Transcendence and Immanence: A Perfect Pairing

“Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside each other.” -G.K. Chesterton

Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man; the Trinity is one but three; God is sovereign but man is responsible; God is transcendent and utterly other, yet God is immanent and incredibly near. Superhuman paradoxes, indeed.

In the new heavens and the new earth, our minds will begin to comprehend these marvelous mysteries and will have eternity to enjoy and explore them; however, here and now, our brains cannot possibly wrap themselves around these seemingly contradictory truths.

While Christ holds these blazing paradoxes together perfectly, we tend to lean to one side or another on these crazy continuums.

Growing up a practical atheist in the Catholic school system, I had no trouble imagining God as transcendent, even if it would be decades before I was introduced to the word. Far off, other, indescribably huge and unapproachable; that was about all I was sure about when it came to God.

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I remember getting knots in my stomach as we marched in our uniforms the three blocks from the school to the Church for our quarterly trip to Confession. Phrases floated in and out of my head as feelings flew around in my gut. “Venial sin and mortal sin. If you die in a state of mortal sin, you go to hell.” Which ones were which again? How many of each had I done? What if I forget one? “Father, forgive me, it has been ___ months since my last confession.” Is it a mortal sin to lie about when my last confession was? I can’t remember the last time, because I only come when they make us.

The smokey grate that separated my scared little face from the Priest who heard our confessions perfectly described transcendence. A strange, faceless voice, a nameless priest. God is other, far away. He sees hears and knows all the wrong we have done. Fear and trembling.

Transcendence was my entrance point into this superhuman paradox. A decade later, sitting in a stranger’s living room, I was introduced to immanence. After watching him make a fool of himself in a goofy dance that I still vividly remember to this day, a YoungLife leader opened up his talk with Colossians 1:15. “He is the visible image of the invisible God.”

For the very first time, I heard about the  Incarnate Christ, the One sent from God for the express purpose that we might know not only what He was like, but know Him in a deeply personal way.  A warm explosion of immanence burst on the scene of my soul, made all the more bright by the dreadful backdrop of a distant transcendence.

I am glad this is my story. The years of knowing only the transcendent side of this particular superhuman paradox made the moment of knowing immanence all the more magical and life-transforming.

My children, on the other hand, are being introduced to the continuum through the doorway of immanence. In our home, Jesus is a friend, one whom Mom and Dad spend sweet Sabbath days with, one who cares intimately about our happiness and our sadness, one who listens to prayers about ladybugs and homeless friends.I am thankful for their familiarity with the nearness of God.

Yet, I also long for my children to know the other-nature of God that makes that His nearness such an unthinkable gift of grace.

I long for our college friends who have grown up in a casual society with little space for concepts like awe or respect to know the transcendence of God. Even those rare few who have grown up within the Church have often heard the Truth tainted with the prosperity  gospel. I long for our collegiate flock to know that God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot, but the wild, untamed Creator and Controller of the universe.

Without an understanding of His transcendence, we approach God with a trite attitude of entitlement; without an understanding of His immanence, we dare not approach the other, far-off God. The wonder of Christianity is that God is both, perfectly and at all times. He is the other, powerful, far-off God who came close in the Incarnation and comes even more invasively close as the indwelling Spirit in believers.

Transcendence and immanence: a perfect pairing. What God has joined together, let no man, no society, no small-mindedness tear asunder.

 

 

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