12 November 2023

The wind over the waters

A wind from God swept over the face of the waters...

For the last few years I had been a "mostly immanent" believer. Immanence refers to the nearness of the divine. In other words, being "mostly immanent" means to me that God is us, we are God, and we can look to God for micro-guidance as we plod through our days. On most days, this is fine. As I try to figure out my health insurance drug formulary, do I really need to know how creation happened 5 billion years ago (or, as some would estimate, 5000 years ago)? I'll save the "age of the earth" debate for some other time. For now, let's talk about transcendence.

My mostly-immanent self recently read Genesis 1 more carefully. The caption of my watery image above comes from Genesis 1:2. In my preferred Bible translation (NRSV), "wind from God" has a footnote for an alternate translation, which is, "spirit of God".

It occurred to me that this "spirit of God" makes many appearances in the Bible. For now, consider Luke 1:34-35: "Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I am a virgin?' The angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.'"

Aside from the fact that Mary just interrupted an angel of the Lord to explain the facts of life, we see that spirit again (this time called the Holy Spirit, but yeah, same spirit as in Genesis). The virgin birth narrative is a fulfillment of the creation narrative. This spirit is that of a transcendent God, existing beyond us and our universe. This is not to say that I need to define God as a supernatural being from a supernatural place called heaven, and indeed, there is no human who could know that it was a supernatural being that created the heavens and the earth. I don't have a succinct definition for a God that gives us both Genesis and Luke.

But, the recognition of the transcendence of God reminds me that my drug formulary is not a "micro" thing. The earth provided the raw materials and a whole lot of people worked out such a thing. Truly, now and forever, immanent and transcendent, amen.

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