Click here to listen to the sermon: Psalm 27: The Immanence of God
For the month of November we will look at various attributes of God - in doing this we want to be careful not to think we know God when we’re merely getting to know some characteristics of him. You still need to act on who you know God to be by enjoying a relationship of faith with Him.
One of issues that I hear people bring up when they’re resisting a relationship with God is that a good God cannot exist if there is so much suffering in the world. Although we might want to use this contradiction to prove that a good God cannot exist we open ourselves up to a far more unsettling contradiction - one within ourselves. You see, we long for exactly the kind of God we say does not exist: a good God that stands outside the brokenness of this world whilst being present enough to act against the suffering of this world.
But Christians have always held these two truths together - that of God’s transcendence and that of his immanence. That of God’s far-ness and that of his near-ness. The Bible teaches both.
Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Psalm 113:5-6 – Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
John 8:23 – You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.
John 1:14 – The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Philippians 2:6 – Christ, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
The problem comes in, as John Frame explains in his Systematic Theology (p. 701) that the world defines transcendence and immanence differently than Christians would. He very helpfully provides the following diagram:
“In the biblical understanding, God’s transcendence over the world is his control and authority, his immanence in the world his covenantal presence. Non-Christian thought, too, often acknowledges some “transcendent reality.” But on the non-Christian view, transcendence refers to a reality that is so far beyond us, so mysterious to us, that we cannot have certain knowledge about it. And for non-Christian thought, immanence means that supreme authority and power is vested in the world, not in something beyond the world. So biblical transcendence (1) contradicts non-biblical immanence (4), and non-biblical transcendence (3) contradicts biblical immanence (2). To know God rightly, we must view the world as Scripture does, not as non-Christian thought does.” John Frame
In other words - you might, or your friends might say that there is a god - a great, etherial, heavenly being that is neither knowable or present, but one that exists and that our job is not to listen to, or obey him but to disregard what is not present and to work out our problems through science, or education or military might. We could even use the phrase “spiritual but not religious” to say that our spiritual belief has no bearing on what we do with our lives.
But the God of the Bible challenges us: he is both far and near - both transcendent and immanent - a truth that becomes especially clear when he is crucified. As Jesus, or Immanuel (“God is with us”) died a supernatural darkness fell over all Jerusalem. In order for the Holy, Good and Transcendent God to take us as broken, sinful human beings into himself he had to pay the outstanding debt of our cosmic treason. It cost him his life to bring us near to him. But now he is - much nearer than you think. His Spirit lives inside of us - crying out within us - within the brokenness of the hear and now that things are not as they should be. He is the one that points us to the deepest contradiction within: we want a world without suffering but we can’t stop contributing to that suffering by our own sinfulness. But he won’t leave us. He came to break the grip of sin and death over us and he will bring us safely home.
To end all wars - Glen Scrivener (watch it here)
What ceases war, the pressing question?
What can halt inborn aggression?
To end all wars and retribution
War itself is no solution
Can terror end all terror now
Brute force subdue itself and bow
Can darkness drive out darkened dread
Or death extinguish death instead
We need to interrupt the spiral
Find the anti-retroviral
The story’s told of anti-Zeus
The God of peace made human truce
Into our world into our midst
A walking talking armistice
A King now meek
His power made weak
To stand and turn the other cheek
To take the blow
Then rise to give again his face
In grace undimmed
And arms unfurled
To bless and pacify the world
And you - to sweet surrender brought
Forgiveness for your battles fought
Peace to pastor every soul
Then warfare ceased from pole to pole