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.
"Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.
Last week we looked at the first six verses of Psalm 139 and we saw that God is close at hand. He knows us completely, and He has invited us to know Him as well. This week we begin by looking at the next few verses of Psalm 139 in which we find that God is not only nearby but is also far away. God is omnipresent. That is to say that He is not limited by space. In fact, God created space (Genesis 1:1). This means, among other things, that God has no body. The Bible sometimes uses anthropomorphic language to describe God (that is language that makes Him seem more human), but we must remember that God is not a human. He is completely other than we are. He is transcendent. So in Exodus 3:20 when God says "I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians," He is not claiming to have a literal hand. He is trying to help us understand by using terms we are more familiar with.
Sometimes we can tend to think of God's omnipresence in terms of God being really big so that He fills up space. With this understanding some part of God is everywhere. But that is not really what omnipresence means. It is not that one part of God is here and another part of God is there. God is wholly present everywhere in space. I think that Colossians 1:17 gives us a hint of how to understand this when it says that "in [Christ] all things hold together." He is what holds our world together (some have even made a case for this at the atomic level). He exists independent of our world and He holds it together...all of it. So He is just as present in China as He is in my shoe. In neither place can I hide from Him.
Someone might ask, "But how do you explain the fact that at times we sense God's presence in a worship service or something and others times we don't?" I like the way that Wayne Grudem puts it. "It is not that God was not present elsewhere, but rather that here He especially made His presence known and here He especially manifested His character and brought blessing to His people." In other words God is always present even when we don't feel Him, but I do think that there is a special presence that He gives us at times. This is not more presence strictly speaking (because He is wholly present everywhere), but rather is a stronger sense of His presence. Sometimes this is felt by individuals alone while other times whole groups attest to it.
Assuming that you are still with me and that you haven't slipped into a theological coma, why does this matter? For many reasons! Here are a few. It shows us that there is no special place of worship. God can be worshiped anywhere. We must not think that He is only present in the sanctuary and that we leave God behind when we leave worship services. God is with us wherever we go (see John 4:19-24). This means that Christianity is much more than just something that you do at church. If God is everywhere and He sees you everywhere you go then Christianity must be a way of life. It is surrendering of your life to Jesus and entering into relationship with this omnipresent God. It also means that you are never alone. No matter how alone you feel, you are not alone. Sometimes God can seem very far away. It can feel like He has forgotten you, like He couldn't possibly know what you are going through. But this is not true. He has always been by your side and He always will be. You cannot escape Him. Which brings me to my last point: if you are running from God...if you feel the guilt of your sin weighing you down and you sense the Spirit of God drawing you toward repentance, don't fight Him. You can't get away from God. You have nowhere to run.
For further reading...
- Psalm 139- A beautiful Psalm to help you think about God's nature.
- Amos 9:1-4- You can't hide from God.
*It should be noted that much of this talk and this series draws information from Wayne Grudem's textbook Systematic Theology (the above quote is from p176). I am also leaning on notes taken from my Systematic Theology I class taught by Dr. Bruce Ware at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.