The Presence of God
From the very beginning of time, as men tried to develop an understanding of the God who created all things, certain words came to be naturally associated with Him. As the human mind began to get a glimpse of the height and depth and breadth that is God, words such as “omnipotent,” “omniscient” and “omnipresent,” came naturally to the lips when speaking of him, and these words seemed hardly adequate to describe a person, so beyond our capacity to comprehend. No created being has ever been able, nor will ever be able to fully understand God, but still, apart from atheists, all men have generally come to the conclusion that God fulfills all of those “omnis;” Omni-potent (all-powerful),” “omni-scient (all-knowing)” and “omni-present (present everywhere).” We might also add words such as “immutable (unchanging)” and “eternal.”
The Bible gives us good reason to believe that all these omnis are legitimately applied to God. Verses such as the following are essentially telling us that these are the natural attributes of God:
And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. (Mark 10:27)
For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. (1John 3:20)
Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD. (Jer 23:24)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (Jas 1:17)
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. (Ps 90:2)
If a person takes the time to simply meditate on the things of creation, he will come to the conclusion that God is a being far greater than our imagination can conceive. We think of the indescribable intricacy of microscopic things such as atoms, molecules, cells, and the immense complexity of massive things such as galaxies, systems and stars. When we consider that all these things were created in an instant, just by the voice of the being we call “God,” we are lost for words to try to describe the kind of power and intelligence that this being must possess. All the knowledge, the wisdom that is involved in things like DNA, the systems which exist in the bodies of all living things, the harmony, beauty, interdependence of created things – all this was in the mind of God and sprang into magnificent existence with all the complexity which we struggle to understand – when God simply, spoke the word. Truly, from our perspective as humans, there is absolutely nothing that can be impossible for such a Being!
However, as with everything which is true, Satan has done his best to distort and confuse this reality of the amazing capabilities of God. In almost every pagan and false religion, the concept of God is defaced in such a way that God is presented, first of all, as a series of beings rather than one almighty, supreme person. In the religion of the Greeks, there was one supreme god named Zeus, with many other gods subject to him. The same thing can be seen in the legends of the Norsemen where one supreme god called Odin, had many other gods under his control such as Thor and Loki. This distortion of truth has been widely propagated through comic books, popular movies and folklore, so that in the minds of many people God is nothing more than a glorified superman, a person with greater powers and abilities than humans, but fallible, limited, and subject to many of the weaknesses which we possess.
This is all well and good, but what is of real concern is that even among Christians, and even in the One True God movement, we see the same kind of incredible diminishing of God taking place as has long existed in the pagan world. I refer specifically to the concept now taking root in the movement where many not only deny the omnipresence of God, but actually state that such a thing is impossible! The idea that God is present everywhere is said to be unrealistic, since it is not possible for one person to be in two places at the same time. In fact, such a belief is said to be spiritualistic and akin to pantheism!
Some have stated that they do not deny the “omnipresence” of God, but that they object to the idea of God being personally omnipresent. In other words, they believe that God is said to be omnipresent because he has agents present in all places and so, in a secondary way, he is present through others. So in this sense, God is said to be present wherever his angels are. It is not God himself who is actually present, but it is the attributes of God existing in His representatives. Those who believe this tend to have a great emphasis on angels and their ministry since they believe that this is one of the primary ways by which we are able to interact with God.
Along with this emphasis on angels there is also an emphasis on the written word, the Scriptures, as being the other means by which we obtain God’s presence. According to this theory, as we read the Scriptures and we internalize what we read, our thinking and our personalities gradually adapt to what we read, we become like God in our thoughts and behavior and so the “spirit” of God is formed in us through our attentiveness to his word. In this understanding the spirit of God is simply God’s thoughts, God’s way of thinking. When we adopt this, then we are said to possess the spirit of God and consequently, God is present with us in this sense.
This compels us to ask the question, is his word greater than God? Is his power greater than himself? Is God’s power separated from himself so that it can be present when he himself is absent? How can his strength be present, but not his person? It seems that some of us are dividing God up into sections with different aspects of him operating without the other parts.
The meaning of “presence”
Let us remind ourselves again of what the word “omnipresent” means. The online dictionary, dictionary.com defines it as follows:
Omnipresent: – Present everywhere at the same time.
Most dictionaries give essentially the same meaning, especially when the word is used with reference to God. So to say that God is omnipresent is to declare that God is present everywhere at the same time. However, in light of the ideas being presented, another question which arises is, what does it mean to be present?
