A Vindication of Divine Paradox by PS Rudolph P. Boshoff

Since the beginning of time, man had a deep-seated restlessness that would express itself in the apparent need to partially comprehend Someone beyond themselves. In their articulation, words like “otherness” and “beyondness” come to mind when trying to explain ideas about God. Biblically, there is no doubt that God is wholly beyond us, and equally other than us. Numerous individual souls prolong their search through giving no attention to their inherent desire or simply because of overfamiliarity or pure boredom. Some have stopped their search at the point of incomprehensibility and was left with a “Deist God,” void of any form of affinity. Martin Heinecken  adds: “Otherness means not only above, merely in His “transcendence.” Otherness means not only transcendence, but means transcendence plus immanence. It is precisely this that constitutes the mystery. God is immanent in everything, yet he is by no means to be identified with it. What this means can be apprehended in part by speaking of a “dimensional beyondness. God is in a different dimension than ours.”[1] Let me venture to say that a solely transcendent deity without any self-disclosing immanence is simply inept and lack the attributes as the greatest conceivable being. Therefore, both transcendence and immanence is necessary and essentially important! C. T. Routledge mentions that, “According to Jewish tradition, God is not only transcendent but is also personal, concerned, and responsive. God is near and hears the prayers of humankind; the Shekhinah is among Jews when they study Torah and is present when people behave justly. Further, there is no need for a mediator between God and humans since people can actively address and seek God directly with their prayers”.[2] The Christian faith is the only religion where both the line of transcendence and immanence seems to vindicate their understanding of their God and ultimately consummated the fact in the Incarnation of Christ.

Definitions:

images (3)Moody handbook of theology describes “transcendence” as the “fact that God is separated from man and above man. God is transcendent because He is infinite and man is finite. God is “wholly other” than man”[3]. In the same vain it also describes “immanence” as “God condescends to enter into personal fellowship and live with those who have repented of their sins and trusted His Son for their Salvation”.[4] Christian Theology by its very supposition reveals a realized Theology of Incarnation. Louis Berkhof affirms that the “Christian teachings of the immanence and involvement of God and his love for humanity exclude the belief that God is of the same substance as the created universe but accept that God incarnated as a man”.[5] Dr. John A. Mackay unflinchingly asserts “the Christian faith is that God was in Christ”.[6] Both these terms seemingly noticeably absent in today’s theological schemas. S.F. Davenport & F.R. Tennant writes in their Immanence and Incarnation that; “A study of the History of Immanence must convince us that the term has, as a matter of fact, been used solely in a metaphysical sense; our criticism is directed against the necessity of so u
sing it.”[7]
As Christians, we need to endeavor to explain even the difficult ideas surrounding our faith and the understanding of our God. The incarnation purports this reality beautifully when we see the transcendent unveiling itself to be known. S.F. Davenport & F.R. Tennant writes in their Immanence and Incarnation that; “God’s immanence in creation may be regarded from the metaphysical point of view alone, but the import of the conception is by no means confined to its metaphysical use. Precisely the same treatment has been accorded to the Person of Christ and with no less disastrous and dangerous results. Theologians and philosophers have been much perplexed to explain how any incarnation was possible; how the Unconditioned and Absolute God could subject Himself to human limitations; how He could live a conditioned life upon earth. They know that it belonged, as of right, to the Supreme God to possess the attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience; yet they beheld One Who claimed identity with God asserting His inability to perform miracles, His ignorance of certain events, and His limited and particular existence upon a very limited and particularly geographical area”.[8]  

Extreme Transcendence:

  • Pantheism:

S.F. Davenport & F.R. Tennant writes “In the metaphysics of pantheism surely man and the Divine are identical. Man and everything else are absolute through the laVRe1QX9ws of their own Spirit or constitution. There can be no logical advance or progress; ascent to God is an impossibility, for the simple reason that the two are but one”… God can be identified with this and that thing, this and that person. There is no gap between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought to be’, man has nothing to cast off, nothing to become. Degrees of reality, degrees of immanence are impossible, for this implies difference, whereas there is no difference”. [9] Richard W. De Haan writes, “God is not IN the tree, HE is not IN the flower. God is NOT in any other such subject. He is distinct from His creation. But He is everywhere. Furthermore He is everywhere in His person. We must not think about God as being partly in one location of His universe and partly in another. Those who do this show their concept of God is as some material substance, which is extended into infinity. Such a view is not in keeping with the Biblical teaching that God is Spirit, which He is a person, and wherever God is He is there in totality of His Person”.[10] In the Christian concept of God and specifically the Incarnation of the Son there is a balance and a safeguard against the creature and the Creator distinction. Elevating one central aspect of God’s self-revelation or lack thereof inevitably renders God subject to a pantheistic or deistic distortion. When the demand is placed on God to be above “all norms and created reality, God becomes a solitary despot, and when He is rendered as part of all things he becomes a pantheistic demiurge. Let’s look at extreme immanence.

