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God’s Omnipresence

“Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?’’ (Ps. 139:7)

The theme of this passage is God’s omnipresence. Not that the psalmist would want to, but no one can escape to a place where God is not. The psalmist looks at the matter personally; Whither shall I go? It is wise to make personal application of this, to say, His banner over me is love; underneath me are the everlasting arms; behind me is a voice of a gentle stillness; before me is the Angel of His presence. God’s omnipresence is a comfort to me. Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, not merely from Thy Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, but from Thine essence. (God is, essentially, Spirit. Jn. 4:24). “Whither shall I go from Thy presence?” — not God’s gracious pres­ence, for he prays against such (Ps. 51:11), but His omnipresence which is everywhere. “From Thy presence” is literally, “from Thy persons.” (The same word is in Lev. 19:15, “thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the Almighty.”) There is no way to flee the all-surrounding three persons of the trinity. “If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there.” The Lord is certainly “at home” in His heavenly palace, sitting on His throne. To fly there would be like flying into the body of the sun to escape the light. “If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.” God is in both regions, the heaven of glory and the hell of darkness. God is in hell, exacting the satisfaction of His justice and pouring out His wrath eternally on the wicked.

Will the dictionary help us to understand the word omnipresence? Some. Webster says, “Omnipresence is an attribute peculiar to God.” In that attribute He is with His whole being “present everywhere at the same time.” Webster also says, “The ubiquity (exist­ence everywhere at the same time) of God is not disputed by those who admit His existence.” Funk and Wagnalls says, “ in theology, universal presence of the divine essence in His unitary whole­ness, as opposed to the diffusive presence and identity of Pantheism …” Berkhof’s Systematic Theology defines it as “that perfection of the divine being by which He transcends all special limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with His whole being.” In Bavinck’s The Doctrine of God we read that God is transcendent above all space, since space is a mode of creature existence, and is immanent in space, filling every unit of space with His whole being, not diffused through space like light.

God through Jeremiah’s prophecy asks, “Am I a God at hand and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” (23:23-24). God, filling heaven and earth, is present in both. Far and near are both alike to Him. God’s infinite being is not bounded or limited by space or time, but is transcendent above both. God already was, before there was any space (or time). His perfection of omnipresence then, in eternity, was the same as now. So that then He dwelt in Himself; He inhabited eternity. (Isa. 57:15). Do not I, with My whole being, fill every point in space at one and the same time? Some have said that God is not only near but afar because He is in everything. But we could also say everything is in Him, for “in Him we live, and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28). In regard to His essence, God is as much with the bad as the good, as much the scoffing Athenians as with those believing the apostle’s preaching. “He is not far from every one of us.” But He is not equally with all men as to His beneficent omnipresence. We live in God more than in the atmosphere in which we move. God is nearer to us than the air we breathe. Beyond our understanding is it to conceive of God filling heaven and earth and yet that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him. (I Kings 8:27). God cannot be contained. Any number of angels are said to be able to stand upon the point of a needle; but they could not at the same time stand also on another needle-point. God alone bears the name Jehovah-shammah, “the Lord is there” (i.e., here, there and everywhere).

God is. God is always (eternally). So God in His essence is always everywhere. All time is but a moment to God’s eternity; so all space is but a point to His essence, immensity and omnipresence.

The attribute of God is incommuni­cable. It cannot be conveyed to any creature. No creature can have communi­cated to him God’s infinity, simplicity, eternity, immutability, immensity or omni­presence. Although the human and the divine natures of Christ are united in the divine Person forever, the attribute of ubiquity or omnipresence cannot be communicated to the human nature of Christ. The Lutheran theology reasons that Christ in His human nature is everywhere, because He sits at the right hand of God and the right hand of God is everywhere. The idea is not so much of attributing infinite omnipresence to Christ’s humanity as that Christ in His humanity can be wherever He wants to be. On this line of reasoning one could just as well say that since the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord the heart of any and every king is everywhere. The Lutheran reasoning confuses Christ’s humanity with His deity, making the humanity the same as the deity, not united to it. But we believe, “Christ . . . according to His human nature is not now on earth, but in heaven, at the right hand of God His Father and will there be worshiped by us.” (Heidelberg Catechism XXX).

God is infinite in all His attributes. “His greatness is unsearchable.” He does great and unsearchable things. (Job 5:9). His understanding is infinite (Ps. 147:5). “The duration of His years cannot be searched out.” (Job 36:26). With His attributes infinite, then His being must be also; for His attributes are His essence; they flow from His essence. There really is no distinction between His essence and His attributes. They are inseparable. God is not distinct from His attributes. Then His presence is infinite; it has to be everywhere; so does His essence. So it is correct to say, “God is everywhere,” but “Everything is God,” is not correct. Christian Science claims that truth is arrived at by the rule of inversion. For example, the true statement which can be inverted (turned into the converse) and still make grammatical sense, will also be true. So, God is all (true), and the converse is also true, All is God (not true!). Matter is nothing (not true). Nothing is matter (false). God is love (true). Love is God (false). There is no pain in truth (false: cp. Mt. 25:41). There is no truth in pain (false: cp. Ps. 119:71). God is all reality. All reality is God. Beware of such statements. God is essentially present everywhere in every­thing, yet it does follow from this that then everything would be God. For everything retains its nature, distinct from the nature of God. The creature remains creature and the Creator remains Creator.

This attribute, omnipresence, of infin­ite deity, belongs to Christ. The incom­municable perfections of the divine na­ture, those of eternity (Jn. 1:1), immut­ability, omniscience (1:48; 2:24, 25), omnipresence, are, by divine revelation, ascribed to Him in John 3:13, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that come down from heaven, even the Son of Man who is in heaven.” He (the divine Person) came down from heaven, thirty years prior, to be incarnated in the womb of the virgin. Yet at the same time, He Is, not was, in heaven, as of right then, at the moment the words were spoken — He is, always, eternally in heaven by His deity and deity’s omnipresence. In His human­ity, as man, He was locally on earth, but in His deity, as God, He was also in heaven.

This truth of God’s presence is most comforting to believers. The Lord says of His church, “I, the Lord, do keep it … I will keep it night and day.” (Isa. 27:3). God is present by covenant with His church. “I will be with thee; I will not leave thee!” He is always with us to strengthen in ordinary circumstances, or to come to our aid in emergencies. When in misery, He is there with mercy; in affliction, He is there with grace; in weakness, there is the presence of His power. “Fear thou not, for I am with thee.” We do not worship a distant God. The fish is not distant from, but in its environment, the water. The bird is not distant from, but in its environment, the air. So we as Christians in this world are not distant from our spiritual environ­ment, God. For we are in Him, live in Him, have our being in Him.

God’s omnipresence will provide the answer to many of our questions. In God’s house, at the hour of worship, how shall we compose our minds to be serious? Mind God’s presence. How shall we worship Him without distraction? Think of His presence. How shall we drive out sinful thoughts and overcome temptation? Oppose them with God’s holy presence, with the prayer, Hallowed by Thy name (Thy attributes)! Activated faith in this divine attribute will quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. How shall we then live from day to day? “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” —Prov. 3:6. Acknowledge Him before any work by prayer, and afterward by thanksgiving. Acknowledge His pres­ence before, in and after worship. Study to know more of the Messiah’s experience, “In Thy presence is the fullness of joy.” —Ps. 16:11.