Questioning Omnipresence

Source: William Blake, God Answers Job (found on artbible)
Picture idea by: Paul Dean (Theological Overload)

 

Michael Saia wrote:

‘(…) It would be interesting to inquire as to whether God’s location is involuntary or voluntary (…). It is commonly taught in the church that God’s omnipresence means that he is everywhere as a matter of his nature rather that than he chooses to be everywhere. But is it necessary or even biblical to define God’s presence in this way? In the light of interesting verses like II Thessalonians 1:9, which state, “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” it would be fascinating to revisit the doctrine of omnipresence asking the question, “Where is God?” and to let the Scriptures speak for themselves. Any reading of this scripture as “away from the [manifest] presence of the Lord” or “away from the [feeling of the] presence of the Lord” would be eisegesis on our part and a violation of good hermeneutical principles. Appeal to the scripture which states that God’s spirit is in sheol will not help, since the “place of departed spirits” of the Old Testament cannot be equated with the lake of fire. (…)’
Source: Michael Saia, Does God Know The Future?, p 94 (footnote 11).

 

This morning (21/06/2015), I was reading on the Trinity in a chapter entitled “The Truth About The Nature and Character of God” in Gordon C. Olson’s book, “The Truth Shall Make You Free” (review coming soon).

His article will be partly published on this website, as a defence and exposition of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but the part on God’s Omnipresence will be left out.

 

Gordon Olson wrote (on omnipresence):

“OMNIPRESENCE is a natural attribute of the Godhead, by which it is intended that the Being of God pervades all space and is everywhere manifested at all times: I 8:22, 27; Ps. 139:7-10; Prov. 15:3; Is. 57:15; Jer. 23:24; Mt. 18:20; 28:20; Acts 17:24, 27-28; Ep. 4:6; He. 4:13.

God is everywhere present in spiritual essence. Just as it is our very nature to be localized in one place, so it is God’s very nature to be everywhere present at the same time. While God occupies all space, He is not identified with the objects of space. This is beyond our understanding and places the nature of God’s Being in the realm of mystery.”
Source: Gordon Olson, The Truth Shall Make You Free, The Truth About The Nature and Character of God, p 23 (Illinois, Bible Research Fellowship Inc., 1980) (emphasis mine).

 

The reason why I will leave this doctrine out is because after checking all the Bible verses Gordon Olson used to defend the doctrine of the omnipresence of God, I felt that I was not in a position of teaching this doctrine, as the Bible does not seem to teach this concept.

For example, 1 Kings 8:27a seems to indicate that Solomon, in all his wisdom, did NOT believe that God was (really) dwelling on the earth at that certain moment in time, making Him not omnipresent.

 

In the words of Christopher Fisher (of which I left out the parts that were superfluous or those I disagreed on):

‘(…) God ends his discussion with Abraham by “going his way”:

Gen 18:33 So the LORD went His way as soon as He had finished speaking with Abraham

In 1 Kings, the text mentions a few more places in which God is not present:

1Ki 19:11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
1Ki 19:12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

This could be talking about “God did not cause the wind, earthquake and fire”, but the text indicates that all were the direct result of him passing by the mountain. It might also mean “God was not heard in the wind, earthquake and fire”, which is a possibility. But the most direct reading is that Elijah was waiting for God to be present in order to ask him questions, but God did not arrive until after the fire. Notice that God “passed by” the mountain.

Omnipresence (notice that it is a Latin term) is not found in the Bible. Instead it is found in the heart of Platonic theology. Here is Plotinus:

The authentic and primal Kosmos is the Being of the Intellectual Principle and of the Veritable Existent. This contains within itself no spatial distinction, and has none of the feebleness of division, and even its parts bring no incompleteness… every part that it gives forth is a whole; all its content is its very own, for there is here no separation of thing from thing, no part standing in isolated existence estranged from the rest, and therefore nowhere is there any wronging of any other, any opposition. Everywhere one and complete, it is at rest throughout and shows difference at no point; it does not make over any of its content into any new form; there can be no reason for changing what is everywhere perfect.

