Our church’s Shorter Catechism teaches us that our God is infinite in his being. And by saying that he is infinite in his being it is saying that God is omnipresent. That is, he is present everywhere. There are no restrictions or limitations on where he can be. You and I are limited, because we can only be in one place at the one time. However, the Lord our God is present everywhere at all times. You and I have to be somewhere and we can’t be somewhere else at the same time. However, God is not somewhere; he is everywhere.
And the Bible testifies to this very clearly. In 1 Kings 8 Solomon had finished the temple which was to be God’s dwelling place among his people. And at that time Solomon said the following:
But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!
Solomon knew that God cannot be contained inside a temple. That is, the temple could not confine or restrict him as if that’s the only place he could be. In fact, Solomon also said that the heavens and the earth cannot contain him. They cannot contain him because he transcends the heavens and the earth. He fills the heavens and the earth with his presence, but his presence is beyond the heavens and the earth.
Then, in the reading from Psalm 139, the psalmist says:
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.
Wherever we might go, God is there. But it’s not because he follows us around, the way a faithful dog might follow us wherever we go, but it’s because he is present everywhere by nature.
Proverbs 15:3 tells us that the eyes of the Lord are everywhere and he keeps watch on the wicked and the good. By saying his eyes are everywhere, the writer means he is everywhere.
According to Isaiah 57:15 he lives in a high and holy place as well as with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit. So, he’s in heaven, enthroned over his creation, but he’s also with his people at one and the same time.
In Jeremiah 23, God asks:
‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.
Because he is omnipresent, filling the heavens and the earth, he’s never far away and no one is able to hide from him.
This is what God says in Amos 9:
Though they dig down to the depths of the grave, from there my hand will take them. Though they climb up to the heavens, from there I will bring them down. Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from me at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them. Though they are driven into exile by their enemies, there I will command the sword to slay them. I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.
Because God is omnipresent, we can never hide from him or go beyond his reach.
Jonah, of course, tried to run from the Lord, when he went on board that ship bound for Tarshish. But the Lord sent a great storm and then he sent a great fish. And Jonah discovered that it’s impossible to run from the Lord.
And in Acts 17 Paul told the Athenians that God is not far from each one of us, because in him we live and move and have our being. We exist in him because his presence surrounds us everywhere.
The Bible testifies throughout that our God is present everywhere. He is not confined to one place at a time, so that when he’s in one place, he cannot be in another place. No, our God is everywhere.
Errors to avoid
The theologians teach us to be careful not to think of God as stretching himself out or as spreading himself out in order to fill space, the way we might stand up straight to make ourselves look taller or we might stretch our hands in the air to reach up high. We have bodies which can be stretched to a limited degree, but God does not have a body like us and he doesn’t fill space by stretching himself or by extending himself. Again, we spread out the duvet to cover our bed. But God is not a physical object like a duvet which can be spread out like that. So, we’re not to think of God spreading himself out or stretching himself out.
And, of course, we have to make room for ourselves. If we’re confined in a small space, we’ll move things around to give ourselves more room, because two physical objects can’t be in the same place at the same time. And if you and I want to go through the same doorway, one of us has to give way to the other, because we can’t fit through the door at the same time. But God doesn’t take up space the way we do.
And we mustn’t think that God is present everywhere by dividing himself up so that part of him is present with me and part of him is present with you and part of him is present with someone else. God cannot be divided into parts and he’s therefore present everywhere with all of his being. He fills and surrounds all things all of the time with all of his being.
However, anyone who has read the Bible knows that the Bible talks about God being near to some people and far away from others. It talks about God coming and going, ascending and descending. This would seem to suggest that he is not present everywhere. However, we must always remember that the Bible has to use language we can understand to convey to us truth about God. For instance, the Bible refers to God’s mouth, not because he has a mouth, but to convey to us that he speaks. It refers to his ear, not because he has an ear, but to convey to us that he hears. It refers to his arm, not because he has an arm, but to convey to us that he is strong. And when it refers to God drawing near to his people, it’s to convey to us that he is present with them to bless them and to help them. When it talks about God coming to judge the world, it means he is present to punish the wicked. When it talks about God being far from the wicked, he is still present with them, because he is present everywhere, but it’s conveying to us that he’s unwilling to help them. We are not far away from God in a physical or spatial sense, but we’re separated from him because of our sin. And those who flee from him, do not flee from him physically, but they flee from him by refusing to do his will. And as the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck says, going to God and seeking his face does not consist in making a pilgrimage, but in self-abasement and repentance. We don’t draw near to God by going to a holy place, but by humbling ourselves before him, confessing our sins and turning from them. And though the Bible refers to holy places — such as the burning bush and Mount Sinai and the tabernacle and the temple — we should understand these as being places where God manifested his presence in a special way.
And God’s omnipresence should affect how we think of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus. We say, of course, that God the Son came into the world when he was born as a baby. That is true. However, the Son of God, being God, has always been present in the world. And so, what we mean is that God the Son manifested his presence in the world in a unique way when he became flesh and lived among us. And we also talk about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But the Holy Spirit, being God, has always been present in the world. And so, what we mean is that the Holy Spirit manifested his presence in a new way on the Day of Pentecost.
There’s an old belief called deism which says that after God created the world, he, in sense, sat back and left the world to its own devices. He put the world in motion, but now he’s not involved in the world and in what happens here. But the doctrine of God’s omnipresence makes clear that deism is wrong, because our God is not cut off from the world he made, and he has not sat back and left us to our own devices. No, our Creator is very much involved in the world he made, because he is present with us everywhere and always.
And he’s present with us everywhere and always, not merely to see what’s going on, like a disinterested observer, but to direct and control what’s going on. He’s present with us as the Great King who has all power and authority to rule and reign over all things and to work out his plans and purposes. He is present with his enemies to judge and punish them and he is present with his people to save them.
And so, when the Bible refers to God’s presence with his people, it does so to comfort us. The purpose of Psalm 139 — which makes some people nervous because it makes clear that God is always with us and he knows our thoughts — is to comfort us, because the psalmist says:
When I awake,
I am still with you.
God does not leave us alone, but he is with us to help us. The same idea appears in Psalm 23, which teaches us that even when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t need to be afraid, because God is with us. And Psalm 46 is a comfort to believers, because it reassures us that God is our refuge and strength and an ever-present or a very present help in trouble. When I’m in trouble, I don’t need to be afraid, because God is with me to protect me. And Romans 8 reassures us that nothing in all creation — whether present or future — will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
This is our comfort every day. When we face all the trials and tribulations of this troubled life, we are not on our own, but our God is with us to help us. Indeed, through faith in Christ, we become little temples of the Holy Spirit, because he dwells in us. And even after we die, we will not be separated from our God, because he will take our souls into his presence immediately. Absent from the body, present with the Lord. And he promises that when Christ appears again, we will be with him in body and soul for ever and for ever.