I recently came across a story of a systematic theology professor who opened his lecture by stating ‘God does not exist’. The professor then took his seat and watched as chaos erupted as he listened to his students debating such an audacious claim. At the end of the lesson, the professor stood up and concluded: ‘God does not exist; God is’. God does not ‘exist’. That is a word that is far too limiting to be ascribed to God. God does not exist. Rather, God is. God is part of creation, He is inside all that He has made as well as outside. God is near us, present with us, active on earth and involved in our world.There is nothing passive about our God.
” God is other and set apart from everything else, that he is in a class by himself. God is not just quantitatively greater than us, but qualitatively different in his greatness.” – Thomas Trevethan
The problem of a solely transcendent God.
To simply define God’s transcendence, it’s a term used to refer to his distance, His ‘otherness’. The idea is that God is distinctively separate from His created beings. The transcendence of God describes the notion that He is above us, greater than us, before time, uncreated, separate and holy. ((Isaiah 55:9,Psalm 113:5-6,Isaiah 40:22-23). Some would say that on a foundational level, there are only two kinds of existence: God and everything else. This is why throughout the Old Testament there are numerous laws against the creation of idols. These prohibitions are made to utterly emphasize the wholly otherness and distinctiveness of God who cannot be represented physically. This is where the principle of a solely transcendent God originates from. It is an attribute with world religions such as Islam and Judaism tend to gravitate towards. The problem of a solely transcendent God is that He is simply just ‘up there’, confined by space and time. A solely transcendent God cannot be interacted with. A solely transcendent God cannot demonstrate love. This is a god who cannot be worshipped.
The problem of a solely immanent God.
God’s immanence simply refers to his nearness. God is wholly present with and active in the created order. God is near us, present with us, active on earth and involved in our world. He is present and active in nature, in history, in our lives. He acts in this world and dwells with his people. This is an attribute of God which tends to be over-emphasized in many eastern religions. The fallacy with a solely immanent God is that where God is simply a being who is anywhere and in everything, this view diminishes the holiness of God. This god cannot be worshipped. If we embrace the immanence of God without firstly contextualizing his transcendence, it diminishes the capacity of the believer to worship Him rightly because a god who is like us cannot be worshipped. In order to truly worship God, we must firstly recognise, grasp and then rejoice in the truth that He is completely distinct from us and holier than anything we know.
There is nothing “passive” about our God, nor any of His attributes. God is always all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), all places present (omnipresent) – Bill Gray
God is Both
Where we came from – a transcendent God created us.
Why are we here – an immanent God seeks relationship with us.
The biblical view of God is one of which affirms both God’s transcendence and immanence. This almost seems too paradoxical. This is what we see in Jeremiah 23:23-24 in which God asks“‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:23-24).
On one hand, we have God’s transcendent nature which strives to keep Him distant and remote from His creation and yet, on the other hand, His immanent nature works to draw Him near to His creation. From the very beginning, God demonstrates both of these attributes towards his creation. In Genesis 1 we learn of God’s transcendent nature when He created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). However, we also have Genesis 3:8 where God walked in the garden to find Adam and Eve. This becomes even more clear in the person of Jesus Christ. Where we witness God’s immanence in human form when Jesus redeems, purchases and rescues humanity from the penalty of sin and to draws us back into a close and personal relationship with a transcendent God. As Bill Muehlenberg said, “Our sin magnified his transcendence, but our repentance and faith enables new and deeper immanence”
In order to fully grasp and the importance and significance of God’s immanence, we must first understand his transcendence. They are two sides of the same coin. We cannot isolate one of God attributes from another. When we do so we are left with incomplete and malformed thoughts about the character and nature of God. This is what modern culture and other world religions struggle to comprehend. Pantheism, the belief that everything is God (i.e Buddhism and Hinduism) denies God’s transcendence. Judaism and Islam deny God’s immanence. However, both the truths of God’s transcendence and immanence must be affirmed. This is what makes the Gospel message so profound and powerful. That a transcendent God chooses to make himself known! The same God who spoke the cosmos into existence, knows the number of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:29-31). Only Christianity affirms both. To have one without the other creates a caricature of the biblical God and that is not a god that is to be worshipped. As C.S. Lewis put it in The Problem of Pain, “God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.” In conclusion, we must hold on to both of God’s transcendence and immanence, any lessening and lowering of the dull extent of who God is, is walking down the path of idolatry. Ultimately, any distortion of either of the two would not allow us to witness the beauty of the Gospel message.