There are two important set of words concerning God and his relationship with us that will both enrich our understanding as well as help us keep away from contradictions and wrong notions about God. These are: “Transcendence-Immanence” and “Creator-Creature” distinctions. These two words provide us biblical balance in our knowledge of God and His ways. Those of you who follow this blog-posts know these pretty well. Therefore, I write as a conversation than formal post.
Transcendence underlines the reality that God is God and he’s not us. Whereas God’s immanence underscores the fact that, this God who surpasses all understanding (i.e. Transcendence), stooped down and revealed Himself to us his creatures in Christ comprehensibly and meaningfully. Therefore, we truly know God. Our knowledge of Him is not a smoke screen. No! We know God truly because he discloses himself to us. We cannot know everything there is to know about God. Creatures cannot exhaust God, because they are created beings. Creatures are the clay in the hand of their maker. There is a radical difference between us and Him. In transcendence, God is creator, Sovereign and His mind is absolute and omniscient. The mind of the Father is only fully accessible to Son and Spirit.
Because God is Transcendent, any notion of need or loneliness in God’s part is ruled out. The first part of Acts 17:23-31 describes God’s Transcendence while the remaining half His Immanence
As we see above, in Acts 17, God does not need creatures as if he lacks something. He does not need us. We need Him. In Ps. 50:12 Yahweh declares ironically:
Israelite were not instructed to offer sacrifices because he was hungry or thirsty. As a matter of fact, their pagan neighbors did so precisely because their pagan gods were as such. The gods of the ancient world, especially in the Ancient Near Eastern context, were needy. For instance, in Babylonian creation myth called the Enuma Elish, Marduk the appointed creator-king over the gods, created the world from the body of the goddess of the ocean known as Tiamat. He then created human beings from the blood of her army’s commander Kingu precisely to do the works of the gods and so allow them to live at ease. None sense, right! Yes! But I want you to see that Israel’s neighbors used to believe this stuff. The Mosaic revelation however is radically different. God exists independent of the world. There is no other god and he did create the world out of nothing by the power of His Word (fiat creation). He did not create the universe because He needed help so that he may find some leisure time for himself, Phew! Nope. Let me add one more story. In the Atrahasis Epic, we read the god Enlil became annoyed because human beings made so much noise that disturbed his sleep! Therefore he sent the flood to wipe out the whole human race. Wow! the gods were such unpredictable and could lash out in trivial matters such as loosing one’s sleep. The God of Israel did get angry, but not because he lost his good night sleep. He was slow to anger. His wrath was judicial and not arbitrary. It was retributive because of human wickedness and not because he could not get his way.
Therefore, the Triune God we worship is self-sufficient. He has life in himself. He is independent. We, on the other hand, need God and everything else he created for us to exist. Without creation, God would still be perfect. Without God nothing can exist. This rules out any notion of nature-worship, that is the worship of natural forces as gods. The sun and the moon are God’s artwork.
This leads me to a belief in God’s providence as well. Not only he is the creator of the world, but also the sustainer of the world. The world is not run by set of natural laws. God runs them. Thus, God is fully independent of us. We do not exist ‘necessarily.’ He does! His existence is necessary for all but He Himself is not contingent upon His creation.
Yet, there is an inner life within the Godhead that of mutual knowing, mutual glorification and mutual indwelling to which no mere-creature participates fully. That is to say, the Father fully discloses himself to the Son and the Son fully enjoys that disclosure of His Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father though the Son. This existence of him is a necessity for His divinity. Meaning, the Father can’t exist without His Son and His Spirit. He exists without us! But God inseparably exists as Trinity. The blessed Trinity has always been fully satisfied within himself before he created anything. [su_pull quote]. This is one happy eternal Koinonia (or as Fred Sanders puts it, ‘the happy land of the Trinity’) which we can only express it in words taught by the Spirit as we participate and experience with the “Son and the Spirit” in immanent terms through the gospel. This is the divine Life. This is the beauty of the Gospel. I once heard two preachers making the mistake that the Son exists by himself from John 5:25-26. It does not say that. It says the Son has life in himself. Thus, there is a sense in which we do participate in God’s life by means of redemption in and through our union with Christ. We must, nonetheless, note that this is mediated life in Christ. See below the remaining portion of Matt. 11.