If a person stands at a great distance and looks at something through a telescope, can he be said to be present at the location which he is viewing? If a person is speaking to another on a cell phone or some other device, can he be said to be present at the location where the other person is? If a person sends a message to another person, can such a person be said to be present when his message is delivered? When I pray, does God actually hear or does an angel hear and then carry the message to God? When I am in trouble, does God actually see Himself, or do angels report the incident to Him later? When I need him, is he actually close by, or must he wait on his angels to first receive the message and then deliver a report to him?
Some of these questions may appear to be trivial or even silly but it is necessary that they be asked in order that we may fully understand the implications of the different ideas which are floating around.
When a person is in my presence, it implies that he is able to personally communicate and interact with me. He is able to touch me and vice versa. If God is not able to hold two-way communication with me, if he is not within touching distance of me, if he is not able to hear my words and to speak to me himself, but must carry out these functions through agents such as angels, then it is absurd to say that God is present with me. Using this kind of reasoning to define the word “omnipresent” would make people such as Donald Trump close to omnipresent at times too, because when they speak almost the whole world is watching by some agency such as the TV or the internet. I have heard and seen Trump many times, but I have never been in his presence.
The Bible teaching
So is God really present everywhere at the same time? Is it really true that nobody can be in two places at the same time – including God? We humans are good at speculating and philosophizing and from that kind of perspective, everyone can have a different answer to these questions. The real question then should be, what does the Bible say about this issue? Let us examine a few verses and see what conclusions we can come to.
Let’s begin with the teaching of David in Psalm 139:7-10.
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. (Ps 139:7-10)
Notice how David understood the omnipresence of God; he understood that it was not possible for him to be somewhere where God was not present. Clearly, he equated the spirit of God with the presence of God, or in other words he recognized that the spirit of God was actually God Himself. So where the spirit of God was, it was God who was present. David seemed to have this constant sense of the presence of God and it is one of the main reasons why he was so fearless and became such an outstanding warrior in the cause of God. We see this recognition of the omnipresence of God expressed in the words of Psalm 23:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Ps 23:4)
This is why even as a boy, David had no hesitation in doing battle with first a lion, and then a bear, and later on with the Philistine giant Goliath! He knew he was constantly in the presence of God and that with such a privilege, no servant of God could ever be defeated. With such a faith he did things that seemed to be crazy and stupid, things such as fighting a lion with his bare hands, and facing a seasoned giant warrior who was armed to the teeth, with nothing but stones and his faith in God. The awareness of God’s presence is a mighty reason to be courageous and David clearly was constantly aware of this presence.
In 1 Kings 8:27 we find an extraordinary statement made by Solomon:
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded? (1Kgs 8:27)
This was the occasion of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. Even though Solomon in his prayer asked God to bless Israel when they prayed towards this house, he demonstrated his understanding of the true nature of God when he declared that the “heaven and the heaven of heavens,” could not contain God. Notice what Solomon was really saying; he was not saying that he recognized that God really lived in heaven instead of in the temple. This is not his point all! His point is that even though he had built this house for God’s glory, he recognized that God could not be confined to this building. He came to this conclusion because he was aware that even heaven itself was incapable of containing or encompassing God! In other words he was fully aware that the form of God which could be seen sitting on the throne in heaven was by no means the fullness of what God was! God was such a being that he extended beyond that body, beyond heaven itself and in fact, he filled the entire universe!
So Solomon’s point was that he knew God’s presence would be in the Temple but he was fully aware that God’s presence could not be confined to any single place, because God by his very nature could not be confined to any one location! In other words, He exists everywhere at the same time! This is what “omnipresence” means. It means that at every moment God is simultaneously present in every place!
It is very clear that the Bible writers had a far more exalted concept of God than those who claim that he is not personally present in all places. In Acts 17:27,28, we find the apostle Paul making the following strange statement:
That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:27-28)
In order that we might better understand the point that Paul is making here we need to consider the circumstances under which he made the statement. This was the occasion when Paul debated with the scholars at Mars Hill. What he was trying to say to them was that, even though they did not know God and referred to him as, “the unknown God,” it was not hard to find him. Why was it not hard to find him? It was not hard because, “he is not far from every one of us.” In fact, just by existing, we naturally live within Him, or in other words, he surrounds us on all sides! Paul puts it this way, “in him we live, and move, and have our being.” He makes the same point in a different way in Ephesians 4:6.
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph 4:6)
How can we misunderstand the point that Paul is making here? God is above all, that is simple and easy to understand. He is superior in nature and authority to every other being in the universe, He is above all. But it also says He is, “through all,” and “in you all!” We accept the first part of the first as meaning just what it says, what need is there to make the second part of the verse figurative, or to deny the plain, simple meaning of the words? God is through all, and in all of us Christians because he is omnipresent. He exists in all places at the same time, this is why he is God and we are not. He is far superior to us and has abilities infinitely beyond ours. We cannot limit his capabilities just because we are limited.
