When we, as reformed evangelical Christians, speak about God we talk of Him being distinctly different and superior to this world (transcendent) and also His nearness to the point that He is personally involved in all aspects of existence (immanence). We also speak of God as being in total control of everything – He is sovereign over the universe in every way. In this post I’m going to briefly mention some of my contemplations on what these truths necessarily imply for our emotions and thought lives.
Scripture speaks of the king’s heart being a stream of water that the Lord directs wherever He will (Proverbs 21:1) – God has influence over the emotions and thoughts of the king. Furthermore in the New Covenant we are given new hearts that obey God and seek after him (Jeremiah 31:31), this means that our emotions and our thoughts will be conformed to the image of Christ so that our affections are modeled after his and we think God’s thoughts after Him. We can see that scripture upholds the idea that the Lord is involved with our thought processes and emotions.
As a side note I’d like to mention that separating emotions and our thought lives from each other as if they are entirely distinct would be fallacious in the sense that our thoughts can stir up emotions and that our emotions often influence what we think about. For God to control one He must necessarily control the other as well because the two are intertwined, if not merely different perspectives on the same being.
The fact that unbelievers experience common grace means that God is influencing their thoughts and emotions so that they do not go further in to depravity than He would allow. God empowers them to have rational thoughts, although if their thoughts were entirely rational they would acknowledge God. God keeps their emotions in check so that they do not always fly off the handle in murderous rage and rampage because of sinful desires, but if their emotions were entirely holy they would desire God above all things. So we see the immanence of God even in the lives of unbelievers. We also see the transcendence of God in the lives of unbelievers in the fact that He is not the cause of their sinful disposition but rather is entering in to their situation from the outside and working in them to bring about His purposes. We are all made out of one sinful lump of clay that the Lord can do with as He pleases.
So, all day long the unbeliever experiences the work of God in their heart and mind as He restrains the sin in their lives and empowers their ability to think. This is not to be confused with the work of God in the believer because the believer is not merely restrained in his sin but rather is progressively made holy as time and experience goes by. We see that both the unbeliever and the believer are both experiencing the transcendence and immanence of God constantly as they live their everyday lives. This means that all of humanity has been accustomed to the work of God in our lives from the day we came in to existence.
We mostly notice our body parts when we feel things touching them, sensations of pain and pleasure. The reason we aren’t constantly actively aware of all of our body is because we are so accustomed to a specific feeling that we call “normal” that we don’t focus on that body part while it is feeling “normal”. So too we are so accustomed to the working of God in our hearts and minds that it is almost impossible for us to notice the fact that this is going on, we can only observe the outward results of restrained sin and regenerated beings.
So it’s no more of a miracle for God to direct the King’s heart to save the poor than it is for God not to direct the king’s heart to save the poor – God is working in the king’s heart in both circumstances. Every thought and emotion we feel is already influenced by the guiding sovereign power of God and we do not notice this because it is the common experience of our lives.
The unbeliever will often be unable to understand how God can be working in situations in this world when they experience nothing out of the ordinary that would indicate a supernatural being taking control. This lack of understanding shows that the unbeliever doesn’t have categories for understanding God’s constant sovereign immanence but rather the unbeliever is merely looking at God as transcendent and invading the world every now and then to change things. I have found that in some cases merely explaining God as both transcendent and immanent is helpful for the unbeliever to grasp some of the truth of who God is so that they have fewer stumbling blocks between them and faith in Jesus Christ.
Of course no theological or philosophical argument can bring anyone to salvation but rather God, who is always at work in them anyways, has to bring about the intellectual comprehension and the feeling of certainty of these truths. But it is our job to be lights and witnesses in this world and explaining one tiny aspect of who God is and what He is doing is part of that duty to shine truth in to darkness.