There are a lot of words that Christians and theologians use to talk about God and the Bible. Some of these words are easy to understand, such as God’s love, forgiveness, and holiness.
Some theological terms are much more challenging, such as immutability, transubstantiation, and God’s immanence.
It is this final word that we will focus on in this article. What is God’s immanence, and why is it important for Christians to understand?
God’s Immanence vs. Transcendence
Immanence is defined as something that exists within something. Theologically, it refers to God’s existence within the universe.
God’s immanence is naturally contrasted with the idea of God’s transcendence, which describes God as existing completely outside the universe.
While some may think that these opposing terms are mutually exclusive, this is not the case based on what we know about God from His Word.
God can be described as both transcendent and immanent. God’s transcendence is seen most clearly in Genesis 1. It is written,
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:1-2).
In this text, God is described as creating the universe and is clearly separate from His creation. God is transcendent, because He is not here existing within His creation, but is rather separate from and outside of His creation.
Those who emphasize God’s transcendence to the extreme find themselves in a belief system known as deism. This belief views God as He who created the world but does not believe that He has been personally involved with His creation ever since.
A helpful image when describing deism is to think of clockmakers. They are fully involved in the creation of the clock, and then when the clock is functioning. It is entirely self-sustaining.
Thus, the clockmaker can simply sit and watch His creation work without needing to be involved in any way. This is how deists view God. While this extreme view is not biblical, it is still widely held, mostly by people who would not consciously consider themselves to be deists.
God remains transcendent as He dwells in heaven. God is not bound to His creation and does not fully exist within His creation. However, God is also immanent.
Throughout Scripture, there is more than enough biblical evidence to show that God is immanent. To varying extents, God exists in and is involved with His creation.
Those who emphasize God’s immanence to the extreme hold a belief system known as pantheism. This is a belief system that holds that not only is God actively involved with creation, but that creation is God.
Pantheists hold that everything you see is a part of God. Again, this view is not biblical, yet is still held by people throughout the world.
Given that pantheism focuses on God’s immanence but not in a way that is biblical, what does God’s immanence truly look like? What scriptures confirm God’s immanence? There are many.
God’s Immanence in the Old Testament
God is shown to be very involved and existing within His creation throughout Scripture. Let us begin with the Old Testament. The following texts clearly demonstrate God’s involvement with His creation:
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night (Exodus 13:21).
So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city (Joshua 6:20).
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34).
For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys (Exodus 40:38).
Then he called for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel (1 Chronicles 22:6).
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).
As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple (2 Chronicles 7:1).
In each of these examples from Scripture, it is clear that not only is God actively involved with His creation, but He actually dwelt on Earth!
The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and the temple. This is significant because this means that God had a physical presence on Earth.
This fits in with the textbook definition of God’s immanence. God was both involved with and existed physically on Earth.
God’s Immanence in the New Testament
God’s immanence is clearly demonstrated in the Old Testament. However, this is taken to another level in the New Testament. Listed above is Isaiah 7:14, which is a prophecy of the Messiah coming to Earth, with the name Immanuel. This name literally means “God with us.”
The promise of a Messiah is a promise of God’s immanence, that He will be with us.
In the New Testament, this promise comes true through the life of Jesus Christ. The entire New Testament serves as evidence of and an explanation of God’s immanence.
Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry culminating in His death and resurrection are the greatest examples of God’s immanence.
Not only is God fully involved with His creation, but He is actively redeeming and restoring His creation that has become tainted and toxic. God has never been one to simply sit and watch His creation without being actively involved.
God’s immanence is a premier reason to praise God and is far too overlooked among God’s other attributes. God is more active and involved with His creation than we can possibly understand. Let us not take this for granted!
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Anna Wator
Lucas Hagen is a freelance writer, recently graduated from Taylor University with majors in Biblical Literature and Youth Ministries. When he is not writing for Crosswalk, you can find him reading great books, playing guitar, competing in professional disc golf tournaments, and spending quality time with his lovely wife, Natalie, and their fluffy cat, Woodward. You can read more of his writing at habitsofholiness.com.