By Our Correspondent
What Does Omnipresent Mean? – Latin Origin
As a young girl, visiting a little street-corner church in Chicago, I heard a preacher quote Matthew 18:20: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It was a great promise, but it stirred up confusion and wonder in my heart: Is God with “two or three” in Chicago and “two or three” over in China—at the same time?
I had my first doubts about God based on my belief system of what I could see, feel and understand, rather than on what God tells us about Himself in scripture. Years later, when I became a Christ-follower and examined biblical concepts for myself, God opened my “eyes of understanding.” Though the word, “omnipresence,” doesn’t appear in the Bible, the concept is clear in Matthew 18:20 and many other scriptures.
At college I discovered the prefix in the word “omnipresent” comes from Latin—“omni” means “all.” A couple of other words in biblical studies refer to God with that same prefix. “Omnipotent” means all-powerful, and “omniscient” means all-knowing. “Omnipresent” is easy to define: all-present or present everywhere. That doesn’t mean omnipresence is a simple concept.
God’s Omnipresence is Biblical – but Often Misunderstood
God’s omnipresence isn’t always understood or represented. Omnipresence is not pantheism. In the Greek, “pantheism” is the word “all” plus the word for “god” or “divine.” For some, pantheism means everything is part of an all-encompassing “God,” identified so closely with the universe as to be totally immersed in the fabric of it. Pantheism is sometimes described this way: “God is everything and everyone; and everyone and everything is God.” Others simply claim “divinity” and “reality” in the universe are identical.
Such “pantheistic thought” influenced early Gnostic groups and was popularized in the 17thcentury by philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Theologians continue to discuss the “pantheism controversy” today. Hinduism, Buddhism, some cults like “mother nature” worshipers and others—at least to some extent—include elements of pantheism. But this is not what the Bible refers to in scriptures describing Jehovah God’s omnipresence. In passages like Psalm 139:7-8, we understand God is everywhere, but God is not everything. For example, we might say God lives inside a person, but that indwelling does not make that person God. That would be idolatry!
Another twisted view of God’s presence is in deism. “Deism” comes from the Latin for “deus,” meaning “god.” Deists believe there is a Supreme Being or Creator who is distinct from His creation, but they also deny He plays an active role in His creation, including the lives of people. So, this Being may be somehow “present” in deism, yet not intervene or interact directly with humankind.
God is Beyond All – Yet He Is Accessible
Included in the biblical view of God’s omnipresence, both in Christianity and Judaism, we find two other concepts: transcendence and immanence. These concepts help us understand how beautiful and complex God’s omnipresence is.
In transcendence, God is wholly independent of the material universe—beyond the physical laws of His creation. He rises above and surpasses time and space. Though He upholds all things, He will never need anyone to uphold Him! Being transcendent, God is so beyond us we would not know Him if He did not reveal Himself to us. Our human thoughts and ways are so beneath His. (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36) The Bible says His presence is so great, He cannot be “contained” in our holy places, for His glory is above the heavens. (Psalm 113:4-6)
But this same God is “immanent” or present within His creation. He is near to us, fully present in time and space. It can be said He is both far and near. This God, who must stay separate from us because of our sin and His holiness, chooses to draw near to us through Christ who broke down the barrier of separation. (Isaiah 64:6-7; Exodus 33:20) The God who holds all thing together chooses to be ever-present with His adopted children. In Jesus, “we live and move and have our being” and the Lord is “not far” from us. (Acts 17:25; Acts 17:27-28) We receive guidance and provision through the indwelling Holy Spirit, but also in the presence of Jesus Christ and the Father. Through Jesus, we have access to God. (Ephesians 2:18).
God Reveals Himself – Except When He Doesn’t.
God is present continuously, but He doesn’t always choose to reveal Himself. And sometimes He doesn’t reveal Himself to every person in the same way or at the same time. The Bible says God is our “very present help” in troublesome times. (Psalm 46:1) For example, He makes Himself known to those who call upon His name, and to those who pray for others. (Matthew 6:6; Romans 8:26)
He “enters” into man’s history at key times, and the world experienced a powerful sense of the presence of God when God the Son, Jesus, came to earth. Jesus became our Immanuel—“God with us.” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23) Yet there are some times, for reasons known only to God, when He does not choose to reveal Himself. In the patriarch Job’s experience, it felt like God was hiding. (Job 23:8-9) This is how other people perceive God at times too—that He is hiding or forsaking them. But the Lord will never leave or forsake His own. (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5) Even in times when God appears to veil Himself or stay apart in darkness, His presence is knowable and powerful.
The atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell, once said, “…if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.” Russell questioned why—in his opinion—God made His existence and presence so obscure and inadequate. But God has provided clear and sufficient evidence in creation and in His Word. (Romans 1:19-20; Romans 16:25-26) The truth is, only the humble will seek the Lord. The omnipresent God “waits to be wanted,” Tozer wrote, “You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him.”
God Sees It All – Yes, Even That!
Have you ever intentionally done something wrong, then foolishly thought the Lord couldn’t see or wouldn’t care? The truth is, God is watching everywhere. He sees both the evil and the good. The darkness we hide in is as light to Him—we will never escape His loving, caring and correcting presence. Knowing He is present should motivate us to make wise, godly choices. God watches how people live! (Job 34:21)
Don’t think of God as an “evil eye in the sky.” One of my favorite names for God comes from an ancient slave girl, Hagar. She ran away from Abraham and Sarah after the confusion that came from their not waiting for God’s plan to unfold. Hagar called the name of the Lord, El Roi, meaning “You are a God of seeing.” (Genesis 16:13-14) She believed the God of Abraham would watch over her and her son.
For the Christian, God’s watching should be understood as overseeing or caretaking. He cares about us as a loving Father. He sees us wherever we go on our “path” or travels through life—in our work, play and rest. He knows everything about us! Because God sees and knows us, He stands ready to help, and to instruct and teach us in the ways of wisdom. He says, “I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” (Psalm 32:8)
God’s Presence Brings Blessings – or Not.
For the Christian, God’s presence in heaven will be a manifestation of unbelievable blessings. We cannot begin to imagine what it will be like to be there with Him. We might look forward to the “streets of gold” and other material and spiritual blessings, but the greatest blessing will be to be with the One who died for us and has prayed for us. And in seeing Him, we will be like Him—forever changed in His presence. (1 John 3:2)
But God’s omnipresence will not be a blessing for those who have rejected Him. Sin separates people from God, and hell is a place of separation from the Lord for those who have not trusted Christ. (Isaiah 59:2; Matthew 25:41) Some believe God would never be present in a place like hell, but others argue that those who experience God’s presence in hell will only be experiencing the reality of His wrath over sin. That sense of His presence will be a reminder of the great chasm fixed that prevents “the wicked” from eternal blessing. (Luke 16:26)
Yes, God fills everything with His holy presence and maintains everything by His supreme power; and those who know Him will be abundantly blessed. That’s not the same as blessing everyone, everywhere.
God “Inhabits” Eternity – and the Contrite.
The prophet Isaiah, who speaks much about eternity, says God is high, lifted up and holy, and He “inhabits eternity.” (Isaiah 57:15) He dwells there! He occupies from eternity past to eternity future. And from heaven where the Lord sits enthroned in glory, He watches all mankind. The One who created each one of our hearts observes and examines us, always looking to see if we will seek and trust Him. (Psalm 33:15; Psalm 53:2)
The truth is, we seek God and love Him only because He first sought and loved us. Seeking the Lord means seeking His presence, sometimes expressed in scripture as seeking His “face.” We are to seek the Lord’s presence continually. (1 Chronicles 16:11; Psalm 105:4) We’re to set our heart and mind to seek Him and the things that are “above.” (1 Chronicles 22:19; Colossians 3:1-2)
Our wondrous God inhabits the expanse of eternity, but He also chooses to dwell with a certain kind of person. God desires to revive the one who is lowly in spirit, the one who comes to Him with a contrite heart, admitting utter dependence on Him. The Lord longs for people to seek, know, love, obey, worship and serve Him—for people who are grateful for His grace and mercy. Because of Jesus, the omnipresent God dwells in us by the Holy Spirit. As John Piper wrote, “The presence of God’s Spirit in my life was bought by the blood of Jesus.” The wonderful truth for the believer is, God will be with us always, even to the end of the age.