The Doctrine of God's Omnipresence
Psalm 139: 7 - 12
A young boy and his mother - serious discussion over lunch. “Where is God?” he asks. “He’s in heaven,” mother replies. “Does He live there?” “Yes.” “Where’s Jesus?” “He’s in your heart.” “But I thought Jesus and God were the same Person.” “They are.” “How can he be in heaven and in my heart at the same time?” “It’s hard to explain.” Short pause. “Where does the Holy Spirit live?” Another pause. “I think it’s time to go and lie down.”
So we are introduced to one of the more difficult doctrines of the Bible—the doctrine of God’s omnipresence. “Where is God?” This is a very important question. The seeker wants to know … and so does the sceptic … and so does the guilty sinner so he can run the other way. So does every hurting person who feels abandoned by the Almighty. “Where is God when I need Him?”
The “Omni” Attributes
3 attributes of God should always be kept together in your mind. They naturally go together since each begins with “omni": Omniscience/ Omnipotence/ Omnipresence. God is all-knowing -he is all-powerful - he is present everywhere. These 3 attributes work in tandem:
Omniscience - He knows what needs to be done.
Omnipotence - He has the power to do it.
Omnipresence - He’s always wherever He needs to be to do whatever needs to be done.
Omnipresence is the hardest for us to grasp. We can only be one place at one time, but God is everywhere at the same time. Our problem is that we have nothing to compare to it. Is God all powerful? Yes, and we can slightly grasp that concept because we have power and strength. Is God all wise? Yes, and we can conceive of that on some level because we have wisdom and knowledge.
But there is no sense in which we are can be present everywhere! We can’t even be 2 places at once—a fact that we sometimes forget. For that reason omnipresence is mysterious to us.
If your God is not present everywhere in the universe, then he is not the God of the Bible.
Simple definition of omnipresence - “The Lord Our God is everywhere at once.” He is everywhere present all the time. That is a truly awesome thought. Most people are not comfortable with an omnipresent God. That’s why they have idols. They want a god they can see and feel and touch. A god they can understand. A god they can control. A god made by their own hands. But you can’t fully understand the God of the Bible. And you certainly can’t control him.
1. God is Not Limited by Time or Space Psalm 139: 7 - 12
As David contemplates how God knows him inside and out, he wonders where he might go to hide from the Lord. Heaven, hell, east, west, the far side of the ocean—it doesn’t matter for the Lord is already there. What about the darkness of the night? The darkness will not deter God, for “darkness is as light to you.” Important implications of this truth –
A. God cannot be contained in a building.
Solomon said as much in the dedication of the First Temple in Jerusalem. We hear well-meaning people call the church the “house of God,” as if his presence somehow specially dwells in a building made by the hands of man. But a church is not a holy place in the sense that the temple was a holy place. Today God dwells among his people and in his people wherever they are and wherever they go.
B. God cannot be localised in a city or a nation.
This truth should keep us from boasting too much in our supposed moral superiority. God is not an American or a South African nor does he exist to defend and perpetuate our form of government.
C. God cannot be reduced to an image or a statue.
This is why the 2nd Commandment warns against making “graven images.” It is also why the Jews refused to make any pictures, drawings or statutes of God. The truth is, we don’t know what he looked like and any picture or statues meant as an “aid to devotion” may somehow lead to superstitious worship.
D. God is always present whether we believe it or not.
In the early days of space travel, one of the Russian cosmonauts returned from orbiting the earth to announce that he had looked out of his space capsule and had not seen God anywhere. Dr. W. A. Criswell of the First Baptist Church of Dallas - “Let him take off his space suit for just one second and he’ll see God quick enough.”
E. God is present even in the worst moments of life.
God’s omnipresence means that he is there in the midst of suffering, pain, sickness, sorrow, anger, grief, bitterness, divorce, betrayal, murder, rape, sexual abuse, cancer, AIDS, abortion, warfare, famine, earthquakes, fires, floods, every natural disaster, accidents, personal loss, and at the moment of death.
F. God is always available to us wherever we go, 24 hours a day.
We always have his full attention, we don’t have to make an appointment, he’s never too busy to hear us when we pray, he’s never preoccupied with other problems. Can you imagine what it would be like if we prayed only to have an angel tell us, “I’m sorry, but God is busy handling a major crisis in the Middle East. Leave your name and number and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.” That will never happen because all of God is completely available to you no matter where you are. Though there are a thousand wars in a thousand places, our God hears you as if you were the only one praying.
F. We may rely fully on him no matter how desperate our situation may be.
God will never leave His people - He is always present with His people.
