““Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”
Jeremiah 23:23-24 ESV
Through the Bible: Jeremiah 23-25
Immanence and Transcendence. Two big words; neither of which actually appear in the Bible, but nevertheless describe two opposite traits of God that are somehow both true.
First, God’s immanence. Immanence means presence. It is God’s “at hand-ness” to use the phrase from Jeremiah 23. Throughout Scripture, God’s nearness is highlighted. His Word is immanent in Deuteronomy 30:
““For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
God’s presence is also immanent. In Isaiah 43:2, He is the God who is with us when we pass through the waters. In Daniel 3, He is the fourth man in the fire with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.
Of course, nowhere is God’s immanence more apparent than in the Incarnation of Jesus. Although, like I said, the word “immanence” isn’t in Scripture, it almost is:
““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
Matthew 1:23 ESV
As much as every page of Scripture resonates with God’s nearness, though; God’s transcendence is just as apparent. He is high and exalted in Isaiah 7. He dwells in unapproachable light in 1 Timothy 6:
“who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
1 Timothy 6:16 ESV
God’s attributes are also transcendent. He does not share His omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence with anyone else. He tells Isaiah—remember him? The same prophet who revealed that Messiah would be called Immanuel—he told Isaiah,
“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’”
Isaiah 46:9-10 ESV
Finally, God’s character is transcendent. While He is with us, he is altogether not like us. Numbers 23:19 tells us that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
And in Psalm 50, God gives this stunning word of rebuke to a people that had apparently become too familiar with Him:
“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”
Psalm 50:21 ESV
This, apparently, was how the lying prophets viewed God in Jeremiah’s day. They thought nothing of “committing adultery and walking in lies” (Jer. 23:14). They had gotten so comfortable with speaking on God’s behalf that they were telling lies about him. So through Jeremiah, God reminded them that he wasn’t just immanent. He was also transcendent.
“But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds. “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?”
Jeremiah 23:22-23 ESV
Praise God that He is with us. But fear God because He is not like us. We have to keep both these truths in tension. Focus too much on God’s transcendence, and you will never approach Him. Focus too much on God’s immanence, and you will recast Him in your own image.
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