Transcendent and Immanent

River of LifesmScripture and tradition uphold two concepts of God: transcendent and immanent.

The word transcendent comes from a Latin word meaning “to go beyond”. When applied to God it means that God is above, beyond and outside of creation.

The word immanent comes from a Latin word meaning “indwelling”. When applied to God it means that God dwells within the creation, permeating and saturating all things.

The transcendence of God is reinforced in passages that envision God as dwelling above us in the heavens. For instance, Isaiah 40:22 says, “God sits above the circle of the earth. The people below seem like grasshoppers to him! He spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent from them.”

The immanence of God is articulated in passages like Acts 17:28, “In [God] we live and move and have our being.”

Both ways of seeing God are valid, and theologians often go to great lengths to ensure that we don’t confuse the creation with the Creator. In my own spiritual journey, however, I have found that shifting from a transcendent view of God to an immanent view of God has been helpful and life-giving.

I envision God as the river of life that flows within each one of us, ever present. I find it less helpful to think about my spiritual practices as somehow drawing me nearer to God and much more helpful to think about them as quieting the noise of life enough to become aware of and connect more deeply with the flow of God’s life and love within and all around me. Learning to be more present in daily life (rather than fussed up about the past or anxious about the future) has become a challenging, enlivening practice. Want to try it?

  • Sit comfortably, close your eyes and breathe deeply several times
  • Express your intention to deepen your awareness of and connection to the Creator who has been revealed to us in Jesus
  • Allow yourself to rest in that loving presence. You might imagine yourself floating on a river of life and love
  • When thoughts distract you, gently bring your attention back to your breathing
  • When you’re done, express your gratitude to God for the gift of life

Practice this a few times a day and over time you’ll become more aware of the One who presence runs through you and all creation every moment of every day.

Question: When you think about God, where do you imagine God to be? Where did that notion come from? What helps you to feel more connected to God?

Note: I’ll be taking a week off from blogging next week to enjoy a little sunshine in Florida.

Jeff Marian is lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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  • Ken Walter

    I think of God to be with you and with me, in all creation which includes the heavens and earth, the stars, moon and sun and what ever else is unseen. Because of scriptures I think of God the Father in heaven with all knowledge, with all creative ability, totally love. Then I think of Jesus Christ among us, conveying love to carry out creation and all aspects of love. Finally I think of the Holy Spirit inside us and every thing that is moved by spirit presence and manifestations. But all is one, the three in one. The notion comes from God, more specifically the Holy Spirit in me connected to my spirit and my heart, giving me a grounding of faith and belief. In prayer and meditation and worship comes a sense of God’s presence, as mystery beyond me is revealed and felt, sometimes in dreams, occasionally visions, and in other varieties of sensing. This is just my humble life and understanding. What are others which i know are different and I honor that as we are all different and necessary to make up the body of Christ. So now emerges another presence of God when we all are one community making up the Body of Christ. More could come, as God is infinitely beyond my knowledge, understanding and my spirit capability.