Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Immanence Of God - Its Meaning, Significance And Application

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Isaiah 55:6-7 "Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."


What is God like? Whenever we endeavor to answer such a question, we are treading upon the holiest of ground. The prophet Isaiah enables us to behold the God of the Bible with our faces to the ground while at the same time experiencing what it is like in the cradle of His hand (see Isaiah 40:11 and 40:28). Isaiah 55 stands out as one of the premier chapters in the Bible for considering what God is like. God's very being is defined by two properties that appear, on first glance, to contradict one another: namely, God as "immanent" and "transcendent". As one considers more closely the Bible's revelation of God, these two truths function as twin pillars that inform the Biblical view of God.

Briefly defining "immanence" and "transcendence"

When I say "immanence", I refer to the quality of God's being that grants Him access to every point in the created realm. Theologian Wayne Grudem describes immanence as having to do with God working "in" and "through" His creation. Whenever I speak of "transcendence", I mean that quality of God's being that renders Him distinct and "above" His creation. 

Both of these properties of God's being keep in mind that God is the transcendent Creator, distinguished from His creation, that is ever Personally and immanently involved in the affairs of it. Although scripture distinguishes both of these traits in respective clusters of Biblical texts, we must ever keep in mind that God is both at the same time. Jeremiah 23:23-24 teaches that God is both immanent (i.e. near and at every point) and transcendent (i.e. distinct from and far and above His creation):

“Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord, “And not a God far off? 24 “Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?” declares the Lord.
“Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord."

Or again, notice Romans 11:36

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." 

Today's post is going to focus on God's immanence, with the next post dealing with the second quality of God's transcendence. 

Further reflections upon God's immanence

Isaiah 55:6-8 reveals the immanence of God. The reader is encouraged to "seek the Lord while He may be found" and "to call upon Him while He is near". As mentioned already, God's immanence refers to His presence that has equal access to every point in creation. God's omnipresence captures what we mean when we talk of God having causal influence at every point in creation. With regards to  the immanence of God, the additional emphasis is the way in which God desires to make Himself known in those points. 

To illustrate, I as a human being have an immaterial soul and a physical body. As I type, my fingers move over the keys by the intention of my mind. There is not one part of my body that is not equally accessed by my immaterial mind (or soul). Furthermore, whenever I direct my fingers to type, I am imposing my desire to express myself through my fingers, even though I could just as equally wiggle my toes or blink my eyes at the same time. 

Analogies break down of course. Certainly, we are not suggesting that the universe and all of creation functions somehow as God's "body" and that He is somehow the "soul" of the universe. Such an error, called "panentheism" or "process-theology", depersonalizes God and subtracts one of His eternal attributes (usually either His omnipotence, omniscience or both). The point of the comparison is to show that, just as my immaterial self can influence any and every point in my physical body, God (in a far more profound way, which is described by what we'll discuss in the next post, namely His "transcendence") is ever making Himself known to every point in creation.

Some Scriptures that speak about God's immanence  

A handful of scriptures can help round out our discussion on God's immanence. Knowing that God desires to know us and to make Himself known fits under the umbrella of what we mean when we say He is "immanent". Deuteronomy 4:7 states: 

"For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?" 

God's immanence emphasizes that in addition to being the Ultimate immaterial reality, God is intensely Personal. As a person (revealed firstly as Father), God possesses intellect, emotion, will, intention and wisdom. Remarkably, as immanent, the Old Testament's implicit hinting of God as a plurality of persons is made explicit and defined by the New Testament's revelation of God as Tri-Personal. 

Another text, Acts 14:17, speaks on God's sustaining of His creation (i.e. "Providence") by this property of His immanence:

"Yet He has not left Himself without testimony to His goodness: He gives you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness."

As another text, Job 12:9-10 reminds us - 

“Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, 10 In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?"

One final text before we close out today's post on God's immanence is found in Acts 17:24-27 -  

"and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children."

Closing thoughts

Today we began to consider God's immanence and transcendence. We mostly focused our attention on the former of these, suggesting that God's immanence refers to the quality of God's being that grants Him access to every point in the created realm. God's immanence lies at the background of such important doctrines as God being Personal (and henceforth, Tri-Personality or the doctrine of the Trinity) and His governing of the creation (i.e. "providence"). Knowing that God is "near" means He is knowable and desires for us to know Him. Once a person has by grace through faith trusted in Jesus Christ, the immanence of God is most keenly experienced by the indwelling ministry of the third-Person of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit. Such a redemptive indwelling enables the Christian to experience God's immanence on a most personal level. In the next post, we will consider the other property of God's being mentioned at the beginning: namely, God's transcendence. 

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