GOD IS OMNIPRESENT
THE OMNIPRESENCE OF GOD, therefore, becomes the first of these attributes for consideration.
1. The expression in the Scripture of the doctrine of God's omnipresence in His creation is so clearly taught that any intelligent person can discover this truth for himself. But this does not mean that he will comprehend, even in any large way, its essential significance. The classic passage on this point is in the 139th Psalm:
"Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee" (Psa. 139:7-12).
Jacob was introduced to the omnipresence of God on his journey from his homeland to Haran. He slept on a stone one night and dreamed of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it. Then God spoke to him:
"And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen. 28:15-17).
Jonah had to learn the hard way that God is omnipresent and there is no possibility of fleeing from His presence (Jonah 1:3-4). Jeremiah cried out in warning to the people of Judah concerning the omnipresent God whom they were deliberately ignoring (Jer. 23:23-24). Our Lord taught His disciples to pray to the Father who is in the heavens (the word is plural), the aerial, stellar, and the heaven where God makes special manifestation of Himself (Matt. 6:9). Paul addressed the philosophers on Mars Hill, informing them of that unknown God whom they ignorantly worshipped, the God who is
"not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:23, 27-28).
2. The explanation of this attribute must be brief, but its importance is by no means measured by its brevity. Underlying and intimately associated with omnipresence is another attribute of God as cited by many theologians, namely that of immensity, that is, that God's nature is spiritual and is therefore without material extension and is not confined to the limits of space. He is vast, enormous, and gigantic. "Heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee"
(1 Kings 8:27). God is not contained in creation, but creation is contained in God. "For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). On the basis of God's immensity, by way of general explanation, it may be affirmed that omnipresence is the presence of the totality of the essence of God in the whole and in every part of the universe, without expansion, diffusion, multiplication, or division. He fills all things. "Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord" (Jer. 23:24).
To be even more specific, God's omnipresence is not that of mere power, but that of nature and essence, which also includes power. One of the errors of human thinking has been to hold that God is present in His creation only in power, and that the person or essence of God is in heaven. But the facts are that men do not need to go up to heaven to call Him down, or into the abyss to call Him up (Rom. 10:6-7). God in person is everywhere present in His creation and it is this fact that makes it possible for His power to be operative in every place. Apart from person or essence there could be no power, for power is inherent and resident in person.
In further explanation it needs to be pointed out that God's omnipresence is not the presence of a portion of God, but the whole person of God in every place. God is spirit and therefore incorporeal and all materialistic conceptions must be abandoned. God is one, simple, un-composed, undivided, indivisible. With God there can be no multiplication, diffusion, or separation of substance. So it follows that the whole of the essence of God is present at the same time in every part of His creation. As one poet put it, "Though God extends beyond creation's rim; Each smallest atom holds the whole of Him." "Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?" (Jer. 23:23). "In mathematics the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. But we know of the Spirit that every part is equal to the whole."
One further note on omnipresence is important to full understanding. In no sense is God's omnipresence by compulsion, but rather proceeds from the freedom of His own will. This means that, contrary to the pantheistic notion, God is not bound to the universe, nor is the universe bound to God. By the free act of God He brought creation into existence, so that it exists in Him (Col. 1:16), and by a free act He could also withdraw, so that it would cease to exist (Col. 1:17). This means that God's immanence in creation is qualified by His transcendence outside and above creation. He is therefore a God who can introduce a miracle at any point or time; He can answer the prayer of the most humble suppliant; He is free to introduce change into the present order and arrangement of things.
There are problems that arise from texts that seem to conflict with the doctrine of the omnipresence of God. These texts seem to localize God in heaven or present Him as moving from place to place within the universe. Christ taught His disciples to pray, "Our Father which art in heaven" (Matt. 6:9). When it is known that the word heaven is in the plural, there seems to be clear recognition on the part of Christ that God is omnipresent. In other texts it is intimated that God dwells only in heaven (1 Kings 8:27, 30). Most likely these are to be understood in the sense that only an omnipresent God can manifest Himself in different places in a special way. In heaven God manifests Himself permanently and most gloriously to the spirits of heaven. At Babel and Sodom (Gen. 11:5; 18:20-21), God is described as going down to witness the activities in progress. While these accounts may be couched in anthropomorphic terms, it is still true that only an omnipresent God who is free from all limitations of matter could move from one place to another.
3. The practical values growing out of the attribute of God's omnipresence are numerous. Almost every detail of life and experience may be related to the omnipresence of God. How encouraging to know that wherever the believer may be, God is there exercising intimate and loving concern for him (Matt. 28:20; John 14:23; Gen. 16:13; 28:16; Psa. 73:23-25). There is no hindrance to immediate access to the omnipresent God (Rom. 10:6-8). No creation can separate from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:39). If there is need to lift the heart in prayer, this can be done anywhere (Matt. 6:9). If there is need for healing, God does need to make a journey to the sick, for He is already there (John 4:46-54). Worship and communion is not restricted to place, for where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is in the midst (Matt. 18:20; John 4:21).This attribute of God comes as a warning to the wicked. It is characteristic of them to pursue their way as though there were no God (Psa. 10:4, 11). God is not in all his thoughts. He imagines that God does not know or see, or take cognizance of what goes on. But if the wicked were to consider carefully the truth of His omnipresence, it would deter or turn him aside from his course of sin (Amos 9:1-4). There is no way to escape from God, no matter to what portion of the universe one might flee (Psa. 139:7-12). Jonah thought to escape from the task to which God had appointed him (Jonah 1:1-3), only to discover that God was also present in the sea (Jonah 1:4). To the unbeliever this great truth should turn him aside from his wickedness, but even more, it should turn him aside from any false worship, for only a God who is omnipresent is a real God. How tragic that Hindu worshipper should be tapping on trees and stones whispering "Are you there? Are you there?"