You can tell allot about a person by their hands. You can get a clue to a person’s self image by their handshake. The confident person has a solid grip. The arrogant person has a handshake that seems to say, “You know, I can whip you if I want.” And the person who is lacks confidence barely grips your hand at all. They are limp and uncomfortable. There is almost a sense in which they are saying, “You won’t like me . . .I know you won’t.”
The nervous or hyper person often reveals it by their shaking hands, gnawed fingernails or constantly moving hands. You can see tell a calm and confident person by the absence of these things. Their hands are steady.
You can gain insight into the kind of work a person does by their hands. A person who does physical and strenuous labor has hands that have callouses. They are rough and have become so to defend them against the constant stress their hands are put through. Others do delicate work and so their hands are extremely sensitive to touch. Some people are rough in their touch, others are tender.
You will hear it said of athletes that they are big and strong but have “soft hands”. This is the opposite of someone who has stone hands. You throw the ball to the one with stone hands and they will drop the ball. You throw the ball to one with soft hands and they seem to welcome the ball like you would an egg during the egg toss at a family picnic.
I suspect I have you wondering where in the world I am going with this. I know, and I hope you know, that God does not really have hands. But I need to give you an image you can relate to this morning. In order to understand God we must sometimes think in terms of opposites. That’s the case this morning. We need to see that God is beyond us and independent of us . . . but at the same time He has made Himself near. He is strong yet tender. He is powerful but yet has soft hands.
GOD IS TRANSCENDENT . . . He is unique
In order to describe God’s unique character I need to give you two new theological words this morning. The first word is “transcendence”.
R.C. Sproul tells us
transcendence means literally, “to climb across.” It is defined as “exceeding the usual limits.” When we speak of the transcendence of God we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. He is higher than the world. He has absolute power over the world. The world has no power over Him. Transcendence describes God in His consuming majesty, His exalted loftiness. He is an infinite cut above everything else. [The Holiness of God p. 55]
Isaiah was pointing to God’s transcendence when he wrote,
To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to? Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. [Isaiah 40:18-29]
And scripture records God’s own testimony . . .
“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. [Isaiah 55:8,9]
All throughout the Bible we read words like this. They are designed to remind us that God is apart from us. He is over and above what we know and experience. God is transcendent for many reasons.
First, Jesus tells us that God is Spirit (John 4:24). God is not limited by time and space. He is not bound by a body. We are created in God’s image . . . We are fashioned according to His plan . . . and we have characteristics that reflect some of God’s own (intelligence, compassion, a spiritual essence), but God does not have hands, feet, a body, and is not confined to a time and space continuum. God is not like us. He is Spirit.
God is Self-Existent. Everything we hear, taste, smell or touch comes from something. Anything we observe must have a cause adequate to explain it. This idea of cause and effect is even the basis some non-believers use for their belief in a “Supreme Being”. They infer him from the idea of cause and effect. They see order in a universe and conclude there must be one who established the order. Sometimes you will hear people ask, “Well, who made God?” The answer is “No one”. In fact, if something or someone made God then that something or someone would be more God than God!!
James Boice says, “God’s self-existence means that he is not answerable to us or to anybody. Although He sometimes explains things to us, he does not have to and often he does not. God does not have to explain himself to anybody.” [Foundations of the Christian Faith p. 103]
Third, we see God’s transcendence in the fact that He is self-sufficient. God has no needs and therefore He depends on no one. He does not need worshippers, he does not need helpers, he does not need defenders. God is sufficient in and of Himself.
Fourth we see God’s transcendence in the fact that God is eternal. God has always been here. No one made God. He does not have a birthday. He is not limited by time. He has no beginning and no end. He does not change. He always has been . . . and always will be.
Of course there are many other illustrations of God’s transcendence. But you may be thinking, “Why should I care about this?” “What difference does it make” Let me give you two reasons that this matters to us.
First, since God is transcendent it reminds us that we must describe God carefully. We make a mistake when we seek to “draw a picture of God.” Inevitably we will diminish Him even though we have the best of intentions.
Perhaps an illustration would help. If you asked me to tell you about my dad I might tell you that he is retired. It is simple and true . . . but is it an accurate picture of my father? No. I also need to tell you that he worked as a draftsman, he’s always been active in his church, he belonged once to Toastmasters, he worked for two years in Korea, he used to play softball, he grew up Lutheran, was raised on the farm . . . and I could go on and on. And even in those descriptions I still haven’t really told you who my dad is.
