Have you ever felt as if you wanted to run away from God? Maybe you thought the responsibilities of the Christian life were too heavy for you, or you just could not be the person you were supposed to be and do the things God was asking you to do. If you could just get away, things would be better. Or maybe the model of a Christian husband or wife was too overwhelming and you could not live up to it. Or you knew how a Christian parent was supposed to treat his children but you seemed to fall short several times a day. Or you knew you ought to talk to those unsaved neighbors about Christ but you could not bring yourself to do it, and now they are gone and you are embarrassed and ashamed. Maybe you committed yourself to teach a class of children for a year but you just did not want to face them another Sunday. Or you knew God expected you to flee temptation but you could not seem to resist it, and now you feel as though God is on your back. If you could just get away from Him for awhile, go someplace where He could not see you, then everything would be all right.
That is exactly what the prophet Jonah thought. God told him to go to the city of Nineveh and preach against its wickedness, but that was the last thing in the world Jonah wanted to do. Nineveh was the capital of a proud and powerful nation, and he was sure the people there would reject him, maybe even try to kill him for pointing out their sin. If they did repent God would probably hold back the punishment He had predicted and Jonah would become the laughingstock of the whole city. As far as he was concerned there was no way he would ever go to Nineveh.
“But 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” (Jonah 1:3). It is mentioned twice in that verse that Jonah wanted to get away from God’s presence. Somehow he had developed the ridiculous notion that God did not live in Tarshish (a city which some scholars believe was located on the Atlantic coast of Spain). Do you share his sentiments? Do you think there might be some place on this earth where you can hide from God?
Jonah should have known better. As a prophet in Israel he was certainly familiar with the inspired Psalms of Israel’s greatest king. David had written a powerful message about trying to run away from God’s presence:
Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to Thee, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee (Psalm 139:7-12).
If God is an infinite spirit then He is not only free from the limitations of time, but He is free also from the limitations of space. He is omnipresent, that is, present everywhere all the time. No other living being has that attribute. Every other being is restricted to a particular place at a particular time. I cannot be in Los Angeles and New York City at the same time. Angels cannot even do that. Satan cannot do it. But God is wholly present in every part of His domain at the same instant. He is not partly present in one place and partly present in another, but He is as fully present in every particular place as if He were in no other place. God cannot be split into little pieces. Wherever He is, He is in the fullness of His being.
This attribute of God is one of the most difficult for us to grasp with our finite minds. We can understand to some degree that God has infinite power and that He knows everything. But how can He be everywhere at once? The inability of the human mind to comprehend this doctrine may be one reason why so many people choose to worship some lesser being. They suspect that to be everywhere may really mean He is nowhere, and they want to worship a god who is somewhere, so they turn to a finite being or to an idol.
While I do not fully understand it, there is no question but that God claims omnipresence for Himself in His Word. David assured us that there was absolutely no place he could go to escape the presence of God, even if he wanted to. Not even pitch-blackness could screen him from God’s presence, because God sees in the dark as well as in the light. Daniel confirmed that:
It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him (Daniel 2:22).
Jeremiah proclaimed the same truth to the people of his day. The land was filled with dishonesty, profanity, and immorality, and the false prophets of the day were not only condoning it but actually participating in it (Jeremiah 23:11,14). They assured the people that God would not judge them for their sin (verse 17). That is when God spoke through Jeremiah:
Am I a God who is near, declares the LORD, And not a God far off? (verse 23)
Those false prophets thought God did not know what they were doing and saying, that He was limited to one place at a time, that if He were near somebody else He could not be near them. Not so!
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 (verse 24).
He fills Heaven and earth, just as fully present in one place as another. There is no conceivable place where God is not completely present in the totality of His essence. If there were any place where God was not present He could hardly have said that he fills Heaven and earth. But He said it and He meant it. Just as light, or air, or sound, or odor fill a room so God fills His universe. Through Isaiah He said, “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). There is no place to hide from His presence.