- THE FATHER’S KNOWLEDGE OF THE SON
- THE SON REVEALING GOD OUT OF HIS FULL PARTICIPATION WITH AND KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
- THE SPIRIT REVEALING GOD OUT OF HIS FULL PARTICIPATION WITH AND KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
- THE FATHER’S KNOWLEDGE OF THE SPIRIT
The coming of the Son of God in true humanity brought to fruition God’s prior self-revelation that has begun in the Garden of Eden, and continued through the anthropomorphic appearances (such as the hand of God, the eyes of the Lord, the appearance of God in human-like figures) and theophanic appearances (such as fire, cloud, angle of the Lord etc.) of God in the Old Testament. In Jesus our incarnate-Lord God has revealed himself to us fully and decisively. I don’t look for God in a fire or a cloud …any longer. I found God in Jesus. Jesus has superseded all those mediators of the Old Testament.
These distinctions underscore two preliminary points. Firstly, there is no reality outside of God. All reality is within the bound of creation. There is no knowledge that is not subset of God’s. God knows everything as a result, we, too, know something truly. We exist in his universe. There is not an inch in which God is not there to control it and exercise his rule over it.
Secondly, the creator-creature distinction makes a radical difference between being “God” and being “human”. God could never become a creature, nor could a creature ever become divine. This raises the question “how about Jesus? He was divine and He became human!” However, here again is where we must be careful. The second person of the Trinity, the person of the Son, took a human nature. The Son became that which he was not. He added humanity to His person without ceasing to be what he always was. Remember in John 1:1-2, John uses the verb to be to describe his existence as God: “in the beginning was the Word ”, “the Word was with God”, “the Word was God…but in v.14, it says “the Word became flesh.” That is to say, the divine nature of the Son never changed. Hence, God’s divine nature never changes! The person of the Son continued to exist as both fully God (without change) and become fully Human (truly human) simultaneously. This is the reason why Christian doctrine insists upon the incarnation as being a mystery. We cannot know how the Son exists simultaneously as such.
This doctrine separates Christianity, for instance say, from panentheism that sees divinity in everything. They claim that in all of us there is a spark of divinity. But in Christianity, there is nothing in us that is not created! In this sense, no one can ever approach God or see God without mediation. In christian circles, Some Christians claim that our spirit is not a created entity and therefore is the basis for our participation with the divine life. There is nothing in Gen 2:7 that suggests that. It rather says man become living-being/nephes (Cf. Ps. 104:29-30). Hence, such an unbiblical belief abolishes the creature-creator distinctions that scripture clearly teaches. This is wrong. This is heretical. This is where many of the adherents of the Word-Faith group fail to see. God is the only creator there is! He only has the prerogative to command something out of nothing. We simply can’t. I fail before my creator and savior so that he may speak on my behalf! His words have power! My words are not divine words. My words are words of prayer!
Others contend, that because we sons and daughters of God, we are the offspring of God. Therefore, we posses some divinity. This too is heretical. Our sonship is radically different from the sonship of Christ. There is continuity and discontinuity. Just as he is both God and Man. Jesus is the unique son of God, he is the “monogenos theou”. So much so, Paul describes our sonship in distinction from His. We are sons by ‘adoption’. Jesus is Son by nature. We are adopted Sons. There is one divine Son who is the exact representation of His being, and the radiance of His glory! The Apostle John, too, makes a distinction between our sonship from that of Christ by using the word “children of God” for us and “Son of God” for Jesus. Above all, Jesus himself made a clear distinction between his own sonship and that of ours:
This way of speaking keeps the perfect balance between the sonship of Christ and ours. Jesus’ Father become ours in its true sense of the word. But then with a distinction just as the Father is Jesus’ God in distinction from ours. That is to say, the Father is our God in every sense of the word and to every part of our being. We can not say the same to Jesus. We become God’s children through redemption. We can not say the same to Jesus. Our sonship is in some significant way is a return to true humanity. The sonship of Jesus however is our prototype. Therefore we must maintain the creator-creature distinction. God is God. He is no flesh. We are flesh. We are no God. So let’s not pray like God. But pray to the God. Let’s not domesticate God. He is Sovereign and Transcendent. Let us, however, honer him because he revealed himself to all of us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I invite you to celebrate the gospel. In the gospel God is beyond and above. In the gospel God is here and available.
© 2016, Samson Tilahun. All rights reserved.