Immanence and Transcendence by Jack Kettler
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding Immanence and Transcendence.
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence, dictionary entries and portions of essays for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!
Existing or operating in. Used of God, it refers to his pervasion of, and involvement in, all of his creation. *
God’s immanence refers to His presence within His creation. (It is not to be confused with imminence, which refers to the timing of Jesus’ return to earth.) A belief in God’s immanence holds that God is present in all of creation, while remaining distinct from it. In other words, there is no place where God is not. His sovereign control extends everywhere simultaneously. **
The term used to describe God’s independence and distinction from creation, and his control over it. *
To transcend means “to exist above and independent from; to rise above, surpass, succeed.” By this definition, God is the only truly transcendent Being. The “LORD God Almighty” (in Hebrew, El Shaddai) created all things on the earth, beneath the earth and in the heavens above, yet He exists above and independent from them. All things are upheld by His mighty power (Hebrews 1:3), yet He is upheld by Himself alone. The whole universe exists in Him and for Him that He may receive glory, honor and praise. **
From Scripture on Immanence:
“Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:23-24)
From Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on Jeremiah 23:24:
“Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. If a man should hide himself in the most secret and hidden places of the earth, and do his works in the most private manner, so that no human eye can see him, he cannot hide himself or his actions from the Lord, who can see from heaven to earth, and through the darkest and thickest clouds, and into the very bowels of the earth, and the most hidden and secret recesses and caverns of it. The darkness and the light are both alike to him; and also near and distant, open and secret places:
do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord; not only with inhabitants, and with other effects of his power and providence; but with his essence, which is everywhere, and is infinite and immense, and cannot be contained in either, or be limited and circumscribed by space and place; see 1 Kings 8:27. The Targum is,
“does not my glory fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord;”'
both of them are full of his glory; and every person and thing in either must be seen and known by him; and so the false prophets and their lies; in order to convince of the truth of which, all this is said, as appears by the following words.” (1)
“One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:6)
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
“And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” (Colossians1:17)
From Scripture on transcendence:
“Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?” (Jeremiah 23:23)
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith 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)
From the Pulpit Commentary on Isaiah 55:8:
“Verses 8-13. - A FRESH ASSURANCE or DELIVERANCE FROM BABYLON. Man can scarcely conceive of the deliverance which God designs; but God's thoughts are not as man's (vers. 8, 9). God's word, once pronounced, is potent to effect its purpose (vers. 10, 11). Deliverance from Babylon, having been promised, will take place, and will be accompanied by all manner of spiritual blessings (vers. 12, 13). Verses 8, 9. - My thoughts are not your thoughts. Though man is made in God's image (Genesis 1:27), yet the nature of God in every way infinitely transcends that of man. Both the thoughts and the acts of God surpass man's understanding. Men find it hard to pardon those who have offended them; God can pardon, and “pardon abundantly.” Men cannot conceive of coming changes, when they pass certain limits. God knows assuredly what changes are approaching, since they are his doing.” (2)
“That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.” (Acts 17:27)
“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:3)
“But to which of the angels said he at any time, sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?” (Hebrews 1:13)
From the Dictionary of Theological Terms on Immanence:
“A word used to convey the idea of God indwelling His creation and its processes. It is the counterpart of transcendence, * which emphasizes His distinctness from and total sovereign superiority over His creation. Pantheism is immanentistic: it, in fact, identifies God with the universe. Another form of immanence is the notion of theistic evolution: God is viewed as always acting “naturally" (i.e., within the course of nature and by means of natural development) and not supernaturally.
These are unscriptural and clearly erroneous views of the immanence of God. Still, the idea of God's immanence is scriptural. It is not antagonistic to His transcendence. He is immanent in that He is omnipresent throughout His creation (Ps. 139), and yet He is transcendent in that He is personally and essentially distinct from and infinitely superior to His creation. This was graphically portrayed to the Israelites by the camp around the tabernacle. The tabernacle, with the pillar of cloud, signified God's presence or immanence. His separation, or transcendence, was signified by the fact that the camp was separated from the tabernacle on all four sides by the Levites and Moses, Aaron and the priests (Num. 1:53; 3:31–38).” (3)
From the Dictionary of Theological Terms on Transcendence:
“The theological term that emphasizes the distinction of God from His creation, and His sovereign exaltation over it. In the popular phrase of Barth, God is "wholly other." He is not part of the universe. He is not the sum of the parts of the universe. He is not the soul of the universe. He is the eternal, uncreated, absolute, self-contained, self-existent, sovereign Creator by whose will and power all things exist. They depend on Him for their being; He depends on none.
Rejection of or rebellion against this essential truth lies at the root of many theological heresies. Pantheism, panentheism, liberalism, God-is-dead theology, process theology, and various forms of political theology show how truth perishes once we lose sight of the transcendence of God.” (4)
Transcendence and immanence by Cornelius Van Til:
“The incommunicable attributes of God stress his transcendence and the communicable attributes stress his immanence. The two imply one another. A Christian notion of transcendence and a Christian notion of immanence go together.
