One of the most beautiful attributes of God is that of His divine immanence. It stands in contrast to, but is inseparable from, His divine transcendence. In the previous article on the attribute of God’s holiness, we looked at how God’s divine transcendence both causes us to worship and calls us towards infinitely satisfying sabbath rest in an infinitely holy God. In this article, we will see how the immanence of God leads us to the same worship and sabbath rest – even more – that without the immanence of God in the person of Jesus Christ, there could never be rest for us at all.
A Definition of the Immanence of God
What is the immanence of God? Simply put, it is God’s “nearness” to us; His divine presence with us. It undergirds the communication of His other attributes to us such as His love, kindness or mercy. It is what makes the infinite, holy God personable and relational to us in real ways that we can experience. It is crucial to believe that God is immanent; if we are to omit this attribute of God, we are left with terribly erroneous views of God. One error is that we only view God as holy and transcendent and live in the dreadful reality of no hope of escaping the righteous wrath and judgment of God poured out on sinful creation. Another equally grievous error would lead us to live with indifference towards God’s existence because if He is not immanent, God is only a deity that exists but is unsympathetic, impersonal and unknowable (agnosticism). The God of the Bible aligns with neither of these erroneous depictions.
The Immanence of God in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, we see examples of God’s immanence from the creation account, through the Mosaic books, into wisdom literature and throughout the writings of the prophets. In Genesis, God created us in His very image. That we are given His likeness demonstrates His desire to relate to us and; Paul calls us the “offspring of God” (Acts 17:29). Throughout the Pentateuch, we read about God being Abraham’s friend and how He called the Israelites His own people and possession. We also read about how He manifested His presence in the pillars of cloud and fire and in the Holy of Holies of the temple.
The Psalms provide ample evidence of God’s immanence, calling Him a father to the fatherless and a defender of the widows (Psalm 68:5). Asaph receives his comfort from God, calling God his portion saying that He holds his right hand and that it is good to be near to Him (Psalm 73). Psalm 139 shows the intimacy with which God knows and is involved with our lives – from seeing our unformed substance, to knitting us to become “intricately woven” in the womb and writing the days that were formed for us. The prophets often use the analogy of marriage to describe the relationship between God and His people. Furthermore, there is the common theme of relational reconciliation between man and God through the Messiah. God writes through Ezekiel:
The God of the Old Testament exudes immanence; He is deeply personal. He draws near to us for our joy and satisfaction: “Sing for joy and be glad … for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst.” (Zechariah 2:10). These words written by the prophet Zechariah were fulfilled only a few centuries later. Indeed, from creation to redemption, God purposed all of history to reconcile the fallen creation to Himself by incarnating in the person of Jesus and dying to save us from eternal separation from Himself. He died to be near us.
The Immanence of God Consummated in the Person of Christ
The attribute of God’s immanence was on full display when Jesus arrived as an infant, born to the virgin Mary. Jesus is called the “Word made flesh” who “dwelt among us” (John 1:14). With Jesus in the flesh, no one can deny God’s desire to be involved with humanity. More than that, Jesus is said to even sympathize with us in our weaknesses; to understand and experience temptation; to have wept over the death of a friend; to have been misunderstood; to have been deserted and forsaken; to have suffered pain and death, even death on a cross.
The incarnation of Jesus not only confirms the attribute of God’s immanence to be true intellectually, but also confers it experientially. In this, Christians live with such privilege. The Old Testament forefathers, priests, leaders, kings and prophets had only glimpses, veiled experiences and temporary infusions of the Spirit’s power upon them. For us, by Jesus’ death, the curtain separating us from the Holy of Holies in the temple was torn in two and the immanence of God drew closer still (Hebrews 10:20). Now through Jesus, we can boldly approach the throne of grace to receive grace, mercy and help (Hebrews 4:16). Through Jesus, we are made holy and have become a suitable dwelling place for God, the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Through Jesus, the prophecy of Ezekiel 37:27 will finally be fulfilled as Jesus saves us eternally into relationship with God. Revelation 21:3 prophesies this day still to be fully realized, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God.” Oh, that glorious day! Finally, faith will turn to sight and rest and satisfaction given to our souls for eternity.
Sabbath Rest Offered in the Presence of Jesus
As we look forward to that final rest in the presence of God, let us not forget about the rest already offered to us now as we live and wait for His return. One of the most significant applications relating to the attribute of God’s immanence is the peace and rest given to us when we draw near to God. Throughout Scripture, we see examples of how God’s presence melted away fear, gave power and encouragement, and culminated in deep rest and satisfaction to the soul.
Psalm 23 depicts this well, describing the faithful as sheep with their loving Shepherd where there is “no want.” These people, with rested and restored souls, walk through valleys and fear no evil. They dine in the presence of their enemies and are sure of God’s love, mercy and goodness. Those who are satisfied by the Shepherd “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In other words, there is a direct relationship between the presence of God and the rest our souls desire; as God’s presence manifests more in our lives, so too does our peace.
It is no mystery then, that when Jesus calls those who “labour and are heavy laden” to find rest, that He calls them to, “Come to [Him].” (Matthew 11:28). If Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God’s presence, then the only way to have true rest is to come to Him. Jesus’ words are revolutionary because up until that point, His Jewish listeners equated rest with keeping the rules of the Sabbath day. In just the next chapter, Jesus pointed out that in the eyes of the Pharisees, it was not even “lawful to heal on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:9-14). These extra laws concerning observance of the Sabbath placed on the people by the Pharisees resulted in a discouraged and exhausted people who felt “heavy laden,” never able to meet their standards. Imagine then, the peace that flooded their hearts when Jesus said that rest was not found in working to keep the law (the irony!), but simply coming to Him and receiving it instead.
The rest Jesus offers touches every aspect of our lives – it is all satisfying. For those constantly worried if they have done enough good to balance out their evil to warrant God’s favour, Jesus offers rest. Hebrews 4:9 speaks of
In other words, we stop working to save ourselves and instead rest assured that faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection freely gives us salvation forever. For those struggling to be accepted by this world, working to bolster an attractive image of sorts, Jesus offers rest. Jesus is called “gentle and lowly” though He is the King of all. If the King has welcomed you into His presence, what more work needs to be done to feel accepted? For those who feel that there are always needs to be met and new heights of productivity to reach, Jesus offers rest. God will “supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Because Jesus offers you “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys” you are freed from working to climb the never ending rat race of attaining more worldly wealth (Matthew 6:19). These are but a few examples of the all satisfying rest that coming to Jesus brings.
When we meditate upon the attribute of God’s immanence, let us focus on the person of Jesus for “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Jesus not only brought God to us but also brought us to God by dying for our sins. Let us taste the sweetness of being in God’s presence and find true rest for our souls as in Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”