Immanence and Transcendence: How Do You See God?


Immanence and Transcendence: How Do You See God?
Tony Cooke

Tony Cooke ArticleRecently, I was listening to a worship service that Lisa had downloaded. The music was beautiful, and you could sense the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I heard the worship leader exhorting the people and saying such things as, “The Holy Spirit is here and He is moving in this place. Open your heart and let Him sweep over your life. Let Him saturate you with His peace. Get ready to encounter His Presence and feel His love as He moves in this place.”

Such encouragement directs people toward what we might call the immanence of God. That means He’s the God of the right here and the right now! It means He’s moving, flowing, and intermingling with us right where we are. When immanence is emphasized, expectancy is important. Being in tune with what God is saying and doing right now is key.

I grew up in a tradition that emphasized more of the transcendence of God… His over-arching, enduring, unchanging, and eternal reality. We acknowledged that “God was with us” in a general sort of way, but I don’t ever recall any expectation conveyed that He would ever doing anything significant in our midst. We knew that God ruled in yonder heaven, and everyone seemed content with that; we didn’t know to expect anything more than that.

We would have been very inclined toward a Scripture such as: “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). We would not have gravitated toward, “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). We would have acknowledged that Scripture in Acts historically, but had no expectation of such a phenomenon (or any other supernatural phenomenon) personally or experientially.

One of the great hymns we sang had the words: “Our God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.” Most of that song speaks of God’s transcendence, but we also catch a glimpse of His immanence when it refers to God as, “our shelter from the stormy blast.”

When I received the infilling of the Holy Spirit in 1977, I began fellowshipping with believers who heavily emphasized the immanence of God, and it was very different being with people who believed that gatherings should be a time to truly experience and encounter God in very specific ways personally. We were encouraged to, “…taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). There was an emphasis on God working through believers—right here, right now—in the nine gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11), the five-fold offices (Ephesians 4:11) and the expressions listed in Romans 12:6-8 (serving, exhorting, giving, etc.).

Today, I am grateful for both God’s transcendence and immanence. I see these not as being an either/or need in the life of the believer, but I realize the necessity for both/and. We need His grandeur and we need his closeness. We need stability and sensitivity. If we focus on His transcendence without a sense of His immanence, we can perceive God as being aloof and distant. If we focus on His immanence and ignore His transcendence, we can become overly subjective about God, always looking for an immediate feeling, and limiting our perspective of God by what we have personally experienced of Him.

The Apostle Paul seemed to emphasize the transcendence of God when He said, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Earlier in this epistle, Paul had said that God, “…comforts us in all our tribulation” (2 Corinthians 1:4), and that speaks of God’s immanence. When we are hurting, we certainly appreciate immediate comfort. That comfort, though, doesn’t always come in immediately changed circumstances, but it can come from an intentionally changed perspective. Paul had to look beyond the immediate circumstances in several situations to embrace an eternal perspective of God and His plan.

Another hymn of the church states: “When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.” We might not feel or perceive God at a certain time, but we can still trust in His eternal, unchanging nature regardless of what we sense or don’t sense at any given moment.

Perhaps the following chart can help illustrate the two dimensions of our perception of God. I believe both are vital for having a more complete picture of who God is.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Transcendence Immanence
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…” (John 1:14)
What God has always said and done. What God is saying and doing right now.
God is over us, above us, and beyond us. He, “…sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…” (Isaiah 40:22) “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16)
The One “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8) “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
“For I am the LORD, I do not change.” (Malachi 3:6)  “God moved in our church service yesterday.”
“I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With my hands I stretched out the heavens. All the stars are at my command. ” (Isaiah 45:12, NLT) “O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!” (Psalm 139:1, 7)
Perceives God relative to His overall, eternal plan. Perceives God as to how He relates to me and mine.
Sees the big picture, the eternal. Sees the short-range, the immediate.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God… we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:12, 16)
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place…’ (Isaiah 57:15a, ESV) …and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15b, ESV)
Teaches us that God is big enough to create and sustain the entire universe. Teaches us that God is close and personal enough to take care of us.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]I pray that this understanding will help us better experience the fulfillment of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:18, that we be able to may be able to, “….comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]