Now, if my father is that difficult to accurately describe, we should not be surprised when words fail us when we try to describe God. Yes, we should talk about Him. Of course, we need to tell others about Him. But we must always do so with a quiet reverence that admits that God is so much bigger than our descriptions of Him. Listen to St. Augustine’s declaration about God,
You are ever active, yet always at rest. You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need. . . . You grieve for wrong, but suffer no pain. You can be angry and yet serene. Your works are varied, but your purpose is one and the same. . .You welcome those who come to you, though you never lost them. You are never in need yet are glad to gain, never covetous yet you exact a return for your gifts . . . You release us from our debts, but you lose nothing thereby. You are my God, my Life, my holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? Yet woe betide those who are silent about you. [Confessions p. 21]
Second, since God is transcendent it means we should worship Him passionately. God is unique, spectacular, the One before whom we should bow. Every time we come to worship. Every time we bow in prayer, every time we open His Word we should do so with a reverence that comes from the fact that He is above and beyond us. But we have lost some of this sense of wonder and awe.
Let’s be painfully honest, we give more intensity to our play than we do our worship. We are more passionate towards our family than we are to the Creator. We give greater priority to our jobs, our hobbies, and a carload of other things than we do developing our relationship with the Lord. We have lost our sense of awe.
We are constantly being told that something is new, or better, or noteworthy. Everything is sensationalized. So much effort is exerted to excite us, attract us, and persuade us in the common things of life, that we have become numb to what is truly awesome. We need to regain our sense of God’s greatness. Knowing God is the joy of life. Knowing Him and being with Him should be our finest and chief pursuit. But how do we begin?
I’ve told you many times that even though I would disagree with much that is in Catholic theology, I do appreciate the sense of reverence I have seen in many Catholic churches. I am sobered by the worshipper who kneels before entering their pew in an acknowledgment that they are in the presence of the Lord. I appreciate the ones who kneel during prayer. I appreciate the solemn reverence that is a part of their worship. It is something we have lost.
I encourage you to find ways to remind yourself of God’s transcendence.
- Make it a point to pray when you get into your seat in worship
- Stop and ask God to help you every time you open His Word
- Adopt a posture of prayer when you pray at home
- Make times to intentionally sit in silent wonder before Him
- Consciously give the words of the hymn you are singing as an offering to the Lord
- When you place your check in the offering plate remind yourself that you are giving not to pay the bills, you are giving a gift in honor of the God who has changed your life in Christ.
- Be careful about how you talk about God . . . speak about Him with respect and honor.
Our God is not a “run of the mill” Deity. He is the great God of the universe. Keeping a sense of His transcendence is essential for us to truly honor Him and know Him.
GOD IS IMMANENT . . . . He is Close to Us
The second word I want to give you today is the word “immanent”. The dictionary defines immanence as: “existing in, and extending into, all parts of the created world.” When we say that God is immanent we are affirming that God is close to us. Though God is great and far superior and different from us . . . He is also personal. He condescends (or lowers Himself) to be close to us and to be known by us.
This is the astounding thing about the Christian faith. We affirm that God is Creator, He is supreme, He is above us . . . and yet, “He walks with me and talks with me, and tells me that I am His own.” Listen to some of the Biblical affirmations of God’s immanence.
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? (Deut. 4:5-7]
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ [Acts 17:26-28]
The immanence of God is important to us for several reasons. First, because God is Immanent We can Know Him. C.S. Lewis before He was believer commented,
that he did not think that a person could know God any more than Hamlet could know Shakespeare. Later Lewis came to realize that Hamlet could have known Shakespeare, but it would depend not on Hamlet but on Shakespeare. As the author, he could write himself into the play and make his presence known. Through this analogy, Lewis describes what actually took place when God became man. [C.S. Lewis: Christian History, Issue 7]
The Bible tells us that God has revealed Himself to us. God has written Himself into our lives. God has left His fingerprints in creation. As we look the world God created we can know that God is wise, powerful, creative, good, and orderly. We learn from the fact that we have a conscience and an inbuilt sense of right and wrong that there must be a standard of truth. Our sense of fairness and decency came from somewhere. God reveals Himself in subtle ways.
But God also reveals Himself boldly in the Bible. God used the prophets to communicate His message. He revealed His character in His dealings with the Jews. And He reveals Himself more boldly in Jesus. God became a man and lived on earth for a while to teach us in words and concepts we could understand. We can know God because God has chosen to make Himself known.
