Years ago, a Christian preacher went to India, and there he saw Hindu worshipers tapping on trees and rocks and asking the gods they believed were present: “Are you there? Are you there?” The Scriptures tell us that we never need to ask that question regarding the Living God: He IS here. Wherever we are; He is always there.
This morning, we continue our study “Our Great God” by considering the omnipresence of God. “Omni” means “all”, “present” means “here” – the doctrine of God’s omnipresence means that God is always present; He is everywhere. We find this doctrine taught in Psalm 139, as well as in other places in the word of God. Let’s turn to Psalm 139:7-10 and see what it teaches us about this doctrine, and what it means for us that we have an Omnipresent God.
I. The Doctrine of God’s Omnipresence: God is everywhere.
This doctrine is spelled out in Psalm 139:7-10 perhaps better than in any other passage: “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, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.”
David says: where can I go, where God is not? He says if I go up to heaven, God is there. He says if I go to Sheol – “Sheol” is the Hebrew word for death or the grave – God is there too! He says if I could “take the wings of the dawn” – in other words, if somehow he could sprout wings and travel at the speed of light – if he could fly as fast as the morning sunlight which rises in the east and almost instantly shines to the furthest reaches of the west, he could not escape the presence of God. The picture here is all-encompassing: from east to west; from high to low; soar as high as heaven; burrow as low as hell; travel at light speed from the rising of the sun to its setting – you cannot go anywhere where God is not!
The old Southern Baptist theologian J.P. Boyce wrote: “He is present at one and the same time everywhere.” Boyce goes on to say in his Systematic Theology that it is not just that God knows what happens everywhere (as we saw last week) but that He IS everywhere! God does not just “see” what you are doing; He is right there WITH you wherever you are! He is omnipresent.
— In Acts 17:27-28, Paul, speaking to the Greeks on Mars Hill in Athens, said that people seek God “if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist.” Everything we do is done in the presence of God; like a fish lives his whole life surrounded and enclosed by water, so we move and have our being constantly in the presence of God.
— Jeremiah 23:23-24 “’Am I a God who is near’, declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places, so I do not see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the Lord.” He is near, Jeremiah says. His presence fills the heavens and the earth!
— Solomon said in I Kings 8:27, “But can God indeed dwell on earth? Heaven itself, the highest heaven, cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have built.” We speak of temples or churches as being “the house of the Lord”, but Solomon said the truth is, there is no “house” that can hold God! The highest heaven cannot contain Him! He is everywhere!
— Psalm 46:1 says: “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in time of need”. That Psalm goes on to describe the worst possible circumstances: “though the earth should change, though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” – God is “very present.” No matter how tumultuous the situation, God is always there!
— Jonah 1:3 says that when God commanded Jonah to go and preach atNineveh, that instead “Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Twice there it uses that phrase: “from the presence of the Lord.” Jonah seemed to think, like many of the ancient peoples, that there was a god for each country, and if he leftIsrael, that he could escape from the presence of Yahweh. He soon found that there was no such place! He could take the fastest ship to the most remote territory, but God was always there. Even in the depths; in the belly of the great fish, God was there to hear his prayer. Jonah learned a great lesson on our behalf: Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is everywhere.
In the middle ages, Christian theologians had a saying: “God’s center is everywhere; God’s circumference nowhere.” In other words, He is just as much present in any place as He is any other place; nowhere do you find a limitation on the presence of God.
Theologian Thomas Oden writes: “No atomic particle is so small that God is not fully present to it, and no galaxy is so vast that God does not circumscribe it. No space is without the Divine Presence.” (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 67) This is what we mean by the doctrine of the Omnipresence of God.
II. Applications of the Doctrine of God’s Omnipresence:
Thomas Oden says that the doctrine of God’s omnipresence “is more than just a cold, abstract idea without personal significance” (p. 68) for each of us. Because God is everywhere, what a difference it should make in a number of areas of our lives:
At the State Evangelism Conference a few weeks ago, one of the preachers said he was tired of hearing worship leaders say things like: “Let’s ask God to come and meet with us” or “Let’s pray that God would come down to us here today”, etc. I do not recall our Bro. Kyle ever saying this – and I am grateful for that, because it is not accurate. GOD IS WITH US! He is everywhere! David said, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?”
— In Revelation 2:1, Jesus, speaking of His churches, says that he walks among His lampstands. This church is one of His lampstands. That means that He walks here. We do not need to ask for His presence with us today; He is here! He cannot be any more here than He already is. What is lacking is that we do not realize that He is here, and most of us do not ACT like He is here! And because of the lack of faith, and sin in our lives, He is not manifesting His presence in powerful ways among us. But He is here!
I hope what those worship leaders mean when they say those kind of things is that they want God to MANIFEST His presence; they want Him to show His power. But we need to be careful in what say; it will affect our attitudes and actions. Don’t you think for a moment that God is not here already; He is. There is nowhere that He is not.
