Monday, December 23, 2013

transcendence and immanence


Let us explore a bit further the concepts of transcendence (covenant headship) and immanence (covenant involvement). Divine transcendence in Scripture seems to center on the concepts of control and authority. Control is evident in that the covenant is brought about by God's sovereign power. God brings His covenant servants into existence (Isa. 41:4; 43:10-13; 44:6; 48:12f.) and exercises total control over them (Exod. 3:8, 14).2 As Lord, He sovereignly delivers them (Exod. 20:2) from bondage and directs the whole natural environment (cf. the plagues in Egypt) to accomplish His purposes for them. Authority is God's right to be obeyed, and since God has both control and authority, He embodies both might and right. Over and over, the covenant Lord stresses how His servants must obey His commands (Exod. 3:13-18; 20:2; Lev. 18:2-5, 30; 19:37; Deut. 6:4-9). To say that God's authority is absolute means that His commands may not be questioned Qob 40:llff.; Rom. 4:18-20; 9:20; Heb. 11:4, 7, 8, 17, passim), that divine authority transcends all other loyalties (Exod. 20:3; Deut. 6:4f.; Matt. 8:19-22; 10:34-38; Phil. 3:8), and that this authority extends to all areas of human life (Exod.; Lev.; Num.; Deut.; Rom. 14:32; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 3:17, 23). Control and authority-these are the concepts that come to the fore when the Lord is presented to us as exalted above creation, and they are as far removed as possible from any notion of God as "wholly other" or as "infinitely distant."

God's immanence may be further described as "covenant solidarity." God elects His covenant people and identifies their goals with His. The heart of the relation is expressed by the words "I will be your God and you shall be my people" (Lev. 26:12; cf. Exod. 29:45; 2 Sam. 7:14; Rev. 21:27). He names himself as their God-"God of Israel"-thus identifying himself with them. To despise Israel is to despise God, and vice versa. In that way, God is "with them" (Exod. 3:12), near them (Deut. 4:7; cf. 30:14), Immanuel (cf. Gen. 26:3; 28:15; 31:3; 46:4; Exod. 3:12; 33:14; Deut. 31:6, 8, 23; Judg. 6:16; Isa. 7:14; Jer. 31:33; Matt. 28:20; John 17:25; 1 Cor. 3:16ff.; Rev. 21:22). Therefore we will sometimes describe God's "covenant solidarity" as a "presence" or "nearness," and this nearness, like God's exaltation, is a defining characteristic of God's lordship (Exod. 3:7-14; 6:1-8; 20:5, 7, 12; Ps. 135:13f.; Isa. 26:4-8; Hos. 12:4-9; 13:4ff.; Mal. 3:6; John 8:31-59; cf. Lev. 10:3; Ps. 148:14; Jonah 2:7; Rom. 10:6-8; Eph. 2:17; Col. 1:27). To emphasize the spiritual nearness between himself and Israel, God draws near to them in a spatial sense: on Mount Sinai, in the cloud and pillar in the wilderness, in the land of promise, in the tabernacle and temple. And He draws near in time, as well; He is "now" as well as "here." When the people are tempted to think of the covenant as an artifact of the distant past, God reminds them that He is the same today as He was yesterday. He is the God of the present and future, as much as He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; He is the God who is ready now to deliver (cf. Exod. 3:15; 6:8; Isa. 41:4, 10, 13; Deut. 32:7, 39f., 43; Ps. 135:13; Isa. 26:4-8; Hos. 12:4-9; 13:4ff.; Mal. 3:6; John 8:52-58). Thus God's lordship is a deeply personal and practical concept. God is not a vague abstract principle or force but a living person who fellowships with His people. He is the living and true God, as opposed to all the deaf and dumb idols of this world. Knowledge of Him, therefore, is also a person-to-person knowledge. God's presence is not something that we discover through refined theoretical intelligence. Rather, God is unavoidably close to His creation. We are involved with Him all the time.

As controller and authority, God is "absolute," that is, His power and wisdom are beyond any possibility of successful challenge. Thus God is eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, and so on. But this metaphysical absoluteness does not (as in non-Christian thought) force God into the role of an abstract principle. The non-Christian, of course, can accept an absolute only if that absolute is impersonal and therefore makes no demands and has no power to bless or curse. There are personal gods in paganism, but none of them is absolute; there are absolutes in paganism, but none is personal. Only in Christianity (and in other religions influenced by the Bible) is there such a concept as a "personal absolute."


To summarize, knowing God is knowing Him as Lord, "knowing that I am the Lord." And knowing Him as Lord is knowing His control, authority, and presence.

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