Kitāb al-Ghayba > What is the difference between a hidden Imam and an Imam who does not exist or one that exists in the heavens?
Hadith #1

وقد بينا فيما تقدم الفرق بين وجوده غائبا لا يصل إليه أحد أو أكثرهم وبين عدمه حتى إذا كان المعلوم التمكن بالأمر يوجده.

We have also previously elucidated the difference between the instance that he exists in hiding where no one or few can reach him and the instance of his non-existence until his capacity of governance is known and then God creates him.

Hadith #2

وكذلك قولهم: ما الفرق بين وجوده بحيث لا يصل إليه أحد وبين وجوده في السماء؟ بأن قلنا إذا كان موجودا في السماء بحيث لا يخفى عليه أخبار أهل الأرض فالسماء كالأرض وإن كان يخفى عليه أمرهم فذلك يجري مجرى عدمه ثم نقلب عليهم في النبي صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم بأن يقال أي فرق بين وجوده مستترا وبين عدمه وكونه في السماء،فأي شي‏ء قالوه قلنا مثله على ما مضى القول فيه. وليس لهم أن يفرقوا بين الأمرين بأن النبي صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم ما استتر من كل أحد وإنما استتر من أعدائه وإمام الزمان مستتر عن الجميع.

Likewise is their objection that what is the difference between his existence in a way that no one can reach him and his existence in the heavens, because we shall say that if he exists in the heavens in a way that the conditions of dwellers of the earth do not remain concealed from him, the heaven is like the earth in such a case, and if they do remain concealed, such an existence equals his non-existence. Then the argument is turned around against them about the Prophet (s) by asking: “What is the difference between the prophetic existence in hiding and his non-existence and his being in the heaven?” Whatever answer they will give to this question is our very answer to them to their question, as we elaborated earlier. They cannot make a distinction between the two cases, saying that the Prophet (s) did not hide from everyone and merely hid from his enemies and the Imam of the Age is hiding from everyone.

Hadith #3

لأنا أولاً لا نقطع على أنه مستتر عن جميع أوليائه،والتجويز في هذا الباب كاف. على أن النبي صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم لما استتر في الغار كان مستترا من أوليائه وأعدائه ولم يكن معه إلا أبو بكر وحده،وقد كان يجوز أن يستتر بحيث لا يكون معه أحد من ولي ولا عدو إذا اقتضت المصلحة ذلك.

Because first, we are not certain that he is hiding from all his devotees, and such incertitude is sufficient in this argument. Furthermore, when the Prophet (s) hid in the cave, he was hiding from his devotees and his enemies and there was no one with him, except Abu Bakr. And it was possible that he had gone into hiding without anyone, friend or foe, had prudence demanded that.