“For as the heavens are higher than the earth. So are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9).
God is transcendent—meaning that He is very different and unlike His creation in every way.
“To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” (Isa. 40:18).
The answer: There is no one like God.
We would do well to remember that. Especially in a time where there is a perpetual casualness or even a lackadaisical attitude concerning God. As J.I. Packer noted in his book, Knowing God, that for many, God is nothing more than a sleepy-eyed grandfather figure.
God is infinite and unmatched in all of His attributes. He exists in perfection and glory that cannot be compared with anything here on this earth. To even suggest that “God is like…” is disrespectful at best and blasphemous at worst.
God does and thinks things that are beyond our capacity to even imagine and that is a good thing.
Why would we ever want a God who is very much like us—finite, impetuous, weak-willed? One look at let’s say, the Greek Pantheon and all of its deities like Zeus, Aries and Hera and you realize they are very human in their appetites. In fact, you expand this further to all other religions and you can see that deities resemble the people that worship them—gods and goddess in their own image.
Yet the God of the Bible unapologetically states and powerfully demonstrates that He is not like a creature but the Creator, transcendent over all.
If you have been in church for any length of time and the talk of God’s transcendence comes up, undoubtedly you are familiar with the passage in Isaiah 55, quoted at the start of the article.
But what is often missed is the motivation behind verse 9. Why is God saying His thoughts and ways are higher than ours? To stop merely at the truth that God is transcendent and not go deeper into what that means is to portray God aloof or detached from relating to His creation.
It also misses the entire point of Isaiah 55.
The book of Isaiah was written in the middle of a culture that was once blessed immeasurably by God now is on the cusp of facing judgment. The people of Judah at one time followed God’s commands but now have rejected God and stand opposed to Him. In their hostility, Judah persecuted the prophets, God’s mouthpieces, even Isaiah himself would suffer persecution to the point of death by Judah’s king.
So, you have a people who have rejected God and His word and have stiffened their neck to correction.
What is God to do?
What would you do in that situation? You have a people whom you have cared for, blessed and kept and in turn, these people spit at you and revile you every chance they can get.
Let’s be honest, we would smite them in an instant.
Instead of smiting these rebellious people, God does something very unlike us—He extends his hand to them in good will.
“Come, everyone who thirsts…Listen…hear, that your soul may live…” (Isa. 55:1-3). God invites these enemies to His table so that He may persuade them with His terms of peace and lavishly bless them with His grace.
In Isaiah 55:2, we see God compassionately speaking to man’s biggest problem—that he spends his entire life chasing after things that will never satisfy and yet God provides the solution, Himself.
We don’t naturally treat adversaries this way, but God does.
The transcendent nature of God is that He can look to people, us-type sinners, and freely offer salvation, life, and forgiveness of sins from a heart that is not tainted with impure motivations.
God gives knowing that we cannot ever pay Him back. He loves those who are adversarial to Him and He is merciful, relenting in His execution of justice, so that people will come to repentance.
Again, He is a God very unlike us.
When we think about God our minds should dwell on His transcendent nature. He is God and we are not. We are created in His image not the reverse. Yet, we should marvel not only that God is different than us but also in the way that God reaches out and responds to us.
God extends His hand in relationship in a way that we don’t.
But I am thankful He does.