A boss of mine recently asked me why, in effect, God had been so silent since the time He sent Jesus. I responded about the Church manifesting Him since, and now, but that didn’t really answer his question.
I’ve heard the same question asked in different ways. If God is who He says He is then why doesn’t He just open up the sky, look down and say: “Hey, this is Me just so you know” or do or say something similarly earth impacting.
We could argue that every leaf and every created thing shows His glory, so people are without excuse (as Paul points out in Romans 1). That is true but it still doesn’t really answer the question.
We could also point out how God has salted the earth with over 6 billion copies of the books that contain so many of His spoken words (apart altogether from it claiming that all 66 books of the bible are totally inspired by Him). True again but also not really answering the question.
But there is a good reason why God doesn’t manifest Himself in that way these days: He did it before and it didn’t work.
When Jesus came God had already spent 400+ years being quiet. He spent centuries before that picking a special people – the Jews – and doing all the things you might expect God to do: parting the Red Sea, speaking in an audible voice (when speaking the 10 commandments from Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20), opening the earth up to swallow people, sending angels, hailstones, knocking down walls, etc. The problem is that some people just don’t believe that the Old Testament stories are real.
But if you take it that they did in fact happen it explains a lot about why God doesn’t do that kind of thing nowadays. Anyone who has read the OT will quickly see that one of its major themes is failure. Despite persistent attempts and innovative means (like sending the prophets to warn them) most of the people of Israel and Judah ended up rejecting Him. Their guilt was only compounded by the things He had done to show who He was, to gain their trust. They threw it back in His face. Justice demanded retribution and they ended up losing a lot.
I think God came to the conclusion – or more likely He wanted us to see and understand – that no matter how clearly He manifested Himself physically the problem was always going to need a more drastic and different solution. He wouldn’t be God-who-is-love if He kept sending people to untimely and sudden deaths by using a method of revealing Himself that had so spectacularly failed in the past to elicit the love and relationship He so longs for us to have with Him.
So enter the New Covenant:
“The new covenant is established on better promises.
7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said[b]:
“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
9 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”[c]
Hebrews 8: 6b-12 NIV
The beauty of the New Covenant relationship is that it is tailor made. The Holy Spirit enters into a person and changes them from the inside out according to a timetable and using methods that are unique for each person. It is not always that easy to see the changes, God moves at a snail’s pace if necessary, He is not pushy in the New Covenant. No showy displays, no major earth shattering events. Just a gentle leading and coaxing into a love relationship. And so the Church over the centuries grows like a beautiful young woman, being loved and loving in return and changing the world with her sweet influence.
This method works much better. The world is a better place now than the Old Testament method could have made it. But that was never His fault.