The Lord’s Reign: Herman Bavinck on the Scriptural Sense of God’s Transcendence

paige-weber-974172-unsplash.jpgThe Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
— Psalm 103:19 —

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
— Isaiah 57:15 —

Where is God?

In one sense, God is everywhere (Ps. 139:7–12). In another, God is outside of space and time (1 Kings 8:27). Still, in a third way, Scripture speaks of God as dwelling in heaven, high above his creation (Isa 57:15; cf. Ps. 135:6). Yet, it is important to remember God’s place in heaven is not outside of creation. Rather, it is the created place for the glorious and uncreated God to dwell within creation.

From that divine throne, God rules all creation. And in creation, God reveals himself to us in his world and in his word. Bringing these big and beautiful realities together, Herman Bavinck describes what it means for God to be over and in creation. Doctrinally, these realities are expressed by the terms transcendence and immanence. And in the newly released volume Philosophy of RevelationBavinck has this to say about a scriptural sense of God’s transcendence:

The transcendence of God has assumed for us a meaning different from what it had for our fathers. The deistic belief (geloof) that God worked but a single moment, and thereafter granted to the world its own independent existence, can no longer be ours. Through the extraordinary advance of science, our worldview (wereldbeeld) has undergone a great change. The world has become immeasurably large for us; forwards and backwards, in length and breadth and depth and height, it has extended itself into immensity. In this world we find everywhere second causes operating both in organic and inorganic creation, in nature and history, in physical and psychical phenomena. If God’s dwelling lies somewhere far away, outside the world, and his transcendence is to be understood in the sense that he has withdrawn from creation and now stands outside of the actuality of this world, then we lose him and are unable to maintain communication with him. His existence cannot become truly real to us unless we are permitted to conceive of him as not only above the world, but in his very self in the world and thus as indwelling in all his works.

Thus the divine transcendence was understood by the apostle Paul, who declared that God is not far from any one of us, but that “in him we live and move and have our being.” The transcendence which is inseparable from the being of God is not meant in a spatial or a quantitative sense. It is true Scripture distinguishes between heaven and earth and repeatedly affirms that God has heaven especially for his dwelling place and specifically reveals there his perfections in glory. But Scripture itself teaches that heaven is part of the created universe. When, therefore, God is represented as dwelling in heaven, he is not thereby placed outside the world but in the world and is not removed by a spatial transcendence from his creatures. His exaltation above all that is finite, temporal, and subject to space limitation is upheld. Although God is immanent in every part and sphere of creation with all his perfections and all his being, nevertheless, even in that most intimate union he remains transcendent. His being is of a different and higher kind than that of the world. As little as eternity and time, omnipresence and space, infinitude and finiteness can be reduced to one or conceived as reverse sides of the same reality, can God and the world, the Creator and the creature, be identified qualitatively and essentially? Not first in our time, nor by way of concession to science or philosophy, but in all ages, the great theologians have taught the transcendence of God in this scriptural sense. (pp. 20–21)

Praise be to God, the uncreated God who has entered creation to rule from his glorious throne in heaven over all that he has made.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Paige Weber on Unsplash