God, everywhere present

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

Psalm 139:7-8

Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth?

Jeremiah 23:24

One of the attributes of God is that he is omnipresent (which means God is everywhere or conversely ‘nothing is distant from his presence’ or he is not limited by place). This attribute isn’t necessarily common in other religious descriptions of God. In the Greek pantheon, it seems that the gods are decidedly not omnipresent, although they can see far and their authority rules the whole world. Zeus, however, seems to need to be in the mountains near Troy to meddle in the famous Trojan war. Our Christian description of God’s omnipresence is unique, though of course all Christian teaching on God is unique because it is guided by the scriptures. Theologians have distilled this doctrine of God’s omnipresence and one of the more thorough treatments is by Stephen Charnock, which is where I have gotten many of my thoughts.

When we consider omnipresence, we must view it rightly: ‘God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.’ There isn’t an admixture of God to the air, instead, it seems that divinity and spirit have the potential for limitlessness. This is contrary to even our (human) non-physical being. It seems as though our non-physical being, which is commonly called our soul, is still limited or constrained by space and time. This highlights the difference between creation and creature. We are limited, but God is unlimited. This is why the psalmist says, ‘If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!’ Even in the depths of our deadness, God is there. Charnock uses the language of God’s essential presence. The word essential has the idea of being or essence, which in Trinitarian language is similar to our talk of nature. The God of the Bible is three persons, one nature. Each person of the trinity participates in this divine nature which includes the attribute of omnipresence. So even in Sheol, God is there. How do we know this? Some people say that Hell is the place absent of God, but in fact, we must say his presence is even there, but what is most clearly seen in that place is God’s just hand bringing judgment on sinners. We could say that God’s presence in the church is most clearly seen in his gracious work toward his beloved, and in heaven, his glory is clearly seen. However, in each place we affirm God’s essential presence even though it is seen in different ways.

As we think of God’s immensity and his omnipresence, it is important that we not divide him into parts as though he has various divisions within himself dispersed throughout creation. No, God is simple. Although he is triune, his nature is simple which means there is no division of himself, and we say this truth as we affirm his immensity. He is not multiplied to be able to reach the furthest corner of the world.

How should we respond to this teaching? Charnock says this, ‘All the extravagances of men may be traced to the forgetfulness of this attribute as their spring. The first speech Adam spake in paradise after his fall testified his unbelief of this (Gen. iii. 10); “I heard they voice in the garden, and I hid myself;” his ear understood the voice of God, but his mind did not conclude the presence of God; he thought the trees could shelter him from Him whose eye was present in the minutest parts of the earth.’ Do we not live sometimes as though our God is far off and we can hide from his presence? Do we not think that we can get away with peccadillos as though they weren’t necessarily seen by anyone? We are like our father Adam who thought he could hide from the sight of God (and the pending judgment that he knew was coming). However, for those of us who are in Christ, who have died to sin and been raised to new life, who have repented of our sins and believed in the gospel of Christ, this doctrine of omnipresence is a consolation. We are not left alone in our trials or sufferings. We are not alone in our joys. No, God is with us, Emmanuel, and this was clearly displayed in the advent of Jesus Christ. For those of us who are being saved, God’s presence is our glory. Yet, we do not always view it this way. We call him Father, and so he is. This means he disciplines us as a father disciplines his children. We will have to endure such training. We will also have to endure the effects of the fall of our father Adam. We will encounter our own sin and the sin of our spouses and the sin of our neighbors. But this does not negate our God’s presence. He in no way participates in such evil, but he does say to his beloved, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you,’ Which is to say, God’s gracious presence will never leave his beloved even through trial or pain.

So we ought to live with a great measure of hope and joy knowing our God is with us. We must also be warned that this means he sees even our deepest thoughts, and they will be brought to account. We cannot hide from his presence. May we take courage and comfort in such a truth.

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