Since the beginning of time, God has always been. Studies show that basically, every religion identifies God in some manner. With God being recognized comes various perceptions of how He is identified. Christians believe that God is the great ‘I am that, I am”, Buddhist argue that He is a strong and good power, even Muslims accept the idea that God is the eternal lasting power. With all of these views of God comes a plethora of understanding of said views. In the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, there are two views of God that have been researched drastically. One view is anthropomorphic and the second view is transcendent. The paper below is, therefore, going to explain the Anthropomorphic and Transcendent view of God in the Old Testament.
Merriam-Webster defines anthropomorphic as described or thought of as being like human beings in appearance, behavior, etc. We see several cases in the Bible where human-like traits are given to God such as God is said to have a “face.” He sets His face against evil (Leviticus 20:6). Numbers 6:25 refers to God making His face shine upon us. God is also referred to as having “hands” on many occasions. In Exodus 7:5 God says, “I stretch out my hand against Egypt.” In Isaiah 23:11, “He has stretched out his hand over the sea.” The psalmist referred to God having arms: “you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm” (Psalm 89:10b). Deuteronomy 4:34 and 5:15, as well as other passages, mention God’s “outstretched arm.” Scripture also refers to God’s “eyes.” We read that, “The eyes of the Lord” are on the righteous (Psalm 34:15). And God keeps his eyes on the land (Deuteronomy 11:12).In prayer, those in Scripture sometimes refer to God’s ears. For example, 2 Kings 19:16 says, “Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear.” Nehemiah 1:6 includes, “let your ear be attentive.” Some passages even refer to God’s feet. For example, Isaiah 66:1 says, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool …'” In addition to physical attributes, God is often referred to as having various emotions that are also considered anthropomorphisms. Some of these include God’s sorrow (Genesis 6:6), His jealousy (Exodus
In the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal Ron Rhodes attempt to explain why various writers gave God such human-like characteristics. ”Theologians tell us that the analogical language used of God in Scripture is midway between univocal and equivocal language. Univocal terms are unambiguous; they always have one meaning: Shaquille O’Neal is a tall basketball player, just as the Empire State Building in New York City is a tall building. Equivocal terms are ambiguous, for they can have more than one meaning: The word “trunk” might refer to the front of an elephant, the back of a car, or the bottom of a tree. In analogical usage, we begin with a univocal element (e.g., a human parent loves his child just as the heavenly Father loves His spiritual children), but we perceive that while there are similarities, there are differences as well: human love has limits, whereas divine love is unconditional and limitless. Nevertheless, by analogy, one effectively illustrates the other. That is, we learn something of divine love by first understanding what it means for a parent to love a child. Human love and divine love are different in degree, but not different in kind, and hence the analogy between the two is quite effective. God, in His infinite wisdom and as our Creator knows just which analogies will best help us to understand true aspects of His nature and His relationship with His creation. As theologian Millard Erickson puts it, “This analogical knowledge is possible because God selects the components he uses. Unlike humans, God is knowledgeable of both sides of the analogy…God…knowing all things completely, therefore knows which elements of human knowledge and experience are sufficiently similar to the divine truth that they can be used to help construct a meaningful analogy.” (Christian Research Journal,volume 33, number 02 <2010>)
With such metaphors being used it causes the reader to be able to better relate to the text. The Bible is composed of various poems, psalms, and historical text; some theologians argue that God could have possibly instructed various writers to use such metaphors to add the effect of an emotional tie. “Since anthropomorphisms are metaphors that communicate truth analogically, one must begin by seeking to understand the purpose or idea usually associated with the human expression for example, a hand and an arm normally engage in some kind of action, often on behalf of others. At the same time, it is wise to watch for possible textual clues in Scripture that enable one to infer what is being metaphorically communicated about God by the analogy. What I mean by “textual clue” is illustrated in Psalm 136 where we read of God’s “strong hand and an outstretched arm” (v. 12). The textual clue is found in verse 11, which speaks of God’s deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians. God’s strong hand and outstretched arm point to His mighty power and His active involvement in demonstrating that power on behalf of Israel. Likewise, in Exodus 15:8 where we read of God’s “nostrils,” the textual clue relates to God’s opening up the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape from the Egyptians (see vv. 4-7). The “blast” of God’s “nostrils” is obviously a graphic metaphorical expression indicating that God was the direct causal agent of the sea opening up. In Deuteronomy 9:10, which refers to God’s “fingers,” the textual clue relates to inscriptions on the two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments, thus indicating that God is the One who accomplished the inscription. In Exodus 33:11, which refers to Moses speaking to God “face to face,” the textual clue is “just as a man speaks to his friend.” In other words, Moses spoke with God intimately. In none of these verses is there even the slightest hint that God actually has a physical hand, arm, nostrils, fingers, or a face. All of the terms are analogical metaphors.” (Christian Research Journal, volume 33, number 02 <2010>)
Throughout the course of biblical times, various characters had experiences with God in a human-like way. Adam in the book of Genesis it is stated that “God came walking through the garden in the cool of the day”. This is used to describe how God appeared before Adam and his wife Eve after they sinned. After talking with many clergymen it was made knows that this metaphor allows the reader to see how personal God is with the man (His creation).
