TRUHT FOR TODAY - BIBLICAL ESSAYS BY PASTOR PAUL MIZZI

God everywhere present

In Jeremiah 23:24 God declares, "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" What does this mean? Is this limited to just one attribute of God, say for example, His knowledge, or just His power, or may be just His authority?

God is present in all places; however, our conception of Him must not be of Him filling space, as water fills a jug, for He has no physical or material dimensions.

It is as spirit that He is everywhere, in heaven, earth and hell. Although it surpasses the understanding of creatures such as we are, who are limited and bound to material bodies, God Himself is present everywhere in His majesty and power.

"Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me" (Psalms 139:7-10). In David's understanding, it is God himself who is there, not just his power or authority. In using the personal pronoun, "Thou," he leaves us with no doubt. Even the abode of the dead is not apart from God's omnipresence (cf. Revelation 14:10).

So, by omnipresence we mean that God, in the totality of his essence, without diffusion or expansion, multiplication or division, penetrates and fills the universe and beyond in all its parts. The atheist wrote: "God is nowhere," but his little daughter read it: "God is now here," and it converted him.

God's omnipresence is not potential or with just his knowledge. If I know a lot of facts about Paris, it does not mean that I am in Paris. Again, God is not present everywhere with just his authority, for if a king exercises his dominion from his palace, it does not mean that he is anywhere else.

When Christ taught us to address God as "Our Father which art in heaven," we are to understand the language either as a symbolic expression of exaltation above earthly things, or as a declaration that his most special and glorious self-manifestations are to the spirits in heaven, but certainly not that He is bound or limited to heaven.

If God is present in the earth, then:

He is essentially present in all places

No place is without God; but God's omnipresence is not necessary but free. In saying this we reject the pantheistic idea that God is bound to the universe as the universe is bound to God, as Spinoza and others erroneously taught. God is immanent in the universe and therefore in every place, not by compulsion, but by the free act of his own will, and this immanence is qualified by his transcendence.

God's people have openly confessed his presence in every place. God cannot be contained to just one place, as pagans think. Roman Catholics blasphemously imagine that God lives in their cathedrals and sanctuaries; they call their structures, "The house of God." They still need to learn what Solomon confessed as soon as he had built the temple, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have builded?" (1 Kings 8:27). Solomon is not denying that God dwells upon the earth; in wonder he is stating that God is not limited to any one place.

God is essentially present at all times

The One who describes Himself as "The high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity" (Isaiah 57:15), says furthermore, "Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?" (Isaiah 66:1).

When the Scripture speaks of God "coming down" this does not mean that God travels from place to place. Such anthopomorphic language is employed because of the weakness of our understanding.

That God is essentially present at all times is a consequent of his eternity. As deity, Jesus Christ promised his disciples to be present with them at all times, "And lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18). Even when we do not "feel" his presence (because of sin, suffering, dejection, depression, grief and so on) He is still with us. The church is the temple where His Spirit resides (1 Corinthians 3:16).

God is essentially present with all creatures

His presence is not limited to his own. True, He manifests His presence to them in grace and mercy. But no creature is hidden from his sight. "He be not far from every one of us," Paul told the Athenian pagan philosophers, "For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring" (Acts 17:27,28). This truth was expressed repeatedly by the saints of old: "In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:10). Such all-encompassing language drives us to confess His essential presence with all His creatures.

And those who do not confess His presence and live as if He has forgotten or gone away, bring judgment upon themselves, as happened to Belshazzar: "And the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified...In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain" (Daniel 5:23,30).

God's essential presence is without any division of Himself

God's omnipresence is not the presence of a part but of the whole of God in every place. This follows from the conception of God as incorporeal (God is a pure and most simple spirit, without material parts).

We reject the materialistic representation that God is composed of material elements which can be divided or put apart from each other.

In mathematics, the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. But we know of the Spirit that every part is equal to the whole. Every church, every true body of Jesus Christ, has just as much of Christ as every other, and each has the whole Christ. "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 13:20).

Godís presence is not a multiplication of Himself

There is no multiplication or diffusion of God's substance to correspond with the parts of his dominions. The one essence of God is present at the same moment in all.

His essential presence everywhere is not by multiplication, for the simple reason that the infinite God cannot multiply Himself, or make Himself more or greater than what He is.