Extreme Immanence:

  • Deism:

16633208-Abstract-word-cloud-for-Deism-with-related-tags-and-terms-Stock-PhotoThe strange believe that God is ultimately distant seems essentially anti-biblical. The original state of creation is God dwelling with man (Gen.3:8).  Now when we look at the “closeness” of God we need to understand that we do not believe God is immanent in all things, that is Pantheism. S.F. Davenport & F.R. Tennant writes; “The Error of pantheism is that in confusing the world with God, any reality that should be predicated of God apart from the world is lost to sight. Deism goes astray in the opposite direction by interposing such a rigid and impenetrable barrier between God and the World that all connection which ought to unite the two is forfeited… While pantheism delights to say God was “closer to us than breathing, nearer than hands and feet,” deism is only happy when it can declare that He is “higher than the heavens: what can thou do?”[11] The God of the Scriptures is not a deistic despot! James W. Sire writes; “Essentially, deism “reduces” the number of features God is set to display. He is a transcendent force or energy, a Prime mover or First Cause, a beginning to the otherwise infinite regress of past causes. But he is not really a he, though the personal pronoun remains in the language used about him. Certainly, he does not care for his creation; he does not love it. He has no “personal” relation to it at all…To the deist, then, God is distant, foreign, alien.”[12] Both extreme immanence and transcendence seems to pervert the view of a maximally complete God. “A position of extreme immanence may see God as a being whose substance and activity are almost identical with the world (substantial immanence), either wholly (pantheism) or partially (panentheism: the world is in God)”… Extreme transcendence tends to destroy God’s efficacy and hence man’s religiosity, while extreme immanence tends to destroy either man’s humanity – his individual freedom and ethical categories – or God’s divinity – His perfection and power”.[13]

  • Christian Theism:

Christian Theism is not a blend between pantheism and deism but rather a separate category by which Godimminent_transcendant_god manifests Himself immanently without violating His absolute transcendence. James W. Sire writes; [Transcendence] “means God is beyond us and our world. He is otherly. Look at a stone: God is not it; God is beyond it. Look at man: God is not He; God is beyond him. Yet God is not so beyond that He bears no relation to us and our world. It is likewise true that God [of the Bible] is immanent, and this means that He is with us”.[14] The transcendence and Immanence of God guards against a complete rationalism when mentioning the complete knowability of God, but likewise, it guards against a severe irrationalism and gives life to a knowable God. The Deist God is just a cause that is seemingly unlike everything in the natural realm where the pantheist God is emanating in everything tangible in the natural realm. In fact, I would surmise that all forms of foreign Theisms accept Christian Theism makes god a subject that is seemingly lost to a greater reality, which is ultimately only unknowable. The concern is then as W.R. Matthews mention that, “The incomprehensibility of God is not equivalent to His knowability. A Deity who is unknowable in the proper meaning of the word would be as useless for the purpose of religion as he would be as useless for the purpose of religion as he would be contradictory for thought. It would be impossible to worship a being of whom we could know nothing at all, and it is unmeaning to assert the existence of a “something I know not what ”.[15] This is exactly the problem I have with the God of Islam, he is essentially not identified with his attributes but seemingly above them. He is beyond reason, realm, and revelation.

