The Infinity & Transcendence of God


For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:9 ESV

The book of Job is wisdom literature largely in the form of an epic poem which sees Job debating his friends over the nature of suffering within the world, especially in relationship to God’s sovereignty. By the end, even though Job is humbled by the LORD, he is vindicated by God, and his friends are rebuked.

Yet for what were Job’s friends rebuked? Zophar, for instance, rightly speaks of God’s boundless infinity by asking:

Can you find out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven—what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?

Job 11:7-8

Yet while they correctly spoke about God’s ways being higher than ours, they then proceeded to explain to Job the definite workings of God. In other words, though they affirmed God’s transcendent ways, they practically spoke of God as if he were a mere law of nature to be understood. They ultimately possessed a faulty and limited view of the Infinite One.

WITHOUT BOUNDS OR LIMITS

When we speak of God’s infinity, we mean that His essence and attributes are without limits or bounds. Stephen Charnock gives us a wonderful launching point for discussing this attribute:

Whatever God is, he is infinitely so… Conceive of him as excellent, without any imperfections; a Spirit without parts; great without quantity; perfect without quality; everywhere without place; powerful without members; understanding without ignorance; wise without reasoning; light without darkness; infinitely more excelling the beauty of all creatures… And when you have risen to the highest, conceive him yet infinitely above all you can conceive of spirit, and acknowledge the infirmity of your own minds. And whatsoever conception comes into your minds, say, “This is not God; God is more than this.”[1]

Mark Jones is right to call God’s infinity a kind of meta-attribute because it is essentially a qualifier of the other attributes. Whenever we say that God’s knowledge is infinite, we mean that He is omniscient. Whenever we say that God’s power is infinite, we mean that He is omnipotent. The infinitude of His presence is His omnipresence. His infinity in relation to time is His eternality. His infinite authority is His absolute sovereignty. His infinite being necessitates His aseity, simplicity, and spirituality. In order for God to be God, He must be infinite, and thus, all that He is and does must also be infinitely so.

Yet even though the infinity of God necessarily feeds us into His other attributes, we should also focus upon it specifically. God’s infinity reminds us, as Charnock noted, that God is higher than our highest conception of Him. As Anselm said, God is certainly that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought, yet He is also infinitely more than that because He is infinitely above our very thoughts. To even call God the Greatest gives a subtle notion that there may have been a contest or point of comparison, which is not true of the LORD. As Moses sang, “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders” (Exodus 15:11)?

As Tozer points out:

In the awful abyss of the divine Being may lie attributes of which we know nothing and which can have no meaning for us, just as the attributes of mercy and grace can have no personal meaning for seraphim or cherubim. These holy beings may know of these qualities in God but be unable to feel them sympathetically for the reason that they have not sinned and so do not call forth God’s mercy and grace. So there may be, and I believe there surely are, other aspects of God’s essential being which He has not revealed even to His ransomed and Spirit-illuminated children. These hidden facets of God’s nature concern His relation to none but Himself.[2]

Indeed, by keeping God’s infinity before us, we remind ourselves that there is far more of God than what He has revealed to us.

Another important point to make about God’s infinity comes from John Feinberg, who notes that “because attributes such as power, wisdom, and the moral attributes are infinite in God, that does not obligate him to do everything he can.”[3] For instance, we must not think that God’s infinite love means that He is required to do every possible loving thing; instead, it means that God will never be or do anything unloving and that His love will always be beyond our own capacity. But God is by no means bound to do all possible acts of love simply because His love is infinite.

BEYOND AND ABOVE US

Closely related to God’s infinity is His transcendence, which describes His preeminence and supremacy. If God is infinite, without limits or measure, He must also be transcendent above and beyond us. As what is finite cannot fully grasp the infinite, so also is God too lofty for us. As we discussed last week, God is not a man (Numbers 23:19); He is not like us.

As finite and fickle creatures, we often waver between extremes, and our conceptions of God are no different. God’s transcendence can sometimes be taken as meaning that God cannot be known or is so high above us that He has no concern for us. The Scriptures are adamantly opposed to these two ideas. God has both revealed Himself to us and is intimately concerned for us. Indeed, God is not only transcendent; He is also immanent (as we will discuss next week).

Yet the opposite extreme appears to be the greater danger now. Given particularly the resurgence of Christian mysticism, which often places a significant amount of attention upon experiencing the presence of God, God’s transcendence can easily become ignored in favor of His immanence. Yet it is His transcendence that makes His immanence so wondrous! If God is not fundamentally above and beyond us, if His ways are not higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts, then His presence would not be awesome and glorious and terrifying. Indeed, such a “god” would in reality be nothing more than an emotional experience or perhaps a notably different kind of spirit at work.

But again, God is not like us. He is infinitely beyond us. And yet this reality is the soil for beholding with wonder that God has made us like Him. Although God is not a man, He has made man in His image, after His likeness. He is not like us, but He has made us like Himself. The Infinite One has allowed we who are finite to reflect a glimpse of who He is. And this marvelous wonder is quickly lost whenever we overlook God’s infinity and transcendence.

Furthermore, we must behold God as the Transcendent One because He has made us to long for transcendence and, ultimately, for Himself. James K. A. Smith gives an apt description of our present relationship with transcendence in reference to Charles Taylor’s book, The Secular Age:

Taylor names and identifies what some of our best novelists, poets, and artists attest to: that our age is haunted. On the one hand, we live under a brass heaven, ensconced in immanence. We live in the twilight of both gods and idols. But their ghosts have refused to depart, and every once in a while we might be surprised to find ourselves tempted by belief, by imitations of transcendence. Even what Taylor calls the “immanent frame” is haunted.[4]

Although the rise of secularism has tried its best to stamp out the transcendent by attempting to erase the supernatural and spiritual from the picture, the Maker’s fingerprints upon us cannot easily be ignored. Being made in God’s image, we were formed and placed within the most fantastic of all stories, the true myth as Lewis called it. We love blockbuster superhero films and overly dramatic romances precisely because they feel grand and sweeping. They give us for a moment the feeling of belonging to a story of importance, of something larger than ourselves. In fact, this act of transcending self is what makes the Grand Canyon or skydiving so fascinating. It’s what caused us to sail somewhat blindly across the oceans and to detonate ourselves past the atmosphere. Yet none of these things can satisfy. We were made to fill and subdue the earth, but these acts alone cannot ease the restless haunting within.

Augustine’s famous prayer is worth quoting again here: “In yourself you rouse us, giving us delight in glorifying you, because you made us with yourself as our goal, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[5] And C. S. Lewis strikes the same chord by concluding, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” We yearn for transcendence because we were made by and for our infinite and transcendent God. He alone, being without limit or measure, can satisfy our restless longings for more. He alone is the living water, while all other things are broken cisterns that cannot stay filled (Jeremiah 2:13).


[1] Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, as cited in Mark Jones, God Is, 43-44.

[2] Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, 83-84.

[3] Feinberg, No One Like Him, 247.

[4] James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, 4.

[5] Augustine, Confessions, 3.

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