2. God is Always Present Everywhere in the Universe
Most of us struggle to understand omnipresence because it is so foreign to our experience. The doctrine teaches us that God is wholly present everywhere. “God is not like a substance spread out in a thin layer all over the earth—all of Him is in Chicago, in Calcutta, in Cairo, and in Cape Town, at one and the same time.” God’s presence is not like a layer of peanut butter on a piece of bread. All of God is completely present at every point in the universe all the time. He is present as fully as though He were nowhere else.
His presence extends to all 3 Persons of the Godhead. That’s a relief because what if I needed to talk to Jesus and found out that he was over in Indonesia and wouldn’t be back in Wilro Park for a month? Or what if the Holy Spirit were in Durban when someone needed him in Pretoria? Thank God, all three Persons of the Trinity are everlastingly available to all the children of God.
God’s presence is like the air we breathe. Air is odourless, tasteless, invisible (when it’s not polluted). Most of the time we don’t even think about the air we breathe, yet we depend on it for our very existence. Even so God’s presence is everywhere with us, and if it were withdrawn, none of us could survive for even one moment.
Or consider radio waves. They are invisible yet everywhere. We don’t realize that in this room there are thousands of signals floating through the air. We aren’t aware of them because we don’t have a receiver tuned in to the right frequency. Likewise, God is always there, but we’re not tuned in to his frequency so we don’t sense his presence all the time.
3. God can be Ignored but He cannot be Avoided
You can ignore God but you can’t avoid him. This should be a serious warning to the unconverted. Genesis 16: 13 - El Roi - The God Who Sees. At the end of this age, in those terrible days leading up to the return of Christ, the unconverted will suddenly realize the error of their ways. But then it will be too late - Revelation 6: 15 – 17.
You can ignore him but you can’t avoid him! Every time you write 2011 you are giving testimony to his power. All history is divided by his birth.
4. God Promises to Draw Near to Anyone Who will Draw Near to Him
A. God is always near his people. This promise is repeated many places in scripture. Hebrews 13: 5b -‘‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Matthew 28: 20b - “I am with you always." Deuteronomy 31: 6 - Moses - “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
B. God draws near to us in times of pain and suffering. Psalm 34: 18 - “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Many Christians have experienced God’s powerful, uplifting presence in the midst of unspeakable sorrow. Often they look back later and marvel at how God brought them through when their own resources completely failed.
C. God is also near when we least expect him. Elisha and his scared servant at Dothan - 2 Kings 6: 8 - 18 tells how the mighty armies of Aram had completely surrounded the people of God. When his servant saw the enemy drawn up on every side, he cried out in fear, “What will we do?” Elisha told him not to fear because, “those that are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed that the servant’s eyes might be supernaturally opened. They were, and as he looked up, he “saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Something like that needs to happen to many of us. We need a glimpse of God’s presence all around us—even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Maybe you don’t need a new house, anew city, a new country or a new job. You need to see the angels of God surrounding you right now!
D. God draws near to those who approach him in humble faith. Psalm 145: 18 - “the Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” James 4: 8 – “come near to God and He will come near to you.” “God is with you if you are with God! If you are far from God today, who moved? He’s right where he always said he would be. If you aren’t conscious of his presence, perhaps it’s because you have moved away from him.”
E. God promises to walk with us in the hour of death. Psalm 23: 1 – 4 - Why the change from “he” to “you"? Because even though the Lord is with us every day, we don’t always feel his presence right beside us. But in the moment of death, we are not left alone. The Lord Jesus comes for us and walks with us across the Great Divide. Thank God, I do not have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone. For he comes, he enters the room, he stands by the bedside, he reaches down and takes my trembling hand, and he walks with me from this life into life eternal.
The best 2 words in Psalm 23 - 2 little words in v. 4: “You are with me.” The shepherd is no longer up ahead leading the flock. The valley is too dark for that. Now he is walking with us, step by step, walking side by side reassuring his sheep by his calm presence. If God is with us, we have nothing to fear. Death casts a frightening shadow over all of life. Visit any hospital and you will see the fear on the faces of the patients. Go to a funeral and watch the faces. One reason we hate funerals is because we don’t want to face the truth of our own mortality. We can struggle with many other enemies but we can’t struggle with death.
We’ll all eventually go through the valley of the shadow of death. We need a guide to help us find our way through that land of darkness to the light on the other side. Where will we find a guide who can take us through that valley? We’ve got to find someone who’s been there before, who’s gone through himself, who can take us by the hand and lead us where he’s already been.
His name is Jesus! He’s been there before. He knows the way through. He’s been to the light on the other side and he’ll come for us. Deep in my soul, I believe that Christians have nothing to fear in the moment of death. Though it may not be pleasant or painless, though it comes after long suffering or in a fiery crash, the moment itself will be filled with joy as the Lord himself escorts God’s children through the darkest valley of all. At that moment, all other guides must turn back. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can help us through. And he does.