The following was adapted from a sermon delivered by Jacob Abshire on February 27, 2013. It was preached at Christian Tabernacle’s The Journey, a Wednesday Night Bible Study. It was part of a series on the foundation teachings about God’s nature.
Picture this if you can. It is the middle of the tenth century, before Christ. You are a Jew. Part of your heritage and history is recorded in the books of the Bible. You were raised to be familiar with the stories of the Exodus, the parting of the waters, the pillar of smoke and fire that lead your ancestors. You know about the early tabernacles. You know about the death of Aaron’s two sons for their incorrect offerings. You know of the fire that would burn up the acceptable offerings. You remember the thunderstorm on top of the mountain where Moses met with God. The dwelling of the Lord is near your heart and you are waiting for a promise that a new temple would be erected and God would once again, dwell among your people.
The time had come. Some 30,000 laborers along with 80,000 stone cutters and 70,000 others worked rigorously for the past seven years. The construction took longer than normal constructions this size because it was elaborate and peculiar. Gold, silver and other precious stones were used. Special cedar was imported. And the first temple of God is now complete.
Your king, Solomon, stood before the altar and gathered with him were the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel and countless others. You were among the crowd watching him as he raised his hands to the heavens and began to pray a prayer of dedication recognizing God as the faithful promise keeper who promised to dwell with His people again in a temple.
While you were wondering how God would dwell in the temple, you were watching with great anticipation. Solomon, as if to interrupt his dedication, begins to pray this: “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). Solomon, in his consideration of God, recognized that although he built a temple for God to express Himself among the people, could not be contained in a building. Rather, God is omnipresent.
What Solomon says here, I think, were taught to him by his father David and by the end of the night, I want to show you this as we will return to a psalm of David where he writes about the omnipresence of God. Omnipresent is our focus tonight as our Big Word. It is quite easy to define. The prefix “omni” means “all” or “every” with the context of infinitude. Of course, “present” relates to us nearness of proximity or taking up a location.
You might remember role call in school. Before class began, the teacher would go through a list of student names one at a time. And, as a name was called, the student would say either “here” or “present” to let the teacher know that they were in the classroom. That might be a helpful way to think of being present. So you can put “omni” or “all” with present and say that it means that God is all-present.
Know Your Limits
Although the word is easy to define, it is not easy to comprehend. Even more so, it is impossible to fully apprehend. See, we chose big words because big things make us feel small and tonight, I want you to feel small when you think about God. You know, no one stands on the edge of the Grand Canyon and says, “Huh, is that it?” But many of us, when standing before the God who made the Grand Canyon say exactly that. We are unimpressed and unmoved. He is not big to us.
I think this is because we have put our limitations on God and failed to see His bigness. You know there is something about knowing something experientially that helps us feel the weight of the knowledge. For instance, you can see a photo of the Grand Canyon and it move you to awe. You can then visit the Grand Canyon in person and your second hand learning would now be developed into a more deepening awareness of just how magnificent it really is. But you would never have the rush of fear that can only come by falling off the side and into the bottom of the Grand Canyon to really feel its magnificence. Of course, the feeling would be instantly gone by the time you landed.
My son came home from school once and repeated something he heard. He said, “You don’t know until you try.” I said to him, “You know, that is bad advice. Tell me son, have you ever tried to put your head under the wheel of a moving semi-truck?” He quickly said, “No, that would kill me.” I think he got my point. Even if we were to attempt to learn how it feels to have a large truck run us over, we would still not know because the weight of the truck would instantly kill us. We cannot handle such knowledge.
We ned to know our limitations. And when we do, we need to not use them when thinking of God. For instance, I am here. You are there. I am not there where you are unless I move from here. This kind of logic is real and plain to us. We understand it as our limitations of presence. God, on the other hand, does not have this limitation. And there are things about Him that would kill us to know or experience.
Moses learned this when he was on the mountain. He wanted to see God but God refused because it would kill Moses. Rather, God hides himself and passes by a rock so that the trail of His glory might reflect on the stones and Moses might catch a glimpse of the reflection. Of course, you remember that Moses saw a tad of that reflection of God’s trailing glory and it was enough to give him a fluorescent sunburn. Moses quickly learned his limitations.
God is Spirit
We need to be aware of our limitations and God’s unlimited, infinite nature. A good place to start is with John 4:24. This is the story about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. Since Jesus was not one to waist his conversations, He quickly turns it into a religious one and she says to Him, “Our people worship on the mountain and your people worship in Jerusalem, so which is it?” I’m paraphrasing. Jesus responds by saying, “A time will come when true worshippers will worship me everywhere because I am spirit.”
The first thing we need to know about God is that He is all together different than us from the get go. He is spirit. And this is not to mean a spirit like you see on TV. He is not a gaseous light or fog that floats around and appears in strange times. Those depictions confine “spirits” to physical places. Fog and gas is an element of matter, though not as dense as flesh so that you can see through. God is not made up of matter and does not need space and time to exist. As spirit, He is something all together different from us and even the angels that He created. So being spirit, which is really unknown to us, God is really not limited to anything that we know and understand in creation. This really gives us a blank slate to start with as we begin to shape what it means to be omnipresent.
