Friday, October 19, 2018

Is God really Omnipresent?

I love my men's group.  Last night we tangented into a discussion of whether God is actually omnipresent.  The idea there being that God is everywhere at all times.

This is one of those doctrines that I've always taken for granted.  But I tend to go along with ideas like this up until the point that I don't.  There are a lot of doctrines that sound kinda like some guys way back when wanted to make sure everybody understood just how big God is, so they came up with doctrines with no wiggle room.

And when I start thinking about it, I have some issues right off.  Because the impression I have is that in order for God to create a universe where free will is possible, He had to create something that is outside of Himself, that is Other than Himself.  Which makes me think He is not everywhere.  Not that He couldn't be, but that He has chosen not to be.

But what does the Bible say? 

Well, there are lots of verses that kinda sound like God is everywhere at once.  But a lot of them say things like 'He sees what you do in private' or 'He beholds all things in heaven and earth'.  But omnipresence isn't saying He can see everything - it's saying that He is everywhere.  So I'm gonna say those are not proofs for omnipresence.

Then there are verses like Psalm 139, where it asks 'Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your Presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there.  If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.'

But that's in the Psalms.  And the Psalms are filled with hyperbole and metaphor.  I don't think my soul literally pants for God or that the wicked will all fall into their own nets.  I think you need to be extra careful when extracting theology from Psalms.  So when it says 'He knows my innermost thoughts', I'm not convinced that's supposed to be taken literally.  Just because I say to someone, 'I know what you're thinking', doesn't mean I actually do, even if I'm correct.  It's an expression of an emotion or a hunch.

Meanwhile, there are verses on the other side.  Like in Genesis, when Adam and Eve are naked, and then God show up and calls to them.  He isn't there, and then He is.

So where does that leave me?  It does seem like God can see everywhere, even allowing for figurative language.  And I'll allow that God CAN go anywhere He wants.  But I lean towards that idea that he's carved out that space for us so that we have some freedom.  Like letting your kid play in the back yard - you don't keep an eye on them at all times, and you're certainly not there in the backyard with them, but you're within earshot, so if something happens you can run and be there pretty quick.

That's where I'm leaning after one day of thinking about it.


  1. Seems this is dangerous "play" with the character of God...besides the possible errors in other doctrines. The premise that God is not omnipresent because of free will may be flawed. Consider the possibility that we don't have free will. We were given free will in creation, but we lost it when sin came into the world. Now we are bound to sin (both slaves to it and must do it). We cannot free ourselves. We cannot choose God. He chooses us. He comes to us. He plucks us out of death. And then we must deal with the paradoxes. Calvinist believe grace cannot be resisted. I do not (hence, I am not a Calvinist). While I cannot choose God, I do resist God. That is the nature into which I am born. In some mysterious paradox, God chose me. In some mysterious paradox the unsaved are not so because God did not choose them. (Again, I am not Calvinist. Pure Calvinists believe God chooses some and God damns some. I am also not Arminian believing that I can in some way choose God thereby helping God with my salvation.) My will is bound until it is set free by God, and even then it is not set free to choose God but to accept His gifts. So then, if we in reality do not have free will (except to decide those things in our temporal life), free will cannot be an argument against the omnipresence of God. The other premise, that of theology from poetry, seems weak, also. To suggest we can't find truth in poetry just because poetry is filled with figurative language is to suggest we are not able to distinguish figurative language from that which is not. Granted, this is part of the joy of language study, but then we would have to say we cannot find truth in prose either since there is also figurative language in prose. And thanks for the challenge. You do raise interesting questions worth exploring.

  2. To be clear, I'm not saying that we can't find truth in poetry. I'm simply saying it's of a different nature, less precise. If I say that I'm as hungry as a horse, everyone knows I'm not really implying that I know the degree of a horse's hunger, but you can clearly infer that I am very hungry.

    Also, I'm not offering free will as a proof - it's just part of my speculation. My main point is that I don't find convincing evidence for omnipresence provided by the Bible.