Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Omnipresence:  present in all places at all times.[1]
In a recent family theological discussion, I asked the minis what “omnipresence” means.  “It means that God is here right now; and in Heaven at the same time,” replied the youngest. 
“And in China,” chimed the elder. 
“And Breckenridge,” further the younger. 
“And Alaska! And Florida!  And D.C.!  And the moon!” 
The lists of and’s grew ever longer as each tried to out-distance the other’s how-far-and-still-how-close-God-is.  For a 10 and 8 year old with concrete thinking, this understanding of omnipresence is a good base.  Yet as I assume you, reader, are no longer a child and therefore capable of reasoning above that of a concrete level, I will ask you to be mindful of the following before we delve into heavy thinking about what omnipresence means:
1.        All of God’s attributes are expressed in relationship synergetically.  No one is more important than another.  They cannot contradict each other; they are expressed equally in perfect harmony.  Thus, as we consider one attribute, we must also be mindful of God’s other attributes and how the one we are examining fits with the ones we are not.
2.        God is not a material being.  He existed, eternally, before matter was created.  He existed, eternally, before time was created.  He existed, eternally, before space was created.  Therefore, God exists outside the bounds of time, space, and matter.[2]  
3.        Many of God’s attributes find no mirror expression in humanity as we are material beings who are bound to the laws of matter, space, and time.  God’s omnipresence is an attribute that has no similar expression in human being, thus we cannot utilize our existence to comprehend certain attributes, of which omnipresence is one.        
Returning to omnipresence: it is oft understood as my children stated, “God is everywhere all the time.”  However, while this limited definition aligns with God’s attribute of omnipotence (He is all-powerful), it becomes problematic when held in conjunction with God’s holiness.  For if God is literally in all places at all times, He is then necessarily present in places of unrighteousness, such as a sinner’s heart, or even hell.  Yet, according to Scripture, these are places where God is not.  People who do not believe in and subsequently follow Jesus Christ as Savior will experience an eternity apart from the presence of God, after they die.  The apart-ness of Hell, juxtaposed against the presence of God in the New Heaven and New Earth described in Revelation, implies that God will not be in Hell.  Thus, God is not materially everywhere at all times. 
However, this does not mean that He does not have the power and sovereignty to be in all places at all times.  To ascertain the truth of this attribute, the most common scriptural evidence is found in Psalm 139:7-15, in which the Psalmist writes: 
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Scholars recognize that this psalm utilizes the juxtaposition of dual images such as darkness and light, and heights and depths, to illustrate the point that nothing occurs outside of God’s sovereignty.  Because these polarized extremes in Jewish literature were used to symbolize totality, the imagery in Psalm 139 does not imply that God is physically everywhere at all times, rather that God’s omnipotence {all-powerfull-ness} is available and able to be exercised in all places at all times.  
Ray Dunning, in Grace, Faith, and Holiness, states that verses 7 through 15 of Psalm 139 are an allegorical image of God’s sovereignty and divine love.  Thus, the Psalmist “was making a religious assertion of the inescapable presence of God, not proposing some ontological theory {a theory relating to God’s being or existence}.”[3]  Dunning suggests that the main idea in these verses “is not a question of whether God fills every space,” rather, “it means that there is no place closed to the sovereign power of God as holy love.”[4]  In other words, God is sovereign everywhere.  Scholars like Dunning do not consider the attribute of omnipresence to be an existential description of God’s place in space or time; instead, to these theologians, God’s omnipresence means that His sovereignty and love can be actualized in any place at any time, because He is all-powerful.
Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, in Integrated Theology, agree with Dunning in that Psalm 139 is not a treatise on God’s temporal location.  However, they appropriately note that limiting God’s omnipresence to only His divine sovereignty creates the idea of “an impersonal ‘God,’” who therefore does not express His personal presence in His creation.[5]  This line of thinking means that while God can be near to His followers in relationship through his providence, love, and power, He would remain ontologically remote.[6]  The problem with this idea is that the Holy Spirit is ontologically present with every believer.  This actual presence is a necessary aspect of God’s love and care for His children.[7] 
In order to hold the truths of God’s holiness (there are places He is not) in conjunction with His promised, personal presence through the Holy Spirit, Lewis and Demarest refer to Augustine’s proposition that affirmed God as “wholly everywhere and [as] contained in no place;” so that God’s being is not partly in heaven and partly on earth, but His entire being is wholly in heaven and wholly on earth at the same time.[8]  Thus God, as an infinite Being existing outside the bounds of matter, space, and time, can be fully present in Heaven (and thus separate from unrighteousness) and fully, personally present, with His creation, as His personal presence is a necessary aspect of His omnipresence and is inseparable from His love and care.[9]  
Where Theology can go wrong:
As we see in the differences between Lewis & Demarest and Dunning’s views, the distinct perspective with which one views God’s omnipresence is a vital determinant for the whole of one’s theology.  If a person believes that God is physically and literally present in all places at all times, this view has the potential to lead to the idea that God is in everything.  This variant of omnipresence is in direct opposition to God’s transcendence over and God’s holiness in relation to His creation.  The idea that God’s omnipresence places the divine inside of creation also contradicts the premise that God created the universe, ex nihilo {out of nothing}.   Aside from the absurdity of God somehow separating a part of His absolute infinite whole into a now non-infinite part (thus rendering His absolute infiniteness non-infinite and thereby diminishing all His other attributes by division thereof), were God to place a piece of the divine into any aspect of creation, it would then mean that He did not create the universe out of nothing {creation ex nihilo}, but rather out of something -- a reduced piece of the divine whole.  This idea, then, contradicts the scriptures and is therefore erroneous.[10]       
God’s omnipresence is not expressly a temporal location, but rather it is the assertion that there is nowhere outside of God’s sovereignty, so that He, as an infinite Being outside the bounds of matter, space, and time, is able to be fully and personally present concurrently in Heaven to preserve His holiness, as well as anywhere in creation at any time in history.            

[1]  Accessed 10/8/13 at 11:38 am.  The first known use of omnipresent occurred in 1609 – to describe God.  What was once a term invented in attempts to describe the One, True God has since devolved into ubiquitous use to ascribe godly attributes to false deities.  This is where errant Theology can lead. 
[2] The obvious exception to this statement was the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  However, this was a specific, historical event that occurred within the bounds of the physical universe (expressed in material state and confined by the laws of time and space); and to which we will return later in this series. 
[3]Dunning, H. Ray. Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology, (Beacon Hill Press: Kansas City, 1988) page 202.  Definition: mine.
[4] Ibid.
[5]Demarest, Bruce and Gordon Lewis.  Integrated Theology: Knowing the Ultimate Reality of the Living God, Volume 1.  (Academie Books: Grand Rapids, 1987) page 181.
[6] Ibid., page 182.
[7] Exodus 3
[8] Demarest and Lewis, Integrated Theology, page 182.  Emphasis, mine.
[9] Ibid, page 179.
[10] Matt 13:35; 19:4,8; 24:21; 25:34 | Mark 10:6; 13:19 | Luke 11:50 | John 8:44; 17:24 | Rom 1:20 | Eph 1:4 | 2 Thes 2:13 | Heb 1:10; 4:3; 9:26 | 1 Pet 1:20 | 2 Pet 3:4 | 1 Jn 1:1; 2:13-14; 3:8 | Rev 3:14; 13:8; 17:8   

Curious about where we’ve been during this study?  Click on the links below to see more.  


No comments:

Post a Comment