Neither is His essential presence produced by extension or diffusion, as a piece of gold may be beaten out to cover a large area. If God should create a universe a million times larger than the present one, He would be in it (or rather, the universe in Him) not by stretching or disseminating His being, but by the infiniteness of His being. He is present not by a growth of His being, but by the same essence He had from eternity. We must ever confess His simplicity and indivisibility.

God is then totally everywhere by his own simple substance.

Does God come and go?

Biblical expressions such as "God coming to us" and "God departing from us," do not detract from the doctrine of His omnipresence.

God is said to hide His face from His people (Psalms 10:1); to be far from the wicked; and the Gentiles are said to be afar off from God (Proverbs 15:29; Ephesians 2:17).

Such expressions must not be understood of any distance or nearness of his essence, for that is equally near to all persons and objects, but of some other special way and manifestation of His presence.

Again it is said that "The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul" (1 Samuel 16:14), by which is meant the Spirit of guidance and assistance. God may be far from us as regards the experience of His comfort, or near to us as far as his support is concerned. At all times, though, His essential presence continues the same.

"The Lord came down to see the city" (Genesis 11:5). The fact of God's omnipresence precludes taking such biblical depictions of God's ascending and descending and comings and goings literally. When such language is employed (Isaiah 64:1,2), it must be recognised for what it is - metaphorical language indicating or invoking a special manifestation of God's working either in grace or judgement.

When this hermeneutical principle is held to, I see no reason why such expressions (which are necessary and fit in order for the infinite God to communicate with worms such as we are) detract from His omnipresence.

Godís presence our constant bulwark

In his classic study on Godís attributes the Puritan scholar Stephen Charnock gives three points as to how God's presence will help us. I will apply these in the form of a pastoral Bible Study.

As creatures of yesterday, we continually are dependent upon the Almighty and everywhere present God. Without Him we can do nothing.

It is most beneficial for us to meditate upon and take to heart the truths concerning the attributes of God, not least His comforting omnipresence.

1. God's omnipresence is a shield against all temptations.

Moses beheld Him who is invisible, and this strengthened him against the costly pleasures and luxuries of a prince's court (Hebrews 11:27). The temptation to enjoy life to the full and saturate himself with pleasure was all around him, and yet, believing God's presence, he chose to endure affliction with the people of God.

When we pray, "Lead us not into temptation," we do this because we believe that God is near and able to hear our prayers. He is not a god afar off.

2. God's omnipresence is a spur to holy actions.

David kept God's testimonies (Psalms 119:168) because he considered that all his ways were before Him.

Again, in another portion of Scripture, David testified: "Thou compasseth my path and my lying down, and art aquatinted with all my ways" (Psalms 139:3).

"For he knoweth vain men: he seeth wickedness also; will he not then consider it?" (Job 11:11).

Furthermore: "Is not destruction to the wicked? and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity? Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps?" (Job 31:3,4).

3. God's omnipresence, carefully considered, will remove distractions in worship.

One of the reasons why people draw near to God with the lips only is because they are not really convinced of God's omnipresence. If God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, then this would surely make a radical difference in our worship.

We bow down in His presence, not in the presence of an ambassador or representative from the divine Throne.

Let us then endeavour for the more special and influential presence of God. O that it might be the ground of our awe, of all our worship and actions. "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:6). When God's presence goes before us, all things will work for our good and we will enjoy success.

O that we may have this desire: that as he fills heaven and earth by His essence, He may fill our understanding and wills by His enabling grace, "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

Godís omnipresence a source of comfort

God is omnipresent. This statement brings as much joy to the godly as terror to the wicked. He is in all creatures and with all creatures as their preserver: in the damned, as their terror; in His people, as their protector. He fills hell with severity, heaven with His glory, His enemies with His judgement, His people with His grace.

1. The divine omnipresence is a comfort in all violent temptations.

Satan is a strong enemy, and may inflict harm and loss, but not without God's express permissive will. He could not even touch Job. God was with Job before, during and after his trails. No dart, therefore, can be so present with us, as God is present both with the dart and the one who fired it.

Paul was given a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), which bothered him; and yet God promised him sufficient grace. In all temptations, God is our Defender, our high tower, in whom we hide.

"He delivereth me from mine enemies; yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me; thou hast delivered me from the violent man" (Psalms 18:48).

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Psalms 23:4).

"Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalms 16:8).

2. The omnipresence of God is a comfort in sharp afflictions.

"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee...For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel..." (Isaiah 43:2,3).

In afflictions God shows Himself most present, when friends are conspicuously absent: "When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord shall take me up" (Psalms 27:10).

