Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Transcendence:  “God is separate from and independent of nature and humanity.  God is not simply attached to, or involved in, His creation.  He is…superior to it in significant ways.”[1]

                Sometimes, dearest reader, I forget how supreme God is.  Not that I have ever actually comprehended His greatness, His majesty, His divinity.  No one can.  But there are times that I get so bogged down in details: in presence, in need, in immediacy, in any number of soul-numbing-albeit-true postures, that I forget.  And it takes more than just lifting my eyes heavenward to see what I’m missing.  It takes purposed and intentional focus to expand my field of vision, to seek after the God Who Is (present, active, indicative).  This is why I need to focus on God’s transcendence; not because I want a fancy five dollar, seminary word [yes, sometimes it feels like these lessons have a word-by-word price tag], but because I need to remember, in my being, who El Roi – the God Who Sees Me – truly is.  And from what I’ve seen of the modern, western Church, so do the rest of us. 

                Let’s first clear up what transcendence isn’t.  It is not a superiority determined by elevation.  God is not above creation in the way that clouds are above my house.  We must remember, particularly as a moderns who recognize that our planet is part of a heliocentric system, in a similar galaxy, …ad infinitum…that God is not bound by a physical form.  He existed, eternally, before He created matter, space, and time ex nihilo {out of nothing}.  Therefore, His transcendence is not in any way related to, or dependent upon, His location as it relates to His creation.      

                We must also be aware, as the scholar Ray Dunn notes, that God’s transcendence is tempered with His immanence {the attribute of God’s nearness to His creation}.  Dunn remarks that a God who is solely transcendent would not initiate or maintain any relation to human beings and would therefore be completely unknowable and irrelevant to his creation.[2]  However, God’s transcendence is balanced biblically with his immanence through the affirmations that “God is living, holy, and One.”[3]  To that end, Dunning finds that in the New Testament the “glory of God…[and] the self-disclosure of God, [have]…its locus is in the person of Jesus Christ,”[4] which is substantiated by Colossians 1:15-20.  Thus, God, who is absolutely, eternally, and infinitely existing in a state of greater-than-ness in relation to His creation {aka: transcendence} manifests His equally absolute, eternal, and infinite nearness to creation {aka: immanence} in the person of Jesus through the incarnation.
                In scripture, there are four men in particular who experienced the truth that God is separate from, and elevated over and above, His creation.   Moses, Isaiah, Paul, and John speak of these occurrences, with all but Paul including narrative evidence of their experiences in scripture.  Moses’ encounter of a part of the glory of God is found in Exodus 33:18-19; Isaiah had a vision of God seated on his throne in heaven in Isaiah 6:1-5; and John penned the book of Revelation, which is filled with the mysteries of God’s majesty and greatness.  In both the Mosiac and Isaiachic vignettes, the men involved cannot look at the glory of God; he is described as other-worldly, bright and so glorious that Moses and Isaiah are at risk of death simply by being fallen creatures in close proximity to Almighty God. 

                The glory to which these men refer is a concept of “otherness”  which Dunn says is a means of “divine self-disclosure;” it is expressed by the “term ‘glory,’” which “originally meant ‘weight’ and carries the connotation of something solid or heavy.  It is often used of that which is impressive, such as wealth or honor.”[5]  Throughout the scriptures, this word “also came to suggest the idea of ‘brightness’ or ‘radiance.’”[6]  Dunning also notes that because God revealed Himself through glory, there exists a theological implication of invisibility, such that God’s “glory is the visible manifestation of the being of God.”[7]  Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis support the theory of implied invisibility by pointing to the fact that God approached Moses in Exodus 19:19 as a dense cloud at Sinai.[8]  This expression of God’s being through non-anthropomorphic {not having human-like qualities} means is also intended to further attest to his glory.  Similarly, Demarest and Lewis point to the thunder, lightning, and earthquake in verses 16 and 18 as symbolic of God’s “awesome majesty and power.”[9]  Thus, God’s ontological {existential state of} separateness from His visible and material creation is equivalent to his transcendence; and his transcendence is evidence of his power, majesty, and glory. 

Where Theology Can Go Wrong
         If one overlooks God’s transcendence by focusing only on His personal and relational communion with that which He has created, such as individual human beings, one may fail to recognize the gravity of sin as it relates to a perfect and holy God; and thereby miss the necessity of Christ’s complete and absolute substitution for sin on behalf of the world.

        Conversely, the over emphasis of God’s separate and otherness from His creation can lead to a deistic theology which says that God does not intervene in creation history anymore.  This view negates miracles, renders prayer a pointless exercise, and makes religion hollow and rote.  God merely becomes a disinterested party who is waiting out the salvation clock until the Age to Come. 
        Neither of these views are adequate representations of what God has revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures or through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Thus we must hold God’s perfect transcendence in conjunction with His perfect immanence.  As with omnipresence, God is both near to us because He loves us, and removed from us because He is holy.      

        God’s transcendence is an expression of His absolute perfection and holiness over and above all of creation.  It makes His perfect mercy and justice available to His creation, both of which are expressed in and through the immanent incarnation of his Son. 


[1] Erickson, Millard J.  Christian Theology, Second Edition.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.  Page 338.
[2] Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988. Page 116.
[3] Ibid., page 190.
[4] Ibid., page 104.
[5] Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988.  Page 101-102.  Emphasis: mine.
[6] Ibid., page 102.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Demarest, Bruce and Gordon Lewis.  Integrated Theology: Knowing the Ultimate Reality of the Living God. vols 1 & 2.  Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987. Page 184.
[9] Ibid.

Want to know where we've been in this series?  Click the links below for more. 
Why Theology?
How do we do this?
What are attributes?
What's Omnipresence?

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