Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Exodus 3:13-14, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Exodus 19:16-20, Exodus 20:18-21, John 3:16

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us," (A.W. Tozer). Do you think that is true? Why?
  2. What is God's transcendance? Which aspect stood out to you most? Are there any other elements of God's transcendance that you think were missed?
  3. Read Psalm 19:1. How does this help us in seeing God rightly?
  4. What is the difference between "God is love" and "God is loving"?
  5. How does Jesus demonstrate both God's transcendance and immanence?


“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
So writes A.W. Tozer, in his classic, The Knowledge of the Holy. If you don’t believe in God or are uncertain about God, then that sentence may strike you as wrongheaded. But, of course, what we believe about God—whether that belief is “He does not exist” or “No one could ever know if he exists”—fundamentally shapes the whole of our lives.
So, what comes into your mind when you think about God? An image? An idea? A mood? Do you picture Michelangelo’s bearded Creator flying through the heavens on the Sistine Chapel? Or maybe a pulsating pool of light and energy? Is God personal or abstract? Is god merely an inviolable set of principles? A vengeful hurler of thunderbolts? A super-sized Bob Ross gently painting happy trees?
Whether you believe God is a judge, a force, a friend, or a question mark affects how you live your life. So, Tozer continues: “For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God…Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God,” (Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy).
So, what is the Church’s idea of God? What does Christianity teach about who God is? Let’s look at one of the most famous verses in the entire Bible:
4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”
-       Deut 6:4-6
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut 6:4)
You may notice in this passage (and perhaps elsewhere) that the word “LORD” has every letter capitalized. This is something the English translations of our Bible have done following an ancient tradition of referring to the name of God, Yahweh, with the title “Lord.” Jews, before the time of Jesus, began a practice of not using the proper name of God out of reverence, and most of the translations of the Bible have followed that tradition. But each letter is capitalized so you, the reader, know that this isn’t just the word “Lord” being used, but it is God’s name: Yahweh. Which comes from the Exodus story:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:13-14)
This God, Deuteronomy tells us, is the one God. But Deuteronomy 6:4 isn’t merely a claim of monotheism, but it is also a claim to the utter uniqueness of God. The verse doesn’t say: The Lord our God, there is one God. Or there is one Yahweh. It says, the Lord is one. If I were talking about when I knew I wanted to marry my wife and I said: that’s when I knew that she was the one. You’d know what I meant. There is no one like her, she is unique, and so she is my wife. So it was with the Lord. There are not many gods—there is only one God. But there are many claims of other gods, many options, many choices. But for us? There is only one. So what is it that makes this God unique?
God is Transcendent
The first instance in the Bible we find the divine name is in the creation story:
“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,” (Gen 2:4). God is the one who creates all things, including not just matter, not just persons, but also immaterial realities like laws of mathematics, logic, music, justice—even time and space itself. If that is what God is like, then that means that…
He is incomparably powerful.
He is the Creator. He speaks and galaxies come into existence. He doesn’t use pre-existing materials to craft the universe (like most other creation stories), but creates out of nothing (ex nihilo).
He is eternal/infinite.
He exists outside of time and space, the way an author exists outside of his story. God doesn’t reside behind the moon or is trapped under the Sun, but lives outside of the material cosmos.
He is uncreated; He is self-existent.
The name “I am who I am” is worth meditating on for a long time, but just one thing I want to draw attention to is the claim of self-existence. If someone were to ask me who I am, I could reply with many answers: I could answer by my relationships (I am the son of my parents, the husband to my wife, the father to my children); I could answer by my vocation (I am the pastor of a church). I could keep going, but all of those imply that something has happened to me: I was born, I got married, I became a pastor. But God is simply who He is. He is not dependent or contingent upon anything else for His existence or identity.
He does not change.
