Not A Watchmaker
In one of her biggest hit songs, Bette Midler sings that God is watching us from a distance. It's a beautiful song, except that it's not true. God's not watching from a distance; he is personally engaged in the details of our lives.
The central tenet of Deism is that God does not interfere directly with the world. Deists believe that God exists and created the universe, and then, in essence, walked away. Like a watchmaker, he assembled all the parts, including the laws that govern it; he put it all together, he wound it up - and then walked away.
An implication of Deism is that - not only does God not intervene - but God doesn't speak to people. Thus, there is no revelation from God; the only things we can learn about the universe - and God - are by using human reason and careful observation. This view deeply influenced the scientific method in which only observable data are admissable as evidence.
It's understandable why Deists would reject the Bible as authoritative revelation from God; it teaches a completely different kind of God. According to the Bible, not only is God transcendant (eternally existing beyond time and matter in complete perfection, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence), but God is also immanent - God is with us.
We encounter God's transcendence in places like Isaiah 55:8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
there is "one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all'
For you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.
Yes, God is transcendent - above and beyond all we can see and touch and know. But God is not only transcendent, he is also immanent. By immanence, we mean that God is with us in space and time. And this is what Christmas is all about.
The prophecy fulfilled by the birth of Christ, noted in Matthew 1:23 (Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel), is about God's immanence. Matthew explains the meaning of the term Immanuel, it means 'God with us'.
And he doesn't leave it there; the rest of the gospel of Matthew is a description of various ways that Jesus is with his people:
- He is with us in the storms of life (Matthew 8:23-27)
- He is with us in the messiness of church as we pursue people alienated by sin (Matthew 18:15-20)
- He is with us in the mission of going, making disciples, teaching, and baptising (Matthew 28:18-20)
God is not a watchmaker who wound up the universe and watches from a distance; no. God is personally engaged with his creation, and in Christ, he personally stepped into human history and is with us in life, in church, and on mission.