Second, Because God is Immanent we can have a relationship with Him. God is not only concerned to tell us what He is like . . . He invites us to talk with Him, to know Him, to enjoy Him and to dwell with Him. How in the world does a finite creature like man have a relationship with the transcendent God? How does a rebellious human being find acceptance from a Holy God? The answer is Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote,
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. [1 Timothy 2:5,6 NASB]
Notice what these verses tell us. First, we are told that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God. There is ONE God and ONE mediator, and that mediator is Jesus. This is not popular in our day of religious tolerance. But understand that we are not saying that Jesus is the only mediator because He is our favorite. We are proclaiming that Jesus is the only mediator because He is the only one qualified to be a mediator.
Paul tells us why Jesus is the true mediator . . .it’s because He gave His life as a ransom for all. When the perfect Son of God gave His life as a substitute for us He erected a bridge that made it possible for us to know, and enjoy a relationship with God.
Mohammed was sincere but He did not give His life as payment for sin and did not rise from the grave. The same is true of Buddha, Confucius, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, L Ron Hubbard and a host of others. Only one has given Himself as a ransom and risen to prove that His payment was acceptable. . . .Jesus.
But as we have said over and over again. This is a relationship that is available only to those who welcome Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf. In other words, Christ’s sacrifice is applied to our rebellion and failures (yes, all of them) ONLY when we consciously receive what He has given.
Let me illustrate. Suppose you are caught in flood waters. You were warned to evacuate but you ignored the warnings. As people were evacuating they stopped by offering to take you to high ground but you scoffed at them. The water keeps rising. You go to the roof of your house but the waters continue to rise. A helicopter comes by and offers to take you to safety. A rope ladder is dropped from the helicopter. At this moment you have several options. You could try to swim to safety (but you will die trying). You could (out of embarrassment, shame, or arrogance) refuse the rope and take your chances (and be swept away). Or you could climb the ladder and trust that doing so will lead you to safety.
This is a picture of salvation. God has warned us about sin all our lives . . . but we have ignored the warnings. We have justified and rationalized our sin and we have tried to redefine what is good. But the waters keep rising. So God, if you will, provides a ladder. He provides a way of escape that we do not deserve. He gives us Jesus who gave His life for our stupidity and rebellion. The ladder is there and we are faced with three choices.
- We can try to work harder and try to earn God’s favor on our own
- We can try to ignore the problem and hope that there is no day of judgment
- We can place our trust in the means God has provided. We can grab hold of Jesus.
I suggest that It’s time to stop talking, debating, and hiding. It’s time to start over with the Savior. Why not do that today? Why not decide in the quiet of this place to dare to trust Jesus to forgive you and to remake you? He has done everything . . . all you must do is grab hold. You do this by an act of faith. In sincerity and in prayer, tell God that you will cling to Christ alone for your hope of eternal life.
And when you have done so, tell someone else. The very act of making your profession public will strengthen that commitment. Many of you have been putting this off. You’ve been hoping that if you just ignore the issue it will go away. It won’t. Decide now before the floodwaters wash you away.
Because God is immanent we can depend on Him. God will always be available. He is always there when we need Him. We can’t say that for our friends and family. Sometimes we are not home, sometimes we are involved in something we can’t get away from, sometimes we are on the Internet and you can’t get hold of us!! That will never happen with the Lord. When we need Him (which is always) He will be there. The Lord NEVER fails. Nations will crumble, financial reserves can disappear, health can be snatched in a moment, friends may disappoint, but the Lord will never fail.
Is it possible that you have forgotten this? Are you filled with anxious thoughts about the future? Are you overwhelmed by what you are facing? Maybe it is an illness in you or in someone you love. Maybe a financial need that threatens to take everything. Maybe it is a conflict with someone that makes you fear for your life. Maybe it is a job that seems to demand more than you have to give. Maybe it is moving away from home for the first time. Perhaps it is the prospect of retirement, or the children leaving the nest, or the rebuilding process that comes after a spouse has died. Whatever the mountain . . . you are not alone. God is near. Isaiah said it well,
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. [Isaiah 40:28-31]
Yes, God is a big God. He is awesome and beyond comprehension. But if you have received His offer of salvation, He is also YOUR God. He is strong. He is above us. He is great . . . but His hands are soft, His arms are strong, and His heart is filled with love. Thanks be to God!