Transcendence: The Top Point of the Cosmic Triangle

Foundational to a biblical cosmology is the idea of a creator-God that is completely above and beyond the universe. Of course, it is even misleading when we use prepositions like “above and beyond” to describe God. It makes it seem like the transcendence-God is essentially distant in the way we think of distance in space and time. The space between us and God is not marked in light years. Rather, distance is understood ontologically (quality of being─uncreated divinity), morally (purity of being), power (all powerful), and knowledge (all knowing). There are two biblical words that describe this unearthly idea of distance, holiness and glory. The opposite of holy is “common,” and everything on earth is common in comparison to God’s holiness. Holiness cannot come into contact with the common. Though God’s glory fills the earth, still what we see of God’s glory is but a glimpse; nature could not stand before the full exposure of God’s glory, let alone sinful humanity. We might say that these transcendent qualities of God, holiness and glory, render God “wholly other.” In fact, there is not one image from nature or an idea of the human mind that can even begin to comprehend God.

But how can we even know that there even is such a transcendent being if He exists so far beyond our powers? How do we know that such a being is not merely human invention? There are two complementary ways of knowing this. First there is nature itself. Though God is always infinitely beyond creation, creation itself is a reflection of the divine mind. However, there would be no way to discern this unless there was a soul powerful enough to receive this knowledge. We humans are made in the image of God, and as such, we have souls and minds that intuitively and indirectly know and sense this great “Unknowable God” Through His creative expression. As we look inside and outside of ourselves, we cannot escape the knowledge of God and an understanding of His transcendence. It takes a moral act of rebellion and the twisting of conscience to deny it. Natural theology is the term the Church uses to describe this ability to know God from within and from without, and we will be held accountable for this knowledge before God (Rom. 1). Moreover, with the powers of faith and love, we can even directly know this great transcendent God.

Second, this natural theology is supplemented and expanded by God’s Word, which is in complete harmony with nature. As Aquinas tells us, “Sacred writings are bound in two volumes─ that of creation and that of Holy Scriptures.” But God’s written Word is itself merely a reflection of God’s living Word in the flesh, Jesus Christ. To know Jesus is to know God in His transcendence, for it is only through the Son Incarnate that humanity can know the Father (John 14:7).

The world we live in has abandoned the idea of biblical transcendence. Since the Enlightenment, the problem of theodicy, that is, how to reconcile evil with a benevolent, transcendent God, has overwhelmed the modern mind. The larger evil seems, the smaller God becomes. If there is a god, he/she must be in process with us, struggling and hoping that things will work out. We have reduced God down to our image. We therefore live in fear and anxiety. When the knowledge of biblical transcendence is lost, the compass of life is without its true north, and the needle goes haywire.

In the Bible, the larger evil and chaos seems, the bigger God becomes to the believing soul. Meditate on Ps. 93. God’s transcendence, His “wholly otherness,” is the foundation of the life of worship. We modern westerners feel that we need to understand everything to have a sense of peace. However, we cannot worship what we understand, for if we can understand Him, we have brought Him down to our meager powers of understanding. The truth of the matter is the closer we come to God, the more we “know” Him, the bigger He becomes to us, and the more we realize that we do not know Him. It is in this “unknowing” where we find true joy. Transcendence, therefore, is foundational to our life and worship.

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