Saturday, February 3, 2024

Post #34 The Doctrine of God: P2 Divine Omnipresence and Immensity - Distinctions, Reflections, and Applications


     As we once more explore the wonderous eternal nature of the Biblical God, we are to be reminded of how God's attributes and nature are related. God's attributes are not a group of "parts" that attach somehow to God's being like lego bricks to a base. As theologian James Dolezal is fond of saying "all that is in God is God", which means the attributes are of the same "substance" as the Divine nature because the attributes themselves are but full expressions of the selfsame nature. In future posts I'll deal with what is called "Divine Simplicity", which is at the heart of the classical Christian theism being studied in this current series. 

    Suffice to say, the attributes of God are full expressions of the Divine essence. God doesn't "have" attributes, instead, He is His attributes. Put another way, God's love means God is loving by nature. This is what John refers to when he writes in 1 John 4:8 and 4:16 "God is love". Or again, God's holiness means God is holy by nature, as expressed by the psalmist in Psalm 99. To say God is unchangeable means He is so by nature, as God Himself expresses in Malachi 3:6. As to God's impassible emotional life, we mean He is impassible or constant in His affections by nature, as touched upon in Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29.  Whatever other attributes we speak of pertaining to the Biblical revelation of God, identical remarks can be made of them as well. The 17th century author William Ames summarizes our point in his work "Marrow of Theology", "The attributes of God set forth What God is, and Who he is." I only touch upon these truths to remind ourselves that whichever attribute we will speak of or have covered thus far, we are still looking at the same undivided essence of the One God revealed in Scripture - this includes our current topics of Divine immensity and omnipresence.

Divine Immensity and Omnipresence more closely defined

    We spent time in the last post noting how Divine omnipresence and immensity operated within the Trinity here As I noted in the last post, omnipresence speaks of how God by nature is everywhere present at all points. Divine immensity tells us that God cannot be contained nor bounded by anything. In this post we want to explore how God's  omnipresence and immensity operate relative to the created order.

    One of my favorite Biblical passages to consider about God's omnipresence is Psalm 139:7-12,

"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold,You are there.9 If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will over whelm me, And the light around me will be night,” 12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You."

    In having discussed briefly how omni-presence was already operative within the Trinity from all eternity, it makes sense that this perfection would spill-over into the very universe God made. It is helpful to do a thought experiment about omnipresence to help us grasp a little bit of the enormity of this perfection.

    The above photograph is that of the so-called "Sombrero Galaxy" (so-called due to its resemblance to the hat), or as known by its more technical designation "M104". Astronomers tell us that the Sombrero Galaxy is some 28 million light years from earth and measures 50,000 light years across (see NASA's link to this galaxy at ). 

    It is amazing to think that God is as much present at that Galaxy as He is here with me in the chair in which I am typing this post. Remember, omnipresence describes God occupying every point in and throughout the created order.

    So what about God's immensity? The 19th century Baptist theologian J.P. Boice in his "Abstracts of Systematic Theology" describes immensity as follows,

"God is not confined to space any more than he is measured by time."

Boice later adds,

"When, therefore, we speak of God’s immensity, we mean more than his filling all space, just as when we speak of his eternity, we mean more than his existing throughout all time."

    To distinguish these two perfections of God: God's immensity deals with God's relationship to space; whereas omnipresence deals with how God occupies every point in space. Immensity tells me God cannot be confined by space, and thus transcends it; whereas omnipresence informs me God's presence expresses His being as wholly present, entirely at work, and in every point of all creation. Psalm 139:7-12 was shown as a good example of God's omnipresence. 1 Kings 8:27 reminds us of God's immensity,

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!"

    A New Testament counterpart to 1 Kings 8:27 is found in Stephen's speech in Acts 7:49, quoting Isaiah 66:1,

"Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord,
‘Or what place is there for My repose?"

    It is because God is immense (transcendant and not bounded by all He has made) that He can be omnipresent (active and present in all He has made). Acts 17:24-28 features these attributes working together,

"The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’

    Paul's point is that God is not bounded by His creation, and thus doesn't require a temple (hence God's immensity). As He is omnipresent, God is not localized as He would be if he were like one of the pagan deities. Rather, God's omnipresence in and through all things and His immensity above and outside all things means He can be wholly present and at work equally and everywhere.

