We come now to an examination of an all-important issue in Christian theology, that of the issue of divine transcendence. Central to the Christian faith is the confession that God is the “creator of heaven and earth”; all that is exists simply and entirely because of God. The Jewish and Christian confession that the God of Israel created the world is the theological revolution that forever dispensed with the idolatrous mythologies of the ancient world. The confession of God as creator, and thus completely transcendent over all created things was and remains a theological revolution. In all times and places a theology of immanent and instrumentally mediated divinity remains the center of idolatry. This is perhaps even truer in our age of global capitalism in which the immanent flow of capital is effectively seen to function as the mode of divine action in the world.
This is seen, for example in Slavoj Zizek’s Marxist diagnosis of global capitalism. Globalization is yet another religion of immanence in which the Hegelian movement of geist has become equated with the economic flow of capital. Thus, in the wake of September 11, when America was confronted with a great ideological disaster, when we tasted the khora of our western ideology of free enterprise, what were we encouraged to do? What any good religious person should do, attend the sacred liturgy, of course! This is to say, Americans were sent by the highest priests and patriarchs of their land into the liturgical processions of the shopping mall and Wall Street. The theological perspective inherent in a culture which, in the face of tragedy encourages its citizens to shop is a theology of immanence from beginning to end.
The point of all this is simply to underscore the way in which theologies of immanence tend toward the most rampant forms of idolatry. At the heart of the evangelical allegiance to capitalism lies the negation of the confession that God the Father almighty is the creator of all things. For if God is outside of created being, as creator he is not a “thing” among other things (Or as Robert Jenson would say, some sort of “analogously thingy thing”). He is not simply a more powerful agent that exists on the same plane with other created agents which they may come into competition with. The God who is both Father and Creator cannot be sublimated into any theological construction of immanence.
However, this notion of divine transcendence means anything but the absence of God. The fact that God is not a competitive agent alongside created persons in no way implies his absence from the world. On the contrary it is the very condition of his presence in everything. Because God is not related univocally to creatures as a being among beings, he is able to be present to all creation precisely in his non-competitive transcendent relationality. The God who is the Creator cannot be spoken of except as Father. God is not an immanent agent alongside other agents, rather he is the reason that there are any such things as agents in the first place. It is precisely because of God’s radical and uncreated freedom that he is always-already God-for-us and God-with-us: Immanuel.
The transcendence of God means that his being is not an instantiation of a wider category of “being” to which God and creatures belong. Rather, God is radically other than created being. God’s being is ineffable and inexhaustible. It cannot be analogized or univocalized with human be-ing because it always-already transcends it. However, the fact of this radical otherness between God and creation is not the occasion for divine absence, but the condition of God’s intimate and redemptive presence in the world. This is so because God’s being as transcendent is non-competitive. God’s will and action do not inhibit human freedom and action precisely because it is God’s will and action that freely create and sustain all created being. God, as the “wholly other” does not compete with created being in any way as he is the ground of all being and overabundantly and inexhaustibly exceeds any limit or interval that created being might seek to impose on God.
This is simply one way of talking about the reality of the resurrection. In the resurrection we see that the “unholy distance” of sin which is transposed into the divine life cannot sublimate or condition the inexhaustible riches of the infinite Triune being. Triune life, being overabundantly transcendent is free, in Jesus to allow all manner of interruption and disruption into the life of God, precisely because God’s being cannot be delimited or overcome by creaturely being. Because God’s being is infinitely transcendent, and therefore non-competitive, any attempt to introduce competition and strife into the life of God, as we see on Good Friday is always-already overcome by the overabundant resumption of life that is instantiated in the light of Easter.
In contrast to common instincts among many Christians, the reality of the transcendence of God does not put God at a distance from the life of the world. Rather it is because of the divine Triune non-competitiveness that in Christ God makes his own life the Heart of the world (Balthasar). The confession of God’s transcendence is not a confession of his distance but rather of the irreducibility of the divine being that we experience in God’s coming to us in Christ. Thus, God’s transcendence is a reality that is known only in covenant. In God’s redemptive act of uniting himself to humanity in Christ we have to do with the God who is “the Mystery of the world” (Jüngel). In God’s act of bringing us into covenant communion with himself, we meet the transcendent Creator in whom sheer and infinite distance becomes the occasion for the fire of the divine love, who is the Holy Spirit to bring us into non-competitive union with the God who loves in freedom.
It is only in communion with the transcendent Triune Lord that we are free. In contrast to the theologies of immanence, particularly the modern narrative of global capitalism which lives off of a theology of freedom as participation in the immanent flow of capital, we are given a share in the non-competitive symphony of the God who is freedom. God’s transcendent being, his inalienable, inexhaustible difference is the occasion neither for divine absence nor divine oppression, but liberation and life. Only the transcendent Triune Lord can bring freedom. Because only in the One who is beyond all strife and competition can our own inherent antagonism and violence be overcome and purged by the fire of the Holy Spirit into a crucible of infinite love.