Conclusively, the anthropomorphic ideology is used so as to compare some of God’s characteristics with those of human beings. The use of body parts to describe God’s actions was used to explain how relevant God is in our lives. The ideology also uses behavior to suggest that God is often proud of we human beings while at the same time, He can be hungered by our wickedness as He is a God with feelings.
The Transcendent view of God in the Old Testament
The term transcendent simply means, “to exist above and independent from; to rise above, surpass, succeed” (Weaver and Brakke, 2009). While trying to relate this definition with man’s abilities as well as God’s, we can, therefore, conclude that God is the only transcendent being. This is because the characteristics mentioned in the definition above only suit Him and not human beings. Also, the book of Isaiah 55: 8-9 attempts to justify the transcendent view of God by saying that our thoughts are far below God’s thoughts and so are our ways. The Lord also says that the same way heaven is above earth is the same way His thoughts and abilities are above ours. In Hebrews, He is referred to as “The Lord God Almighty”. The chapter further states that God created everything that is found on and beneath the earth. He also created all that is found in the Heavens above.
Despite all these creations, God has managed to live above and independent from them thus explaining why He qualifies to be a transcendent being. However, Him being independent of the universe does not make Him unable to communicate or even access it.; this is how the bible views God as transcendent. Therefore, God is also immanent meaning that despite the fact that He is very far from us, He is also very accessible and His presence can be felt in the universe (Psalms 139:7). God’s mighty power is believed to be in charge of His creations yet no one or no supernatural being is in charge of him (Hebrews 1:3). The whole universe is simply under God’s control, therefore, making Him deserve glory and honor as well as praise. “God is sitting upon a throne, high and lifted” (Isaiah 6:1-5). This kind of sovereignty also explains why God is Transcendent.
According to Ephesians 4:6, Paul acknowledges that there is only one God who reigns over everything on earth and in heaven. Psalms 97: 9 further states that “For you oh Lord! Are the highest over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.”
The element of being transcendent makes God be unknown and also be unknowable. Despite these two characters, God continuously attempts to reveal himself sous we human beings can understand Him better. The element of transcendent also makes God live beyond our imagination and time thus making Him unknowable and even unsearchable. However much we try to learn God’s ways, He is so complex such that we can not experience or learn Him. God expects us to learn his ways yet our finite nature does not allow us to fully understand him as He is infinite. Our minds, as well as reasoning, are beneath His (Isaiah 55: 8-9). According to Romans 11: 33-36, “Oh! The Lord depth of the Riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay Him? For Him and through Him are all things. To Him is the glory forever!”
God can also be viewed as transcendent because of His holiness as well as righteousness. The man is prone to sin and to some degree, he also desires to engage in some wicked activities. Due to this character that is associated with human beings, man is not worthy of God’s presence. Due to our human nature, God is ashamed to face us. This can be witnessed when Moses requested God to reveal His glory. According to exodus 33:20, He replied to Moses by saying, “You can not see my face for no one can see my face and live”. God’s glory is too much for we human beings to handle, therefore, His glory would possibly break us into pieces. God will fully reveal Himself to us in future when we human beings will begin living according to His ways.
Prophet Isaiah understands and also attempts to explain why God’s glory should not be revealed unto us. According to Isaiah 64:6-7, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins”. The righteous and holiness nature of God forces Him to turn His face away from human beings so as to distance Himself from sin and Humans who happen not to be perfect.
