Between Immanence and Transcendence

It is the very real immanence of God that wards away sin from our lives…like a great and purifying wind blasts away a fetid smog so is the the presence of God.

When we fail, inevitably, day by day, hour by hour and moment by moment it is the transcendence of God that is grace upon which we must lean on as if our lives depended upon it…which they do in a way.

Rarely do we live with an awareness of either…somehow we spend our time outside of the scope of both…failing to sense God nearby and never realizing God’s overarching majesty that is above all of our own brokenness when we need to.

To understand the immanence of God and how it affects us we could compare it to how we behave when a loved one is with us. We care about what they think…we act in ways designed to earn their respect and in response to their love for us and our love for them. It is the same with God in the case of God’s immanence. 

Of course we do not “feel” God in the same way as a lover or family member. In this instance we must practice the presence of God as Brother Lawrence would say.People often complain about the invisibility of God as if to say that it would be easier to live in a way that would not offend if only you could see God with you. Interestingly we do not struggle as much in the same way when our loved ones are not with us…our behaviour manages to maintain itself in light of the influence of our relationship.

In this way each of us needs to cultivate a relationship with God not unlike the kind of special relationship we have in our lives that makes us want to be better…”she makes me want to be a better man” and so I would want it to be the same with God.

One thought on “Between Immanence and Transcendence

  1. Over many years I have pondered the ‘ought’ of my faith. The idea of the personal God who is near has lost its appeal in my thinking. When I think of walking with God, my thoughts go to his understanding of the world that he has created. Ultimately that understanding transcends anything I could ever hope to attain as David says, ‘such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it’ (Psalm 139:6). At the same time, the knowledge of God is all around me: ‘she cries at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors’ (Proverbs 8:3). The picture of the early chapters of Proverbs is a composite of Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly ever present and ever calling. Its as if the folly of sin points to the wisdom of making sound decisions. And that is something that a Richard Dawkins or a Sam Harris or a Daniel Dennett or a Christopher Hitchens could not dismiss.

    I have pursued conversations with atheists who dismiss the idea of absolute truth but who cannot deny the quantifiable nature of good and bad choices. At least we have something to talk about as opposed to the typical caricature of a personal god:
    “I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”

    In this discussion with Francis Collins, Dawkins indicates the value of talking about the origin of constants:

    “When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea.”
    (Time, November 5, 2006)

    The atheism of Dawkins is similar to the atheism of Socrates in that both are rejecting a parochial or provincial idea of God. Of course, Dawkins’ scientism gets in the way when trying to explore what is worthy of thought, but there is merit to some of his criticism, in my view.

    The Westminster Catechism defines God in a manner that is summoning:

    Q. 4. What is God?
    A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

    There are transcendent attributes and there are immanent attributes whic ultimately transcend human comprehension.

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