10.15.2005

God Most Nigh

God is both infinitely far and infinitely near; He is distant and close, outside us and inside us. Or as C.S. Lewis put it, "God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being."

The theological terms are transcendance and immanence. Transcendance means that God is completely outside of us; He is supreme, sovereign, all-powerful, omniscient and self-sustaining. Immanence means that God is infinitely close to us; He knows our heart and mind, He is compassionate, merciful, gracious and sustaining.

On the surface, these concepts appear paradoxical. For if God is fully transcendent, then He cannot be known; but if God is fully immanent, He forfeits transcendence. Nevertheless, Scripture often balances these two ideas. For instance,
'Am I a God near at hand,'says the Lord, 'And not a God afar off?'
(Jeremiah 23:23)

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15)

Notice here that God "inhabits eternity" (transcendance) and "dwells" with the humble (immanence); He is both "near at hand" and "afar off." The Prophet Isaiah said, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so God's thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8). Nevertheless, we can seek Him and find Him, when we search with all our hearts (Jer. 29:11).

Learning to balance the two concepts is important. One blogger notes the cultural, stylistic differences these ideas tend to produce in their adherents. For instance, conservative Christians tend to emphasize God’s transcedence, while Christians in contemporary circles tend to emphasize God’s immanence.

One place these differences can be seen is in the style of worship of the two groups. Contemporary Christian churches often focus upon God’s love for man, His accessiblity, His nearness, His understanding, and practical applications of Scripture -- immanence. Whereas conservative or traditional Christian churches often deal with God’s power, majesty, absolute holiness, and eternal principles of Scripture -- transcendance.

An improper understanding of either concept leads to imbalance. Extreme immanence is pantheism, the belief that God is everywhere. Extreme transcendence is deism, the belief that God is impersonal. A degree of this tension exists in Judaism and Islam. For Judaism, God enters history and changes destinies. God is personal, immanent. In Islam, God is utterly transcendant. He does not enter into human history, per se, but rather remains uncontaminated from human affairs, due to his greatness and glory.

The New Testament does not leave us twisting in the theological wind. Clearly, Jesus Christ is the intersection between transcendance and immanence. Take Colossians 2:9-10, "For in Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and you are complete in Him..." Notice, God's fullness (transcendance) dwells in Christ, nevertheless I find myself "complete" in Him (immanence). Even the name "Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), one of the earliest names referenced to Christ, means "God with us." This could be the perfect statement regarding the synthesis of transcendence (God) and immanence (with us). So the greatest declaration of God's transcendance and immanence is the Incarnation; the Most High, became the Most Nigh.

Pascal put it this way:
The Stoics say: 'Withdraw into yourself, that is where you will find peace.' And that is not true. Others say: 'Go outside: look for happiness in some diversion.' And that is not true... Happiness is neither outside nor inside us: it is in God, both outside us and inside us.

In His own divine essence, God is incomprehensible and inaccessible, indescribable and ultimately unknowable. Yet, He calls us to Himself, beckons us to "reason" (Is. 1:18)with Him and, ultimately, to have fellowship with Him. He is the Most High, but in Christ, He became for us the Most Nigh.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good blog, Mike.
J

evandahlke said...

Great food for thought today as the light showers fall upon my head. God is small enough to hear my every thought and big enough to solve all my problems.

Ane Mulligan said...

Like the new look, Mike, and I always like your writing. It's well written and full of thought provoking material - a faith builder.

Storyteller said...

Hey Mike,
This great new look is so you. Thought provoking, daring, and outside the box.
Keep the pages rolling. I'll be back.
blessings, e

mike duran said...

Hey Storyteller, whadya mean this look is "so you"? Are you saying I look like aged paper and anatomical charts? Maybe I should've went with the "Fifth Avenue" look.

Kelly Klepfer said...

Mike,

Surgery or the mind-altering drugs therein did you good.

Oh, I can hear the grinding teeth of the grammarians on that one.

Simple - deep - I likey! Very thought provoking. Love this stuff that challenges our wimpy faith and forces us to grow.