Kenneth Boa writes, “God dwells in the universe, but He nevertheless separated from it by an unbridgeable gap. God is immanent within His words but He is also transcendent above them. He is both near and far; intimate yet separate. Ï dwell in a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly in spirit” (Isa.57:15). Berkhof puts it this way: God is incomprehensible but yet knowable. He is incomprehensible because of His immanence but He is knowable because of His immanence. He is the infinite-personal God, the separate-indwelling God, the Creator-Redeemer, and the Author-Sustainer. The transcendent-immanent God is the only adequate object of faith.[16]Truly, on the God of the Bible is ultimately and intimately known. S.F. Davenport & F.R. Tennant writes “The Logos, or Divine reason, is God in operation, God as present and working, not necessarily in creation, but as opposed to Himself. The Son is God as He distinguish Himself from Himself, and proceeds from Himself…” [17] John Frame just describes the fact that our God is the greatest, conceivable, being possible when he writes: “The God of the Bible is not a nameless, unknowable absolute, removed from the course of human history. Nor is he one who gives his power and authority over to the world he has made. He dwells everywhere with us as the covenant Lord. The important thing about the discussion of transcendence and immanence in modern theology is not that theologians have different over decree of emphasis to be placed on transcendence or immanence. It is rather that modern theologians have adopted views of both transcendence and immanence that are sharply opposed to those of the Bible.”[18]

Divine Transcendence & Divine Immanence.

download (1)Let us make it clear that our God is both reasonable because He is ultimately known in His own self-disclosure and the only One worthy of Ultimate praise because of His very own divine existence! John H. Leith reminds us that; “God is the eternal being who created and preserves the world. Christians believe God to be both transcendent (wholly independent of, and removed from, the material universe) and immanent (involved in the world)”.[19] From a Theological perspective Christian Theism is the only reasonable position that can qualify as a cogent view of God’s self-disclosure [Afr. – “verweesinlik”]. Brant Bosserman writes; “The Trinity safeguards the Creator-creature distinction by demanding that the latter must have been created (a) “out of nothing” and (b) with a temporal beginning (cf. Gen.1:1; Col.1:16; Rev.4:11). First, as a self-defined being, the Triune God is not reliant on a contrasting material universe to express Himself.” [20] Here I will suggest the following proposition:

  • For God to be transcendent and immanent He communicates Himself as Triune.
  • God’s omnipresence demands His personal presence in all space, time, and matter.
  • God is therefore both eternally transcendent and immanently “temporal” to His people because He is an omnipresent God.
  • He is therefore above His creation and also free to be part of His creation.

NB => God is therefore essentially transcend both space, time, and matter otherwise He is not the omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient God.

Summary thought:

Paul Copan & William Lane Craig writes; “biblical, divine transcendence must be counterbalanced by the equally important aspect of divine immanence. Both reason and Scripture remind us that there can be a world external to God without excluding either divine omnipotence or interrelationship. We can affirm divine transcendence without eclipsing divine immanence… a Unitarian understanding of God’s absolute transcendence and sovereignty at the expense of his immanence, are more adequately addressed by Trinitarian theology. In such a theological framework, the interpenetration or mutual indwelling (perichoresis or circumincessio) of the divine persons furnishes a relational context for understanding Creator and creation, transcendence and immanence. God over and God in. When we lay aside the “Unitarian” or strictly “hierarchical” model of God, much of the discussion of God’s relationship to the world can move forward because God is viewed as God-in-relation. God is necessarily relational even sans the universe.”[21]

Jesus as both God and man:

The Biblical God is both omnipresent and personal in all space, time and matter. He therefore both eternally chalcedon-dualismtransient and immanently temporal in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Scripturally we see Him being above his creation and therefore free to be part of His creation in the Incarnation. S.F. Davenport & F.R. Tennant writes “Incarnation is the sequel, the crown and consummation of Creation, for from the beginning God always longed for a form of self-expression that should completely and fully reveal His majesty, His goodness, and above all, His blessed love.”[22] For God to be the greatest conceivable being, He need to both be transcendent and immanent being above space, time, and matter yet, master the schema of time, space and matter to make Himself known through a Personalistic world view. Therefore, for an Omnipresent God, transcendent infinitude and immanent finitude is not mutually exclusive but exclusively necessary. In the Incarnation (Afr. “fleeswording”) and the hypostatic union, our God ‘veils’ Himself for the purpose of intimacy and self-impartation. S.F. Davenport & F.R. Tennant writes; “Incarnation is the climax of immanence as God is revealed as Self-imparting; by His immanent presence He still separated as regards His person from us, but in Incarnation He perfectly assumes human nature”.[23] “Transcendence forbids identification of the Logos with the world, immanence forbids a solitary Being engaged from all eternity in contemplating Himself and being satisfied with His own glory. There must be no deification of the laws and forces of nature, but of the lawgiver; likewise there must be no absolute gulf separating God from nature; there must be incarnation. Immanence and transcendence are both essential.” [24] “The Christian revelation of Jesus Christ has revealed…the essential nature of the Godhead. We have no absolute revelation of God’s nature without a transcendent act on the part of God. The Transcendent, which alone is able to reveal the nature of the Revealer, and which is never wholly comprehended by any immanental process. On the other hand, unless such a revelation consummates by completing God’s previous indwelling in the world, we have no continuity and no means of understanding that revelation. The Incarnation, the process is fulfilled by an act without the process; immanence is completed in Transcendence, in which it lives and moves and has its being.”[25]

