Our Immanent and Transcendent God

In Divinity School all sorts of theological terms come cascading at you. The professors use them and their teaching assistants expect the students to. 

In a discussion one day I confused the immanence of God with the transcendence. My spirited celebration of the wonder of God coming near and joining us in our flesh was embarrassingly squashed by the assistant saying (in front of the class), “I think you mean ‘immanence,’ not ‘transcendence.’” He was right. I did. 

It's helpful to know the terms, but more so to know the meaning. God, our faith teaches, is both immanent and transcendent – both remarkably involved in our lives and, because of God’s power and might and holiness, above them. When we reduce God to merely being immanent, we risk making God too much of a buddy or a servant created in our image. When we become overly awed by God’s transcendence, God becomes frightening or indifferent or different to the point of being un-relatable. When that’s the case, the beauty of Emmanuel (“God with us”) and the mystery of God’s presence in Holy Communion and through the Holy Spirit are lost on us.  

Sunday’s readings (Isaiah 55:1-13 and Luke 13:1-9) are a good corrective. In Isaiah, we have a God whose ways and thoughts are not our ways and thoughts (transcendence), but who knows our thirsts and hungers and longs to fill them (immanence). In Luke we have a God who expects us to turn away from thinking and doing that which is not of God and to in God’s holy direction (transcendence). Even so, it’ clear that God isn’t manipulating every aspect of our lives and is gracious enough to relent and allow time for repentance (immanence).  

Because God is both, we do well to honor God’s transcendence with awe and wonder, while growing our relationship with God that is made by possible by God’s immanence. Join us Sunday as we seek to do both.