God is a present help in trouble.

"His eyes run to and fro throughout the whole world, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him" (2 Chronicles 16:9).

Paul was dragged to prison unjustly, mishandled, mistreated, maligned, and yet God was his shield. God moved with him, directing his steps, allowing him to suffer for Christ's sake.

The same may be said of Joseph whose brothers were jealous of him and sold him into slavery. Later he was lied against by Potiphar's wife; and yet "God was with him."

Good men may be banished from their country, and deprived of their possessions, but never from the presence of their Protector. But this truth cannot be stretched to mean that they will be exempt from bodily harm. Rather the contrary!

3. The omnipresence of God is a comfort in all duties of worship.

He is present to observe, and present to accept our petitions, and supplications and thanksgiving.

Godly men have not only the essential presence, which is necessarily common to all, but they enjoy his gracious presence.

God promised to meet the Israelites in the place where He should set His name, and in all places where He doth record it (Exodus 20:4). "In all places where I record my Name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee."

God dwells especially and in an intimate way with those who are contrite of heart and tremble at His Word. "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones" (Isaiah 57:17).

4. Divine omnipresence is a comfort in all special services.

Whenever and whatever God commands us, He also promises to encourage us and assist us. "I will be with your mouth" (Exodus 4:12), He told His prophet.

When Christ pitted his apostles against the whole world, to preach a foolish-sounding gospel to Greeks and Jews, He gives them a mighty promises of His daily and continual presence, spiritual though very real and actual (Matthew 28:20). His presence, then, scattered their fears and made them brave and outspoken in their ministry.

Missionary biography is replete with instances of how God's labourers knew and were persuaded of their Master's presence during the accomplishment of their work in the rank and file where they were placed.

How we need to cry out to God to make his holy and comforting presence known to us, that we may learn to walk in the fear of God and experience His blessings.

Our neglect of Godís omnipresence

In practice the attribute of Godís omnipresence is neglected and even forgotten by man. I will show how this applies also to professing Christians.

Men pretend to believe God to be present everywhere, yet many live as if He is non-existent or absent from their practical affairs. They fall into many vain conceits, plan their extravagant projects, endeavour to fulfil their ambitions, all because they wilfully forget that God is everywhere present, looking upon the godliness of the wise and the foolishness of the wicked.

In their lost condition men forget, not to say deny, this divine attribute. Like our first parents, they hide in the trees of the garden, supposedly to avoid the presence of God. Thus further and further sin is spawned.

In all transgressions there is something akin to atheism. Either His being is denied, or else, there is an attack (overt or covert) on one or more of His attributes. Men may not believe in the holiness of God, or else they may believe that God is all love and nothing but love, or else that He is forgetful (a denial of His omniscience) or else of His aloofness (a denial of His omnipresence). Though God is not far off in His essence, He is afar off in the apprehension and thoughts of the sinner. To gratify his lusts, sinful man will fancy himself to be out of the presence of the Judge (who actually is at the very doors).

Men may find it convenient to gratify their lusts at night, when thick darkness covers their actions, whether it be immorality in all its various expressions, drunkenness, and murder. They wilfully forget that for God the night is as the day; light and darkness makes no difference to Him.

Such forgetfulness also is sometimes seen in professing Christians, who in their childishness and carnality approach God with their lips while their hearts is far from willing to give Him the right kind of worship. They foolishly think that God cannot discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart, that somehow He is "banished" in heaven, and cannot keep track of all their thoughts, actions and speech.

The Christian husband has to take care how he dwells with his wife, with prudence and understanding, bestowing honour upon her, not simply while in the company of fellow-believers (as so often happens) but in the privacy of their domestic life.

Divine omnipresence is all but forgotten by even godly men when they fall into the snare of the fear of men. When they fear too much the designs of their enemies, the saints are virtually laying aside the comfort that can be derived from God's omnipresence. "Fear not, for I am with thee" (Isaiah 43:5). If the presence of God is enough to strengthen Paul against his doubts and anxieties, then the prevailing of fear issues from our forgetfulness of it.

Paul had many enemies, and yet when the Lord spoke to him, assuring him of His comfortable presence, then he "continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them" (Acts 18:9-11). Similarly God strengthened Moses, Gideon, Ezekiel and others by assuring them (or rather, reminding them) of His omnipresence.

If we really believe He is with us (Matthew 28:18), then we would certainly be more obedient, more dedicated to the cause of His everlasting kingdom.