After reading the Bible, it seems that God has “receded” from us -- Martin Buber’s term -- relative to his level of interaction with people in the Old Testament. There must be a reason why He doesn’t just “come out of the closet,” appear to us in a cloud of light, speak to us, etc. But why?
I can see why Buber thinks that God has receded. We don’t receive completely new revelation any more; that sort of prophet is no longer sent. Interestingly, rather than conceding these facts with embarrassment, the Church insists on them; they’re an article of faith. But it views them differently than Buber. Rather than having receded, God is closer than ever, but His mode of self-disclosure to the community of faith has changed. The Old Testament mode of revelation was never more than an incomplete and preliminary arrangement. The disclosure was limited to verbal messages through the prophets, and not many people were prophets. All this changed with the Incarnation, and it changed again at Pentecost -- events Buber does not reckon with, since he doesn’t believe in them.
The reason the Incarnation made such a difference was that in Christ, instead of just speaking through intermediaries, God took our form and came among us. In an exchange recorded in the gospel of John, Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” I think that’s Buber’s demand too. Jesus replied, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
The reason the event at Pentecost made such a difference is that the Holy Spirit came to take up intimate residence with Christ’s believers, to dwell with them inwardly. The prophets had a far-off hint that this would happen in the Messianic age. God says through the prophet Joel, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.”
This outpouring is not necessarily dramatic, with wheels and eyes and clouds of light and all that sort of thing. Moreover it doesn’t provide any utterly new revelation about God; instead it leads His followers into deeper understanding of His self-disclosure in Christ. But the outpouring is better than the visions of the prophets, first because it is for the whole community of faith, second because it plants the seeds of the love that it commands. I think this is part of the point of Christ’s remark to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”