Biographies are one of my favorite genres to read. You not only get to witness the transformation of someone who will one day change the world, but their experiences also help you reimagine what is possible. You might even feel like you’ve made a new friend along the way because their story has shaped you. And yet, this person will always be a stranger to you. Since you’ve never actually met them, there’s still so much about them you just won’t know.
There’s a similar kind of suspense in knowing God—he’s both a stranger and a friend. Though you feel his presence listening to the Scriptures, deep in prayer, or in the friendships of your faith community, he can feel distant when you need him the most. You can’t always find him, but he always seems to find you.
In theology, this is known as the hidden and revealed God. If you ever feel like God is a stranger, then this article is for you. God is hidden, but that’s only because he wants to be found in the right places. His identity is first fully revealed in his autobiography, the Scriptures. Then he shows up in the incarnation of his Son, the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, to confirm what that story says about him. In the end, encountering Jesus means being found by the hidden God.
God is hidden in at least three ways. First, he’s hidden because some aspects of his character are simply beyond our grasp. The poet of Psalm 145 reminds us of this when he says God’s greatness is to be praised, and that his greatness is unsearchable (Ps. 145:3). It’s as if God exists in a different yet overlapping dimension than us. We simultaneously worship his greatness while lacking the ability to appreciate all of its depth. Though his knowledge and power break into our world and change it, the evidence he leaves behind isn’t always easy to decipher (Isa. 40:28; Ps. 147:5). This is why the prophet Isaiah concludes God’s ways are simply higher than human ways (Isa. 55:8-9).
We can’t find God because he exists on a different level than we do, but our moral failures also push God even farther away. Again, the prophet Isaiah makes this clear. He says our “iniquities” separate us from God, stop him from listening to our prayers, and even cause him to turn his face away from our cares and concerns (Isa. 59:2). It’s not just that we’re unable to know God, it’s that sin actively disrupts the divine connection between us. The apostle John puts it this way: We love the darkness and hate the light because we don’t want our wrongs to be exposed (John 3:19-20). God doesn’t hide because he doesn’t want to be found. He’s hidden because we’d rather be blind to him than admit our faults.
Thankfully, there’s a third way in which God hides. Since we’d run from his divine light, God disguised himself in human camouflage to bring us back into his presence. In other words, God hides in his acts of redeeming love for his people. When the Israelites are released from exile under Cyrus’s decree, the prophet Isaiah once again detects divine fingerprints at work (Ezra 1:1-11). He rejoices in God for hiding himself in these events (Isa. 45:15). By the time we start reading the New Testament, the God who hides in Israel’s history shows up personally in Jesus of Nazareth. That’s when the hidden God comes becomes the revealed God.
Jesus reveals the hidden God in at least three ways. First, he reveals God by doing what God does. After Jesus is accused of violating divine commands for healing a man on a Sabbath, his only defense is that his actions mirror God’s actions (John 5:19). Not only does Jesus uniquely see what God is doing, but he is shown what to do by his Father (John 5:20). In other words, God chooses to be known through Jesus. This is why Jesus will eventually say to Philip, a skeptic, that to see him is to see the Father (John 14:9). Jesus is like a divine mirror you look through to find God.
Not only does Jesus do what God does, but his words also echo the voice of God. Even though he is God’s trusted representative, Jesus’s teachings about God are often misunderstood (John 8:27). Only after he is lifted up on the cross will his teachings be received as a divine word (John 8:28), not because he’s a prophet, but because God has taught him what to say. This isn’t a divine whisper Jesus heard in his sleep. They are the lessons he has learned while in God’s presence (John 8:38). Listening to Jesus is hearing the voice of God.
On the night of his betrayal, Jesus doesn’t leave behind God’s words or even God’s actions as divine reflections. He raises the stakes by claiming he embodies the Father. Jesus isn’t just a mirror you look through to find God—he is God enfleshed. Or, in his words, everyone who sees Jesus has seen the living God because he is in the Father and the Father is in him (John 14: 7, 9-11). The apostle John said as much when he began his Gospel: “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus makes the hidden God revealed because he is God.
Finding the Hidden & Revealed God
God is a stranger because he’s a divine being who’s always beyond our grasp. He can also be even more distant because we’re the kind of beings who embrace the darkness and resist his light. Together, these things make God feel impossibly hidden. At the same time, God has done everything possible to turn himself into a friend. He sent Jesus to speak, act, and even embody the Father’s will. All of this proves God wants to be known through Jesus.
If you want to find the hidden God, then I invite you to read the Scriptures. Every story there will lead you to Jesus (Luke 24:27). Encountering the risen Jesus will give you full and complete access to God (Matt. 11:27). You will also be given a new identity, named a son or daughter of the crucified yet risen king (2 Cor. 6:18). And you will not just know, but be known by God himself (Gal. 4:9). In the end, finding the hidden God means being found by the God revealed in Jesus.