Immanently Transcendent

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Bible readers have long puzzled over how to best reconcile the opening two chapters of Genesis. Some believe that there are contradictions in the chronologies of the two chapters. While I am persuaded that the two creation accounts can be easily reconciled, there seems to be a deliberate theological point that is being made, which we should not miss.

Genesis 1 portrays God as sitting above his creation. From outside, he speaks everything we see and know into being. He is not a part of creation but is deliberately portrayed as the creator of all. In theological jargon, Genesis 1 highlights the transcendence of God.

Genesis 2 changes focus slightly. There, Moses pictures the Creator God as stepping into his creation to interact directly with it—particularly in the context of creating a habitat for the peak of his creation: humankind. Genesis 1 speaks time and again of “God”—elohim—the Creator. Genesis 2 begins using the Lord’s covenant name—Yahweh—that name by which God makes a covenant with his chosen people. In theological language, Genesis 2 draws attention to God’s immanence.

These twin doctrines—transcendence and immanence—are taught throughout Scripture. Transcendence highlights the Lord’s royal dignity as the one who stands outside of his creation exercising perfect authority and control over it. Immanence teaches that, by virtue of this perfect control and authority, God is very present and involved in his creation. These twin doctrines are in focus in Psalm 11.

In this Psalm, David once again finds himself under threat. Once again, it is threat from enemies, whose bows are prepared to fire their poisonous darts at him. He is once again at a loss for how to respond, and so he turns to the Lord and finds comfort in these dual truths.

On the one hand, he rejoices that “the LORD is in his holy temple” (v. 4a). The temple was God’s dwelling place on earth. God’s covenant people rejoiced that, by virtue of the temple, God’s presence was in their midst. He lived among his people. This was a source of great comfort for Israel.

In the same breath, however, David recognised that “the LORD’s throne is in heaven” (v. 4b). Heaven is God’s throne room, from which he demonstrates unrivalled knowledge, power, and wisdom. From heaven, God rains destruction on everything and everyone that threatens his authority and his people’s welfare.

When God’s people face the uncertainty of uncontrollable circumstances, they do well to grasp tightly to these dual truths. He is both immanent—a close comforter to his people—and transcendent—a strong ruler who deliver the oppressed. While he “is enthroned above the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22, CSB), he is not a God who watches passively from a distance, unwilling to intervene to help his people.

Doug challenged us yesterday to pray about the many challenges facing us and our church in these times of uncertainty. As you do so, remember that you are praying to a God who is both transcendently powerful and immanently intimate. Let those dual aspects of God’s character provide you with rest and peace in your turmoil.

Stuart