Tuesday, August 10

God's Omnipresence

That God is omnipresent means that he exists everywhere. There are many more statements of this aspect of God's infinity to be found in scripture than there are of His eternity. Psalm 139 has one of the most well-known descriptions of God's omnipresence:
Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.(7-10 NET)
There is no "going from" or "fleeing" God, for his presence is everywhere. The text tells us that this doesn't just mean that God sees into every place, but that his power--"his hand"--is there, and that God acts in all spaces. If God's power is in every place, and God's power is an aspect of His essence, then the whole of God's essence exists in every space. All of what he is can be found in every place

So scripture tells us that God is everywhere present, but we will also see that it tells us that God is not contained in space. From one of Solomon's prayers:
"God does not really live on the earth! Look, if the sky and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this temple I have built!..." (I Kings 8:27 NET).
God cannot be contained in creation; the universe cannot hold him. The boundaries of the highest heaven can't enclose God. God's presence is everywhere in creation, then; and still, God doesn't dwell within creation. Indeed, he cannot dwell within creation. We can understand from this that God is both in every space, and yet beyond space.

Paul tells the Athenians that all people "live and move about and exist" in God (Acts 17:28). God is our place; God is the place for his creatures. Paul says that God himself has set times and fixed limits to our placement, and those set times and fixed spatial limits are all within God, and this ensures that he can always be found by us.

This statement--that in God we live and move and have our being--always makes me see a fish tank, with the fish living and swimming and being within the environment of the fish tank. Of course, seeing God's omnipresence and our relationship to it like being fish in a fish tank has some big problems to it. For one thing, the whole essence of the fish tank doesn't exist in every spot a fish does. A fish needs to move from one place to another to experience all the fish tank can offer it, yet all of God--all of what he is for us--is in every place we are. Then, too, the fish tank ends right beyond where the fish can go. The fish tank is contained in space, just like the fish are, it's just contained in a little bit more space than the fish are, and we know from the verse out of 1 Kings quoted above that there is nothing "containing" God. However, in the same way that the fish are contained in the waters of the fish tank--they do not leave its presence no matter where they swim--we are contained within our God, and he is always there, "not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27).

If we are one of God's own people, this should be a great comfort to us. Not even an insignificant sparrow dies apart from God, so we know that everything that happens to us takes place in God's presence, too. He is always there beside us and in us and around us with His guiding hand--a right hand that can grab hold of us when we need it. Nothing happens to us outside of the presence of God himself, and so nothing happens outside the knowledge and the power of the God who is forever working good things. Every circumstance belongs to our good God, for each circumstance is only a time and place that God is in, and that exists within God. This is something we can trust in.

Of course, God's omnipresence also means that none of our sins are hidden from him. I can hide my sins from other people, but never from God, who is privy to everything about me because nothing exists separately from Him. Knowledge of this ought to spur us to righteousness, and also to confession. And when we come in confession of those sins, we can be assured that he is always there to hear us, for he is never far away from us. He does not dwell in temples only, so it is never necessary for us to go to any particular location for prayer or confession. He is always and everywhere with us, ready to hear us.

There is one little side note that has occurred to me. Omnipresence is an attribute of God alone. No creature possesses it, so it is not something that Satan has. I think we often unconsciously think of Satan as omnipresent--knowing all and being everywhere. He isn't. He may have millions of minions, but even they--the entire lot of nasty helpers, along with their evil captain--aren't omnipresent. When we consider him to be omnipresent, we are elevating him to a position he doesn't have, giving him an attribute that belongs only to God. It's not a dualistic system we live and move and have our being in (thank goodness!). It's one in which the right always has the upper hand, because the King of Righteousness is eternal and omnipresent and infinitely powerful, and his enemies--as created beings--aren't. And we can trust in this, too.