It occurs to me that an awful lot of my recent posts are focused on God’s transcendence. His awesome power and supreme majesty. His greatness and might. His sovereignty.
It’s all completely true; God is sovereign and majestic and great and all-powerful. But it’s only half the story.
The God of the Bible is immanent as well as transcendent. He’s close to us as well as beyond us. It seems to me to be past time I wrote something focusing on that side of the Divine being.
To focus exclusively on God’s immanence is to bring Him down to our level. God is one of us. We take the Biblical idea that Jesus was a man just like us and run with it to almost get the idea that God is therefore just like us in all ways. Someone we can “fall in love” with. Someone we can safely disobey. Someone with faults and foibles and incomplete knowledge.
But to focus exclusively on His transcendence is to fall into the opposite error. God is so great and majestic that He is completely unlike us; He’s like an unstoppable force of nature, concerned with His will being done rather than with our troubles and struggles. Or even if He’s concerned, it’s in the distant way we might be concerned about a mouse or a bug.
When we say that God is Sovereign and all-powerful, this is not what we mean.
Transcendence has to be balanced by immanence if we are to have a truly Biblical view of the Almighty. He’s the One who spoke stars and galaxies into being, who tells gravity which way Down is and who really does know the precise mass and position of every subatomic particle. But He’s also the One who walks with Noah, who lets Himself be talked down by Abraham, who calls Himself “Father”.
I often think we go overboard on the whole “closeness/intimacy” thing, but this, too, is a Biblical truth.
Jesus is Immanuel, God With Us. And even before His coming, the psalmist said that God was “near to all who call on Him”.
I don’t know of another religion that has this idea. Buddhism treats the whole idea of Deity as irrelevant. Hinduism has its transcendent Brahman, so completely Other that even the attribution of personality is considered an anthropomorphism. In Islam God is great, first and foremost. I’ve lived and worked in Muslim countries, and in my experience the idea that God can be close is firstly nonsensical and secondly frightening.
But God reveals Himself as close to us. Sovereign of the universe, and yet He calls Abraham, a mere human, His friend.
His immanence is naturally associated with His love and compassion. Indeed, if He weren’t loving and compassionate, the idea of the All-Powerful and All-Holy drawing near would truly be a thing of terror.
The essence of this revelation of immanence is God’s self-revelation as Father.
Some of us haven’t had a human father that we’ve known. For others of us, the idea of father is wreathed in pain. We didn’t have good relationships with our dads, and the idea of God as Father is tainted by that human expectation that He will be like our earthly male parents.
But like any archetype, the idea of fatherhood is defined by its ideal, not its failures. The idea is one of a protective and caring closeness, a sense of family and identity, a concern and involvement combined with strength. It’s difficult to put into words, but we recognise a good dad when we see one.
God’s Fatherhood is a little like that. Or more accurately, that sort of fatherhood is a little like God’s.
He’s near as well as great and mighty. Father as well as Sovereign.
I think perhaps that I would do well to remember this.