Is God really present in every place? I know that’s what the Bible says, but it doesn’t always seem like it, does it? Even as I write this, Islamic terrorists are attacking our embassies in Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia. This comes on the heels of their 9/11 attack on our embassy in Libya and the murder of our ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three members of our diplomatic service. I hope and pray that both they and their families sensed the comfort of God’s presence in their final frightening hours. But from a distance, it’s difficult to sense anything beyond the evil rage and violence inspired by the false god of Islam.
Nietzsche, an unbelieving German philosopher, triggered a whole movement based on the apparent absence of God from the world. He concluded, “God is dead!” Reacting to this mistaken notion, a bumper sticker came out several years ago. Maybe you’ve seen it. It reads, “Nietzsche is dead. Signed God.”
I recognize that there are times when it’s difficult to sense God’s presence. But in those cases, the problem lies with us, not with God. For in spite of our doubts and disappointments, the truth is that God has never been closer to us than He is this very moment. Lady Julian of Norwich wrote, “God is closer than our own souls.” King David confirms that in Psalm 139:7-10 where he asks the question: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, 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.”
The point is: God is present wherever we go. That’s unwelcome news to those who try to hide from God. Jonah did that. When God commanded him to preach to the Ninevites, he boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction “to flee from the presence of the LORD.” Once aboard, he went down to the hold of the ship and fell asleep. Have you ever tried that? To escape God’s presence by traveling, sleeping, or dulling your mind with a stupor-inducing substance? How well did it work? In Jonah’s case, the Hound of Heaven tracked him down in the midst of the sea and disciplined him until he came to repentance.
Sometimes it’s helpful to define something by saying what it isn’t, instead of what it is. Let me try that. One thing God’s presence is not is an awareness of everything going on in the world. Some folks cannot conceive of a Person who is literally present in every place. So they redefine God’s omnipresence in an administrative sense – like the British Empire on which the sun was said never to set. In other words, God is aware of everything and in control of everything, but not actually there Himself. But that isn’t what the Bible means by omnipresent. Instead, it means just what it says – God is personally present at every point in the universe. Or as A.W. Tozer put it, “God is our environment as the sea is to the fish and the air is to the bird. He is over all things, under all things, and outside all things without being enclosed or excluded by any of them.”
Another mistaken notion about God’s presence is that God is spread throughout the universe like a thin layer of jelly on a huge piece of bread. That’s the New Age concept of God – that God is in everything and everything is a part of God. The pantheist believes that each point in the universe is a part of God, so that one part of Him is here, another part is there, and still another part is over there. But that’s not what the Bible means by omnipresent. When we say that God is everywhere, we mean that the entirety of God’s person is present in every place.
A missionary to India told of seeing Hindu worshipers tapping on trees and stones whispering, “Are you there?” hoping to find a piece of God’s presence. The Christian answer to that question is good news: “Yes, God is here, but not just part of Him! All of Him is present in every place.” This was the good news Paul shared with the people of Athens. Pointing to their idol shrines, he said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17:24-28)
But you say, “If God is everywhere, why don’t I sent His presence in my life?” I asked that question every Sunday as a child sitting in church, trying to feel God’s presence, but never finding Him. Why not? I attended a liberal church where no one told me that I needed a Savior. Isaiah 59:2 says the problem is, “Your sins have cut you off from God!” That means the first step in finding God’s presence is dealing with our sins. I liken it to radio waves which are always streaming past us, whether we realize it or not. Consequently, who is at fault if we fail to pick them up? Not the Transmitter! The problem lies with us, the receivers.
So check yourself before we stop. Have you believed in Jesus for salvation? If not, call on Him today and have your every sin washed away. “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Roman 10:13) Or maybe you believe, but you’re involved in something that’s displeasing to God and keeping you from enjoying His presence like an immoral thought life, bitterness toward others, or a conscience made guilty by lying lips, a loose tongue, or behavior unbecoming a Christian. If so, accept the blame for your sins and turn to Jesus for cleansing and forgiveness. David was right! “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2)
(Next time – How God’s Presence Helps Us in Trouble)