All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[Isaiah 7:14] (which means “God with us”).Matthew 1:22-23
Jesus is “God with us.” He is the majestic, transcendent God who has come near. So many people relate to Jesus as if He is God against us or God condemning us or God disappointed in us. But Jesus is none of those things. Jesus said of Himself, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him“(John 3:17).
The Christian faith uniquely captures both sides of God’s nature–His transcendence and His immanence. The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians about Jesus and said, “The Son is the image of the invisible God…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him“(Colossians 1:15, 19).
There was a time in history where most people focused on God’s transcendence, how He is completely “other” than us and full of unapproachable power, majesty and light. This is an important aspect of the nature of God, but if that is the only focus, people easily slip into deism–the belief that God is distant and disconnected from His creation.
Deism says that God created everything, put it motion like a machine, and now it runs on Newtonian laws of nature without God’s involvement or interaction. This view of God is heavily influenced by the Enlightenment age. Much of liberal protestant theology is still heavily influenced by this kind of erroneous thinking.
In reaction against this, people began to focus more on God’s immanence–His nearness to and involvement in His own creation. And while this is a very important aspect of God to understand, especially with the Holy Spirit, it has recently become over-emphasized.
With the rejection of Christianity and the introduction of eastern mysticism (Hindu and Buddhist thought), the rise of New Age spiritualism has begun to infiltrate western culture. Terms that celebrate pantheism are being woven into the English vernacular: chakra, the Universe, energies, spirit guide, etc.
Though most of these concepts come from the Occult and eastern religions–and are therefore heavily demonic–western culture, including many people raised in the church, has embraced it because of its emphasis on the experience of the nearness (the immanence) of the spirit realm. Protestant fear of the charismatic experiences of the Holy Spirit–a fear which led to an overly-rationalistic and hyper-cognitive faith–has left an experiential void that is being filled by New Age religion.
We need to hold both truths about God’s nature together in tension so that we don’t slip into these sorts of false beliefs. God is transcendent and other. He is a holy, majestic, and all-powerful personal God who relates to us as Father. God is also immanent. He first drew near to His people with theophanies (visible manifestations of His Presence) in the Old Testament; then He became “God with us” in the person of Jesus Christ, and finally dwells in us and among us in the person of the Holy Spirit.
God is not distant, and God is not “everything.” God is not “the Universe.” God is not creation. God is the Creator of creation. He is separate from His creation but loves to come and dwell within His creation. God is not an abstract “life-force” found in things. God is personal. He is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And if He is found within a person, it is as the Holy Spirit dwelling in the new Temple of God through faith in Jesus Christ–the crucified and risen Savior of the world.