Solomon mentioned God’s omnipresence on the day that the temple was dedicated. It was a beautiful building where God would place His name, where He would personally dwell, and where He would meet with His people. But in Solomon’s majestic prayer of dedication he revealed a truth that we still misunderstand today. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27) God would dwell in that temple but He would not be restricted to it. We cannot limit God to a building. We cannot even limit Him to a universe. God is everywhere.
He is immanent, that is, right here, inhabiting and pervading His universe. But at the same time He is transcendent, that is, rising above and exalted supreme over His universe. Many people would rather not hear that. They would prefer to lock God in a building where they can visit Him when it suits them and get away from Him the rest of the time.
The Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem didn’t like it. They killed Stephen for quoting Solomon and Isaiah on this subject, along with a few other thoughts from the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 7:48-49). The Athenian intelligentsia ridiculed Paul on Mars Hill for daring to suggest the same thing. He had said, “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” (Acts 17:24). He cannot be locked in a building. Since He is everywhere, He is not far from any one of us (verse 27). In fact, we live and move and exist in Him (verse 28). Incredible! Just as a bird lives in the air and a fish lives in the water, so we actually live in God. Each of us, believer and unbeliever alike, lives in God’s sphere and in God’s presence every minute.
Philosophers since Paul’s day have not liked this doctrine any more than those on Mars Hill. They have devised interesting ways to pervert the truth. The pantheists have overemphasized God’s immanence. To them God is merely the impersonal forces and laws of nature. He is to be identified with the material universe, and consequently ends up being the trees, mountains, rivers, and sky rather than a personal, omnipresent being. The deists on the other hand, overemphasize God’s transcendence. For them, God is present in His creation only by His power, not in His being and nature. While He made the world He is not actively involved in governing it. He has left it to itself. English literature is filled with both distortions. The truth is that God is both immanent and transcendent. He is distinct from His creation yet present in every part of it, both in His power and in His essential being. God is everywhere!
Yet the Bible will not let us suppose that God is present in exactly the same sense everywhere. For example, He does not dwell on earth in the same sense that He dwells in Heaven (Matthew 6:9). He did not dwell in Gentile nations in the same sense He dwelled with His ancient people Israel (Exodus 25:8; 40:34). He did not dwell with the Old Testament Jew in the same sense that He dwells with the New Testament Christian (John 14:17). He does not dwell with the unbeliever in the same sense He dwells with the believer (John 14:23). And He does not dwell with the believer now in the same sense He will dwell with him in eternity (Revelation 21:3).
I am not sure how God can dwell with different people in different ways at different times, yet be fully present everywhere in His total being. Maybe He simply makes His presence known in a different measure. But He does claim to be everywhere and I, for one, believe it. I read somewhere about a little boy who believed it too:
He was just a little lad, and on a fine Lord’s day,
was wandering home from Sunday School and dawdling on the way.
He scuffed his shoes into the grass; he found a caterpillar,
he found a fluffy milkweed pod and blew out all the filler.
A bird’s nest in the tree o’erhead, so wisely placed and high,
was just another wonder that caught his eager eye.
A neighbor watched his zigzag course and hailed him from the lawn,
asked him where he’d been that day, and what was going on.
“Oh, I’ve been to Sunday school,” (he carefully turned the sod,
and found a snail beneath it). “I’ve learned a lot ’bout God.”
“M’m, a very fine way,” the neighbor said, “for a boy to spend his time.
“If you’ll tell me where God is, I’ll give you a brand new dime.”
Quick as a flash his answer came, nor were his accents faint,
“I’ll give you a dollar, Mister, if you’ll tell me where God ain’t.”
Jonah soon found out that David, the psalmist, was right all along. God is everywhere, and there is no way that we can hide from His presence. He went down into the hold of the ship, and God was there. He was thrown into the raging sea, and God was there. He was swallowed by a great fish, and he discovered that along with the tangled seaweed, stifling heat, and burning acids, God was there. Then he was vomited out on dry land and found that God was there. He finally decided that the smartest thing would be to obey a God who was everywhere. He would have saved himself a great deal of grief had he remembered that truth from the very beginning.
