Is it possible to love a God who transcends? Can we connect with the creator of all we see and all we cannot see? What kind of relationship makes sense when we are mortal and God is not? I’m not the first to wrestle with this question, but I have a particular reason for asking it now.
Going to Guadalajara
On 20th September I fly to Guadalajara for a conference. The “Reverent” conference for leaders of corporate worship. It’s my first time going to this event. My first time to this country. My first time to this city. I’m excited and a little nervous. Not about the setting, but about my responsibilities. You see, I’ve been asked to speak. The title of my 20-minute slot is, “The God Who Transcends”. Wow! What an opportunity, and what a mystery!
Taking on Transcendence
The goal is to speak on the holiness, other-ness and transcendence of God in a way that inspires and instructs worship leaders to be better at what they have been called to do. No small matter. No small topic. Relevant Bible verses are not in short supply, but what approach would be best? And how do I encapsulate such a gargantuan topic in 20 minutes? Is it possible?
Starting the Search
Well, I had to start somewhere. I sat down recently to contemplate my theme. The verse that came to mind was this one: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NIV11) It appears to leave me with no hope. God’s peace is beyond my understanding. What’s the point of trying to grasp his transcendence if even his peace is incomprehensible? However, there is a hint of an answer. The effects of his peace are real. His peace guards my heart and mind. Perhaps this is a clue to the right direction.
Wrestling with the Word
Let’s go back to the word in question. The word translated ‘transcends’ in Philippians is ‘huperechoœ’. It means to excel, exceed, be better than, to hold above, to stand out above, to overtop, to surpass, excellence, preeminence, to be higher, superior. It’s used elsewhere in the New Testament. Here are the other references and the NIV11 translations (the relevant word in bold):
– “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1 NIV11)
– “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3 NIV11)
– “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NIV11)
– “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority,” (1 Peter 2:13 NIV11)
Of course, I will be searching the Old Testament for insight in due course, but I wanted to start with the New Testament. The verses above paint a picture of something beyond me, not owned by me, not contained by me, not controlled by me. Here’s where I am so far. God’s qualities which make him God are not understandable by humans like me. When I think of ‘transcendence’, words like omnipotent, omniscience and omnipresence come to mind. I cannot relate. However, the effects of his transcendence are visible, material and tangible. This is the direction I’m following at the moment.
A fruitful enquiry as to God’s transcendence might be to consider the effects on his creation of his invisible qualities (Romans 1.20). Those who trust his nature will benefit from his nature.
As of today, there are 15 days between now and the day I am due to deliver the talk. Ideas are swirling around my head. Your input would be most welcome. I am writing today’s blog to clarify my own thinking and to request your thoughts.A fruitful enquiry as to God's transcendence might be to consider the effects on his creation of his invisible qualities Rom1.20 Click To Tweet
When you think of the transcendence of God, what comes to mind? Do you have a way of picturing it which helps you? Do you think I’m on target so far? Would you suggest I add anything? Are there any scriptures relevant to the topic? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.
I know I will be very grateful and so will other readers of the blog and listeners to the podcast. We learn best when we learn in community.
Many thanks, and God bless,