“God is both transcendent over and immanent in, His world. These nineteenth-century words express the thought that on the one hand God is distinct from His world and does not need it. While on the other hand, He permeates the world in sustaining creative power, shaping and steering it in a way that keeps it on its planned course.”
The words transcendent and immanent often are seen together in theological language. The transcendence of God means that God is outside of humanity’s full experience, perception or grasp. The immanence of God means that he is knowable, perceivable or graspable. For example, Jesus Christ is God incarnate (in the flesh) and therefore he was immanent in the first century among those who knew him, perceived of him or experienced him with one or more of their five senses.
Although Jesus Christ was imminent during his earthly life, the Christian Worldview believes that God is transcendent. God’s transcendence means that he is other and outside of human comprehension. Although Jesus dwelt among humanity, the Triune God is bigger, greater and more wonderful than anything that human beings can fully wrap their minds around.
An example of this can be seen in three qualities that have been called transcendentals throughout philosophical history: goodness, truth and beauty. These qualities are immanently perceivable, but they also cannot be fully perceived, possessed or known- therefore making them transcendent. When I experience goodness, for example, a good meal or a good conversation, I can recognize that it is good but goodness itself is not fully known in those things and did not originate in a good meal or a good conversation. Goodness must come from something else and a good meal or conversation echoes or reflects goodness, but never in its full form.
In the Christian Worldview God is goodness in its full form. God is truth. God is beauty. When we experience these immanent qualities of God in our lives we are experiencing God, but not all of who God is−only a reflection or echo of him. God’s goodness, truth and beauty is outside of his creation and cannot be fully grasped by his creation.
Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways," declares 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.” This verse is consistent with the biblical theme of the transcendence of God. He is higher, greater, and more than what humanity can know. Humanity has limitations and boundaries, God transcends the boundaries of human limitations. God’s thoughts are higher than humanity's thoughts and his ways are higher than humanity's ways because he is outside of the confines that humanity experiences as part of the creation order−he stands distinct as a creator.
God’s immanence and his transcendence are both reasons for humanity to worship him. Humanity worships the immanence of God because the creator God of the universe has made Himself knowable to humanity. Humanity worships God the transcendent God because they understand that he is the creator and sustainer of the universe- the originator of life and ever good gift−and that he is bigger and greater than anything they will ever have the ability to comprehend.
- S. R. Holmes, God, Martin Davie, ed., New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic, second ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), 1.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.