Question on the Hypostatic Union.

When it comes to the Hypostatic Union, we hear that God violates His transcendence by become ‘incarnate’ [Afr. Fleeswording]. I suggest the following proposition:

  • Can anything material reduce God to be anything lower than God?
  • No Material thing can make God less God.

A). Can material things make God more God?

B). No material thing can make God more than God.

NB => The Incarnation of Christ did not make Him more God when he took on flesh or less God when he did.

Fourth_ecumenical_council_of_chalcedon_-_1876From Nicaea to the Council of Chalcedon Christians hold to the fact that Christ embodies two radical perspectives; one of transcendent infinitude & one of immanent finitude. The point I was trying to make is that in God’s ‘absolute’ personality the notion of diverse attributes within his divine nature is only plausible when God is a Trinity. Bruce Ware writes, “they are not distinct in essence, for each share the identical same divine nature [taxis]. The Triune God then by necessity possess an infinitude of attributes because “there can be no limit to the circumincession of any deity that is self-contained in a tri-personal fashion” [*Bosserman]. The full reality of Scripture shows each of the “attributes” of God defines the others without dominating the others (perichoresis). God in himself is complete and, in the incarnation, Christ displayed both eternal/temporal attributes he always had which are ‘vindicated’ and ‘restored’ to Him at His resurrection (Joh.2:19-21,10:17-18, 17:5, Acts 5:30-32, Rom. 8:11). In His pursuit to do the will of the Father, he accomplished this as the perfect man by “proportioning” to Himself the full nature of a man (yet, without sin). The full spectrum of Scripture affirms that he retained all the infinite and eternal ‘attributes’, and he allows Himself the restrictions of being “true man” for the purpose of the divine assignment [Note: the action of emptying constituted in Christ own expressed will nl. Phil.2:8, Mat.26:39, Joh.10:18]. The vindication in His resurrection is therefore also an affirmation of His Divinity and the assurance of His completed task revealing His previous state of complexity. As for Ps.37:28 the whole point is that Jesus would not be forsaken in death (Ps.16:10 + Acts 2:27 = the fact) and the cross was an Act of love (Joh.3:16 , Eph.2:4, Rom.5:8) and he death Jesus experienced was not mere “window dressing” (Ps.116). As for Dan.9:9/Deut.7:9,12, it does not denote a core quality of God like Him being love as indicated clearly in 1 Joh.4:8-9, yet I will not denounce God’s compassion or forgiveness as expressed results of His Being which is foundationally love. The same could be said of Gal 5, note: it is one ‘fruit’ which through is expressed as an essential Divine quality (v/16,24-25). By attributes I mean the characteristics “qualities of God that constitute what he is, the very characteristics of his nature”.[26] God’s communicable attributes are essential to Him but evident in His human creatures where his incommunicable attributes are those attributes where no counterpart can be found at all.download

