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God’s omnipresence is foundational to the way we experience Him. Omnipresence is the way we perceive God’s infinite being. To be infinite is to be without boundaries, and to be without boundaries is to be “omnipresent” in our perception. We are restricted by space and time, but within those limitations we can know the presence of God with us. Our circumstances change, but we sense that He is always near at hand. This is the teaching of Psalm 139:7–10; Jeremiah 23:23–24; and Romans 8:38–39. Nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of God, and where His love is, there He is. In terms of our everyday walk with God, we can understand the importance of this. If God were not present and available when we needed Him, His promises to save and defend us would ring hollow and there would be something defective in our relationship. How could we rely on Him if we did not know where He was? It is true that some Christians wonder where God is in the midst of suffering, and many have spoken of the “dark night of the soul” when it seems that God is far away and has forgotten us. This is a genuine spiritual experience, and we must not dismiss it or downplay its significance.

Yet the Bible tells us that when we feel that God is far from us, the problem is with us and not with Him. We may have shut our minds to Him. He may have ceased to speak to us, for reasons that only He knows. We walk by faith, not by sight, and there are times when our faith is tested to the limit. But this does not mean that God is not present in and among us. God may be at work at depths in our lives of which we have no conscious knowledge. He is shaping us and directing us at levels of our being that pass our understanding, and it may be only later that we come to realize that He has been at work in us in spite of ourselves. Even Jesus felt abandoned on the cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34), but we know that His Father was there with Him, and that at the end of His suffering Jesus commended Himself to His Father’s loving care (Luke 23:46). What was true of God’s presence with Him is also true of God’s presence with us, even if we cannot perceive it at the time.

In the final analysis, God is quite different from—and infinitely superior to—anything we can imagine.

How does God’s omnipresence actually work? Some people think that He is present in everything, and that everything is in some way a part of Him. This may be called pantheism, which is the claim that everything is divine, or more subtly, panentheism, which is the belief that God infuses everything without its being an extension of His own being. Similar to this is the belief, held by some, that God is like air, or a kind of gas, which permeates the world and whose presence can be felt, even if it cannot be explained or perceived by our senses.

The basic problem with approaches of this kind is that they do not understand or account for the distinction between God’s being and the nature of His creation. God has not made the world as an extension of Himself, and He does not permeate it in some way. The Creator is totally different from anything He has made, and His nature is not like the nature of His creation. Even the spiritual creatures (angels and demons), who resemble God more than the material universe does, are finite, and to that extent are quite different from Him. As human beings, we have contact with God not because of our creation but because we have been made in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26–27), which sets us apart from the rest of the created order. We are obliged to use finite concepts to talk about Him because our minds are finite, but we know that when we do so we are speaking by analogy. Within the limits of our conceptual framework, we can say that God is like this or that, but in the final analysis, He is quite different from—and infinitely superior to—anything we can imagine.

More problematic are the numerous assertions in the Bible, and particularly in the Old Testament, that state that God has put His name in a certain place, implying that He is somehow present there to a greater degree than elsewhere. We find these claims not only in the Pentateuch (Ex. 20:24; Deut. 12:5) but also in the Historical Books (2 Chron. 6:6) and in the Prophets (Hab. 2:20). Very often, they refer to Jerusalem, the city where God has put His name, and more particularly to the temple. Habakkuk, for example, states quite clearly that the Lord is in His holy temple, and that the whole earth must keep silence before Him.

How should we understand this? Isaiah 66:1 reminds us that the temple cannot contain God, so if we were to think in those terms it would contradict Habakkuk. The interpretation must surely be that God designated certain places, and especially the temple, as places where His blessed presence would specially dwell, where He was to be worshiped by His people and where He would respond to them. This was not because He was not equally present elsewhere but because the people needed to have somewhere to come together and focus their worship. This is still true today. We gather in church not because God is present there and absent elsewhere, but because we need to have a setting that everyone recognizes is dedicated to the worship of God. It is for our benefit and for a witness to those around us that we do this, not because God is present in one place and not elsewhere.

The words we use reflect the limited conceptual abilities of our minds, not the reality of God’s being. He appears to be omnipresent to us in the dimensions of time and space because He is infinite in His eternally transcendent self. His omnipresence (as we perceive it) is the outward, practical expression of His infinity, which is designed to make sense to us without diminishing the incomprehensible being of God.

Love, Justice, and Wrath


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From the May 2022 Issue
May 2022 Issue