To define transcendence, we only need to look at the dictionary. Sometimes these words are beyond what a dictionary can tell us. However, in this instance we learn that transcendence is “being above” or “beyond.” But what does that mean? What is God “beyond?” Short answer: everything. God is beyond all of our categories. Any way that we can think to define God, we find that He challenges that definition.
There is a Hebrew word for eternity, or eternal: olam. Olam, like all Hebrew words, is a concept. When you look to the edge of the horizon, you realize that your view only goes so far. God is beyond that. The King James translates olam as meaning everlasting, eternal, etc. I think this is the idea of transcendence. It is far beyond our perception. It is “to the horizon, and beyond,” or, as Buzz Lightyear used to say, “To infinity, and beyond.” For God to transcend means that He is always out of reach of language. There really isn’t any good way of explaining or truly communicating the nature of God.
But it isn’t simply language that is lacking. Indeed, we cannot exhaust His nature at all. One cannot come to thoroughly know God inside out. He has given us every ability to know Him, but we are not transcendent. We are finite, and the finite cannot fully grasp the infinite. It is not all in vain that we probe the depths of knowing God. He desires to be known, and we desire to know Him. To the degree that we are willing and able, He desires to reveal Himself. We don’t study God and His word simply because we want to know everything. We study because it is a mystery that will never be completely solved, and that is the magnificent challenge.
In the sense that God’s eternality is transcendence, we know that He is transcendent of the physical plane. God is Spirit. God has no form or image. God is beyond time. God is not limited to the laws of nature. God does not take up space. God is immaterial. Transcendence would also go beyond this as well. One only needs to think of the angelic beings that also fit many of these categories. As far as I can tell, the angels don’t take up space, aren’t made up of physical material, and aren’t limited to the laws of nature. But God is transcendent of these beings, meaning that He is incomparable and matchless. God is supreme. Hence, God’s transcendence is more than just being elevated above or beyond the physical plane. Eternality would dictate only that far. But for God to truly be transcendent, He would necessarily be above and beyond every plane.
Section I.5 – Unchanging
If God is infinite, then He is eternal, for no being can be infinite and be contained within this physical plane. If God is eternal, He is transcendent, for transcendence itself is defined as being beyond the physical plane. If God is infinite, then God is transcendent above every plane. If God is infinite, eternal, and transcendent, then He is unchanging. He is the full embodiment of His attributes, so in what manner does He need to change? Now, because God is personal and relational, this is not to say that God cannot either change His mind, or create a new plan. When we say that God is unchanging, we mean that His character does not change. His attributes do not change. The ways that He acts and reacts does not change. He is infinite in His attributes, and so any action or reaction is a complete synopsis of those attributes.
It was said in Hebrews 13:8 that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Malachi 3:6 testifies that God does not change. Numbers 23:19 states, “God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent; hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and He shall not make it good?” Notice that in Numbers 23:19 that even though it does say that God does not change His mind, the whole context would suggest that the decision is based on His character. So it is still promoting that His character is the unchanging, and His decisions are unchanging secondarily.
Some antitheists, known as atheists and agnostics in some circles, have complained about this. If God is from everlasting, and before there was time there was God, then how can God be only unchanging in character? Obviously, if God discussed among the trinity anything like an eternal plan of redemption, then there is a change. Thus, God cannot possibly be timeless. I agree. I find no reason whatsoever to say that God is timeless. I would only caution anyone (and especially those that are not theologians, but only pusillanimous skeptics seeking attention) to carefully define the terms. I find no contradiction in saying that God is outside of this physical time, and especially our measurement and definition of time, and then saying that there might be some sort of progression of time outside of this realm.
Who would truly be willing to argue about how time progresses outside of our time? It might be that there is no progression of time outside of the physical cosmos, but only a regurgitation of time. It might be that time elapses in circles, and therefore any new motion, thought, plan, decision, action, reaction, etc is not to be defined as a progression, but instead as another cycle. Just like with the ring there is neither beginning nor end, so with a circular view of time there is neither beginning nor end. We simply are not in the place to say whether the time outside of this physical space-time continuum truly would elude to God necessarily needing a beginning or not.
For those that are unsure of what I’m saying, I’ll elaborate a little more straightforwardly. If there is an infinite amount of time, we run into philosophical problems. For example, if I had an infinite amount of cards, and I subtract all of the odd numbered cards, how many cards do I now have? I still have an infinite amount. If I were to subtract infinity from infinity, how much do I have? That is a mathematical blooper. If I have an infinite amount of past historical events, and I then try to go back into history, I find that there cannot be a valid progression through history. I will ever and always be infinitely in the middle, for either direction I look (whether into the past or future) there will be an infinite series of events. This is a philosophical problem when applied to God, because we say that there was a specific time that God created. Yet, if there is an infinite amount of events in the history of God, then how can we say that at this point in time, God created?
Once you get past all of the philosophical mumbo jumbo, I still rest in that we simply cannot fathom what it might be like to be outside of this space-time plane. Once we escape time, as we know it, we cannot be brought back into time, as we know it. We are forever “timeless,” as the traditional definition of that phrase goes. I don’t think there is any reason to speculate that because God might have an infinite series of events in His past, whether discussion, Jesus entering into human form in time and space, or whatever it might be that communion among the trinity actually looks like, to say that we therefore cannot truly believe that once upon a time God created.
God’s immutability is solely based upon His character and not His actions. When the discussion then goes to how can God have an infinite amount of actions, we have left reality as we know it, and cannot truly be grounded in any form of legitimacy. Everything has now turned into fantasy as we speculate our way into arguments that make little to no intelligent lucidity. Bluntly put, it is the game of children and not of intellectuals, let alone “free thinkers,” to continue with the nagging question of “why?” At some point, the question gets answered, and to continue to press the question past that point is irrationality at its worse. God is unchanging, and what that means is that His core character never changes. To then ask the question of what happened before there was the space-time continuum would be like me asking, “What happened before the big bang?” Neither of us knows the answer, so we’re left at an impasse. Time itself didn’t exist, so it’s generally a misnomer anyway.