St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church

Existential v. Transcendent

Podcast Version

Philippians 4:7—And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We’ve heard a lot lately about how the current pandemic is an “existential threat.” We’ve also heard this said about a lot of other things lately—even certain people! Do you know what it means to say something is an “existential threat”? An “existential threat” is a philosophical theory about a hypothetical future occurrence where the very existence of all or nearly all of humanity is lost, and with it civilization.

While this virus can be very dangerous and deadly for some people, it is certainly not an “existential threat” according to the definition of the phrase/concept. Even if you take the worst case scenario projections, as awful and mind-boggling as those deaths would be, it would still not be an “existential threat.” A far more deadly virus, massive meteor, or perhaps all-out mutually assured destruction nuclear war are the only things that could be an “existential threat” from a scientific/philosophical point of view.

But what about the Christian point of view? What about the biblical point of view, which is God’s point of view? The only existential threat, is sin. What did God say to Adam in the Garden of Eden?
You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die (Gen. 2:17). Sin is the only deadly pathogen that touches and infects every human being. Satan is the only deadly enemy who wages war against every human being. And these two combined create the mutually assured destruction of the human race through physical death AND eternal death.

But God did not want it to be like this. He created humanity to exist with him forever. That is why after the Fall into sin, which plagued all the world with sin and death, God made the first gospel promise:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel (Gen. 3:15). In that moment, God created the cure for the only truly existential threat to humanity. And that cure and its peace is one which transcends all understanding…

For something to transcend or be transcendent, means that it goes beyond the ability of the mind to fully grasp, comprehend, or understand. Now, there are some things in God’s creation that still transcend our understanding. In centuries past doctors used to think that people were sick because they had bad blood. So what did they do? They let the blood out. That’s where blood-letting came about. The reality of illness and disease transcended their understanding. Now we know that people get sick because of viruses, bacteria, cancer, and other abnormalities and deficiencies of the body.

But notice here that Paul says God’s cure for the disease of sin and the peace that cure brings
transcends ALL understanding! It isn’t just beyond the ability of the human mind, but even that of the holy angels! The only one who can truly grasp, comprehend, and understand his cure and grace is the one who gives it—the one, true, eternal Savior God!

Yes, by nature, we are ignorant of this truth. That’s why sin and Satan are the true existential threat. But the grace of God found in Christ Jesus our Lord and given to you purely by grace, the undeserved love of God, rescues you! As a child of God, there is no existential threat! Yes, you are still a sinner who sins, but you know and believe that those sins have been washed away in the blood of the Lamb of God! Yes, you will one day die, but you know and believe that your physical death will in no way be the end of your existence, but only the beginning of the life you were always meant to have!

In this world there will always be things which can threaten our existence on this earth, not just deadly viruses. And it is important to take those things seriously. But far more important is the truly existential threat of sin. But even more astounding is the cure! It has been secured and promised by God, and he gives it to you freely. He asks for no co-pay, no assistance. He’s done all the work already through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Cling to God’s peace which is so big and amazing that it goes beyond your understanding. Let that fact be something that comforts you all the more and destroys your doubts and fears. You have peace with God, and you have an eternal perfect existence waiting for you in heaven which nothing will ever be able to threaten!
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.