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Two-sets of words that every christian should know

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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-IMMANENCE DISTINCTIONS

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.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son…. (Matt.11:27)

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

“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” TRANSCENDENCE

“Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring. ’Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” 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:

If I were hungry [if it could be possible, but it is not], I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

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
  • …no one knows the Son except the Father… (Matt.11:27)

  • THE SON REVEALING GOD OUT OF HIS FULL PARTICIPATION WITH AND KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
  • …no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matt.11:27)

  • THE SPIRIT REVEALING GOD OUT OF HIS FULL PARTICIPATION WITH AND KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
  • these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God (1 Cor. 2)

  • THE FATHER’S KNOWLEDGE OF THE SPIRIT
  • And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:27)

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.

CREATOR-CREATURE DISTINCTIONS:

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.

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?

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:

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20)

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.

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