We just sang, « transcendent word, immanent word. » Transcendent and immanent – these are not words we use every day. (Hats off to whoever manages to fit them into a hymnal, plus one that young people enjoy.) These words will be helpful in introducing my message. « Transcendent » – that which is external, superior to us. « Immanent » – that which is inherent, innate, within.
In the past, when human beings had a problem, a challenge, a drama in their lives, they called upon something transcendent. Sometimes he did this too easily, which is called superstition. « My car won’t start. » « it’s because the planets aren’t aligned right. » (transcendent explanation). « You didn’t put gas in it. » (immanent explanation).
Today, it is the opposite. When human beings have a problem, a challenge, they look only in the material world for a solution. As the philosopher Charles Taylor says, the great invention of the West has been that of an immanent order in nature, whose operation could be systematically understood and explained in its own terms, » thus freeing us from the need for a transcendent Creator. Our age is quite proud of this invention. At last, man is taking up the challenge of doing things on his own! We no longer wait for magical solutions that fall from the sky! We free ourselves from the crutch of religion! We roll up our sleeves and take charge! What nobility of spirit!
But as a French author said recently, « I’m a bit lacking in transcendence ». Indeed, by removing a great God, an all-powerful God, a creator God, it leaves a void. And something will want to fill that void: the state, the media, technology, and especially the self, with a tendency to want to control everything.
But I would like to say this morning that it is also tiring, stressful to play the role of God, and to want to control everything in life. I’d like to advise you of a transcendent solution: trust in a great God.
Reading: Isaiah 40:9-31
Chapter 40 begins the second part of the book of Isaiah. In the first part, the prophet’s message is quite harsh, a message of warnings, of judgments, a message that Israel will not listen to. In this second part, Isaiah already anticipates the future day when Israel will need to be comforted after the judgment. Even before their fall, he announces good news.
v9. What is the good news? This is your God! This is your God! This is what he is like. I hope that God himself will be good news to you. (maybe you say, it’s okay for now; I’m managing…) .
God is more powerful than you.
God is more intelligent than you,
So let him carry you and guide you.
- He is more powerful than you.
The first good news is that he is powerful. 40:10 Behold, the Lord, the LORD, comes with power, and with his arm he commands. To appreciate this power, Isaiah says to think about a) The universe, b) the nations and their mighty leaders, and c) the other deities.
When I am worried, or tired, tempted to want to control everything, think of the universe. v12, Isaiah takes 4 basic measurements: a handshake, the palm between the thumb and the little finger, a basket, (a pocket), a scale (market, kitchen). But God, in a handshake, he holds the volume of all the waters, with his palm he measures the extent of all the galaxies, the mass of all the earth, on his scales, he quietly holds the weight of all the mountains and all the hills. It is poetic – Isaiah is not saying that the palm of God’s hand is exactly 8.8 x 10^26 meters, 93 billion light years). No one is his equal. If you make a contest with God; who can carry the most worries; you will lose.
When you are tired, or worried; Isaiah says to do some astronomy. v26… (And since then, we have telescopes – 300,000 new stars are born every minute, and God finds more interesting names for them than 2MASS J17554042+6551277 – and I’m struggling to find a first name…) Sometimes, it feels good to be small.
Think also of the nations and the great powers among men. We look at man, we can be impressed by his progress, his power, the greatness of civilizations. At that time, it was Babylon the great with its emperors. But Isaiah will say, v15, the nations are like a drop in a bucket, the islands a fine dust. The pyramids, the skyscrapers, the temples, the towers, the bridges, the Airbus, a drop, a speck of dust, a locust. He also talks about the leaders, the rulers: v23-24. Good to know when you think about the elections today, the war in Ukraine. If the greatest achievements and the greatest powers among the nations are « nothingness and vanity » next to God, it is better not to trust in them.
Finally, to better understand the power and greatness of God, Isaiah mentions the images and idols of other deities. In pagan thought, a god is a small local deity that must be appeased, tamed, controlled by sacrifices and statuettes. Of course, the rich can make an idol out of gold, while the poor have to make do with wood, but in any case, if your god is stored on a shelf or in your pocket, it is because he is not powerful. If your god needs to recharge its battery every night with a usb cable, it is not very powerful. If your God can’t function without you putting 10 cents or 10€ in a basket, he is not very powerful.
v16, « Lebanon is not enough for the fire, nor are his animals enough for the burnt offering. » This verse challenges all religions. If God is all-powerful, in a sense, you can’t do anything for him. He doesn’t need help. He doesn’t need money. He doesn’t need your services, sacrifices. The Christian God is the only one who does not ask for any. On the contrary, to become a Christian is to recognize that, « Lord! I have nothing to offer you / That a heart tired of suffering / And without You cannot heal: / I have only my misery. » To become a Christian is to recognize that this transcendent God has become the immanent God in Jesus to become himself the sufficient holocaust.
- He is smarter than you.
Raw power in itself is not always reassuring. It’s better when it goes hand in hand with perfect wisdom, intelligence. This is the other aspect of his greatness that Isaiah emphasizes in v13-14, also in v28.
The one who knew how to arrange the planets exactly so that life on earth works, he will know how to arrange your life. The one who knew how to handle the history of the nations perfectly, to get to the Easter events as planned all along (through the history of the Jews, the history of nations like the Babylonians, the Romans, etc) he can handle, find solutions to your complicated relationships.
Which brings us to this simple but very useful conclusion in life: God may have reasons to act in ways that are beyond us.
Why did God put me in this body? I would have wanted another. Why did God put me in this family? I would have wanted another one. Why did God put me with these abilities, or this personality? I would have wanted others. Why did God put me through this ordeal? I wish He hadn’t. In these moments, it is a consolation, it is good news to think of this great, perfectly wise God.
- So let him guide you and carry you.
v27 Why do you say, Jacob, Why do you say, Israel, My destiny is hidden from the LORD, My righteousness goes unnoticed before my God? When you forget this transcendent God, you have to manage your own destiny, you have to try to control everything, to always defend yourself. But it is tiring.
It is psychologically tiring to have to create an identity other than the one God has given us, or to try to control our destiny. It’s tiring to play the role of Savior of the world, or Judge of the universe if you are not Jesus. Don’t try.
A wife: I must control my husband, to sanctify him…
A father: to make my children succeed, I must never show weakness, I must never ask for forgiveness…
A young person on social networks: I have to know everything about everyone, I have to stay up to date instantly,
It’s exhausting. On the other hand, trust in God gives you strength, and it’s restful. Faith is letting God be God. It’s letting the Creator create the solution. It is letting the Savior save.
Like the eagles that fly, v31 – they seem to make little effort, it is the air and the wind that carries them. These eagles go higher and farther than a young sprinter in his prime, because he, the strength comes from himself, an immanent strength, while the eagle is carried. This great God, if he carried you to the cross, he can carry you forever.