In today’s world, we can go, quite literally, around the world. While most of us cannot do that in person, we have the ability to travel to anyplace that we want to go, at least through technology.
A striking comparison brought home how the 21st century has changed how we can be “present”, even across thousands of miles. I came across my father’s pocket notebook from when he was in Europe during World War 2. He said that he had written my mother, and it took 3 weeks to receive her response.
In comparison, in the early 2000s, our son was in a war zone overseas during a long deployment. At the cost of his sleep, he “skyped” home so that the children could see him and hear their father as if he was in the room with them, even though he was on the other side of the world. But, he was not with them.
Our daughter went to Manila, in the Philippines, twenty years ago to work with a missionary doctor. Given the machinations of the international date line and varying time zones, we put her on a plane on Saturday and when we returned to our home after church on Sunday morning, we had received a picture of her working in the clinic on Monday. While we were excited to see that she was alright, she was not with us.
Right now, the Winter Olympics are underway in South Korea, and I am certain that there are many parents, coaches and friends who have found their way to South Korea in support of the athletic competition. Those of us who did not go to attend the competition in person can watch it in real time, and we can see their skill and cheer the wins and empathize with those who lost the round, but we are not with them, even though technology makes it seem as if we were.
All this to say, our saying that God is everywhere is a fairly understandable concept, much more so than in centuries prior to our own.
However, God’s presence is dissimilar to our presence in other places in every way possible. God is everywhere at the same time. In other words, there is nowhere that we can go, at any time, that God is not present.
God’s being everywhere at all times is known as “omnipresence”. As with omnipotence, the “omni” means “all” and the “presence” means “existing, being at a place”. He is existing at all places, at the same time. This is sometimes referred to as “ubiquity”, meaning that God is everywhere present in the fullness of His being.
In the Old Testament times, there were a multitude of gods in the land. People thought of their gods in terms of territory or space. For example, it was believed that the god of the Amorites lived in the land of the Amorites while the god of Philistia lived in the land of the Philistines, and the gods did not have power in areas other than their own geographical setting. The plagues that God visited upon Egypt were targeted at the gods of Egypt, the Lord God establishing that He alone was God and that He had ultimate power and presence, even in a land supposedly ruled by other “gods”. Indeed God repeatedly says that He is God and there is none like Him.
The God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac is not limited in space or territory. Our God is omnipresent – He is everywhere at the same time.
The omnipresence of God was stated eloquently by Rahab, the harlot who lived in Jericho and who gave refuge to Israel’s spies prior to their conquest of the city. We read her understanding of God in Joshua 2:9-11:
“”I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.“
God is so great that the heavens cannot contain Him. 1 Kings 8:27. The prophet Jeremiah says God’s words:
“”Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”
As I have mentioned in previous posts on The Ruminant Scribe, one of my favorite passages in scripture is Psalm 139. David experienced all the emotions, great joy, desperation, guilt, fear, shame, redemption, and in this passage, he describes the omnipresence of God:
“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! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
I again would encourage you to read Psalm 139 in its entirety, and then contemplate the greatness of our God. In the book of Acts, we read:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.'”
Since God is omnipresent, we cannot take ourselves out of His presence. This is a comfort for the Christian who takes joy in God’s presence and in following Him throughout our day. This attribute is, however, not of comfort to the non-believer. Rather, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the God Who is aware of each and every act of disobedience and rejection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
We cannot understand the omnipresence of God. Job responded to questions from God, and he expressed his inability to understand God:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
We, too, cannot understand how God can be ubiquitous but yet can take actions locally, where we live and work each day. It is a doctrine that we accept, and because scripture teaches it, we can do no less. It is a doctrine that gives both comfort and warning.
Praise our God for His incredible nature and for the love that He has exercised on our behalf.
Father, I confess that I do not understand Your omnipresence, the ability to be everywhere at once and to be present with all Your attributes in all places at the same time. I cannot comprehend Your greatness, Your power, Your majesty, Your holiness. I am finite and mortal, You are too great for me to comprehend. But I believe Your word, I believe Your Son is the Christ, the Messiah, Who shed His blood for my sin. I praise Your Holy Name.