Friday, February 20, 2015

He Is Present There

“And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.”

—Isaac Watts in his children’s hymn I Sing the Mighty Power of God

In him we live and move and have our being.
“Where is God?” The best I could do when my small children asked this question was answer, “He’s everywhere, but you can’t see him or touch him or hear him.” This, of course, leads to more questions: How can a being exist that we can’t see or touch or hear? And how can something be everywhere? (I have no child-sized answers to those questions. I’m not sure I have adult-sized answers, either. How could a finite mind hope to explain the infinite and incomprehensible?)

When an adult asks where God is, they’re usually asking in relation to a specific injustice they see in the world. I had a friend who asked this question because she wanted to know how a good God could stand by (so to speak) while her son endured months of excruciating pain after he was severely burned. She searched for an answer and settled for a god1 who created the world but then left everything to run on its own. He wasn’t present in his creation, at least not in an active way. He was simply watching from afar as history unfolded.

The biblical answer to the question of where God is—both the child’s and the adult’s—is that all that he is exists always everywhere in creation and beyond. Just as God is infinite in relation to time (eternality), knowledge (omniscience), and power (omnipotence), he is infinite in relation to space (omnipresence).

God Is Everywhere

Psalm 139 has a well-known description of God’s omnipresence:
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. (Psalm 139:7-10 ESV)
There is no “going from” or “fleeing” God, because he is everywhere. He doesn’t just see into every place, but his being exists there. If God’s power—his “hand”—is in every place, then the whole of God’s essence exists in every space, since his power is one aspect of his indivisible essence. All that God is can be found in all places. 

God Is Not Contained in Space

Scripture also tells us that while God is everywhere present, he is not contained in space. King Solomon prayed:
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27 ESV)
The universe cannot hold our God; the boundaries of the highest heaven can’t encompass him. This is not just because there is nothing big enough to contain him, but because God is not spatial. As pure spirit, he has no physical dimensions. And as creator of space itself, God existed as all that he is when there was no space.

So all that God is in every place but God is not contained in space. Charles Spurgeon puts it this way: “His circumference is nowhere, but his center is everywhere.”
God Is Our Place

Paul told the Athenians that all people “live and move and have [their] being” in God (Acts 17:28). His statement makes me think of fish in a fish tank, living and swimming and existing within the environment of the tank.2 Just as fish are contained in the waters of the tank, swimming everywhere but never leaving its presence, we are contained within God’s presence. Wherever we are, he is there, “not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

God Is Always With Us

If we belong to God, understanding his omnipresence is a great comfort. If an insignificant sparrow does not die apart from God, how much more does everything that happens to us take place in his presence? Every circumstance in our life is a time and place where the omnipresent God is. In all our trials, he is beside us and in us and around us with His guiding hand to lead us and hold us. He is present to help, either to rescue or give courage to endure.

Even when we confront death, we should fear no evil, for he is with us (Psalm 23:4). The death of a saint is precious in God’s sight (Psalm 116: 15), and he is not watching it from a distance, but sitting beside us while we wait, carrying us when we go, and welcoming us when we arrive. Because everywhere that we can be, our God is present there.

1] I can’t bring myself to capitalize this.

2] Like any illustration—and maybe more than most—this one has its limitations. For one, the whole essence of the fish tank doesn’t exist in every spot a fish does. A fish needs to move from one place to another to experience all the fish tank can offer it, yet all of God—all of what he is for us—is in every place we are. Second, the fish tank ends right beyond where the fish can go. The fish tank is contained in space, just like the fish are, only in a little more space; but there is nothing “containing” God.

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