In John chapter 4 we read of the incident where Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. The discussion he had with that woman is of great interest because he was commenting on the same exact issue that we are now examining. The Samaritans were people who were greatly despised by the Jews. They were people of Hebrew ancestry, but their bloodline had become corrupted through intermingling with other nations. The Jews would have nothing to do with them and considered them to be no better than dogs. The Samaritans however insisted that their people were actually more favored than the Jews because they were located in the correct place of worship, where the people of Israel had originally gathered to worship God centuries before. In other words they felt that God was more present at their location than in Jerusalem. This is the argument that the woman presented to Jesus.
Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:20-24)
Jesus responded to the woman’s statement by making two critical points. First of all he declared that the moment had arrived when worship would be centered neither in Samaria nor in Jerusalem. That was the first point, the special status of those two places was to be taken away. But the second point explained the reason why. The moment had arrived when the way men worshiped God was to undergo a great change. From this moment on the true worshipers would worship God in a way that was in harmony with his true nature! They would worship God in spirit and in truth. Let us notice that when they worshiped God in spirit and in truth they would no longer focus on either Samaria or Jerusalem as centers of worship. It is not that these places would change, it is that there would be a greater, a more true understanding of God and who he was and that this would lead to worshiping God in a more rational and reasonable way in keeping with who he really is.
Let us not misunderstand the main point: God is spirit, it is the understanding of this reality which takes away the focus on either Jerusalem or Samaria. God is of such a nature that he cannot be confined to one location. If a person thinks that he must go to Jerusalem or to Samaria in order to interact with God than this demonstrates that he does not understand the true nature of God. Understanding God’s spiritual nature brings us to the realization that wherever we are, God is there! There is no need to go to specific, set apart places in order to meet with God. The true worshipers recognize this, and Jesus declared that with his arrival the time had come for this great change in the thinking and worship of God’s people, because one of the reasons for his coming was to bring about this greater awareness of the true nature of God.
Another significant statement is Jesus’ comment in Matthew 10.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matt 10:29-30)
Let us consider the implications of this passage if God is not actually present in all places. What would Jesus mean by this statement? Well, if God’s omnipresence is by means of his angels, then what it would mean is that God has angels monitoring every bird, every insect, every minute thing, so that if a single bird dies, then the angel returns to heaven and reports it to God! Is this what Jesus meant by this statement? But some will insist that though he cannot be present in all places, still, God is able to see all things because he has something like telescopic eyes. He is able to sit in heaven and to look everywhere, though he cannot be everywhere. Amazing!
But the second half of the passage says even more. Jesus said that even the hairs of our heads are numbered! God is aware of every single hair on the head of every person, in a planet of eight billion people! How does God obtain this knowledge? Again we ask, does he have angels counting the hairs on our heads? When we lose one, do angels take note of it and report to God?
Personal – not by proxy
It is difficult to understand how we can conclude that God is not personally present with us. There are some verses in the Bible which are so pointed in this regard that it is clear that the Bible writers were focusing on giving us a proper understanding of this very point. Look at the following examples:
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1John 1:3)
How is it possible to have fellowship with a person if we are not in personal communication with that person? How can we call it fellowship if our contact with someone is through a third party who acts as a messenger? The word itself, “fellowship,” is focused on the experience of personal interaction. It is clear that this is the point that John was making in the verse quoted above. He was concerned that his readers should experience the same kind of personal relationship with the Father and the Son which he had experienced. In order to experience it they first had to understand that this experience was available and this is the reason why John wrote this letter. In his own words, “that you also may have fellowship with us.”
Presence vs Fellowship
We should note that just because God is present everywhere, this does not mean that everyone has fellowship with God. Yes, “fellowship,” means close, personal interaction, but there has to be an emphasis on the word interaction, and we might add, in a friendly, loving way. These are also aspects of true fellowship. This is why if you pass through a crowd in the streets, you do not claim to have fellowship with those people. Fellowship is more than simply being physically near, but it also includes interaction. Consider the following verse:
And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. (Gen 4:16)
This seems to be a contradiction of David’s statement in Psalm 139 where he claims that there was no place where he could go where he would not be in God’s presence:
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. (Ps 139:7-8)
But the point is, although Cain could never go anywhere where God was not present, yet he left the presence of the Lord in the sense that he no longer had fellowship with God. God’s presence was everywhere but he might as well have been a million miles away because from that day Cain had no more communion with him. The same thing happened to Jesus on Calvary; though the presence of God was surely surrounding him in a practical way, yet there was no communion between him and God, no ray of light, no fellowship and so he was as utterly alone as if God was billions of light years away.
