We are continuing on with our sermon series on the “Attributes of God” focussing on His immanence; last year before holidays we looked at His grace, holy nature, aseity and other avenues of His nature. Immanence by definition is the opposite of transcendence. It is the concept that God is very much involved in the material world and is ever present in His creation; this is the exact opposite view point of most Jews and Muslims which emphasises God’s transcendence and the inability of man to approach the Lord. This is an accurate belief for Christians because of course our own faith has its seeds in Judaism but the difference is that we can achieve immanence because of Christ and this is evidence of God extending the olive branch.
God’s superiority above man is often mistaken as a detachment bordering on emotional coldness. Some sects in the Abrahamic religions believe that it would be a sin for God to so be involved in this world and since the spiritual world came before the material that is His natural realm. Many believe that transcendence and immanence cannot co-exist that they are in fact contradictory but there are many instances in the Holy Bible that they in fact can co-exist and we will be examining both in two separate sermons. In Jeremiah 23:23-24 The Lord declares “Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.” It is this verse which will be our home base. Paul writes of Christ that “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
A common belief in orthodoxy is that the finite cannot understand the infinite. His immanence is demonstrated in every rock, molecule, leaf, human breath, lion’s roar, and hymn. God’s control can extend to all places and does extend to all places, and like His other attributes His immanence is inter-twined with the rest of them, able to analyse separately but never separate, distinct personality traits. Often times we have a twisted view of God’s immanence, we believe that everything in nature is a part of God or is God Himself and thus He is His own creation. Other theological perspectives include the ones that God created all this and then withdrew because of His disgust over it. These views often muddy the waters of clarity and truth when it comes to the identity of God. Some people say the fact that we say God is transcendent means he cannot be imminent. But I disagree if God is everywhere He must be both near and far. In the Bible it says we are all in Him, and we are all of the body of Christ; that is an example of his immanence. I believe that God’s love for us is an example of His immanence. While the Lord is distant, far, and transcendent He is also close. In the Old Testament He came in forms of fire, cloud, and objects which reflected His glory and power and yet did those who witness it not feel the heat of the pillar of fire on their face? Or feel the gust of wind when God’s Spirit came to the tent of the tabernacle? As I write this I am in the 3rd day of Lent. And something that has been on my mind is how at times the concept of and being of God and Christ seems so far above me and yet there is always something that reminds me of how close He is. The entire Bible is proof of His immanence while it celebrates His transcendence. Our entire being of our faith is to show the lost that there is a God who is here and who loves them and who is so involved with us that we are beloved among all creation. The Bible is many things and it is a record of His close walk with us from the beginning of our planet to just under 2000 years ago.
Many other religions may ask where the proof that God is this close is. Unlike other mysteries of the Bible where we may never know in this life the question of God’s immanence is answered, directly from God Himself. In the New Testament when the Son of God is being announced one of His many names is Immanuel (meaning God is with us).
What are some of the examples from the Bible of God’s immanence? One that stands out to me is Isaiah 57:15-when people argue that the Lord cannot be both transcendent and immanent I like to reference this; “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” I find the book of Isaiah a go to reference for the complexity and completeness of the Bible since it was found in several locations complete.
God’s immanence is not always in your face pillar of fire, as God tells the prophet Elijah “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” 1 Kings 19:11-12 the discussions on God’s touch upon our lives are also meant to be deep in our souls, “God’s law penetrates our hearts with the light of His Word.”
This brings me to the next biggest example of God’s immanent presence; His Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as said before His name meant God with us. Jesus reaches out as the flesh and blood immanent example of God’s love to the sick, sinners, and outcasts that the religious aristocracy prevented from reaching out to touch God’s fingertips. In the Old Testament you could fall dead looking upon God’s face but the fact that Christ stripped Himself and came as man bridges a gap that was once transcendent. But what are the benefits of this immanence through Christ? First of all, we cut out the need for priests and temples even though Christ still honoured them. Secondly we get a clearer picture of God. Over hundreds of years, messages from prophets and priests are second hand information but when the Source comes down, it allows clearing up a lot of mix ups and mistaken theories. And third Christ is able to physically show the love, tenderness, and all the personality traits that God exhibits in a way that man can understand.
The third example of third portion of God’s immanence I would like to analyse is His Holy Spirit. See the evidence of God’s immanent nature is that of an inverted pyramid to us. It begins with a God whom we cannot look upon by our own doing. It was our sin that ripped us away from him and created this rift between us. God’s transcendence still existed but because we were different beings we were still able to look upon Him. Because of that His immanent nature was not fully revealed when we were in the Garden of Eden. However after the fall we were very much separated from Him and we could not conceive His immanence. Occasionally throughout the centuries and millennia He would gently tap on prophets and priests to speak to the people but to have a true encounter with God His immanence needed to be more self evident to poor humans. Through the third portion of this inverted pyramid which is the Holy Spirit we have an indwelling of God in us and it is through the Spirit being inside of us, us being its temple that we have full completion of the Lord’s immanence and transcendence but I believe that we cannot fully understand nor appreciate it until we come before God.
Often people who only have a superficial understanding of God feel that His nature is often contradictory but when you strive to study and know God’s true nature is when you see that he is always in complete harmony, balance, and peace. I thank God that even though I may not understand His nature His nature and His attributes are endless and unchanging.