Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Psalm 139 is one of those classic 'proof texts' for the omnipresence of God. But I just read it and it isn't...

Psalm 139v7-16:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

This is an amazing statement, and I know many, many believers can testify to the truth of it, but it doesn't actually speak of the omnipresence of God. What it does speak of is that God is always with his people - wherever they go and whatever they do. The Psalmist doesn't speak of God being in places where he is not, but only says that 'wherever I go, He is there...'

Of course, Proverbs 15v3 ("The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.") extends the concept a bit further, saying that God is able to see everyone. But nowhere in the bible does it claim that God is everywhere. Why should he be between the rings of Saturn, or at the bottom of the Marianas Trench or in the heart of the Sun? (sorry for that last link ;o)

Also, 'the Lord dwells in the praises of His people' (can't seem to find the verse at the mo) which kind of implies that there are places where he isn't. He is always with us, but not always everywhere.

I believe in an everpresent God, but not necessarily an omnipresent one.


Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

I guess you must first define what you mean by the 'presence' of God.

The Bible talks of different degrees of his presence.

Certainly God's manifest presence is not everywhere. We do not see the glory cloud, or a Christophany every day in every place we go! But this does not mean that God is not present.

God indeed does not have a physical presence (though it may at times be manifest physically) because he is spirit. Thus we are in danger if we anthropomorphise God's presence too much. If I bang my fist on the table I am not hitting God.

The omnipresence of God is best understood as, "There is no place that he is not", (in the same way that his eternal nature means, "There was never a time when he was not") even though space and time are his own creations and he is outside of both. The Psalmist puts it well when he exclaims "Where can I go from your presence?" But this does not mean God follows us around, as if he needs us to interact with his own Universe, but again as the Psalmist says, wherever I go - God is [already] there.

If I can see you, talk to you, and interact with you, is there not a genuine sense in which I am present with you, even if you cannot point to a precise physical location? Such is the presence of God that permeates all of time and space even though you cannot pin it to any specific physical location.

Ricky Carvel said...

The omnipresence of God is best understood as, "There is no place that he is not"

Unless there is a hell, of course.

I'm not convinced. I still think we (i.e. believers) have taken what the bible says here and expanded it. God is always with his people, he is certianly present in lots of places simultaneously, etc. but that does not mean that he is necessarily in every possible place at every possible time. We've deduced that and made quite a big assumption along the way.

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

> Unless there is a hell, of course.

There is a hell, and He is Lord of that too!

Daniel 7 shows the river of fire, into which the beast is thrown, proceeding from under the throne of God.

Jesus said that hell is a place prepared [by God] for the devil and his angels. Mtt 13:39

Contrary to popular misconception, hell is not the devil's head-quarters of authority. But his place of eternal punishment. He is not the warden, but the first inmate!

Ricky Carvel said...

Yes Jesus speaks of hell. He refers to it as being like the rubbish tip outside of Jerusalem where the rubbish was burned and destroyed. While the fire of hell itself may be eternal, the things thrown into the fire are destroyed, not eternally tormented. Revelation speaks of the lake of fire as being the second death. In other words no life. Destruction not torment.

See my friend Marcus's blog posting on the subject.

But if there is a hell in the way that you describe, then God cannot be there, and therefore cannot be omnipresent.