It’s a legitimate question, in a sense: if God wants everybody to believe in him, why doesn’t he just show himself? I think the common answer from Christians is “He DOES show himself! Look at the flowers and the trees and the beauty of creation! All of creation is a–” Yes, yes, we get it, but it only furthers the question. Why be subtle? If acknowledging Him as Lord is so important, why not make a big, bombastic show in the sky to prove that he exists?
My simple answer is this: It wouldn’t work.
Psalm 14:1 says “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God.'” Note that he didn’t say it with his eyes or his ear or his hands or anything like that. It was in his heart, his very core. The revelation that God did not exist didn’t come from any evidence or lack thereof; the fool simply said in his heart “There is no God.” And Proverbs 23:7 says, “As [a person] thinks in his heart, so is he.”
Humankind has the amazing ability to rationalize absolutely anything. Scientifically, morally, whatever, there’s always an explanation. Show of hands: how many of you ever rationalized something you knew was wrong? If your hand isn’t up, you’s a liar. We’ve all done it, and we as a people continue to rationalize what we don’t like or don’t want.
If God showed himself in the heavens, mankind would say “Celestial phenomenon we don’t understand.” If God answered our prayers for a sign, we would say, “Coincidence.” And if God jumped in front of us and juggled sustained nuclear energy orbs while riding a hovering unicycle made of genuine Tyrannosaurus underbellies, we would say, “Hallucination.”
In short, God being bombastic probably wouldn’t work, at least not to the scale we think it would. Yes, some would be convinced, but most people have said in their hearts “There is no God,” and when somebody has already made up their mind about something, it’s very hard to change. For one thing, nobody likes to be wrong, much less proven wrong. So we make up ridiculous rationalizations that prove we were right.
“Yes I cheated on him…but it’s not like he’s perfect, and he had it coming! Besides, I’m pretty sure he was cheating first.”
“Honey, I’m sorry I hit you…but you shouldn’t have provoked me to anger! This is your fault, you know.”
“I shouldn’t have been drinking and driving…but it’s my buddy’s fault for not taking the keys. Hey I could’ve died too, I’m a victim here!”
“Oh, look, a divine being in the sky…probably a fake. Yeah, I can totally see the wires.”
But what about the times in the Bible God DID show up radically? Do you know why they’re in the Bible? Because they were miracles, oddities outside the norm, and even then, God’s people eventually forgot. That’s the other trick: even when God does move in miraculous ways, we tend to forget not long afterwards. God moves in peoples lives, not always in their line of vision.
And what about the end times, when the Bible says God will reveal himself? (Revelation 19). In that day, God won’t just show himself; he’ll conquer the world. This is the end of everything, when mankind won’t be able to rationalize anymore because their time is up and God will judge them. But for now, humanity’s clock continues to tick.
So that’s my answer: God can’t just pop up in front of most nonbelievers to convince them. Jesus knew this in Matthew 12:39 when teh Pharisees asked for a sign to prove himself. The alternative? God moves not in front of people, but in them. Through mercy, love, and grace, God shows himself to the unbelieving world. Why be subtle? Because subtlety is the only way to get inside the human heart.