Dwelling in another person
The Bible does not only teach that God is present in all places, but it goes further in teaching that God actually dwells in His people. There can be no mistaking this message in the Bible, it is clearly taught in several places.
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (2Cor 6:16)
A temple is the dwelling place of a deity. In this case God specifically declares that we are his dwelling place, the place where he lives. How is this possible if God is not omnipresent? But does this not mean that he is present in the sense that we have His word in our hearts and minds? Does God’s presence come to us in the form of the attitude and the character which we possess which are a reflection of God’s character? Some passages may give us the impression that this is how it is, that what we really have is the words of God and in this sense we may be said to have him living in us. However, there are other passages which may not be interpreted in this way. Look at Jesus’ promise of the Comforter for example:
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:16-17)
In this striking statement Jesus presents several unmistakable facts. First of all, he speaks of the Comforter as someone who is to arrive at some time in the future, someone who was not yet present with God’s people, but who would come in response to the request of Jesus. In John 7:38,39 John clearly tells us that this Comforter (here referred to as “the holy ghost”), had not yet been given at the time when Jesus was still here on this earth, and would not come until he was glorified after returning to heaven. If this had reference to some experience with the word of God, then in what sense could it be said that the Comforter was still a future experience, since God’s people had always had the word of God? Clearly, Jesus was not saying, “I will pray the Father and he will give you a new set of words, or a different understanding of the word of God.” He was speaking of a person, or a personality, a living, intelligent entity to whom He referred as, “he.”
Secondly, Jesus stated that this Comforter was already dwelling with them, but in the future would be in them. If the Comforter referred to an experience with the word of God, then how could the word be said to be living with them, but not in them, yet when Jesus was glorified it would be in them? Careful examination makes it clear that Jesus was referring to Himself. He was with them, but not in them, yet in the future, after his return to heaven, He would be glorified, re-invested with all the powers of divinity (including omnipresence) and therefore, He would return to live not simply with his people, but actually to live in them!
Some try to counter this clear biblical teaching with human reasoning. They claim that it is not possible for one person to literally live inside another. I am not sure where they obtain the authority to make such a dogmatic statement when there is no Scriptural basis for it. It seems to be purely based on human reasoning and speculation. In fact, the Bible makes it absolutely clear that it is possible for a spiritual being to literally live within a human being. Not only is it possible, but there is the record of it happening over and over in the Bible. Here is one instance:
And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? (Matt 8:28-29)
Here we find evil spirits (not just one, but a legion of them) living inside two men. They literally lived in the men and when it was clear that Jesus was about to cast them out, they asked permission to enter into a herd of swine and were given that permission. If it is possible for evil spirits to live inside the bodies of human beings, how can we say that God is unable to do the same thing? Evil spirits take possession of human beings against their will, yes, this is true. But God can do the same thing with our permission and the Bible tells us that this is what He does. He does not take over and compel us to act contrary to our will as evil spirits do when they come in, but he lives His life through us just as fully, when we give him the right to live in us and to carry out his will in us.
Power in God’s presence
The presence of God is the greatest element in the life of a Christian. Jesus said that the key to entering into the kingdom of God is to have the experience of the new birth (John 3:3-6). In this new birth, the spirit of God comes to us and brings the presence of God and Jesus to live in us. In this way we are made a part of the divine family and are acknowledged as the children of God. This is the key not only to receiving eternal life, but is also the key to living the life of victory here and now in this earth. This is the point that Jesus was making when he spoke the following words:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)
John repeated the same truth when he wrote:
Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. (1John 3:6)
We live the life of victory and no longer have our lives dominated by sin when Jesus lives in us. But we should recognize that Jesus lives his life through us with our cooperation. The experience is not like that of demon possession where a human being loses control of his faculties and is completely dominated by the spirit entity. With Jesus, it is by our cooperation that he lives through us, he is not an invader, not a compelling tyrant. So he tells us of the need to abide in him, and to remain in the relationship where he abides in us. In this relationship we bring forth much fruit and live above sin. Paul puts it another way when he admonishes us,
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Gal 5:25)
This article is far from comprehensive. The evidence in support of God’s omnipresence is overwhelming and it is most remarkable that Christians should be the ones to try to limit God and in fact, in my opinion, to belittle him and to diminish his attributes! The God of the universe cannot be brought down to the level of human limitations and capabilities. Let us not join with those who hold unworthy ideas of God.
Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. (Ps 78:41)
(Source: Restoration Ministry)