TRANSCENDENT AND IMMANENT! 11-06-2014

In the Eastern Church, St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) affirmed the utterly unknowable otherness of God as well as the nearness. Palamas wrote, “‘He is both being and non-being’; ‘He is everywhere and nowhere’; ‘He has many names and he cannot be named’, ‘He (She) is everything and nothing’.” Nicholas Lossky (d. 1965) clarifies… “God is mystery, surpassing all reality and all knowledge, and yet God is at the core of our being, closer to us than our own heart. God is unknowable, yet we meet God face to face.”

Can God be evident in all things (immanence) and miraculously burst through the veil once in a while (transcendence)? Can God be in the everyday stuff of life and take human form? Can God inspire writers who shed light on eternal truths, yet are fallible and culturally conditioned (see 1 Corinthians 7:12, 2 Corinthians 11:17)? My answer is yes! Yet, most can only tolerate one interpretation or the other. Some try to limit God’s transcendence, denying God ever intervenes in history. Others try to limit God’s immanence, claiming God has only intervened at set times and is no longer available to us today as to the prophets of old. Yet, no matter how hard we try we can’t limit the infinite! And God will ultimately bust out of any box or category. The nature of the infinite is to foil our pigeonholing schemes. God’s human incarnation jettisons all limitations on our imagination. Somehow Jesus is both transcendent God and immanent human.

God is in the stuff of everyday life, as Sue Bender has enumerated in her books, Everyday Sacred and Plain and Simple. I most appreciate the Christian spiritual classic: The Sacrament of the Present Moment, which spells out God’s immanence. God is in chronos (“regular time” in Greek). Yet, God is also in kairos (“the fullness of time” — when the transcendent God bursts on the scene). Historical Christianity has lacked appreciation for God in everyday life and for the sanctity of all life (Saint Francis of Assisi, the Celts, and Christian Mystics are exceptions ). Yet, some Christians today are taking the everydayness of God too far, to the point of denying God’s transcendence altogether. Both God’s transcendence and immanence are important. Our faith is poorer if we emphasize one to the detriment of the other.

This is the paradox: God is available in the present moment (immanent) and God is beyond anything we can imagine (transcendent). God’s in the world and all the stuff of life. At the same time God transcends and is ultimately beyond anything we can conceive!