Last week’s entry focused on Divine Transcendence. This week’s focus is Divine Immanence.
Johnny is the self proclaimed “Supreme Emperor of ants”. He is utterly fascinated by them. He found his fathers old ant farm, filled it with sand and captured ants one by one so he could give them a “home”. He will sit for hours at a time watching the ants make their intricate tunnels. But, whenever he so feels, he takes the farm and shakes it up so that the ants have start all over again. On sunny days, Johnny can often be seen exploring the yard with magnifying glass in hand. He sometimes sprinkles cookie crumbs around ant holes so that they will have food. Other times He will spray water down the holes so they will have water. Johnny is not what one would call a benevolent leader. But he is immanent in the ants’ world. He is active within the ants’ life (though they may wish it otherwise).
Scripture teaches us that God is immanent in our world. He is present and active within creation. He is involved in the processes of the world, including human history. The Psalmist says, These [creation] all wait for You, That You may give them their food in due season. What You give them they gather in; You open Your hand, they are filled with good. You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth (Ps. 104:27-30). Paul told the Athenians that God is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:27-28). Job says, If He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust. (Job 34:14-15). Jesus says, the Father causes the sun to rise... and sends rain (Matt 5:45). He even sustains sparrows and grows the flowers & wild grass (Matt 6:26-30 10:29-30).
This all would be really bad news if God were like Johnny. Johnny gives and takes away out of mere whim. He is the supreme sustainer of ant life but his sustenance comes not from love, goodness, or holiness but from fickleness. However, God is good and holy and he loves us greatly.
Some have taken God’s immanence too far so as to bring Him down to the level of creation. We see an extreme of this in Romans, Paul condemns the unrighteous because they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things (Romans 1:22). Today, there is less danger of worshipping idols (at least in this traditional sense). But how often do we treat God as common in our worship? In our prayer life? In our approach to Scripture? It is important that we recognize we are having communion with the almighty God and this demands our reverence.
On the other hand, if we ignore God’s immanence and wholly focus on His Transcendence, He becomes irrelevant to our lives. There is no way we can possibly know Him or have any kind of relationship with Him. If this were the case, we might as well live our lives as we see fit because either God could care less about what we do or there is no way we could know what He cares about.
Thankfully God does care about us. And He has revealed Himself to us because He desires a relationship with us. God is transcendent, He is wholly other than creation but, incomprehensibly, He actually reaches out and interacts with creation. There is no more dramatic example of this than when He comes down, not as a burning bush or great light, but as a human baby with all the lowliness, humility, and weakness that come from human flesh. Human beings actually walked, talked, and ate with the Infinite!