in exasperation, “You know, God could make this really easy and just appear to each one of us individually and settle all of this once and for all!” It seemed so much more efficient for God to do that rather than mess around with all this messy organized religion stuff.

I eventually understood that God’s highest purpose is not efficiency, and the more I studied the history of his gradual revelation to humans, the more it seemed clear that one of his purposes in remaining hidden was to bring people together. Once I understood him as the God of love, it made sense that he would want us to reach out to one another rather than communicate exclusively with him.

That mostly satisfied me, but I always had a lingering frustration that God didn’t do a little more to make his presence just a little more obvious. For example, maybe Bibles could glow every time they were opened, or the wine could actually turn into a different-looking substance when it was consecrated into the Precious Blood at the Mass. Not that this would convince all skeptics (since, as I learned, you won’t see God if you’re determined not to), but it would certainly be a nice consolation for those of us who believed anyway!

A couple weeks ago I was in Adoration, and all these feelings bubbled up anew and began to bother me. I looked up at the consecrated Host in the monstrance, which I know to be the actual body of Christ, no different than if he were standing there to shake my hand. I hate to admit this, but I felt so frustrated that it was just sitting there.

“Where is your visible majesty?!” I thought. “You’re God. Why doesn’t the Host glow or the earth shake every time the priest puts it in the monstrance? Why doesn’t a blinding beam of light shoot out to awe everyone in attendance? Why are you so hidden?”

Long having given up on getting answers to these questions, I let those thoughts go and got out my rosary to start praying about something else. Then, out of the blue, I heard an answer (here’s what I mean when I say I “heard” it). I was suddenly hit with the thought:

He’s not hidden. He’s ignorable.

Ignorable. That was exactly the understanding I’d been searching for, one that made so many things make sense. When I thought about it, God is not really hidden. Evidence of his existence is all around us, everywhere we look. The obvious design in nature, the human soul that is like nothing else in the animal kingdom, his Church that has stood continuously for 2, 000 years while empire after empire has fallen away around it, his Scriptures whose original content has been remarkably well-preserved over the millennia, the fact that something exists instead of nothing — we’re surrounded by Exhibit A for God’s existence. When you look at the world prayerfully, calmly, and through a lens of love, God seems anything but hidden.

But he is, no doubt, ignorable.

As I know all too well, he does nothing to demand my attention when I decide that I’d rather focus on worldly pursuits rather than on him. When I choose to think only of myself and my selfish wants instead of him, he does nothing to stop me. It is stunning, really, the humility of a God who lets us do that.

And why? Why not take my suggestion and slap me upside the head with a laser-light show at every Mass to command my attention when my mind has wandered to think about everything but him? I’m no theologian and don’t claim to have all the answers on that one, but I think that one part of it is this: as usual, it’s about love. One thing about love is that it must be a choice; if there’s coercion involved, it’s not real love. And in order to love someone — really, truly love them — you must first have the choice to ignore them.


  1. Wendy C.

    All I can say is WOW! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Anonymous

    This post reminds me of an incident I witnessed a few years ago. I work on a college campus, and an itinerant preacher was moving through campus, kind of shouting on a street corner about salvation. There must have been 100 curious people gathered to listen, because this guy was quite a character. Only one student was engaging the preacher in a dialog. The student was adament that God did not exist, and he exhorted God to part the clouds and show himself…. "go ahead and strike me dead, God!" the student said. The preacher did exactly what he should NOT have done… resorted to Biblical passages to try to prove the existance of God.

    At the moment, I could not help but wonder what would have happened if God had parted the clouds at that very moment and struck the student dead. I think what would have happened is that 100 people would be terrified, and would have obeyed the scripture and never, ever strayed from the written word. And what sort of love is that? I don't think God wants blind obedience driven by people who fear him…. which is what would happen if he were making daily appearances on college campuses. I think he is a little more subtle than that. The subtlety of his messages in our lives give us the FREE WILL to follow him, ignore him, try to seek him…. but if he was parting the clouds on a regular basis to check in with us…. he would get blind obedience.

  3. Heather

    Wonderful explanation! So many times I've asked God for a burning bush experience when I've tried to make a decision. But after reading this, I see that such an obvious demonstration could serve to infringe upon God's gift of free will to us.