God is Outside of Creation
There are two things that we need to know next. These might be a little heady but I want you to hang in there with me. It will condition your mind to think in unlimited terms so that you don’t mistakenly put God back into your own natural limitations. Turn to Genesis 1:1. I’m sure you know what it says, but turn there to see it in possibly a new light.
While you are turning there, I want to give you a little bit of information, you might already know this. We can reduce all of life to basically three dependent and necessary elements: time, space, and matter. Time is the measurement of change. Space is the measurement of distance. Matter is the measurement of substance. None of these basic elements can exist without the other. If there is not time for space and matter, then there can be no space and matter. The same goes for the other two. In order for all things (that is all things created) to exist, all three of these basic elements must exist. Understood? Now this is not a science lesson. I am telling you this because you are going to see it in Genesis 1:1.
Look at it with me. “In the beginning,” that is time. Before there was a beginning, there was no time. Makes sense, right? The word “beginning” is a reference to a starting point of time. So there we have time in Genesis 1:1. “God created the heavens,” that is space. The word “heaven” is often used to refer to space above, the space within, the space in the outer. So here we have space. “And the earth,” so what is that? It is matter. Adam was made from the earth. That is substance. Matter is the stuff. Space is the place that stuff takes up and time is the change that happens when stuff and space happen. Pretty interesting, yea?
As fun as that is to see, it is not what I want you to dwell on. Rather it is what I didn’t comment on. “God created” is where I want you to think. God created what? Time, space, and matter. Do you know what existed before time, space, and matter was created? Nothing but God. There was no time, no space, no matter. Just God. Since this is true, God is therefore outside of creation. He is outside of time, space, and matter.
Think of it in easier, closer terms. I’m sure that at some point in your life, you made a paper airplane. Then you threw in the air and watched it fly. Did you ever think to yourself as the creator of the plane? Did you ever wonder if the plane would exist had you not existed first? Did you ever wonder that there was nothing in or about that plane that you depended on? You know why, if you needed the plane in order to exist, then you would not exist unless the plane existed first and guess what? Since you made the plane, the plane would never exist and therefore, neither would you. I know its a brain teaser but try to follow it. This is an absurdity called “self-creation.” There is no such thing. In order for something to make something else, the first something must exist and be independent of the created something.
So God is outside of creation. I know that this is difficult to understand but I think of it like this. One evening before Bible Study at our house, a good friend of ours brought a book over called Rose Book of Christian and Bible History Time Lines. One of us held the book cover and another one of us grabbed the last page and walked more than ten feet to reveal that all of the pages were bound together to make one long illustrated diagram of history beginning with Adam and ending some time near today. It is a fascinating thing to see and you can get lost in it for hours. When I first saw this, I wondered if this is what it is like to be God; outside of creation and seeing it all before Him as one long event. God is outside of creation.
Creation is Inside of God
Now, turn to the New Testament real quick. Turn to Colossians 1:17. This is very familiar verse as well. Since God is outside of creation, He can easily insert Himself into it at any time and in any place and however He wants. But there is something more. Paul wrote this, “And he,” that is God, “is before all things.” This is what we just discovered in Genesis 1:1. God is outside of creation and before time, space, matter was created. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
It is important for us to see that God is not only outside of creation, or all things created, but all things are inside God. Now please don’t revert back to your limitations. We have made it so far. Do not think in terms of a universe dwelling in the stomach of the Lord. He has no stomach. He has no body. He is spirit. He has not form. He is outside of creation and here, we see that creation is inside of Him. Now just to speak plainly and reasonably, if there is no place to exist where God is not, then there is no place to exist without God. In other words, there is no such thing as outside of God. Therefore, everything that God made is inside of His presence.
This is important because if God were to sneeze or blink an eye, all of creation would cease to exist. (Of course, God is not human so that He could sneeze or blink.) All things created require God to hold them together. He must be everywhere because everything needs Him to exist. So creation is “in him” and He is outside of creation. Both at the same time. There is no contradiction there.
Three Aspects of Omnipresence
With these two things in mind, we can now think of what it means for God to be omnipresent. Now I want you to know that the Bible never instructs on God’s omnipresence, not in a didactical or teaching way. It just assumes it. All over the Bible, it assumes that the reader has a brain and understands that it is impossible for a being to self-created and to be dependent on its creation and be God at the same time. The Biblical authors assume that you understand that God is necessarily omnipresent because if He wasn’t, He would not be God. One preacher captured this by saying that “If God is not everywhere, then he is not God anywhere.”
Now there are three things to tuck in your mind when you seek to explain what it means to be omnipresent:
First, God is in all places. There is no place where God is not. This just makes sense. It has to be. If there is a place where God exists, then it is not a place at all. The two concepts can’t go together. Place requires God. Time requires God. Matter requires God. And since God is outside of creation and creation is inside of God, then God is in all places.
