Transcendence is the state of God's being as being the state of limitlessness. The term normally is used to describe the state in which God's being transcends all the limits of cosmic and physical boundaries. Transcendence typically is thought to be contrasted both with limited (local) presence/action and with omnipresence, though there has, for centuries, been much thought taken to harmonizing transcendence with omnipresence.
One metaphor for God's transcendence is that in mathematics called transcendence theory. This theory in mathematics is the branch of thought that studies transcendental numbers. However inadequate and distracting a description of God which this metaphor creates, the point of this metaphor is that the transcendental God lacks synthetic natural characteristics, just as the transcendental numbers lack algebraic properties.
Distinction between creation and Creator: God's transcendence
see also Existence
The first verse of the Bible distinguishes God from the heaven and the earth. The theological discussion of this distinction falls under the named topic of transcendence, and the key philosophical concept with regard to God and creation is the two categories of existence (with regard to causes, or rather sources, of being): a se—from itself and ab alio—from another. That is, God's existence is from God's self while creation's existence is from another (namely God).
Nowhere is this Scriptural doctrine more exemplified nor, perhaps, better artistically rendered, than by the hymn to God's omnipotence in the Book of Job and God's responses to the titular character and his three counseling friends in poetic speeches.
Hymn by Elihu (Job 36:22-37:24)
"Behold, God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him?
Who has prescribed his way for him? Or who can say, 'You have committed unrighteousness?'
"Remember that you magnify his work, about which men have sung.
All men have looked on it. Man sees it afar off.
Behold, God is great, and we don’t know him.
The number of his years is unsearchable.
"For he draws up the drops of water, which distill in rain from his vapor,
which the skies pour down, and which drop on man abundantly.
For by these he judges the people.
He gives food in abundance.
"Indeed, can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds and the thunderings of his pavilion?
Behold, he spreads his light around him. He covers the bottom of the sea.
He covers his hands with the lightning, and commands it to strike the mark.
Its noise tells about him, and the livestock also, concerning the storm that comes up.
"Yes, at this my heart trembles, and is moved out of its place.
Hear, oh, hear the noise of his voice, the sound that goes out of his mouth.
He sends it out under the whole sky, and his lightning to the ends of the earth.
After it a voice roars. He thunders with the voice of his majesty.
He doesn’t hold back anything when his voice is heard.
"God thunders marvelously with his voice.
He does great things, which we can’t comprehend.
"For he says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth,' likewise to the shower of rain,
and to the showers of his mighty rain.
He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he has made may know it.
Then the animals take cover, and remain in their dens.
"Out of its room comes the storm, and cold out of the north.
By the breath of God, ice is given, and the width of the waters is frozen.
Yes, he loads the thick cloud with moisture.
He spreads abroad the cloud of his lightning.
"It is turned around by his guidance, that they may do whatever he commands them
on the surface of the habitable world,
whether it is for correction, or for his land,
or for loving kindness, that he causes it to come.
"Listen to this, Job. Stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God.
Do you know how God controls them, and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?
Do you know the workings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge?
"You whose clothing is warm when the earth is still by reason of the south wind?
Can you, with him, spread out the sky,
which is strong as a cast metal mirror?
Teach us what we will tell him.
"'We can’t make our case by reason of darkness.
Will it be told him that I would speak?
Or should a man wish that he were swallowed up?'
"Now men don’t see the light which is bright in the skies, but the wind passes, and clears them.
Out of the north comes golden splendor. With God is awesome majesty.
We can’t reach the Almighty. He is exalted in power.
In justice and great righteousness, he will not oppress.
Therefore men revere him. He doesn’t regard any who are wise of heart."
Job 11:7-9, Zophar's first speech
Zophar: "Can you fathom the mystery of God?
Or can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are high as heaven. What can you do?
They are deeper than Sheol. What can you know?
Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea."
Psalm 113:4-5, The Psalmist, full of grateful joy, stirs up his whole soul to praise the Lord for great personal benefits
The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord, our God, who has his seat on high?
Isaiah 55:8-9, Prophecy of the Messiah continued: the world invited to seek salvation by him (from group of parting verses of "Book of the Consolation of Israel")
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways," says the Lord.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts."
John 3:31, Jesus, leaving Jerusalem, teaches and baptizes in Judæa; further testimony of the Baptist
"He who comes from above is above all. He who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all."
Acts 7:47-50, Stephen's speech at the Sanhedrin
"But Solomon built him a house. However, the Most High doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says,
- 'Heaven is my throne,
- and the earth a footstool for my feet.
- What kind of house will you build me?' says the Lord.
- 'Or what is the place of my rest?
- Didn’t my hand make all these things?'"
Romans 9:19-21, The Divine sovereignty and justice in the present rejection of the Jews vindicated
You will say then to me, "Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?" But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? "Will the thing formed ask him who formed it, Why did you make me like this?" Or hasn’t the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor?
Ephesians 1:19-23, Prayer that the Ephesian Christians may know more thoroughly the blessings of salvation; contrast between their former and their present state
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, authority, power, dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come. He put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 4:6, Exhortations to unity, steadfastness and growth in grace
One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in us all.
I Timothy 6:15-16, General directions and admonitions; and concluding address to Timothy
[W]hich at the right time he will show, who is the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen nor can see, to whom be honor and eternal power. Amen.
Ecclesiasticus 18:4-7, The greatness of God
To whom hath he given power to declare his works?
And who shall find out his noble acts?
Who shall number the strength of his majesty?
And who shall also tell out his mercies?
As for the wondrous works of the Lord, there may nothing be taken from them,
Neither may anything be put unto them, neither can the ground of them be found out.
When a man hath done, then he beginneth;
And when he leaveth off, then he shall be doubtful.
- Text from World English Bible here and hereafter, Job 36:22-37:24, repunctuated and adjusted verses (poetic) by Vargas Milan.
- Verse descriptions here and hereafter from The Annotated Paragraph Bible
- Isaiah 66:1-2
- Isaiah 29:16
- Psalm 8:6
- Two sources:
- The Jerusalem Bible for title description
- Scrivener, Rev. F. H. (1873). The Cambridge Paragraph Bible (London: Cambridge University Press), a § Apocrypha, ch. Ecclesiasticus, p. 97.