It is not a sufficient description of Christian theism when we say that as Christians we believe in both the transcendence and the immanence of God while pantheistic systems believe only in the immanence of God and deistic systems believe only in the transcendence of God. The transcendence we believe in is not the transcendence of deism and the immanence we believe in is not the immanence of pantheism. In the case of deism transcendence virtually means separation while in the case of pantheism immanence virtually means identification. And if we add separation to identification we do not have theism as a result. As we mean a certain kind of God when as theists we speak of God, so also we mean a certain kind of transcendence and a certain kind of immanence when we use these terms. The Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of the relation of God to the created universe. So also the Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of everything in the created universe.” (5)
[John Frame’s ‘Rectangle of Opposition’ is a device used throughout his writings to show the antithesis between the biblical view of transcendence and immanence on the left side and the non-biblical view on the right. The diagonal lines represent direct contradictions, while the horizontal lines represent the similarity of language used in the two positions. The vertical line on the left represents the consistency of the biblical view whereas the vertical line on the left represents the tension within the non-biblical view.] #
Immanent or Transcendent? by Gordon H. Clark:
“However, peculiar this type of philosophy may be, contemporary Protestantism is largely dominated by it. The Neo-orthodox ministers may talk about god and revelation, but they do not have in mind the objective God and the objective revelation of the Westminster Confession. They do not believe that the Bible tells the truth. For example, Emil Brunner, who through his books and through his one-time position in Princeton Theological Seminary has become popular in the United States, is so far removed from the Confession that he holds neither the words of Scripture nor the thoughts of Scripture to be the truth. To quote: “All words have merely an instrumental significance. Not only the linguistic expressions but even the conceptual content is not the thing itself, but just its framework, its receptacle, and medium.” A few pages later he continues, “God can…speak his word to a man even through false doctrine.” God then reveals himself in falsehood and untruth. What a revelation!
This type of theology is to be explained partly as a reaction to the immanentism of Hegel, for whom God or the Absolute is nothing other than the unity of the total universe. For Hegel, without the world there could be no God. Kierkegaard, Brunner, and their disciples want a transcendent god. Either immanence, or transcendence; not both-and. By insisting on the transcendence of god, they are able to cloak themselves with the pseudo-piety of their infinite passion and to deceive many Christians who know little about German theology. They can quote Scripture: Of course it may be false, but it is still a revelation. For example, in exalting god above all human limitations they remind us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Therefore, they say, the divine mind is so far above our finite minds that there is not a single point of coincidence between his knowledge and ours. When a Calvinist attempts to reason with them logically, they disparagingly contrast human logic with divine paradox. God is Totally Other. He is never an object of our thought. In one ecclesiastical meeting I heard a minister say the human mind possesses no truth at all. And last year in Europe I visited a certain professor who asserted that we can have no absolute truth whatever. When he said that, I took a piece of paper and wrote on it, we can have no absolute truth whatever. I showed him the writing, the sentence – We can have no absolute truth whatever – then I asked, is that sentence absolute truth? Do you not see that if the human mind can have no truth, it could not have the truth that it has no truth? If we know nothing, we could not know we know nothing. And if there is no point of coincidence between God’s knowledge and ours, it rigorously follows, since God knows everything, that we know absolutely nothing.
With such skepticism, it is not surprising that their religion consists in a passionate inwardness that appropriates nothing objective. Unfortunately, skepticism, particularly when discussed in such an academic tone as this address, does not provoke as passionate a reaction among the evangelically minded as it ought. But one ought to realize that even the most gentle and innocuous skepticism is sufficient to defeat the Gospel. To speed the dissolution of Christianity, it is not necessary to say that we know a contrary philosophy is true; it is equally effective to say that we do not know anything is true. The Gospel is a message of positive content, and whether it is dogmatically denied or merely silenced makes little difference.
What is more unfortunate is that the skepticism of Neo-orthodoxy is especially insidious. Men who adopt the position of Kierkegaard and Brunner not only make use of terms such as God and revelation, but they also talk of sin and justification. Some of them might even preach a tolerably good sermon on imputed righteousness. This deceives simple-minded believers. When people hear the familiar words, they naturally assume that the familiar ideas are meant. They fail to see that the Neo-orthodox consider neither the words nor even the intellectual content to be the truth. Although the sermon may be on Adam and the Fall, the Neo-orthodox minister understands the words in a mythological sense. Adam is the myth by which we are stimulated to an infinite passion.” (6)
The Christian God is transcendent above and beyond creation and the creator of all things. The Christian God is not surrounded by mystery since He is the author, creator, and controller of history and space/time universe. The transcendence of God should be understood as being connected to His divine sovereignty. The transcendence of God means that He is above, different than, and separate from His creation.
The Christian God is also immanent. His immanence means that God is within or near His creation. Immanence is intimately related to God's omnipresence, in that God is always present within the universe, though separate from it. God is within the universe and is its sustaining cause.
To argue for God's transcendence only and deny God's immanence leads to deism. On the other hand, to deny His transcendence and argue for His immanence leads to pantheism.
“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Jeremiah, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, pp.422-423.
2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Isaiah, Vol. 10, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 330.
3. Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International), pp. 184-185.
4. Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International), p. 413.
5. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey), pp.11-12.
6. Gordon Clark, God's Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics, (Jefferson, Maryland, The Trinity Foundation), p. 192-194.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
# Quote on Frame’s diagram of ‘Rectangle of Opposition’ borrowed from: https://corneliusvantil.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/transcendence-and-immanence/
* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/
*** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/
**** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics