We return this morning to the issue of God’s attributes and we ask ourselves why would we take time to consider the attributes of God. Why take one Sunday a month to consider God’s character?
There are several ways we could answer that.
First, we would answer that the cure for what ails the Church in the West today is to adjust how we think about God. Shallow and unworthy thoughts regarding the character of God will result in our own shallow and unworthy character.
Many are those who have rightfully complained about the lack of character or substance of modern men of the West.
C. S. Lewis wrote,
‘We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.’
T. S. Eliot similarly could say,
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
The character of modern Western man generally speaking suffers and is in rapid decline. I submit to you this morning there is only one way that can be altered. It won’t be altered by political legislation. It won’t be altered by an educational program. It won’t be altered by some kind of revolutionary call to arms. What is wrong with the character of the modern Western man will only be cured by his returning to God and so thinking right thoughts about God once again. The cure to men without chests, and to men who are hollow is to return to God.
“It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is.”
A. W. Tozer
The Knowledge of the Holy — pg. 7
So, when we speak of the Character and attributes of God we are seeking to throw a life preserver to ourselves and our generation. We are seeking to rescue the perishing and to care for the dying. We are praying that the consequence will once again be that the men of the West will see God high and lifted up and in the seeing of that they themselves having been brought low in repentance will themselves be lifted up.
What we are doing then by looking at the Character of God is not some academic exercise about God as if we were putting Him under a microscope in order to dissect him as if we were the controllers of the experiment. Indeed it is we who end up under the microscope when we begin to see the character of God.
The greatest sin that man can engage in is to think wrongly about God. This was the complaint of God as registered in Psalm 50,
“Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself.”
Similarly, God brings a charge against His people in Isaiah for the same
(You) did not remember Me Nor give Me a thought?
As we come to this matter then of the Attributes of God we are seeking to remember God and give Him a thought.
This morning we take up the Attribute of God’s Transcendence. By doing so we are continuing to consider God’s Uncommunicable Attributes. That is, we are considering those attributes of God which God has as being and distinct and unique from us. This stands in contrast to God’s communicable attributes which are those attributes that we might share with God.
When we consider God’s Transcendence we are considering God’s otherness. God’s Transcendence refers God’s quality of being that supersedes any attempt on our part to define and describe. It is why God speaks of Himself in Isaiah as,
“Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity.” (57:15)
For you, LORD, are high above all the earth: you are exalted far above all gods. (Psalm 97:9)
God sits upon the rim of the earth. Its inhabitants are but grasshoppers.
God’s otherness does not allow us to think of the grandness of God in terms of comparative statements. God’s Transcendence is not a matter of God being the being who is the highest in ascending order as if there might be some other beings who are closer to God in otherness or loftiness than other beings. We are not merely speaking of God being the being who has the most eminence and so is preeminent. We are talking about God as a being who is in the category of Transcendent. Because of God’s Transcendence, God is as Other over an Archangel as He is over a worm. The worm and the archangel have much more in common with each other, being created beings, than either of them have in common with God since God is uncreated and dwells in unapproachable light.
The hymn writes Isaac Watts tried to capture some of this when he inked,
How shall polluted mortals dare
to sing Thy glory or Thy grace?
Beneath Thy feet we lie afar,
And see but shadows of thy face
Transcendence then refers to the reality of God’s nature and power which is wholly other and so independent of the Creation He created.
It is easy to see then that when we begin to talk about God’s Transcendence we stumble into the reality of His Majesty… His splendor … His Supremacy and Sovereignty. It is what Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6 when He cried out,
5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
The fact that we are no longer conversant with the idea of God’s Transcendence is proven by our casual dismissal and disregard for God’s Law which is tightly bound to His character. The fact that we are no longer conversant with the idea of God’s Transcendence is proven by our lack of awe in our worship … by our profaning and desacralizing the very life and bodies that God has given us. The fact that we are no longer conversant with the idea of God’s Transcendence is seen that we no longer walk with the fear of the Lord before our eyes. There is no sense of awe…. no sense of respect … no sense of being humbled before God.
Yeah, yeah, God is good
And yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make his way home?
Like back up to heaven all alone
Nobody callin’ on the phone
‘Cept for the Pope maybe in Rome The irreverence of modern man is shocking. The lack of any sense of God’s Transcendence colors nearly everything the modern Chruch does.
God’s Transcendence means that we can’t guess at God. Man cannot, by his philosophical musings or his artistic intuition arrive at God. Instead this Transcendent God must make Himself known before we can have any beginning idea of who He is. God, because Transcendent is inscrutable… His ways past tracing out if we were left to ourselves to try and trace out His Transcendent ways. It is why first, Isaiah, and then Paul could write,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” for “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9).
