In This Very Space
Last Saturday I wrote about the majesty of God, or, as Brennan Manning put it in RUTHLESS TRUST, how "the manifestations of kabod and the magnalia Dei continue in an ever-expanding cosmos."
I was writing about transcendence.
In the preface of the new edition of ABBA'S CHILD, a book I just started, Manning wrote this:
"In trying to describe the transcendent mystery of Abba's love, I employed a plethora of adjectives such as infinite, outlandish, mind-bending, ineffable, and incomprehensible. Put them all together and they are still inadequate for one simple reason: Mystery is spoiled by a word."
Yet, there is one word that can actually give us a glimpse into the transcendent Creator of the cosmos: Jesus.
So enough about the transcendent quality of God, I want to talk about another point I read in RUTHLESS TRUST.
Manning offered a very important caveat: "Transcendence must be conjoined with immanence; heaven must be balanced with earth. In other words, God's distance must be complemented by his nearness . . . . Immanence is not the opposite of transcendence but its correlative; immanence and transcendence are two sides of the same coin, two facets of the same divine reality. Transcendence means God cannot be confined to the world, that he is never this rather than that, here rather than there. Immanence, on the other hand, means that God is wholly involved with us."
In his amazing book Manning points out that the skewed stress on the divinity of Christ throughout church history has opened up a gulf between us, the children of God, and our wonderful Savior. Our transcendent God walked this earth in the person of Jesus!
You see there is no better proof of God's great nearness, his immanence, than the life of Jesus Christ. Manning quotes a Dutch theologian, Edward Schillebeechx, in observing that "Christianity is not a message which has to be believed, but an experience of faith that becomes a message." I could not agree more. That's why I put "experience" in italics. There is no better proof of the immanence of God than the experience of Jesus.
Manning's book rocked my world. I plowed through it in a week. In my view, the central points of the book are: (1) Jesus alone reveals who God is; (2) Faith and hope work together to form a trusting disciple. In other words:
So how does the other side of transcendence's coin, immanence, relate to that equation? It's simple: We put our faith in God though the experience of Christ, and then we allow Jesus to change our image of God which offers us great hope. Finally, trust is born: ruthless trust.
This actually brings me back to the song I mentioned in my last post, GOD OF WONDERS. You see, that song will always be a reminder to me of not just God's transcendence, but of his immanence. I had heard the song before, but I was not particularily moved by it until the day of my brother Mark's baptism. I will never forget standing poolside just before my brother and his wife, Rachael, were going to be baptized so that they could declare publicly their experience with Jesus, and, based upon that experience, their decision to trust him. The church had a guitarist doing acoustic songs. During GOD OF WONDERS I looked over at my brother and his wife, their arms around each other and full of joy. It was a surreal moment, one in which the Holy Spirit moved through me like a gentle wind. Here was a guy I had spent a decade praying for, like me, by all accounts, Mark was a lost cause, but the fully human, fully alive, fully here Jesus Christ specializes in lost causes. (Incidently, this "lost cause" statement is true of Saul of Tarsus, Brennan Manning, and countless others.) It was the nearness, the immanence of God through the experience of Jesus that brought my brother Mark to that moment of trust. As that guitarist sang, "God of wonders beyond our galaxy, you are holy, holy, the universe declares your magesty . . . ." I thought not about a distant God, but a very near God, one that had touched the heart of my brother and I. You see, the only thing more wonderous to me than the Antennae and Milky Way Galaxies or the Andromedae plantary system is the miracle of a hardened heart that has been softened through the experience of the risen Christ. That day in a stranger's backyard, like the David Crowder song that opened this post said, I was thinking, "God of the heavens in this very space."
I think I may now be done processing RUTHLESS TRUST. That is, posting about it. I just want to leave you with these few quotes from the book that mean a great deal to me:
"Much as we would like to, we cannot confine the humble compassionate Carpenter within our mental limitations, thereby robbing him of his Otherness."
"Yet the mysterious love of God is fierce enough to penetrate even those who think that they cannot receive it."
"Trust means the willingness to become absolutely empty of all terrifying and comforting images of God that we have held, so that the gift of God in Jesus Christ may come to us on God's terms."
What great terms they are! I am so thankful to my friend who lent me RUTHLESS TRUST along with a 5-CD set of a weekend of speeches that Manning gave. Through those tools, Brennan Manning has stoked the fires of my passion for Christ. It is a phenomenal thing, trusting this God of Wonders who is both very vast and mysterious as well as very compassionate and near.
Yet, as Manning penned in his book, we need to remember that every word spoken and written about God is by analogy. "For example, we liken divine love to human love. The similarity induces us to think that we are getting a grip on God's love. And yet, though human love is the best image we have, it is utterly inadequate to express the love of the Infinite." I dare say that this divine love affair is the greatest thing I have ever been invloved with.
I am so happy that God is not just the God of outter-space, but he is hear with me in this very space.