5. God: The Transcendent and Immanent
5.1. God: The Transcendent and Immanent II
The Experience of God vs. the Reality of God
We must be reminded, however, that this is a dual perception of God, and not relevant to God himself. It is a product of the finite mind’s striking against an infinite reality. It is not a perception limited only to humans, however. This dual experience of God is alluded to in the song of the angels in Isaiah 6:3. The angels sing:
Holy, Holy, Holy us the God of hosts, the whole world is filled with his glory.
This verse refers to the immanent experience of God. However, the angels also sing
Blessed is God’s glory from His place.
Here the angels refer to God in the transcendental sense, as occupying a place that is His, only His, and that of none other.
Similarly, we say in the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Before declaring that God is an unknowable and transcendent unity (“the Lord is One”), we first declare that he is “the Lord our God,” both imminent and ruling.
Furthermore, in every blessing we open with the words: Blessed are you, our God, king of the universe. We declare God as both our God, imminent and close, and as a king who is transcendent and lofty.
The moving prayer Ovinu Malkeinu, recited several times during the year, repeats the refrain Ovinu Malkeinu – Our father, our King!, referring to God as both our imminent father and our transcendent king.
As mentioned above, since God is the creator of all matter and all space, he cannot be made of matter or subject to space. This fact precludes God having any material manifestation. God himself warns us to never think of him corporeally, saying:
Take heed of yourselves for you saw no matter of form on that day that God spoke to you at Horeb…
Nevertheless, the Torah often speaks of God using anthropomorphism – describing Him as if he had physical qualities. For example, in many places we find reference to the hand of God or the eyes of God. In all such situations the Torah is not telling us that God has a body. Rather, the Torah is borrowing from the language of man in order to express something about His relationship to His creation.
Similarly, when the Torah describes God’s voice, it is referring to a prophetic voice within the mind, but not to an actual divine voice in the sense that we understand voice.
You wonder then why man is described as being created in God’s image if God has no actual “image?”
This is not a description of the physical attributes of man – rather it means that man can affect and interact with the world using many of the same attributes perceived in God. For example, Man and God both share free will and creative ability.
Any descriptor for God must be qualified and considered carefully. For example, God is often referred to as “He,” in the masculine. However, this is merely an effect of the Hebrew language which has no neuter grammatical gender.
In the same vein, even terms that seem accurate must be kept in perspective. For example, God is often described as “eternal.” As apropos as this may appear, it is still a limited description. Not being bound by time, the human concept of “eternity” doesn’t even fit properly. “Eternal” is only the closest term we can use to describe God-in- time.
Although God is utterly beyond any description, comprehension, or corollary in the created universe, he is nevertheless intimately involved in it.
We see His impact upon reality at every turn, which informs us as to his will and attributes.
Nevertheless, these attributes are only products of our perception of God’s action and not intrinsic to God Himself. We can only understand God’s essence by knowing what it is not. In this sense, Torah theology is called “negative theology.”
Summary of the Lesson
- God is beyond any words, description, form, or comprehension.
- Since God created time, space, and matter, He is not subject to any of them.
- Although God is entirely transcendent, he is also completely immanent and involved with the world.
- This dual perception of God is only a perception and is not the reality of God. We are limited in our ability to perceive the infinite.
- God is incorporeal and without form. Anthropomorphism is used by the Torah, however, to convey by way of allegory God’s attributes in this world.
- Any positive description of God is only a description of God’s actions and influence, not of God himself. The essence of God can only be truly communicated by contemplating what God is not.
For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the ‘Home/Study course',Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.