Another element that makes us view God as transcendent is His ability to do all things; nothing is impossible in His presence. This element is not a character of any other creature as there are a lot of impossibilities in the life of human beings. In the Old Testament, this ability can be witnessed where Abraham was asked to say if there is anything hard for the Lord to achieve. As a result, Abraham’s wife conceived at a very advanced age thus proving that nothing is impossible in the Lord (Genesis 18:14). God does whatever interests Him, unlike the man who has to seek guidance from above (Psalms 115:3). We view God as transcendent because of His ability not to act against His own will or nature. This is unlike we human beings who are fond of acting against our own nature thus hurting ourselves or the creatures that belong to the universe. God is morally pure and will, therefore, choose not to engage in anything that compromises His holiness. God is also not prone to the evilness/ wickedness that prevail in this world; this is unlike us human beings. God’s holiness can also be witnessed by any human being, living creature or even place that stands in His presence. For instance, in the Old Testament Moses was able to witness the burning bush because of God’s presence.
According to Deuteronomy 32:4, the ways of the Lord are perfect and He is also a just God. Due to God’s love for justice, only the righteous men shall meet Him face to face (Psalms 11:7). Also, this element will enable Him to judge human beings thus enable everyone to receive what he deserves; the wrong will be repaid by a wrong and vice versa (Colossians 3:25). We also view God as transcendent due to His faithfulness; He fulfills all his promises unlike us human beings that are likely to betray others.
Even though God is Transcendent, He uses various mechanisms to fulfill our needs and wants. For instance, God uses doctors and individuals with the gift of performing miracles to heal the sick. This explains that even though God is separate from the universe, his presence can still be felt. This can also be witnessed in the Old Testament when the Israelites had been enslaved by the Egyptians. He did not present Himself physically in order to save the Israelites from slavery but He used a human being. King Cyrus who happened to be a Pagan was used by God in order to rescue the Israelites.
Another element that makes God a transcendent being is infinite; due to this element, God neither grows nor does He evolve. There is no record that indicates that God has undergone any change (both quantitative and qualitative). Malachi 3:6 says, “I the Lord do not change”. God has been present from the beginning of time and will still be there in the end when no other being will be in existence. This argument is further reinforced in Genesis 21: 33 where He is being described as an eternal God; the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end.
Despite all the difference between Him and humans, God still has the element of self-consciousness; He is able to feel. He is also able to have a reciprocal relationship with human beings. According to Isaiah, 40; God is not human instead, He is a spirit as He is not made up of matter; He also does not have any physical characteristics thus making it impossible for human beings to define exactly who God is. Isaiah goes ahead to ask if there is anyone who understands the mind of the Lord. He also asks if there is anyone who can be compared to the lord. He also asks if there is any other creature that can be compared to God (Isaiah 40:13). With the above argument, we should, therefore, consider God as transcendent to man. Even though God can’t be compared to any living creature he is nonetheless alive. He is the reason every creature gets a chance to live as He forms the basis of life. John 5:26, says that as long as He has life, His children will live. His life does not have any external influence; therefore, He can live with or without the universe.
The immanent nature of God happens to be the opposite of His Transcendent nature however, it is used as a complementary of God as a complex being. God is omnipresent and omnipotent despite His Transcendent nature. These two elements are not associated with any other being the even man himself can only be present at a particular place and time and will never reappear in a different place. Psalms 139 proves the above element by saying that when man will ascend to heaven, he will still find God there. While still on earth, man will still feel God’s presence in different ways. Even darkness will not put the man away from God’s presence (Psalms 139:7-12).
Conclusively, it, therefore, true that God is transcendent and human beings should avoid making general assumptions about God’s way of life. First, as God is considered ‘wholly other’, no one can have a personal relationship with Him. Secondly, people should not assume that God does not have power over the universe simply because he is independent of it. Humans should acknowledge that there is a supernatural being higher than them. We should also understand that God’s actions are for good even though sometimes we might fail to understand this concept; this is according to Romans 8:28. Acts 2:23 suggests that God can use evil in order to create something that is good. Due to the transcendent nature of God, we can only communicate with Him through prayer and worship. Therefore, human beings should devote themselves to prayer and worship.
Rhodes, R. (2010). Recognizing and Interpreting Anthropomorphic Language. Christian
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Weaver, M. & Brakke, D. (2009). Introduction to Christianity. Australia Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.