The Transcendence and Immanence of God (and why we need both)

July 10, 2022 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Summer in the Psalms

Topic: Attributes of God Passage: Psalm 8

Summer in the Psalms

Allen Snapp

Grace Community Church

July 10, 2022

 

The Transcendence and Immanence of God (and why we need both)

We’re going to spend the rest of the summer in the Psalms. I’m personally reading through the psalms in my morning devotional time and they are so refreshing and renewing to the soul. Jesus loved the Psalms and quoted more from the Psalms than any other Old Testament book. They speak deeply to our humanity with our joys and struggles and fears and hopes and they reveal God’s character to us. The Psalms are a treasure for our souls – I recommend you spend time in the Psalms and we are for the rest of the summer.

Turn with me to Psalm 8. I chose Psalm 8 because it describes two qualities of God that speak to our deepest longings and our deepest need, that is, God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. Put another way, His vastness and His closeness.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings[b]
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord,how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8

The main point of Psalm 8 is found in the first and last verses of the psalm. It’s bookended with this declaration:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (vs 1) O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (vs 9)

In the English, the word “Lord” is repeated: O Lord our Lord so it just seems the psalmist is repeating himself but in the Hebrew they aren’t the same word. You’ll notice that the first “Lord” is in all caps. That means it’s the Hebrew substitute for the name Jehovah or Yahweh. Originally it read O Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Yahweh is the name God gave Moses when Moses asked “what should I say when they

ask me who sent me? When they ask what is this God’s name?” God answered, say I AM WHO I AM sent you. Tell them Yahweh (which in the Hebrew sounds like I AM) sent you.

The name Yahweh speaks of the eternal, unchanging, immutable nature and Person of God. God is from everlasting to everlasting. He is eternal. He is unchanging – He is never improving or growing or learning because He is and was and always will be perfect. He is the center and definition of all reality – there is no reality apart from Him.

So the Psalmist says how majestic is your name (that is, your being) in all the earth. You are over all and in all and nothing is apart from you. The mountains and the oceans and the clouds and the animal kingdom and every human being is your subject and is under your majestic reign. The earth doesn’t belong to us or to Satan. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

The story of the world is the story of God. History is His story and God is the center and the Main Player in the story of the world. We can get caught up in what’s going on in the news today and think that the story of the world is the story of injustice. Or Covid. Or America. We need to remember that the story of the world is the story of God.

God’s glory is set above the heavens. He is transcendent. Brothers and sisters, our souls long for transcendence. We long for something that is bigger than all this. Bigger than our daily problems and pursuits and achievements. Yes, those things are a part of our lives but our souls long to see something greater and more glorious than ourselves. Greater than our politicians. Bigger than Tik Tok or Elon Musk or Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

We long for the transcendence of God. You have set your glory above the heavens. His glory transcends the sun’s glory. It dwarfs the glory of our solar system or the galaxies or the largest stars in the universe. Yahweh, how majestic is your name.

But in verse 2, the psalmist describes God’s glory and strength by talking about babies. How did babies come into the picture? Babies are the picture of helplessness, dependence, weakness. How does God establish strength out of the mouth of babes? How does God silence His enemies through the words of babies and infants?

In Matthew 21, as Jesus was entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey, the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophesy that their king would enter riding on the foal of a donkey, children began to cry out.

15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”

He quotes Psalm 8, only instead of God establishing strength through children and infants, God prepares praise. Their praise of Jesus as the Savior and the Son of David was praising him as Yahweh, the I AM of the universe. And Jesus said it’s good, and they’re right. And the chief priests and scribes were silenced. God’s enemies were silenced through the praise of babies and infants.

It tells us something about God: He uses our weakness to display His strength. Weakness is our super-power when we learn to lean on God’s strength. When we learn to cry out to God for deliverance from our trial or enemy.

In verse 3 we see a very important aspect of God’s greatness.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings[b]
(GOD) and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

God created the heavens with His fingers. He set the moon and the stars in place. The observable universe is about 93 billion light years across. In 1977 NASA sent out the Voyager I traveling at 38,000MPH. It officially left our solar system in Aug 2012 and is about 14.5 billion miles away from Earth and is the furthest man-made object in space. However, just to give a small sense of the size of the universe, for the Voyager I to reach the closest star to our solar system traveling at 38000 mph will take it 73,000 years.

Staggering, incomprehensible size, magnitude, and majesty of the universe. But God, like a Master Craftsman, built it with His own hands.

Have you ever stood outside on a clear night and looked at the night sky with all the stars and felt very small? Insignificant? In terms of the scope, our lives are tiny, insignificant specks of dust sitting on an insignificant speck of a planet in an insignificant little solar system.

That leads the psalmist to ask a question, a question we ask ourselves as we stand out there looking at the night sky: What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

God is infinitely greater and more glorious than this magnificent universe – why should He care, why does He care for us?

This speaks to another deep longing in our hearts. We long for the transcendence of God but we also long for the immanence of God. We want Him to be great and we want Him to be near. If we just look at the vastness of the universe, it can make our lives feel insignificant and meaningless and yet we yearn for significance and meaning. Somehow we want the something that is bigger than us to connect to us in a real way.

Last fall Janice and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon. And as we stood on its edge looking at its vastness and beauty, it was refreshing to have our attention captured by something so much bigger and greater than us. But, even then, there’s something in us that wants to connect that beauty and greatness to our lives. It was far more powerful to take in its grandeur because I could share that experience with Janice. We could relate to the Grand Canyon together, we could share the joy together, which as CS Lewis says, multiplies the joy.

In other words, to appreciate the transcendence we do want it to connect back to our lives and give us meaning as well.

God is a God who is both transcendent and immanent. Glorious and near. He doesn’t come to us and say, “your life is significant because you are so great and awesome.” God draws near to us and says, “your life is significant and has so much meaning because I love you.” Wow. That centers our souls.

As John Piper has said, modern culture wants to say God is great and He loves us and wants to make much of us, but the Bible cuts that last part out. He is great and He loves us…and that’s enough. We don’t need God to make much of us, we weren’t created to be made much of by God (or by others). We were created to make much of God. We find freedom and joy when we stop trying to find life in our ego and instead find life in God’s love for us and through us to others.

The cross doesn’t make much of us. Jesus didn’t die because we were so worthy that he felt obligated to die for us. The cross doesn’t speak of our worthiness, as if we deserved Jesus dying for us. The cross speaks of God’s love for us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:8

God’s greatness is found not only in the transcendence of His glory, but it’s also found in the immanence of His presence. He is a God who draws near to the brokenhearted. He is a God who hears the cries of the weak, the helpless, the needy. He is a God who loves us.

And He raises us up and gives us honor and glory. Verse 5 is a difficult passage to understand – so controversial that many translators changed a word cause they couldn’t believe it meant what it said.

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings[b]
(GOD) and crowned him with glory and honor.

Mankind (men, women, children) are so precious and so loved by God that He gave us dominion over this earth. We’re not doing too great a job with that, but it was His plan to give man the earth and put us in charge of this planet. One day, when Jesus returns, he will rule over the earth with justice and righteousness.

More in Summer in the Psalms

September 4, 2022

A Faith Worth Fighting For - Part Five

August 28, 2022

A Faith Worth Fighting For – Part Four

August 21, 2022

A Faith Worth Fighting For – Part Three