The pagans believed god (the One) was omnipresent because they believed god was also Immutable. To change location was to change. And any change would make a perfect being now imperfect. This paganism infected the early church fathers (…).

Contrast the omnipotence of the pagans to the God of the Bible:

In Genesis 1 God hovers over the waters:

Gen 1:2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

In Genesis 3 we find God walking in the garden. Adam and Eve hide from his presence:

Gen 3:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

In Genesis 4 Cain leaves the presence of the Lord, and moves to another land:

Gen 4:16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.

In Job, Satan approaches God and God asks him where he has been. Suggesting God was located in heaven and not tracking Satan:

Job 1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.
Job 1:7 And the LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.”

In Exodus 24 God tells Moses to come up to him. God’s presence then burns the top of the mountain:

Exo 24:12 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.”…
Exo 24:16 Now the glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
Exo 24:17 The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel.

In Exodus 33, God passes by Moses (covering him with God’s hand) and then lets Moses see his back:

Exo 33:22 So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by.
Exo 33:23 Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”

The entire Bible is replete with references talking about God being temporal. In fact, it is just assumed into God’s dealings with man that this is his normal character. In order to come to the conclusion that God is omnipresent, hundreds of verses have to be ignored in favor of a few vague statements.

One such statement, the strongest evidence in favor of Omnipresence in the Bible, is Jeremiah 23:24. Putting it in context:

Jer 23:19 Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD has gone forth in fury— A violent whirlwind! It will fall violently on the head of the wicked.
Jer 23:20 The anger of the LORD will not turn back Until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it perfectly.
Jer 23:21 “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
Jer 23:22 But if they had stood in My counsel, And had caused My people to hear My words, Then they would have turned them from their evil way And from the evil of their doings.
Jer 23:23 “Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off?
Jer 23:24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?” says the LORD; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.

In Jeremiah 23, God is proclaiming a coming judgment of the wicked. God then emphasizes the judgment is real and that no one can hide. Then there is a statement that God “fills” heaven and earth. The laymen Calvinist will look at this and say that God is declaring no one can hide, apparently because God is so big he literally fills the universe. Note that the scholar Calvinist take a differing view of Omnipresence which states that God is literally outside the realm of temporal location (this is more attuned to the Platonists). Instead of everywhere, God is nowhere. They take this verse figuratively.

A better reading of these verses is that God is proclaiming a coming judgment, states that no one can hide, and states that this is because he can find people anywhere (not that he is so big he is forced to see everywhere). Compare this with other verses used to support Omnipresence:

Pro 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Job 34:21 “For His eyes are on the ways of man, And He sees all his steps.
Job 34:22 There is no darkness nor shadow of death Where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.

Can God see everything? It seems to be the case. Can he choose not to see something he does not want to, other verses suggest so. Neither of these verses have anything to do with God’s location, but instead his knowledge of current events.

Those who adhere to Platonism like to cite verses that have nothing to do with the thing they are trying to prove. If they want to prove God controls all things, they point to verses that say he is mighty. When they want to prove God is outside of time, they point to verses that say God is everlasting. When this tactic is used, it should be apparent their evidence is slim and they are desperate for proof texts. Can God see everything but not be omnipresent? I can watch a live golf match on TV, I do not have to be present. How many more resources does God have? (…)’

Source: Christopher Fisher, God is Not Omnipresent, Reality is Not Optional

Is God’s Holy Spirit in unbelievers? No.
Is God in the Lake of Fire (do not confuse this with the grave)? No.
I believe that answers the question of omnipresence.

Our view makes the doctrine of the Trinity far less mysterious.

Rather than a literal omnipresence in the whole universe, I would argue for an omnipresence of the Holy Spirit in believers and a bodily locality and probably a spiritual locality of the Father in Heaven (I do not see the Comma Johanneum – 1 John 5:7b-8a in some Bible translations – as divinely inspired).

To read my personal view on and description of the Holy Trinity, click here.

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