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How
unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who
has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom 11:33-34).
Job discovered God’s Transcendence when God interviewed Job from the whirlwind.
J. I. Packer speaking of God’s Transcendence could write,
God is not the sort of person that we are; his wisdom, his aims, his scale of values, his mode of procedure differ so vastly from our own that we cannot possibly guess our way to them by intuition or infer them by analogy from our notion of ideal manhood. We cannot know him unless he speaks and tells us about himself.
God’s Transcendence here is the idea that God exists both above and independently from all creation.
This idea of God Transcendent weaves its way through all the Scripture from Genesis 1:1 where we find the Transcendent God creating ex-nihilo to the book of Revelation where there is no need of the sun because the presence of the Transcendent God provides light for His community. Because the Transcendence of God permeating the Scriptures the people of God were permeating with the truth of God’s transcendence. This truth gave the people of God gravitas, weightiness, character in the old sense of the word. They had walked with God and had been in the presence of His otherness, His bigness, His Majesty and the result is that it sprinkled itself upon them and they began to reflect His majesty.
How do I know that the Church has lost the Transcendence of God? How do I know that we have little understanding of God’s Holy Otherness?
We sing nursery rhymes about God or even worse we seek to place His character in anti-music and then perform it in Church. A people who understood God’s Transcendence would not do this.
We come to meet with God looking like we are going to the beach or worse like we are going to the quarry to hew rock and stone. A people who understood God’s Transcendence would not do this.
We put forward men for the ministry who have no awe of God before their eyes as seen in their casual approach in the pulpit as in seen in their glorying in their scarrified bodies. A people who understood God’s Transcendence would not do this.
We no longer instruct our children in the Catechism choosing instead to entrust them to pagans who have no fear of God before their eyes. A people who understood God’s Transcendence would not do this.
We divorce God from His work of creation talking about exploding eggs of possibility bringing all creation forth. We suggest that God’s Word might have mistakes so that we have to adjudicate whether the Word of God is taken as spoken by God or as spoken as myth or spiritual history. A people who understood God’s Transcendence would not do this.
Concretely considered here are some examples of God’s Transcendence
First, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Only a God who is Other than His creation … who is Transcendent over His creation could be the creator.
Secondly, we would note that God’s Transcendence is of such a nature that all of His other attributes are riven with that Transcendence. For example, God’s Holiness…
Exodus 33:20 the Lord told Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” His holiness was so Transcendent that no human could withstand it.
Another example is God’s Transcendence in His Love
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
Fourth, God is transcendent in the sense that He is eternal. No other person or thing includes this property or attribute of eternality; only God. His eternal nature is higher than all others.
Fifth, God is transcendent in His power. He not only created all things, He is more powerful than any other thing. Job noted many of the ways God is more powerful than creation, asking, “But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14).
Sixth, the transcendence of God is closely related to his sovereignty. It means that God is above, other than, and distinct from all he has made – he transcends it all.
Paul says that there is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:6). Scripture says elsewhere, “For you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods (Psalms 97:9; cf. 108:5).
Dangers of an unbiblical Transcendence,
1.) Too much Transcendence without the corresponding truth of God’s Immanence gives us the God of Deism.
When the reality of God’s Transcendence is surrendered a created immanent replaces the creator Transcendent.
The created subjective is idolatrously objectivized so that a subjective objective is embraced as an objective objective and thus becomes God walking on the earth.
Thus demonstrating that God and Transcendence are inescapable concepts.
To much Immanence without the corresponding Transcendence of God gives us Pantheism.
2.) A wrong-headed view of God’s Transcendence has been the bane of neo-orthodox Christianity. Their unbiblical view of transcendence, one that teaches that God is so “wholly other” and it is impossible for His creation to communicate with Him at all leaves us in the place where once again man becomes God. If God is this kind of Transcendent so that it is impossible to apprehend Him then we are left to mystical encounters and artificial Jesus-talk.
Where no transcendental meaning exists (and the only truly transcendental meaning comes from the sovereign and triune God and the fact that He is maker of heaven and earth), man’s recourse then is to create a private meaning and read it onto and into the world and events. This is simply superstition, which is an irrational feeling or belief which is projected on to reality. Superstition becomes the recourse of men who reject the ontological trinity, and the more pronounced their rejection, the more pronounced their superstition.
Systematic Theology pg. 1084