Turn to Jeremiah 23 for this. Here we find God’s prophet receiving God’s word. God is furious with the people because false prophets have intruded and lead the people astray. So God is condemning them and warns them by saying, “Am I a God at hand … and not a God far away?” This is a rhetorical question. He means that He is close by and far away. He is here and He is there. “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” Can man hide from God. Does God not see everything? He is everywhere. Of course He does. Finally, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Remember that creation is in Him. So all of creation is filled with Him. God is in all places.
Second, God is in all times. He is not just in all places, but He is in all places in all times. Remember that the entire time line of creation is in Him so he feels not only all places, but all times. In Revelation 4:8 we find the angels worshipping saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come!” That is past, present, and future. God is in the past, the present, the future.
Think of how wondrous that is. You know that right now, God is two weeks ago just as much as He is with us right here and now? Do you also see that while God is with us here and now, He is also with us weeks from now? But get this, He is there now, not later. We, who ware contained within time, will see Him later, but He is there already.
Third and probably most important. God is in all places and in all times, and all of Him is there where He is. You know we seem to think of God like pizza. It has become a tradition in our house to order pizza on Friday nights. We get the pizza and open it on the counter and kids rush in and grab a slice each and sit at the table to eat. My wife and I stand in the kitchen and enjoy our own slices. We can all say that we all have pizza, right? However, we cannot all say that we all have all of the pizza. You know why? We divided the pizza up among us so that we all have a piece of the pizza, but not all of the pizza.
We tend to limit God like the limitations of the pizza. We think that God’s head is here and His hands are there and His feet are over there. But that is not the case. He is not limited to matter and space. He is spirit. He can be everywhere in every time and be there in fullness. Watch again how the angels worship God in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The whole earth is full of His glory. He fills the earth. He fills creation with all of Himself.
There with you now is the fullness of God. And here with me is the fullness of God. We are not sharing pieces of Him. We are encompassed by all of Him. And we were in time passed and will in time future. We will here. We will there. We will always be in God’s full presence because creation is full of his glory! Isn’t that wonderful?
King David on the Omnipresence of God
I told you in the beginning that Solomon learned about God’s omnipresence from his father and wanted to show you that. The time has come for us to go there and see what David thought. We find him writing about God’s omnipresence in Psalm 139, verses 7-12. Before it, David is recognizing that God is omniscient, He knows all things. And he attributes this to God’s omnipresence. Since God is everywhere, there is nothing hidden from His vision. So read with me beginning with verse 7, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?”
You remember that Jonah had to learn this. Remember really quick that God told him to go preach to the Ninevites. Nineveh was east of Jonah and he didn’t want to go so he turned west to, as the Bibles says, leave the presence of God. Of course, nothing was west but water, so Jonah hops in a boat and sets sail to go further west, running from the presence of God. The Bible says that he went to sleep in the bottom of the boat away from the presence of God. And, you know the story: a storm comes and he is cast into the sea and sinks to the bottom where a fish swallows him. And there in the belly of the fish, he finds God. Funny isn’t it. There in the belly he realizes that God is everywhere and he cannot go anywhere to flee from God’s presence. Well that is what David is saying here.
He adds, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Now stop for a moment to think about that. It is easy for us to say that God is in heaven. But did you know that God is in hell as well? He is not there being tormented, He is there tormenting. In hell, God is the one expressing His wrath on sin. So He is in hell just like He is in heaven, God is only expressing different characteristics of His attributes. Remember, there is no place that exists where God is not. He is above. He is below.
Next, “If I take the wings of the morning.” This is an expression of the eastern sun rise. “And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.” This is an expression of wester sea line. He is saying this essentially, “If I look up, if I look down, if I look right, if I look left, you are there.” Verse 10, “Even there you hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” Now he is getting practical and it is good for us to do the same.
What does God’s all-presence mean to us? David says, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” His point is this, not even the darkness hides things from God. He sees everything because He is everywhere and nothing is secret to Him.
Now all that we are seeing tonight will mean one of two things to you. If you are not saved, if you have not acknowledged that you are a sinner in need of a righteous savior and that Christ is your savior who paid your price on the cross so that you might have His righteousness and see the Lord, then what we’ve talked about tonight should make you tremble. It should terrorize you. You see, you might be fine right now in God’s presence but a day will come when you will experience God’s presence in a way that is terrible and inescapable. If this is you tonight, please ignore the rest of what I say and turn to God in prayer and ask Him to save you.
On the other hand, if you are in Christ, He is your savior and Lord, you have been saved by Him and you love God, then what we’ve discussed tonight should be very comforting. You see, God is with you and taking care of you. When your wife is suffering cancer, God is with you. When you daughter is thrown out a car in a collision and near death, God is with her and you. He is there weeping with you. He is there during those joyous times smiling as you do. He is there feeling the pressure as you do and He is there to comfort you as you need Him.
My friends, when you feel peace during a time of turmoil, or joy during a time of suffering, that is God’s presence. He is fully with you where ever you are and whenever you are. And all Him is there. Additionally, when you are tempted to sin in secret, know that He is also there to help you triumph that temptation. He sees your sin and is drawing you to repent and pray.
God is with us now. He will be with us forever and you will never be alone. Take some time now and think quietly about this in your heart.