God is beyond us, God is with us, God is Trinity.
This is a difficult question, and many people would answer it differently. Religions all over the world have proposed thousands of definitions throughout the entire scope of human history. How can we possibly sort through all of these responses and find one that we can accept as true and reliable?
Fortunately for us, God did not leave us to figure this out on our own. God has reached out to reveal Himself to us. We Christians believe that God has revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus, and in His written Word that we call the “Bible”.
Later, in our session entitled, “Why the Bible (Part 1),” we will discuss this revelation more fully. For now, however, we simply observe that God has not left us to our own devices. We are not required to define God because God has already defined Himself. He has already revealed Himself as He really is, as He wants to be known.
In this story of the Bible, we find a God who is both beyond us and with us. In turn, these two aspects of God are powerfully revealed in the rich image of Trinity. In this session, we will discuss the God who is beyond us and with us, and in the next session we will discuss God as Trinity.
1. God Is Beyond Us
On one level, then, we see that God is beyond us. Or, to use a more precise term, we say that God is “transcendent”.
God reveals Himself to us in words and images that we can understand. Apart from this revelation, however, God would remain incomprehensible. His greatness and beauty would defy our meager human intelligence and paltry human speech. God would forever remain an indecipherable mystery, were it not for His gracious decision to disclose Himself to us, accommodating Himself to our human abilities.
The story of the Bible clearly teaches us that there is only One God, and we are not Him. He is entirely other. The Bible therefore rejects any notion suggesting that we humans are essentially divine in our nature. We do not contain a “spark of the divine”, and we do not become part of the divine when we die. God alone is God.
Consider these words spoken to an Old Testament saint named, Job:
“Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.” Job 40:9-10
Job could only remain silent. The distinction between he and his Maker was self-evident.
Yet, God does in fact reveal Himself by accommodating Himself to our abilities. Even in this gracious self-disclosure, however, we find a God who remains above and beyond us. Several themes in the Bible point to this conclusion.
1.1. God is Creator
Before anything was, He is. He has created everything from nothing. In the first book of the Bible, called Genesis, we read a summary of the creation story. It begins this way:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Genesis 1:1-2
Then God speaks, and the world comes into being. We don’t get the scientific detail about all of this. We just get the big idea, that God made it happen. Human beings are not just accidents of chemistry and biology. God wanted us here, and we have a place in His order. As the Book of Genesis says:
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
Or, as the Psalmist puts it:
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:3-5
1.2. God is Sovereign
Everything must bow in submission to Him. Everything and everyone owes their existence to Him. Consider this colorful image spoken through the prophet, Isaiah:
“As one reaches into a nest, so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations; as people gather abandoned eggs, so I gathered all the countries; not one flapped a wing, or opened its mouth to chirp.” Isaiah 10:14
Ultimately He will judge all of creation by the standard of His own holiness. The writer of Ecclesiastes summarizes his wisdom this way:
“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
1.3. God is Absolutely Perfect in all of his Qualities
He is, for example, All-Knowing (omniscient), All-Powerful (omnipotent), Always Present (omnipresent) and Holy (without imperfection, evil or defect). The Bible is rich with these thoughts that permeate story after story. Consider just a few of these many passages:
“Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” Psalm 145:7
“Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” 1 Chronicles 29:11
“‘Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 23:24
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3
1.4. God is Eternal
He is not bound by time. He has no beginning and He has no end. The Psalmist put this truth into poetry:
“Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations. In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Psalm 102:24-27
1.5. And there is so much more …
So far, we have mentioned just a few of the qualities that the Bible mentions when it describes God. His majesty and His glory far surpass our abilities to understand or describe Him. And yet, the scriptures provide ample reason to worship Him, as He who is beyond us.
2. God Is With Us
The good news is, however, that God has not abandoned us to figure all this out on our own. He remains a God for us and with us. Bible scholars therefore speak of God being “immanent”, as well as being “transcendent”.
2.1 God is Personal
God “with us” is most powerfully stated in terms of relationship. The Bible clearly teaches that God is “personal”, meaning that we can enter into a relationship with Him. He is not some impersonal force or some ill-defined power of nature. Rather God reveals Himself as a person with a name, whom we can know and love.
When God called Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses at first hesitated. Would the people believe him? Would the people accept him as God’s spokesperson? So, Moses asks God directly:
“Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them? God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.’” Exodus 3:13-15
Our English translations of the Bible use the phrase, “I AM”, to render this name of God revealed to Moses. In the original Hebrew language, however, this name is a single word, consisting of four letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In English, these four letters correspond to our letters, “YHWH”. We often, therefore, see the English translation, “Yahweh” to indicate this name of God.
He Is For Us
This revealed name says a lot to us about the God who has revealed Himself. It says that God is a person, an “I AM” who wants to be in relationship with us.
It says that “He is” for us, that He wants to lead, guide, protect and strengthen us through the difficult journey of life. And it says that “He Is” always and forever there for us. He was there before us, and “He will never leave us or forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5). Because He is beyond space and beyond time, He does not move. God does not change His love for us, His commitment to us or His covenant with us.
2.2. God is Love
Furthermore, God’s everlasting commitment to us and to His entire creation is summarized in the simple word, “Love”. The apostle John says explicitly:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:7-10
In this brief passage, John seems to be summarizing the entire story of the Bible.
This story describes God’s unrelenting work to redeem and restore His creation from the power of evil, at first by calling the people of Israel, and then, through Jesus, by extending that work to the entire world. In his Gospel, for example, John says:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17
This fact that Jesus comes into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it, is God’s fullest declaration that He is with us.
These then are two fundamental truths that the Bible teaches us about God. If someone were to ask us, “Who Is God?”, we can respond with confidence that God is above us, and God is with us. In our next session, we will examine how both truths are demonstrated in the powerful image of Trinity.
Spend time this week in prayer, turning difficult circumstances in your life over to God. He is above us and beyond us, which means that His ways are not our ways. And, He is with us, which means that He has not left us to face these circumstances alone.