Word of the Week: Immanence

Immanence is the “counterpart” to the transcendence of God. In last week’s post, we explored how God transcends his creation and transcends us. He is other.

The immanence of God means that God is connected to his creation. He is near us and relates to us.

Immanence: The idea that God is present in, close to and involved with creation. Unlike pantheism, which teaches that God and the world are one or that God is the “soul” (animating principle) of the world, Christian theology teaches that God is constantly involved with creation without actually becoming exhausted by creation or ceasing to be divine in any way.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms

Immanence is applied incorrectly in worldviews like pantheism, where God and nature are one. If you want a pop culture definition of pantheism, think of the force in Star Wars. In Star Wars mythology the force is a part of every living thing, binding and connecting nature and beings. This is a false view of immanence where God and nature are one because God is neither personal nor all-powerful.

Immanence from a biblical worldview does not mean that God is in creation as if it is an extension of himself. Immanence means that God can “come down” to his creation. While we will explore God as Creator in a future post, we should keep in mind here what we noted last week: God is other. He created all things. He transcends his creation. So we cannot say that God and nature (creation) are one. Rather, a biblical view of immanence says that God comes down to creation and interacts with his creatures.

Here are some biblical references to God’s immanence:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Genesis 3:8

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.

Genesis 11:5

In the New Testament, Paul addressed the Corinthian believers regarding idolatry. He quoted two Old Testament verses (Leviticus 26:12 and Isaiah 52:11) to reflect on God’s immanence with his people and the privilege of his people to worship him alone.

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

2 Corinthians 6:16-18

In a stunning sermon to the Athenian philosophers, Paul affirmed the transcendence and immanence of God as Creator and Redeemer.

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:24-31

In this sermon Paul quoted secular writers Epimenedes of Crete and Aratus’ poem Phainomena (vs. 28). Paul’s use of secular sources indicates his understanding of the transcendence/immanence worldview tensions plaguing Greek religion and Greek philosophy. Greek religion offered immanent deities who could relate to humans. See for example Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey where the Greek gods played with and plagued human actors in the world. These deities were immanent, but not supreme or in any real sense transcendent. Greek philosophy had taken root in Athens by the time Paul arrived and had rejected the Greek religious system in part because of its failure to enmesh Greek deities with the real world.

What is powerful about Paul’s sermon in Athens is how he used the gospel to display the solution to the dilemma facing Greek philosophy and religion. Furthermore, Paul’s gospel here is a clear depiction of the transcendence/immanence beauty found in the gospel.

God does not only reveal himself as an out there, other, above us Deity. The God of the Bible does transcend us. He transcends us more than we might imagine. But he is also immanent with his creation. He came down to walk with Adam and Eve, to see the Tower of Babel, to call and befriend Abraham, to give the Law to Moses, and to speak to his prophets, among other examples. Ultimately, God came down in the person of his Son Jesus Christ to take on human flesh and “dwell among us” (John 1:14). This is God immanent in Jesus Christ.

At the final point in Paul’s sermon in Athens, Paul introduced Jesus Christ as the resurrected man appointed by God to judge the world. Jesus is God enfleshed. Jesus is God immanent. He is both the transcendent God of Creation (John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-20) and the immanent God who can know us and be known by us (1 John 1:1-3).

The God of the Bible is Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit). God’s immanence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is anther glorious aspect of God’s relationship with his creatures (Mt. 28:20; Ephesians 1:13-14).

There are an abundance of truths that flow out of the immanence of God. Here are just a few that should encourage our relationship with God today.

  • God’s immanence means that God is knowable. It does not stretch our minds to think that God knows us. We affirm consistently that God knows everything. But when we think that God knows us in all our flaws, concerns, worries, and dreams, then God’s knowing us becomes a testimony of love and compassion toward us. Even more amazing, God made us to know him. We can know the God who transcends through Jesus Christ who is immanent in his creation by the indwelling Holy Spirit who is with us always. That very thought should humble us and drive us to adoration and appreciation.
  • God’s immanence means that God is personal. God is not some impersonal force that connects and binds all things. God is Trinity. God exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit who have existed in a perfect loving relationship from eternity past and through eternity future. The personal nature of their relationship means that we can enter into a personal relationship with the God of the universe. God made us in his image (the imago Dei) as persons that we may relate to the God who is personal.
  • The biblical affirmation of God’s transcendence and immanence make Christianity unique. One would be hard pressed to find another religious system or worldview where the ultimate reality is altogether supreme and powerful, yet knowable and relational. Christianity uniquely details the God who is ultimate, yet who enfleshed himself to know and be known by his creation. If you do not yet know this God, then have a read in the Gospel of John. John describes Jesus as both God and man, transcendent and immanent. If you know God through Jesus, then take time today to thank him for the privilege of the personal relationship you have. And don’t stop praying for those who have yet to meet Jesus. Believe me, Jesus wants to save them more than you want them saved.

Glory to God for the privilege of knowing him through Jesus Christ!

2 thoughts on “Word of the Week: Immanence

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