We change as we learn, as new experiences happen to us. But we are told “I the LORD do not change,” (Mal 3:6). God is eternal and infinite and self-existent, therefore all of His attributes are full and forever, so He does not change or alter. God never learns, never suddenly realizes something, never changes. We are changing people who are affected by the forces around us, derivative of other actions and consequences. The very world we live in changes: mountains rise and fall, rivers run dry, valleys flood, cities are born, cities collapse. Everything is contingent on other forces, open to change, prone to alteration. But not God.
He is righteous.
God’s transcendence isn’t limited to His power and eternality, but also to His moral qualities as well. He gives Adam a law to keep, and so He gives Israel a law, and us a law. And these are not arbitrary, chosen at random, nor is there some moral standard above God that He is submitting to—they flow from God’s character itself, “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy,” (Lev 11:44). God is not only immeasurably powerful, but perfectly righteous always.
He owns us.
We are not the captains of our soul, we are not the masters of our destiny. We are owned by God. He, therefore, has the right to require things of us. What does He require? “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” (Rev 4:11). Worship. Obedience. All of the collective genius, creativity, and fortitude of mankind, all of its most brilliant leaders, most beautiful icons, most wealthy and powerful individuals from all history—all of them are owned, none of them belong to themselves, and all of them—all of us—owe God our allegiance, our worship.
We are not like God. Sometimes we suffer from an anemic view of God. God becomes trite and familiar and antiquated—He is your grandmother’s throw pillow, a Hallmark sentimentality, or just a vague idea that is so well-worn that any sense of awe and wonder have long sense shriveled. But as we look around at the vastness of this world, at the complexity of life, what do we feel? When we see the intricacies of a blossoming rose, the crash of a water fall, the terror of a powerful thunderstorm—when we look up at the vast expanse of the cosmos, when we climb to some great vista and see the whole of the created realm spun out before us, and when we contemplate our granular smallness in comparison to it all…what do we say? Wow. 
The lesser cannot give rise to the greater. A mouse cannot make a mountain. And if this is the world that God has created, a world that stuns us and woos us, a world that inspires poets to verse and pagans to idolatry, this world charged with grandeur, then what is the God who made it like? The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19:1).
One of my favorite stories in the Bible encapsulates this “wow” factor of the immensity of God: the giving of the ten commandments at Sinai.
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. (Ex 19:16-20)
When we encounter this, as one author puts it, we “come upon something inherently ‘wholly other,’ whose kind and character are incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in a wonder that strikes us chill and numb,” (Rudolf Otto).
What happens when we come into the presence of a God like this? The two words that John Calvin uses is “dread and wonder.”
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Ex 20:18-21)
There is a right way to fear God and a wrong way to fear Him. Moses says: Don’t fear…but fear. If you treat God like a trinket, an option, or a nice addition to your life alongside many other, you must fear Him. There are none like Him. But if you fear God and think that means you must run away from Him, then you have misunderstood—don’t fear, but draw near.
God is Immanent
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut 6:4-5)
Notice that this transcendent, “wholly other” God is described as “our God.” And, shockingly, what is the response that God expects? Love. Fear makes sense. If you were reclining against a log on a hill, and then felt something move behind you, as if you had leaned against squirrel unknowingly, you’d jump up. But if you looked back and the entire log was moving, you’d be terrified. And if the very hill began to rumble and the log turned out to be a thick finger and the hill a giant you were standing upon—we don’t even have words that would adequately describe your fear. When you come into the presence of something immeasurably large, fear is natural and right. But love? God is immense, God is transcendent—we cannot exaggerate when we speak of God. And yet, this titanic God, desires a loving relationship with you.
Why is that?
Well, it actually gets into the very nature of God Himself. Later in the Bible, we are told this simple but provocative statement: “God is love,” (1 John 4:8; 4:16). Note: not God is loving, but God is love. If I tell my wife “You are beautiful,” I am saying that she corresponds to the standard of beauty. But if I say, “You are beauty”? Then I am saying she is the standard herself. All other claims of beauty depend on them corresponding to her. And when we say “God is Love” we say the same. He is the standard of love. The German theologian, Emil Brunner, explains that the statement “God is Love” is, “The most daring statement that has ever been made in human language…the message that God is Love, is something wholly new in the world…to call Zeus, Jupiter, Brahma, or Allah love would be obviously wholly impossible,” (Emil Brunner). Zeus and Jupiter—all of the ancient gods—don’t care whether you love them and nowhere claim to be loving. They won’t you to fear them, to depend on them, to bring tributes to them—or they may curse you. Fear them, but you don’t love them. Brahma is the world soul, the lifeforce and energy that we all dissolve into—it is an impersonal force, it is no more loving than any other force. And Allah nowhere claims an identity with love in the Qu’ran; He could not be love, because Allah is alone.