  4. Elizabeth

    Wonderful. I had to confess something of the sort last night.
    Ignoring God is so easy…I thank Him heartily for being present for me in Chapel today…What an awesome Holy Hour! Such powerful Love.

  5. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer, it's strange how sometimes we need the earth to start shaking, for Bibles to glow, and other times we just know without evidence. I'm glad you've been able to make sense out of the invisible. Not everyone can or does. I feel honored to be among those who have been given that gift. It's up to us to help others "see," and you are doing an admirable job.

  6. Anonymous

    "Bruce Almighty" illustrates what would happen if God acted the way we would if we were God (winning the lottery, controlling the weather…). My favorite part is when Bruce tries to will his girlfriend to love him but it doesn't work. Even though he has the powers of God, he can't go against her free will. How's that for heavy-duty theology

  7. Karyn

    I just love reading your blog. I'll get started reading and think, yea, I wonder that too or I struggle with that too – and then you offer up a wonderful explanation or a totally new viewpoint for me to ponder. Your blog really is an inspiration to me on my own conversion journey (I'm in RICA now).

  8. Anonymous

    That was an awesome post today. I recently found your blog and now go to read it every day with anticipation. I have also started reading some of the books you have suggested and feel like things I have been praying for are being answered through reading the various books I have found through you. Thanks for doing what you do.

  9. Rebecca

    I agree with Wendy – wow!

    I can so relate to your wanting God to 'show' himself…I've often times said I'm waiting for the consecrated wine to taste like blood (and warn my husband who is most often behind me that if the cup crashes to the floor he'll know it finally happened). But I push that thought from my head at Communion and focus on knowing Him and not ignoring him.

  10. Elizabeth Mahlou

    This is a wonderful post. I have been blessed to have received evidence through a conk on the head, a miracle here and there, and the ability to sense His presence from time to time. Yes, God is ignorable, and I am far too guilty of ignoring Him from time to time. However, God has shown on a number of occasions that once we start seeing in a new way He will open our eyes even more.

  11. Scarlett

    I had thoughts along a similar line today at Mass for the Immaculate Conception. God asked a lot of Mary, and her "Fiat" was certainly noble and good and worthy of striving to imitate, but in one respect, she had it fairly easy. . .she had the ANGEL GABRIEL IN HER LIVING ROOM. He actually said her to her, "God wants this. Will you do it?"

    I'd like to think – we all would, I think – that, were we in Mary's situation, we'd respond in the same way. I'm not entirely confident that I would, and that, of course, worries me. But I do think it's got to be a lot easier to say yes to what God wants of you when an ANGEL shows up and TELLS YOU what God wants of you. The rest of us are stuck trying to figure out first what God's will is, and then whether or not we will act accordingly, and I bet it's easier to resolve to act accordingly when you can't talk yourself into thinking that what you want is actually what God wants.

    And I found myself thinking today, "Come on, God, couldn't you show up just once – or even send an angel, that would work – and tell me what your will was? If I knew, I'd do it, I promise!"

    I think your post is an important reflection on the flaws in my wishful thinking.

    And I think my post is an important indication that I need to be more serious and committed to trying to discern God's will, rather than waiting for Him to come to me!

  12. Anonymous

    By not forcing Himself, God teaches us about our free will. How would we know we had it, how could we exercise it if it wasn't thrown into relief by God? Our search of God animates us. It keeps us pilgrims awake and moving forward. Could we learn, could we change, could we advance and improve if this search were ended? I don't think so-Praise God!

  13. CM

    "In order to love someone, you must first have the choice to ignore them."

    Wow! It's one of those things that I never thought of, but immediately realize how true it is. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Sir. Aaron Lee

    I have been reading your blog for almost 1 year. I like the way you put on deep thought when comes to your perspective on Christianity. Keep it up! Regarding to this entry,'The ignorable God', I would like to add my personal point. Sometimes we choose to ignore Him, but God never ever ignore us! I liked your last phrase whereby you talk about in order for us to like someone, we must first experience ignorance! God bless you.

