Transcendence and Immanence – Holding the Two in Tension
July 13, 2010 3 Comments
There are some things we learn best about God when we hold two seemingly opposing characteristics of God in our minds at the same time. One of these pairs is God’s transcendence and His immanence. God’s transcendence means God is very much unlike us. He is so much greater and so high above us that we can’t even begin to comprehend the glory of God. When Solomon built the temple in 1 Kings 8:27 he prayed,
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.
How much less this temple I have built!”
He went on to pray,
“Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:30
Solomon understood God’s transcendence. He was humble enough to recognize that mankind cannot build something so magnificent that it can contain God. But to fairly answer Solomon’s humble question, “Will God really dwell on earth?” The answer is “yes!” God is also immanent. John 1:14 tells us that God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. But God took it one step further. 1 Cor 3:16 tells us that not only did God dwell on the earth but He made the dwelling place of His Holy Spirit right here inside of us!
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”
Jesus lived in the flesh on the earth. God’s Spirit lives among His people. That is God’s immanence at its very best. God is so high above us, greater and more powerful than anything we can imagine. Yet he became a man. God is divine and immortal and yet became a servant and was crucified.
If we are really going to appreciate who God is, it is helpful to hold these seemingly opposite characteristics in our minds at the same time. He is One willing to live among us and yet He is so much greater than we are. He is great and yet approachable. He is approachable and among us and yet so far greater and more glorious than we are. When we hold these two things up next to each other it helps us find balance between extreme immanence (“buddy Jesus”) and extreme transcendence (God so far removed from us that we are approaching deism). This should also inform our worship. Until the last few decades our worship songs were more transcendent. Now they are heavily weighted toward immanence. We certainly need balance.