In the first chapter of Genesis, God (Elohim) creates the world through the agency of his Word. The only hint of God’s active involvement in this world is in the first verse where it speaks of the Spirit of God hovering above the waters. This is in stark contrast to the second and third chapters of Genesis where God (YHWH Elohim) is portrayed as a Craftsman who stoops, gathers up the clay and forms man from the dust. God then plants a garden for the man and the woman and makes a covenant with them.
It is often said that these are two contradictory accounts of creation composed by different authors, referred to as ‘P = Priest’ and ‘Y = Yahwist’ respectively. ‘P’ uses the name ‘Elohim’ to speak of the Creator whereas ‘Y’ uses ‘YHWH Elohim’. It is incredible that those who make these divisions, and pride themselves on such close readings of the text, do not see that the contrasts between the two accounts have nothing to do with authorship or date but rather are intended to reveal God as both immanent in our world and also transcendent and wholly ‘other’. These two ways in which God relates to man are captured in the names YHWH and Elohim.
The first chapters of Genesis are not the only places where the immanence and transcendence of God are placed side by side. This contrast is found throughout the Scriptures.
At Sinai, YHWH comes down to earth in fire and storm. But then, in the midst of the fire, the seventy elders of Israel go up on the mountain and see a vision of God in heaven. There they eat a meal before the LORD.
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. (Exo 24:9-10 ESV)
Likewise, Isaiah 40 speaks of a God whose power is so great that he stretches out the heavens like a curtain and names all the starry hosts by name. But God also gathers the lambs in his arms, carries them close to his chest, gently leading those who are with young. Do you not know? The everlasting God, Creator of the ends of the earth, gives power to the faint, and strength to the failing.
Nowhere is the immanence and transcendence of God seen in such startling contrast than in the person of the LORD Jesus. The very name – LORD Jesus – contains thoughts that are impossible for us to reconcile on a human level. The babe born in a manger is the King of glory! The transfiguration was just a warm up for the glory that will be revealed when Christ returns.
Chesterton observed that in the Bible, truth is revealed by way of contrasts and nowhere is that more clearly seen than in the transcendence and immanence of God.
Rich colours actually look more luminous on a grey day, because they are seen against a dark background, and seem to be burning with a lustre of their own. Against a dim sky all flowers look like fireworks. G.K. Chesterton