But the Christian God is triune: one God in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The trinity, St. Augustine wrote, is the basis for the claim that both God is Love, and that therefore ultimate reality is love—not power, not violence. If God was by Himself before creation, then He could not have loved. He could be powerful, He could be terrifying, but not love. The essence of love is found in giving, so love cannot exist without a plurality of persons. And what do you love? What you delight in, what you find praiseworthy. And what is the highest good and most deserving object of praise? God. And so, before the worlds existed, God existed in a community of mutual love and delight. The Father perfectly pouring out love upon the Son, the Son perfectly loving the Spirit, the Spirit perfectly loving the Father. This is the nuclear reactor, the epicenter of all reality.
Jonathan Edwards, in his excellent sermon Heaven Is a World of Love, reflects on the trinity, “who are united in infinitely dear and incomprehensible mutual love…Pouring love into one another in degrees of unimaginable power and joy makes this three-in-one God into a fountain of love.”
Think of your best experience of love. The thing you love the most, even still, is something that is part of this fallen creation. If it is another person, then that means that they are a sinner. And we are sinners. That means that all of our experiences of love in this world—the best experiences of love—are clogged with sin. So picture a pipe that is clogged with mud and debris, and it only lets through a small trickle of polluted water. That is what our experience of love is like here. But what would it be like if we weren’t sinners? And if the person we loved wasn’t a sinner? And what if we weren’t creatures, but were infinite? Then what capacities for love and joy would we then have? So it is within the godhead.
Edwards reflects on how the delight and joy of God’s love leads to Him desiring to share it. And in heaven this fountain, “…overflows in streams and rivers of love and delight, enough for all to drink at, and to swim in, yea, so as to overflow the world in a deluge of love.”
So, God creates—He wants to share His love. God didn’t create us because He was lonely or empty, but because He was so full.
God relates—He doesn’t want to merely create and remain distant. God is immanent, He is here. You can commune with Him because that is His desire. He walks in the garden with Adam and Eve. He continues to relate to them, to pursue them, even after they sin. God posture is one of open arms (Isa 65:2).
How do you respond to a God like this? Well, the verse already told you: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” (Deut 6:5). The only response that is appropriate to a God like this is an extreme one. You must love Him totally, entirely, with everything.
Jesus Christ
Why is it hard to love God like that?
Because He is still an abstraction in so many ways. To love, we need more than an abstraction, we need a person. And that is precisely what we have in Jesus Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, notice how he uses the shema:
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor 8:4-6)
Paul, provocatively, folds Jesus into the identity of Yahweh—the one God. Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). Jesus’ life is the clearest revelation of what God is like, who He is. In Jesus we see His humility, His tenderness, His justice, His beauty. We aren’t left with an abstraction as we read of Jesus’ life, His death, and His resurrection, as we see His love displayed incarnate.
But how do we know that a God like that would accept us? Aren’t we sinners and isn’t He holy?
Yes. But love gives:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
This is how you can know that this God won’t turn you away, but welcome you in. He has given His son to pay for your sins, because of His great love. God is a fountain of love! So He freely gives His Son, so that you would not perish, but could be welcomed in to His love forever.
Most religions emphasize either God’s transcendence or God’s immanence. God is either a distant power, or a close friend; either impersonal and unchangeable, or personal and malleable. But Christianity uniquely presents a God who is both transcendent and immanent; a hurricane become human, the power of the Creator and the closeness of a friend, the terror of the Almighty with the compassion of a Father.