A Brief Meditation on the Transcendence of God
In the early Nineties, a fellow member of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) told me that there were people he encountered at the recent Feast of Tabernacles who were alarmed at a new booklet titled “God is …” They felt the booklet foreshadowed disaster. I had read the booklet and felt like the controversy was a tempest in a teapot. But maybe this was a small sign of the times. A year or so later, I checked out some tapes from the little library maintained by the local WCG congregation about the Doctrine of God. The tapes were of a series of WCG Bible Studies given in Pasadena by Kyriacos Stavrinides. I heard the tapes in early 1994 and they were revolutionary. Stavrinides described the God as understood in the Christian movement, to my great wonderment, and that God was much different from the God of the WCG. It seemed it was not a tempest in a teapot. I thought it was going to be a watershed. But that issue was eclipsed by many other issues and I do not know of any discussion of the Doctrine of God happening thereafter among the followers of Herbert W. Armstrong. Recalling this led me to this brief meditation.
It is natural for man to seek to understand God by use of analogies. We compare God to a created being because we are created beings and that is what we understand. This works well, within limits, because we are in the image of God to some degree. But it is an error to believe that God is just like us only more powerful. Here is a vignette of issues. God is not alive. Nor is he dead. Humans can be alive or dead. God cannot be either. He is existence itself. He transcends the categories of life and death. God is not limited by neurology. He does not hear or see or smell or taste or feel. Those are properties of the created human body. He experiences things at a level that transcends our senses. God does not have a body or internal parts. If he had a beating heart that sustained his life, who would have made it for him – some superior God? God is not dependent on anything – including internal parts. Even in the Christian movement, God is spoken of as omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient as if these words described transcendence. Yet these are just human characteristics with Omni- added as a prefix to expand the scope of these words. God is not just omnipresent – which means present everywhere. God is not a “where” being. He is not restricted by the concept of location. God is also not restricted by time. He is not a “when” being as we are. God is not just omnipotent. The human idea of being powerful involves something being stronger than something else. The word contains an implicit idea of comparison. God owns everything absolutely and does not need power to stake his claim. God is not just omniscient. He does not just know everything about every field of study. He creates knowledge. He transcends knowing. God is timeless, location-less, limit-less. This must be stated apophatically because we do not have the words. All our words are rooted in humanness with its limitations. It is a grave error to believe that the anthropomorphisms of an ancient Semitic tribal people, their particular analogies, tell us what God is in his essence. They also thought that the sky was like a blue ceiling. God gave us the ability not to understand his transcendence fully but to acknowledge it.
So if you do not acknowledge God’s transcendence where does it take you? Popular atheists like Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens argue from the perspective that God is like a demiurge from Gnosticism. Non-transcendent but immanent demiurges do not create but fabricate using already existing materials and forces. They do not create Ex Nihilo. You never hear atheists arguing about how “being” originates. They always start their debate with being, dimensions, stable forces, and objects presumed. Atheists ignore the highway and just futz around in the weeds on the shoulder because that is all the farther science will take them.
Or you end up making the mistake that Herman Hoeh and Rod Meredith made. They believed that the Ten Commandments were God’s eternal spiritual law. And so these Commandments and the statutes, laws, and judgments in the Mosaic legislation that expanded and refined the Ten Commandments just had to be in the New Covenant. But why would the law of God from eternity, that reflected the nature of God himself, speak of adultery? (God is sibi ipse ex, a law unto himself.) What would that mean back before there were human beings and sex? Humans and sex are not eternal – they were both created. When this issue is raised you often get the answer that the law concerning adultery is really about loyalty or integrity or some other fundamental ethic. This just proves that the law concerning adultery is really based on something more fundamental. It is painfully obvious that The Ten Commandments are an instantiation of God’s eternal spiritual law specifically tailored for humanity. They are not that law itself. And God can put into effect or turn off instantiations as he sees fit. God may have put into effect a collection of laws that govern the angelic realm that we cannot imagine. All instantiations (Abrahamic, Mosaic, New Covenant, Angelic) are derived from his eternal spiritual law that pre-existed the Cosmos.
Considering what is at stake, God’s transcendence is well worth thinking about.
Submitted by Neo