Transcendent and Immanent

We have talked before about the central mystery of Christianity, of its inherent paradox, that things are backwards from what we think they are, or that two things that can’t be the same, are.  He who would lose his life must find it.  The first shall be last.  Life from death.  Weakness is strength.  What is meant for evil is good.  Victory from suffering.  We find these kinds of themes throughout scripture.

Nowhere, however is the paradox more pointed than when we focus on the person of Jesus.  During these next three weeks of Advent we will be taking a personal look at Him in the three Gospel accounts of His coming.  Mark picks up Jesus at his baptism, so we won’t be looking at Mark.  Matthew starts with Jesus’ family tree, tells how Jesus was conceived, something of his family politics and gives some interesting events that occurred when he was a very small child, but skips all the details of the birth.  Luke gives us all the details, not only of Jesus’ birth, but of John the Baptist’s as well and fixes Jesus’ place in the historical record.

But John was not interested in the when, how and who.  At least not the who as we normally think of it.  Those of us who live in small towns are used to asking people to whom they are related.  “Are you kin to”, is a question that trips easily off of our tongues.  That’s how Matthew and Luke go about answering the question of who Jesus is.  But not John.

John goes back to Genesis, to the beginning of the world.  His book starts off with “In the beginning”, just like Genesis.  So let’s look at Genesis to see what it shows us about who God is and see if we can compare that who who John says Jesus is.

There are two creation accounts in Genesis, no really you could look it up.  The first starts in 1:1 and runs to 2:3 while the second picks up in 2:4.  Still not sure?  Ok.  The first account starts off “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  It then depicts God making everything; light, dark, water, land, plants, animals and, finally, man.  Everything.  In fact 2:1 says,”Thus the heavens and the earth were completed” and in 2 and 3 God decides to rest.

But 2:4 starts,”This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created”.  Sounds like a second account to me.  Now there are lots of theories about how the two accounts got there, but that’s not important right now.  I believe they were put there for a reason; to show two different way’s God relates with His creation.

The first account shows God as transcendent.  He speaks and creation responds, rushing to do his bidding.  It show’s God creating ex nihilo, from nothing with the barest of thoughts.  Everything that is is shown as coming into being in seven days.  The power on display here is beyond is beyond comprehension, beyond human understanding.  The Creator God is shown in all His might and splendor.  In short, God is Transcendent.  He transcends all space and time, all power and majesty is His and His alone.  He transcends us, He is as far beyond us as it is possible to be.  He is not us and we are not Him.

The second account shows God differently.  It shows Him as a craftsman, using dust from the ground to form a man and then it shows Him breathing, personally, into the man’s nostrils to give man life from Himself.  He planted a garden for man to live in and walked and talked with man there.  God worried about man’s loneliness and formed woman from man.  Is this not different in so many ways?

God is shown as personal, touching and talking to people as opposed to twirling galaxies around his pinkie.  He shows care and concern for His creation, not setting it up to run like a giant clock and leaving it to run down at the end of time. In short God is Immanent.  He is in and among His creation, He cares for it, He nurtures it.

And above and beyond all that, He is both of those all the time.  He is not transcendent one moment and immanent the next.  He is playing with dark matter and quantum strings and talking to us at the same time.  He is all transcendence and all imminence.

And what of John’s account of Jesus?  John says that the Logos, the Word, that God spoke in the Creation of the world was Jesus and that He and God were one from before the beginning of time.  That He was God and shared His transcendence, His majesty, power and sovereignty.  That He was ultimately God and ultimately beyond anything we could know or understand.

But then John says that this Word became like us and lived with us.  We’ve often used the term “God Incarnate” to describe how Jesus came to us.  John used “became flesh”.  Jesus was the transcendent God in the meat.  Very apt.  Very immanent.  God was as close to us then as at creation, breathing His life into us in a new and different way.  Recreating us, making us His sons and daughters; children not born in any natural way, but born supernaturally of God.

Have you experienced the transcendent God, have you seen Him in His creation and wondered how anyone could be so great?  Have you experienced the immanent God in quiet conversation, in the touch of His presence?  My prayer at this Advent season is that we will begin to take hold of this mystery of the transcendent/immanent God who in His ultimate majesty and power showed us His ultimate love, mercy and grace.

Of the Father’s Love Begotten