Nick Hills is one of the cleverest people I have ever met. He is a scholar and an intellectual. He has a brilliant mind. We were at school and university together. About three months after my first encounter with Jesus Christ (as a first-year student), he too had an experience of Jesus. (In fact, he went on to help Justin Welby, who is now Archbishop of Canterbury, find faith in Jesus). Immediately, Nick started reading massive theological books.
I remember asking him what he was reading about. He replied that he was reading about the ‘transcendence and immanence’ of God. I had no idea what he meant. I had to look up both words in the dictionary.
‘Transcendence’ and ‘immanence’ describe the almost paradoxical nature of our relationship with God. The ‘transcendence’ of God means that God exists apart from, and is not subject to the limitations of, the material universe. He is above and beyond, surpassing and excelling, greatly superior to us.
On the other hand, the ‘immanence’ of God means that it is possible to experience his immediate friendship. In our Old Testament passage for today, Job speaks of ‘God’s intimate friendship’ (Job 29:4).
It is only when you understand the transcendence of God that you see how amazing his immanence is, and what a huge privilege it is to be able to enjoy intimate friendship with God.
Worship the transcendent God and love his awesome presencePsalm 18:7-15
David speaks of the awesome presence of God: ‘The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook… Out of the brightness of his presence… The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded’ (vv.7,12–13).
In this psalm we see both the power and the anger of the transcendent God: ‘They trembled because he was angry’ (v.7). God’s anger (though never malicious) is his personal reaction against sin.
If we look at human trafficking, the abuse of children, institutional torture or some other terrible injustice without feeling any anger, we are failing to love. Indignation against evil is an essential element of goodness. In this psalm we see that God’s anger is the reverse side of his love.
Yet, this is a psalm in which David expresses his intimate friendship with God. It begins, ‘I love you, O Lord, my strength’ (v.1). David did not take it for granted. He understood the immense privilege of having an intimate friendship with the transcendent God.
Lord, thank you that I can have an intimate friendship with the one who created the entire universe. I love you, O Lord, my strength.
Accept God’s invitation and enjoy his intimate friendshipMatthew 21:33-22:14
In the last decade, we have celebrated two major Royal Weddings in the UK: Prince William to Catherine Middleton and Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. Imagine what it would have been like if you had opened your post and found a personal invitation to their wedding. Jesus says that all of us receive an invitation to the greatest royal wedding of all time.
Jesus describes the kingdom of God as being like a vineyard and like a wedding banquet. Both of these pictures speak again of God’s generosity and his amazing love for you.
But God’s love is not sentimental. Again, we see the reverse side of God’s love and mercy, which is his judgment on those who reject his love and do evil (21:35 onwards). When the tenants ‘seized his servants… beat one, killed another, and stoned a third’ (v.35), and in a final act of rebellion, when they took his son ‘and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him’ (v.39), there was a judgment (v.41).
Jesus is prophesying about his own death. He is the ‘son’ and ‘heir’ (vv.37–38) whom God sent. Yet, they ‘killed him’ (v.39). He is the stone ‘the builders rejected [who] has become the capstone’ (v.42). He is the one who executes judgment (v.44). The judgment was to come about because of their rejection of Jesus (they were looking for a way to arrest Jesus, v.46).
Likewise, in the case of the wedding banquet, God issues an open invitation for an intimate friendship with him. It is such a great privilege to be invited to this royal wedding. It is a costly invitation (v.4) and an open invitation (vv.9–10). Everyone is invited. The invitation is repeated over and over again (vv.1–4).
I find it fascinating that Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a party. This is the opposite of how many people think about God, church and faith. They think it is something sombre, dull and boring. But Jesus says the kingdom of God is a party. It is a celebration with lots of laughter, joy and feasting.
However, there were some who, when reminded of their invitation, ‘only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop’ (22:5, MSG). Their possessions and their jobs were higher priorities than a relationship with Jesus. Some were extraordinarily rude and hostile – they ‘seized his servants, ill-treated them and killed them’ (v.6). Jesus says, ‘The king was enraged’ (v.7).
God’s amazing and wonderful invitation is not something you should take lightly or flippantly. It is a huge privilege that a transcendent God invites you to have an intimate friendship with him. However, it is not enough simply to go along. You need the right wedding clothes (vv.11–13). You cannot enter the kingdom of heaven on your own terms – only on Jesus’ terms. Thankfully, through his death and resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has provided the clothes you need.
Lord, thank you that in your love, you lay on a banquet for me. Lord, I accept your invitation and come to you today to enjoy your intimate friendship.
Understand the transcendence of God and know his immanenceJob 25:1-29:25
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the problems and difficulties you are facing? Do you doubt whether God has the power or the desire to help you?
Job understood the transcendence of God. He says, ‘I will teach you about the power of God’ (27:11a). He points out that everything we see of God’s power in the natural world around is only ‘the outer fringe of his works’ (v.12).
God is powerful enough to help you.
God is not only powerful enough to help you; he also loves you enough to do so. Job knew all about the immanence of God. He had experienced ‘God’s intimate friendship’ (29:4) where true wisdom is to be found.
‘Fear-of-the-Lord – that’s Wisdom, and Insight means shunning evil’ (v.28, MSG). The ‘fear-of-the-Lord’ means respect for God. It is in this respectful relationship with God that you find wisdom. Now we know that Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. It is in an intimate friendship with Jesus that you find true wisdom.
Job describes the immense value of this wisdom: ‘Where can wisdom be found? … It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver… God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells… “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding”’ (28:12,15–28).
What kind of life does this lead to? It will lead to shunning evil (v.28) and serving the poor (29:12). Job describes a truly righteous life as helping ‘the poor… the fatherless… [the] dying… the widow… the blind… the lame… the needy… the stranger’ (vv.12–16). Job was concerned not only with poverty but also with justice: ‘I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban… I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth’ (vv.14,17).
As you draw close to God in intimate friendship, his concerns become your concerns. Like Job, you will desire to help the poor, the fatherless, the homeless and the widows. You want to rescue victims of injustice. You will seek to look after the blind, the lame, the needy and the refugees in your land.
Job had not actually lost his intimate friendship with God. But he had lost any tangible feeling of it. He was going through the most appalling suffering. It seemed to him that God was miles away. You may be experiencing something like this at the moment. If you are, be encouraged by the story of Job.
When we come to the end of the book of Job, we understand that God had never left him. God was going to bless him more than he could ever ask or even imagine. God would restore to him the sense of his intimate friendship.
Now, through Jesus, all of us can experience an intimate friendship with the transcendent God and know his ultimate blessing on our lives.
Lord, thank you for Job’s example. In times of suffering, may I hold on to the promise of your intimate friendship and blessing on my life.
We all want to comfort our friends when they are in need, and at least Job’s friends went to him. Sometimes, in our desperation to try and understand their suffering or to help, we say things that aren’t helpful at all! It is very difficult to know how to comfort someone when they are facing something really terrible. Some people get it absolutely right, but often the best thing we can do is to just listen, be there and pray.
Verse of the Day
‘…everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet’ (Matthew 22:4).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.