Part 1: Transcendence
It is important for Christians to find a balance between two doctrines of God: His transcendence and His immanence. Part 1, will focus on Divine Transcendence. Part 2, will focus on Divine Immanence.
Scripture teaches us that God is above the universe, that He Comes to our world from beyond it. That is, He transcends our world. The Preacher says, God is in heaven and you are on earth (Eccles 5:2). Isaiah sees the Lord, seated on a throne, high and exalted (Is. 6:1). The Psalmist says, Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension; it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it (Psalms 139:6).
These passages seem to be about physical distance. But God is spirit (John 4:24) and physical distance does not apply to Him. So terms such as “above” or “far” are analogies for God’s transcendence, just as they are when someone says the man is far above the ant. This is true even though the ant may be crawling on a shelf above the man’s head.
We might view God as the top link in the great chain of being. This view suggests all living things exist in a certain hierarchy; single cell organisms are at the lowest level, God is at the top, and we are somewhere in the middle. But this view is mistaken, we may be very far above a single cell organism, but the distance between us is still finite. Whereas the separation between God and any other thing is infinite. It is not a matter of degrees. It is not as if we are a shack and God is the Sears Tower. God doesn’t just have more “Godness” than us, making Him God and us not. No, God is wholly other than we. He is distinct from creation and the gap is infinite.
To lose sight of God’s transcendence is to have an incomplete and even harmful (to us) view of Him. We run the risk of making Him in our image rather than the other way around. To do so, is to treat God as ordinary. But there is nothing ordinary about the Lord. Scripture is full of examples where people respond in terror to His presence. Upon coming into the presence of the Lord, Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! I am destroyed, for my lips are contaminated by sin” (Is 6:5). When the Lord appeared to Daniel, his companions run away and hide from fear, while he is left without strength (Dan 10:7-8). Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look upon the Lord (Ex 3:6). John falls at the Lord’s feet like a dead man (Rev. 1:17). What’s more, Scripture suggests that these men are wise to fear the Lord. Proverbs 9:10, says that the beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord.
The reader may worry that in painting such a picture of God, we are portraying Him as a terrifying tyrant or even worse a Being who is indifferent toward us. But this is the wrong way to look at it. God’s transcendence does not negate His love and involvement in our lives; it makes them more amazing and wonderful. The Psalmist has that sense of wonder when he says, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You care for him? (Psalms 8:4). How wonderful it is that God, the Holy One, the One Who is Wholly Other, cares about us and loves us. It is truly incomprehensible that the Infinite would have any interest (let alone love) for the finite.