But this truth is not limited to worship in a church building. The omnipresence of God means that we can worship Him anywhere. Solomon said in I Kings 8:27, “But can God indeed dwell on earth? Heaven itself, the highest heaven, cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have built.” This church does not “contain” God; there is not a building that could. Anywhere you go, you can worship God. (Now, too many have used this as a cheap excuse to do what Hebrews 10 says that we should NOT do: “forsake the assembling of yourselves, as if the habit of some, but encouraging one another …”. Each of us needs to have a commitment to gather weekly for worship if they are in town; not enough of God’s people are serious about this commitment. But the reason we need that commitment is so that we can encourage and BE encouragers to others – NOT because “God is here” and He is not somewhere else. He is everywhere the same. He is omnipresent.
— Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in time of need”!
— Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.”
God says there is no situation you will ever endure in life in which you cannot know that He is with you. “Though the earth should change and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” – He will be a “very present help” – not just “present”, but “VERY present”! It doesn’t matter where you are – He is with you!
Psalm 23 says “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me”!
When King Nebuchadnezzar threw Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah into the fiery furnace in Daniel, the Bible says that Nebuchadnezzar stood to his feet and said, “Was it not three men we cast into the midst of the fire? … Look, I see FOUR men”! – and the appearance of the fourth was like the Son of God! They were not alone – even in the fiery furnace. God was with them!
In the same way, when YOU walk through YOUR “fiery furnaces” of life, God is always there with you in that fire. He will be with you in your heartbreak; He will be with you in your illness; He will be with you in that financial struggle; He will be with you in that false accusation; He will be with you when you that bad news breaks; He will be with you when everyone else has deserted you; though father and mother give you up; He will not. Though friend and lover leave you; He will be with you. Even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death – He will be with you!
That is the truth: God is everywhere, and He will be with you no matter what. But it is up to US to realize that He is with us, and to ACT like He is. In Psalm 16, David says: “I have set the Lord continually before me.” The truth is, the Lord IS continually with us; but we don’t always ACT like He is. It is up to us to “practice the presence of the Lord” and consciously rely on Him by faith in those time. That same Psalm goes on to say: “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” If we would only realize that God is with us every moment of our lives, what a difference it would make; what a comfort we would find in that constant presence!
Just as we saw earlier in Psalm 139, where it says “darkness and light are alike to Thee”, the fact of God’s omnipresence can be both a source of comfort and conviction. It is a source of comfort: He is always with us. But it is also a source of conviction: you cannot get away from God!
We saw earlier that Jonah is an example of that: he wanted to get away “from the presence of the Lord”, but he found that he could not. In the hold of the ship, God was with him. In the middle of the sea, God was with him. In the belly of the fish, God was with Him. He could not escape His presence, no matter where he went, for good or for bad – and neither can you!
We like to think of God, at least subconsciously, as “residing” in certain places, like in heaven, or in church – and then that we “leave” Him there, and then go and do as we please, and He will leave us alone. But the truth is, you never leave His presence. You cannot “rope off” certain areas of your life, as if God were not there. He is with you everywhere – and that means everywhere!
We saw last week that Elisha’s servant Gehazi tried to sneak away and take some money and clothing that he was not supposed to take. Elisha, speaking with the Spirit of the Lord, said, “Did not my heart go with you” when you went to get that money? He tried to hide, but he could not hide from God. He was with him every step. And the same thing is true for YOU! God didn’t stay in church last Sunday; He was with you everywhere you went. He was with you at the Mardi Gras ball and all the activities you participated in last week, do you know that? It is not like God wasn’t there and you get a “free pass” on that stuff! His Spirit was with you. God was with when you made that business deal last week. He was right there when you told that lie. He was sitting beside you as you made every click of the mouse on your computer – do you realize that? You are not just in His presence on Sunday morning – you are just as much in His presence on Friday and Saturday night! He never leaves you – that should comfort you sometimes; it should also convict you. If this is true – and it is – God’s word for some of you this morning is that there are some things in your life that need to change — TODAY! — because He is always with you.
In Matthew 28, Jesus gave us the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus commanded us to go to all the nations – a daunting task – but He also gave us the promise that He would be with us wherever we go. His omnipresence should be the power and comfort behind our mission efforts: there is nowhere you can go on mission in this world that God will not be with you!