    Author A.W. Tozer, in his classic book "Knowledge of the Holy", writes of God's omnipresence (and we could include God's immensity),

"The doctrine of the divine omnipresence personalizes man’s relation to the universe in which he finds himself. This great central truth gives meaning to all truths and imparts supreme value to all his little life. God is present, near him, next to him, and this God sees him and knows him through and thorough."

Practical distinctions to note when talking about God's immensity and omnipresence.

    As we move forward, Elmer Towns in his very accessible systematic theology entitled, "Theology for Today", notes on ppgs 119-121 some observations about God's omnipresence and immensity that aids us in application to our lives. I'll use some of his headings and then comment on each of them for our application.

1. God's omnipresence is a manifestation of His immensity.

    As we've noted already, Divine immensity means God's nature knows no limits and is not enclosed by space. God's omnipresence means He is everywhere in, through and at every point in space and outside of it. God is not confined to my little circle of life and circumstances. He is immense. He operates wholly and completely in and outside my circumstances, due to Him being also omnipresent. Recourse back to Psalm 139 shows us how David applied these two attributes to his life's circumstances. 

2. God's omnipresence allows for His transcendence. 

    What Towns is speaking of here is God's relationship to the universe itself. God as transcendance is to the created realm as an author is to a book. The author operates outside the thought-world of the book he or she is writing. With that said, theologians will often speak of another attribute that works in tandem with "transcendance", namely God's "immanance". Again, the author of a book, though "transcendant" to he thought-world of the characters and plot, nonetheless operates in and through the plot and characters to move along the plot to the intended conclusion. 

    God's omnipresence and immensity operates along these lines of transcendance and imminance. The prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 23:23-24 is where I find confirmation of these observations,

“Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord, 'And not a God far off? 24 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." 

3. God's omnipresence means He will manifest Himself in some places more than others. 

    We know by definition that God's omniscience means He is everywhere. When God makes His presence known, He is raising the apprehension of His creatures so that they can sense Him, interract with Him, and respond to Him. Ultimately, there is no place where God's influence and presence is not felt. I tend to use three terms when describing how God makes known His omnipresence and immensity. 

    The first is what we call God's "Providential presence" or omnipresence proper. God is everywhere present in a general sense, working forth His will and wisdom throughout all of the creation and through the wills of people (Acts 17:22-28). 

    The second sense in which we can apprehend God's omnipresence and immensity is what I call His "covenantal presence". This includes an environment fitted to sensing God's presence already at work, specifically in the local church where God's Word is preached and the ordinances of Lord's Supper and Baptism are practiced. The second Person of the Trinity, the incarnate Son, mediates this "covenantal dimension" of God's omnipresence and immensity in the lives of Christians and the church (see Ephesians 1:22-23). 

    The third sense that we can talk of God's omnipresence and immensity involves what theologians call His "manifest presence". This is often-times referred to how God makes His presence known and felt, primarily in Heaven among the glorified saints who have passed on from this world to Heaven (Hebrews 12:22-24). God's manifest presence can be at times experienced here in this life, whether in unusual seasons of revival, such as when He filled the tabernacle or temple in the Old Testament, or when He so moved in His church to revive it, as in the first Great awakenings of New England led by the likes of Jonathan Edwards in the 17th century

4. God's omnipresence implies His omnipotence and omniscience. 

    As Towns rightly points out, any one of the so-called "omni" attributes presupposes the other two. God must have all power in order to directly affect every point and moment in time and space as the omnipotent God, henceforth referring back to His omnipresence. In like manner, God must know the outcomes and means by which the effects of His causing all things occurs by way of His omnipotence. 

    The practical ramifications of God's omnipresence is brought home in the following observation by Towns: 

"The fact that God is means that God is here and now. He comforts, guides and protects the believer with His omnipresence. And the fact that God is here, implies that God is everywhere." 

    Certainly such Bible passages as Psalm 23 or where Jesus in His incarnation could walk the earth as man while still holding sway over creation as God (see John 3:13; Colossians 1:13-16) gives us great comfort in knowing that He will never leave us nor forsake us (see Matthew 28:18-20).

Final thoughts for our application: 

    Today we've looked at God's omnipresence and immenisty. God's omnipresence covers the highest, deepest, largest, most remote and darkest regions of created reality and life. This is the God you and I need dear reader. God's omnipresence is that constant reality that is unimpaired by life's darkness, isolation, overwhelming moments, deepest valleys and highest obstacles. God's immensity tells me He can work forth His will and purposes for me beyond the horizon of my immediate circumstances. God is not limited. Let us thank God today for His omnipresence and immensity.

No comments:

Post a Comment