Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Transcendent God: Part 2

It is difficult to even begin to comprehend a God who is truly transcendent. We humans are constrained by the three dimensions of space and one dimension of time that we inhabit, so we tend to greatly underestimate the capabilities of a being who is not bound by these dimensions. In "A Transcendent God: Part 1" I used the book Flatland by Edwin Abbott as an illlustration to help us understand God's transcendence. The book describes a universe that is flat like a piece of paper and has only two dimensions, and the attempts made by a three-dimensional being to communicate with the Flatlanders. This analogy demonstrated that (1) it would be impossible for us to fully understand any being outside of our dimensions, and (2) we could only be aware of a transcendent being if he chose to reveal himself to us. These two conclusions definitely apply to God.

Let's look at a few other characteristics of God that are elucidated by the Flatland analogy.

Consider the subject of miracles from the perspective of an extra-dimensional being. Suppose a Flatlander was in his house with all the doors locked, completely secure from the outside. Such a situation is shown in the top figure below where the circle represents the Flatlander safe in his home and another person with a smiley face outside the home. Now the smiley-faced person could not get into the house with all the doors closed. That would be a miracle. But if the smiley-faced person had access to the third dimension, he could simply go into that third dimension (out of the page) and reappear inside the house as shown in the bottom figure to the right. To the Flatlander, the smiley-faced person has apparently walked through a wall and performed a true miracle. Although this would be a miracle to the Flatlander it would be trivial to someone from Spaceland who could access the third dimension. To us there are things that seem impossible, that would require a real miracle. Yet to God those things are likely trivial. His transcendence provides capabilities and resources that are unimaginable to us.

Another aspect of God's character that may be better appreciated by considering the Flatland analogy is his presence. To us, God is invisible which may make him seem distant. In addition, there are times in life when circumstances may cause us to believe that God is uninterested or aloof. How can God be near when he is invisible or we can't sense his presence? In the figure below we see the hand of a Spacelander which is nearly touching the Flatlanders. But because they can only exist on the plane of the paper they are totally unaware of his presence. How close can God be when he seems distant or when his presence is not felt? He can be closer than the clothing touching your skin while remaining in a realm inaccessible to you and I. You can be confident of his presence even though he is invisible and may seem very far off.

The Flatlander who is a scientist is able to run experiments in her two-dimensional world and test all the laws of nature within that world. Can she set up an experiment to test the reality of any dimensions beyond the two she is in? Not as long as she is confined to her flat-land. I often talk to skeptics who say they will not believe in God unless they can test him scientifically. Such a claim shows a complete lack of understanding of God's transcendence. Repeatable experiments are limited to the laws of physics within our universe. We cannot set up an experiment to probe something as simple as even the existence of God as long as we are limited to our finite dimensions. However, when God chooses to intersect with our universe in his way and his timing, that intersection can be tested and may leave some lasting observable evidence. I would contend that the resurrection of Jesus is a testable incident demonstrating God's action in our universe.

Finally, consider God's actions, his understanding, and knowledge. I confess that there are times when I do not understand why God allows certain things to happen or not happen, and I do not always like what I perceive as his action or lack of action. In those times I may think that I could do a better job of running things than him. But consider the perspective of the Spacelander compared with the Flatlander. How different is the perspective of the Spacelander? How much more clearly can the Spacelander see the big picture and know the best course of action? For example, the Flatlander can't even see outside of his house when all the doors are closed but the Spacelander can see the entire Flatland landscape at one time. The prophet Isaiah wrote, "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55:8-9). An understanding of God's transcendence helps me trust him when circumstances are not to my liking. I am able to accept that his perspective, his thoughts and ways, are much higher and different than mine. He is not confined to these finite dimensions so he will definitely have much more insight and be aware of many better options than I could possibly imagine. Isaiah said that God's thoughts and ways compared with mine are "as the heavens are higher than the earth." That would make them at least 30 billion light years higher than my ways. His transcendence extends that even beyond my ability to imagine.

We as humans tend to underestimate God; to put him in a box or make him sort of like us, but a little bigger, a little more powerful, and a little different. His transcendence guarantees that all such thinking is completely inadequate. He is much more than we could ever imagine. And yet, any insight  that we may gain by reflecting on the ramifications of his transcendence still barely touches on the the scope of his remarkable and indescribable character.


  1. These last couple posts have been the most convincing arguments I have ever come across. Good stuff.

  2. Wow, This's a really great blog, (y)