As a note on Ware’s quote; he simply explains that Christ embodies two radical perspectives; one of transcendent infinitude & one of immanent finitude as Christian Orthodoxy has always maintained. We hold the Incarnation was more an addition of human attributes to Christ than a loss of His Divine attributes. Jesus did not cease to be in nature what the Father was but became functionally subordinate to the Father for the period of His Incarnation. We recognize therefore Biblically his actions were always those of divinity and humanity. Erickson cautions us that “we assume that divine nature simply cannot be assimilated with human nature, but that assumption is based on the Greek conception of the impassibility of deity rather than upon the Bible”.[27] The God of the Bible is therefore both “transcendent” and “immanent” where Allah of the quran wholly “transcendent.” Jesus visibly display to us that He has two natures (100% God/Man) unified in the person of Christ (hypostasis). There is therefore no violation of the “perfect being” of Jesus as God because as the perfect God He is also the perfect man. When we assume that “an infinitude of attributes” needs to be prevalent in the One being of God to make him God while at the same time the “lacking [of] both knowledge and power” would declare the One God not to be God, is to violate the conception of the two natures that safeguards against both the eternal and temporal ‘attributes’ in the unique ‘person’ of Jesus Christ. Your disallowance of the hypostatic union can only be articulated by holding to or ‘Monophysitism’ [which asserts Christ was just one person, which had only a divine nature] or ‘Arianism’ [Jesus was just a man]. When Ware use the word “restored” it assumes a previously held position as affirmed by Christ (Joh.17:5, 8:58, Prov.8:23).

Summary thought:

  • An ordinary Human person does not have eternal attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence.
  • God by His very self-definition do not have limited properties like a normal human person.
  • Christ displays both eternal & essential properties of humanity and divinity.

NB => Jesus Christ is therefore both God and man.

Mysticism and rationalism:

The challenge of Theology is always how we can make it practical to the Christian. Richard Foster writes, “A life that makes present and visible the realm of the invisible Spirit.” [28] In fact, John Frame defines Immanence as the “covenant presence”, and Transcendence “refers to God as the Most High, the One who dwells above.[29] The purpose of the Incarnation was to make Christ presently active within our daily walks and lives. “If, therefore we are to use the language of transcendence and immanence, it would be best to use transcendence for God’s royal control and authority, and immanence for his covenant presence.”[30] Mere theological constructs without expressed Godliness is simply dead religiosity. I see numerous people involved in a plethora of ideas about God, where they have never met the Divine, nor have been present to His person!. God demands intimacy, nothing less…nothing more. This is the axis of transformation and we need to bring our thoughts about God home to the place where the “ïd” and “ego” find God. Dead religion is bread by impractical pious thoughts about God. Frame reminds Rb picus “It is not biblical, therefore to interpret God’s transcendence to mean merely that he is located somewhere far and away, in heaven”.[31] Bernard of Clairvaux reminds us that, “The more I contemplate God, the more God looks on me. The more I pray to him, the more he thinks of me too.”

Selah!

PS Rudolph.

Sources: 

[1] The Living God: Readings in Christian Theology. Pg.389.

[2] Source: “Jewish Beliefs about God”  

[3] Moody Handbook of Theology. Pg.649.

[4] Moody Handbook of Theology. Pg.637.

[5]  Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology Banner of Truth publishers:1963, p.61

[6] Christian message for the World today, 1934, Pg.116.

[7] Immanence and Incarnation. S F Davenport & F R Tennant. Pg. 57.

[8] Immanence and Incarnation. S F Davenport & F R Tennant. Pg. 58.

[9] Immanence and Incarnation. S F Davenport & F R Tennant. Pg. 3.

[10] Richard W. De Haan; “The Living God.” Pg.51. 

[11] Immanence and Incarnation. S F Davenport & F R Tennant. Pg. 6.

[12] The Universe next door. Pg.49.

[13] New 20th Century Encyclopedia  of religious knowledge”. J.D. Douglas, General Editor. Pg. 418.

[14] The Universe next door. Pg.25.

[15] God in Christian thought and experience. Pg.137.

[16] God I don’t understand. Pg.123.

[17] Immanence and Incarnation. S F Davenport & F R Tennant. Pg. 5.

[18] The Doctrine of God. Pg.114.

[19] Source: Basic Christian Doctrine Pg. 55-56

[20] The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox Pg.139-140.

[21] Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration

By Paul Copan, William Lane Craig. Pg. 20-21.

[22] Immanence and Incarnation. S F Davenport & F R Tennant. Pg.137.

[23] Ibid. Pg.136

[24] Ibid. Pg.138.

[25] Ibid. Pg.263.

[26]Millard Erickson – Christian Theology. Pg.291-293.

[27] Ibid. (Pg.753)

[28] Foster, Richard J. 1998. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the great traditions of the Christian faith. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. Pg.272.

[29] The Doctrine of God. Pg.105.

[30] The Doctrine of God. Pg.106.

[31] The Doctrine of God. Pg.105.

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