Our church, First Baptist Moss Bluff, has a number of challenging missions partnerships. We have several upcoming trips, in fact, to what people might consider some pretty daunting places. We have a trip to Nepal in May, and another to Suriname, South America in May also; in June we will have a family mission trip toNew Orleans in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention there, and then in July we will send a team to the Bronx in New York City. This fall, we will send a team to the slums of Delhi, India to minister to the new church and school we are helping to start there. Those are some pretty challenging places: Hinduism and Buddhism are entrenched in India and Nepal, and our folks will have physical challenges of climbing to some of the highest places in the world. The Suriname team will be flying into the jungle, and boating to even more remote spots, where witch doctors abound. The Bronx is one of the toughest places in New York– but some might consider New Orleans in that same category! Not the easiest places in the world to minister. Some people might hesitate to go, or to send their family member. But because of this doctrine of God’s omnipresence, we can have the confidence that no matter where we go in this world, we need not fear; God is there. We have His protection and power just as much with us in those places as we do right here. God is everywhere, and everywhere the same. You may get out of the range of your cell phones and Facebook in the jungles of Suriname, but you are never out of the range of the Presence of God! You may “take the wings of the dawn, and fly to the remotest part of the sea” – by air, to the jungles of Suriname, or the mountains of Nepal, or idol-filled temples in India– God is there! He will be with you! That should be our confidence wherever we go this year on mission.
Not only is God everywhere with us now; He will be in eternity as well. We all know that in heaven, every one of us who has trusted Jesus as Savior will be in the continual presence of the Lord. It is His ever-presence which will make heaven what it will be. Heaven will not be glorious because of streets of gold, or pearly gates. It will be glorious because of the constant presence of the Lord. Revelation 21:22 says there is no temple there, “for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.” Verse 23 says: “The city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it”. As Samuel Rutherford wrote, “(Our souls) shall feast and banquet day and night upon a glorious sight of the incomprehensible Trinity.” His constant presence will be the glory of heaven.
But it is not only heaven where God’s presence will be known for eternity. His omnipresence will also be known in hell. Psalm 139:8 says, “If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.” We sometimes talk about being “separated” from God in hell, but that is not quite true. Those who go to hell are indeed separated from the glorious presence of the Lord, but there is a real sense in which they are not “separated” from God – the sad fact is that they will experience the awesome, fiery presence of God in His wrath. Jonathan Edwards said, “The saints are in His glorious presence, and the wicked in hell are in His dreadful presence.” (Works, Vol. II, p.880)
If someone thinks that the torments of hell will come from fire, or from the punishments that the devil or his demons might be able to afflict on them, they are mistaken. What they will face is the wrath of the presence of the holy, holy, holy, God against one who had rebelled against Him, purposefully broken His commandments, and when given an opportunity to repent, trampled under foot the blood of His only begotten Son and rejected Him. The punishments of hell will be from the omnipresent, thrice-holy God of justice and wrath. God is a God of love, and He wants to save us all through Christ Jesus. But if you reject Him, you will face His wrath.
— John 3:36 says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides upon him.” And the wrath of God is awesome beyond our understanding:
— Psalm 2:5 says that God will “speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury.”
— Psalm 90:11 says: “Who understand the power of Your anger, and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?”
— Jeremiah 10:10 says, “At His wrath the earth quakes.”
— Revelation 19:16 speaks of “the fierce wrath of God the Almighty.”
— I Thessalonians 2:16 says that God’s wrath will come upon them “to the uttermost”.
Jonathan Edwards, writing of those words, said:
“What must be the uttermost of His wrath, who made heaven and earth by the word of His power … what must His wrath be, who commanded the sun, and it rises not … what must His wrath be, who shaketh the earth out of its place, and causes the pillars of heaven to tremble! What must His wrath be, who rebuketh the sea and maketh it dry, who removeth the mountains out of their places, and overturneth them in His anger? What must His wrath be, whose majesty is so awful, that no man could live in the sight of it! What must the wrath of such a Being be, when it comes “to the uttermost”.
Our Great God is a God of love; but He is not only a God of love. He is also a God of justice, and He is a God of wrath. If you reject His Son, and refuse His sacrifice, you will spend all eternity in the presence of the God of wrath. You will never see His face of love; you will only see the awful face of His wrath; wrath so great it caused the Lord Jesus to sweat drops of blood in anticipation of facing the wrath of God for sin on the cross! If you reject His sacrifice, for all eternity you will cry out: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?” – but like Jonah there will be no place to hide. You will never escape the eternal presence of the wrath of “Our Omnipresent God.”
A.W. Tozer rightly says that “the practice of the presence of God” does not consist of projecting an imagination from our minds, and acting like it is there; rather it is the recognition of the REAL presence of the One the Bible says truly IS there! But we do that by FAITH! It is FAITH that pleases God, not “sight”; not “experience” as such!
By faith, consciously live your whole life in the Presence of Him who is “unseen, yet more real than any other.” I believe that for many of us, perhaps the greatest challenge of our Christian lives is to truly apprehend this doctrine of the omnipresence of God: not merely to “know” it in our minds; but to experience Him as with us in reality – to truly LIVE and ACT as though God were with us – because He really is “Our Omnipresent God.”