Originally posted in Rabyd Theologian 2.0 on February 4th, 2011.
Immanent: Being within the possible limits of possible experience or knowledge.
Transcendent: Being beyond the limits of all possible experience or knowledge.
The reason I am taking these two parts of the nature of God together is it is truly difficult to talk about one without the other. What parts of God’s nature are within our experience and knowledge to understand them and which parts are beyond our experience and understanding? What parts of his creation is He close to in nature and what parts does He transcend? The main issue is how much is God close to his creation and what parts of God transcend his creation. We are also in part dealing with what relationship does God have to the world he created.
Going through the Bible, it does not take long to see that God separates himself from his creation. He is not a force of nature like the other gods of mythology. The creation account in Genesis shows God creating and controlling those forces of nature. It also shows that these forces of nature have no personality and are absent of godhood in and of themselves.
The significance of this to modern scholarship is often lost. Modern scholars are always pining on about the similarities between this creation account and the other creation accounts such as the Gilgamesh Epic, but the truth is the differences are both significant and staggering in their implications. You have to either conclude that the creation account in Genesis is revelation or religious genius and cutting against the grain of what was around the Jewish people at the time. God transcends his creation in that he is not his creation but he is immanent with it in that he controls and governs it. He is however not directly connected with a nature force.
Some areas though are subject to debate. Among them and probably the greatest of them is God’s relationship to time. Why is this so? Because to say that God transcends time creates some theological and philosophical problems.
On the theology side, the Bible repeatedly show God acting in history. God does things in a certain order and there is significance to that order. If God transcends time, than this acting in time seems irrelevant. But there is relevance to understanding both God in history and doing things in order to understand him as a God of relationship, order and control.
On the philosophical side, the question is one of definition. God is eternal. Does ETERNAL have any meaning, if time has not always existed? No. Further try to define what it means for God to ALWAYS be eternal without using ‘time’ as a concept. Then the question then becomes what is God relationship to time? My view is that time has always existed because it is wrapped up in the eternity of God. Because God has always been eternal; time has always existed. At least in my view this is the case and that means I do not view God as transcending time but more immanent with it than anyone else.
Why does this matter? The BIG thing is this has incredible implications for the omniscience of God in regards to God’s knowledge of the past present and future and how REAL those three things are to God himself. More on that in a later post on God’s Omniscience.
In the end, the challenge to re-thinking God is one of engaging each issue to ask the question of: “In what way does God transcend this in what ways is he immanent with it?” The problem is that God in the Bible seems to be more immanent than people want to make him in theology or doctrine.
Next: God’s Omnipotence