God: Transcendent & Immanent

image credit: Peter Corkhill
Theologians describe the God of the Bible with two primary adjectives: transcendence and immanence. Both of these words accent the different ways that God interacts with the world.

God will not be dismissed as a cosmic clockmaker who wound up the spring of creation, as it were, let it go, and has remained hands-off ever since.

Nor will he be trivialized as a divine schizophrenic who is involved in everything but can't decide if he wants to save us, bless us, curse us, or kill us.

By saying God is transcendent, we mean he is both outside and over creation; by saying God is imminent, we mean he is both within and underneath it.

This is the portrayal of God we're given from the beginning. In the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, we can observe how, "The picture of God bending down, getting hands dirty, giving mouth-to-mouth complements the picture of the exalted sovereign"[1].

We also see it in Psalm 19. The Psalmist describes the public supremacy of God as he is praised by the heavens and charges the sun to rise and span the expanse of the sky day after day (vv. 1, 5-6). Then they lyric turns to the intimate help of God who gave the Torah/Law that revives the soul (v. 7), rejoices the heart (v. 8), and enlightens the eyes (v. 8), even as it exposes our errors and faults and presumptuous sins (vv. 12-13).

The great threats to this view of both transcendence and immanence are those that emphasize one and minimize the other. On the one hand, pantheism says that God is the same thing as creation. When you look at a plant, a planet, or a person, you are at that very moment staring at a part of God's own self. On the other hand, deism says that God is totally removed from creation. He's off in a distant place (sometimes called "heaven") and the best we can do is struggle through our lives with the off-chance of getting there (which is better than here) when we leave this mortal life behind.

Over against these either-or offerings, Jewish and Christian faith has opted for a different way that holds on to both. Recognizing God's authoritative power to create, matched by God's guiding wisdom sewn into the fabric of that creation, allows us to make such a claim without one canceling out the other: God is both transcendent and immanent.


Notes:
[1] John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel's Gospel (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 118.


Related Posts:
The Wisdom Tradition: Seeing God from the Ground Up
Missing the Point: Ken Ham & Genesis 1

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