God Is Never Absent: Omnipresence
“The guy upstairs.” “The big man in the sky.” These are just two of the more common, modern slang terms for God. Aside from being utterly irreverent, they transgress the Second Commandment of having no graven images of God in that they grossly mistake this important attribute of God: His omnipresence. Thinking of God just hanging out with the angels in heaven while we puny humans go about our business on earth is absolutely horrible, yet I wonder if Christians all too often slip into this frame of thinking. Yet the Bible is clear: God is omnipresent. But what does this actually mean, that He is omnipresent? I first want to offer a simple, yet perhaps paradigm shifting definition and explanation of the doctrine. Secondly, I want to propose that this doctrine is immensely practical for every believer.
While most would probably define God’s omnipresence as the fact that God is everywhere present or that He occupies all physical space in the universe, this isn’t quite accurate. We frankly have the scientific revolution to thank for that, in that theology and the study of God began to be influenced by our understanding of the physical world. Descriptions of God and His perfections were subjected to scientific terms: how does He relate to the space/time continuum? Yet precisely defined, the omnipresence of God is the perfection of God wherein He is completely outside of any space or dimension. But even this is difficult to grasp, so we must go further. Since God is simple in nature, in that He is not composed of parts, each of his perfections (attributes) is necessarily interrelated to His other perfections. And this is actually helpful for us to think about with the omnipresence of God. His omnipresence is related to both God as spirit and God as infinite. God as spirit simply means that He has no corporeal existence, no “physicalness” to Him. Yet the angels and demons are also spirits, but they are not omnipresent. This is because God is the infinite Spirit, that is, His “spiritness” is infinite; it’s not bound by physical space because He is not physical and is not bound by physical realities or created dimensions. Angels, though spirit, are still bound by the created realities of space and dimension, but God is not. He is wholly other, outside of creation because He is the Being from which all created things are derived. Space and dimension are created realities, and thus God is not subject to them. So while in one sense, from the creaturely point of view, it’s easiest to think of God as being in every place all at once since our very minds are bound by physical realities, we must think of God as not subject to the physical realities of space and dimension at all.
David famously writes this in Psalm 139:
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
The knowledge that God is not stuck in a traffic jam in my moment of greatest need should be tremendously encouraging to the believer. It was for David as he ran from Saul, fought Goliath, and later ran from his own son. God is not bound by space but rather uses space for His own purposes, for His glory and our good. As he says in Psalm 23: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” Even in a world gone mad, the believer can take comfort in the omnipresence of God.
Yet the omnipresence of God has a double edge for humanity, as the prophet Jonah learned the hard way. In His attempt to flee the presence of God, he learned that he couldn’t. Yet even when he was confronted by the sailors for his actions, his description of God in 1:9 is very telling: “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Apparently like many of us today, he too had the picture of God sitting in heaven trying to dispense his sovereignty from there. Yet this error proved painful for Jonah. There is no “secret sin” that we can hide from God; He sees it all because He is always there with us, if even in the metaphorical sense. May we, the people of God, take comfort and warning from His presence with us. It is a life-altering reality for us to grasp.
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.