  15. fumblingtowardgrace

    Beautiful. This is a great post! 🙂

  16. Anonymous

    I think free will answers some quetions about God. I've always thought of our free will as the answer to why bad things happen to people. Disease didn't fall out the sky from God. It's usually a product from our environment that we have a lot to do with influencing. A car accident isn't orchestrated by God. It's the free will of a person driving in a certain way or the way a person put a vehicle together etc. etc. Free will is such a gift from Him or else we would simply be puppets on a string that he would be manipulating.

  17. Jenny

    Thanks Jen for this post. I have been struggling lately. I miss my son so much, and I ache some days for a little sign from God that Ben is happy, even though He sent me such a comforting vision very soon after he died. Please pray for me that I will continue to carry this cross, trusting in God's perfect design for me.

  18. Marcelo

    This is one of the best thoughts I have ever heard on faith…very powerful comments. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Christine

    That is why I love reading the stories of the Saints. Padre Pio being my favorite. Also, Mary appearing at Fatima and Lourdes.

    I am not a doubting Thomas but I sure love to read about Saints who were touched by God.

  20. Anonymous

    An earlier post wrote: " I don't think God wants blind obedience driven by people who fear him"

    I'm a bit hazy on my Bible studies, but I can think of two examples off the top of my head where God came down hard with the obedience and fear thing:

    1. Adam and Eve – disobeyed God's expressed will, and got punted from Eden, to walk the Earth and suffer – guessing they feared God quite a bit after that

    2. Abraham and Isaac – God told Abraham to slit the throat of his son to prove his obedience; Abraham was a hair away from doing just that. Imagine Isaac's fear of God – Someone so powerful that it convinced his father to slaughter him like an animal

  21. Anonymous

    I've often struggled with this same issue. One day not long ago while I was praying, God why don't you just come down here and show Yourself for a change. Suddenly it popped into my mind what happened last time He made a visit some 2,000 years ago. It kind of put things into perspective. Almost like He said to me, "Been there, done that." 🙂

  22. Marcy K.

    It all comes down to faith. There was a Eucharistic miracle once (I can't remember which one) and one of the priests was going to bring the miracle host (bleeding, etc.) to the bishop so the bishop's faith could be bolstered, too. The bishop said not to bring it. He believes and does not "need proof." That he got greater blessings from not needing to see the miracle. I found that to be very profound. Wouldn't you want to see to help confirm your faith.

    I too have the same thoughts as most everyone here. Why God don't you DO SOMETHING – ANYTHING, that would help with our faith. But you know, he did do stuff when he was on earth and how many still did not believe?

  23. Johanna Lamb =)

    Jen! Why did you have to post this??!!God told me to give my favorite scarf to my sister for Christmas and i really want to keep it. I tried to ignore Him all morning (even went and bought my sister a really cute scarf and she lives 2000 miles away so she will never know right?) but your post was a message to me that we can only ignore God if we choose to. Darn it!
    So long favorite scarf.

  24. Jennifer G.

    Yet again, you're speaking right to me. Keep it coming! Thanks!

  25. Anonymous

    Lately when I receive Baby Jesus on my tongue I close my mouth and moving my tongue…tickle Him. "Tickle! Tickle!" I say silently. I kinda smile as I do. it

    I like to think that I hear a delighted baby's giggle. I don't, of course.

    But I like to think that I do.

  26. Chelsea

    This is an amazing stumble I've managed to stumble upon. I'm bookmarking your blog, right now! As a cradle-Catholic, it is sometimes hard to accept the fact that I'm not the only one with questions and it is okay to question one's faith–especially because of the great sense of reward one gets when answers are found! Your blog embodies that concept beautifully. Thanks for being so open with your thoughts, I'll be sure to share this with others–Catholics and non-Catholics alike!

  27. Ray Ingles

    Even if God did appear to people individually, why would that force love or even obedience?

    The lady who became my wife actually pursued me, at first. (That didn't last long, of course, once I realized how amazing she was…) But her initial persistence didn't force me to love her. Just meeting and having a conversation with her didn't abrogate my free will.

    Apparently even what Saul of Tarsus got didn't wipe out his free will, right? I'm certainly not asking for more than that…

  28. Diane

    Thank you for your beautiful posts. Sometimes I have a “spiritual” high, and then next time I go to Adoration my thoughts wander. I know I must believe one thing, that even though He doesn’t glow or come down off the altar, HE is Truly Present, just waiting for me. God bless you. Your story is inspiring.


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