That seems to be one of our great weaknesses too. We hear these truths and believe them, but we tend to forget them when we need them. We become oblivious to God’s presence and begin to live our lives as though He were nowhere around. Jacob had that problem. He was running from his brother’s wrath when he stopped for a night’s rest at Bethel. During the night he had a dream about a ladder. The Lord stood above it and said, “And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you” (Genesis 28:15). God was with Jacob and would not leave him, but he did not realize it. The record states, “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it’” (verse 16).
Isn’t that just like us? The eternal, changeless, all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God of the universe is with us and we are not even aware of it. We ignore Him. I doubt that He is very happy about that—probably no happier than a wife whose husband pays no attention to her. So many lonely, grieving wives have sat in counselors’ offices and moaned, “He acts as if I weren’t even there.” God must feel that same grief.
Let’s remind ourselves of some of the places God specifically promised to go with us, then begin to acknowledge His presence in those situations, and learn to share them with Him. He will be pleased, and at the same time things will go better for us.
He Is With Us in Temptation. The Apostle Paul taught us that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit lives within us and goes everywhere we go. That should provide an added incentive for us to flee from sin. As Paul put it, “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:18-19). The believer’s body is a mini-temple, a sacred dwelling place for the omnipresent God, and we must treat it as such. Sexual relations outside of marriage defile the temple of God. They dirty up God’s dwelling place. To be conscious of God’s presence is to guard the purity of His home.
But respect for God’s home is not the only deterring power of this doctrine. If we love our Lord and want to please Him, the knowledge that He is with us is going to have an influence on where we take Him and what we do in His presence. We usually try not to offend someone we truly love. While we may be tempted to do something of which they disapprove when we are separated from their watchful eye, we seldom entertain the thought of doing it when they are standing right there looking at us. The next time you are tempted to disobey God’s Word and disregard His will, visualize Him standing there watching the whole scene. He is there, you know, so we might as well think about it. Sometimes we act like ostriches with our heads in the sand. We think that because we cannot see God, He cannot see us. But He does.
The eyes of the LORD are in every place,
Watching the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3).
He Is With Us in Need. The writer to the Hebrews had something to say about God’s presence. Some of the folks to whom he was writing had lost their jobs because of their faith in Jesus Christ, and they were facing desperate needs. They were probably worrying about how their needs would be met and, worse still, they were envying people who had everything they needed. They would benefit from this pertinent exhortation: “Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
We may not have everything in life we want, but we do have the Lord. He is right there with us all the time. He sees all our needs and He will meet every one of them in His own time and in His own way. Some may be saying, like those Hebrew Christians of old, “But I have this bill due tomorrow that I can’t pay.” That situation could be God’s way of encouraging you to reevaluate your lifestyle. He wants us to be diligent, to work hard, to seek His wisdom about every penny we spend, and to stay out of debt. Unpaid bills sometimes reveal that we have been overly enthusiastic about gratifying our desires rather than merely meeting our needs. The next time you are tempted to spend money on something you do not need, remember that the omnipresent Lord of the universe is right there with you. Ask His advice before you move ahead. Then trust Him faithfully to supply every need. That is what He promised to do (Philippians 4:19).
He Is With Us in Loneliness. I want you to meet a lonely woman. Hagar was a slave, uprooted from her home in Egypt and taken to be the handmaid of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. She had gotten pregnant by Abraham at Sarah’s suggestion, and the resultant situation had brought such tension and turmoil to their household that she finally ran away to the wilderness—unloved, unwanted, pregnant, and absolutely alone in a strange land, the victim of someone else’s sin.
That was when the Lord appeared to her with tender words of encouragement and advice, and she called His name El Roi, the God who sees (Genesis 16:13). She had come to the comforting realization that God was right there with her, that He saw her in her loneliness, and that He cared. Ezekiel called Him Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord who is there (Ezekiel 48:35).
He is the same God today. He sees us in our loneliness and offers us words of encouragement and advice. He is the God who is there, and He still cares. Most of us prefer a warm body near us when we are lonely, a hand we can touch, and a voice we can hear. God may provide that for us in His perfect time. But meanwhile, He is with us, and the very fact that we are physically alone can make His presence more precious than it would be if there were people around us. To believe that He is with us can help to dispel the aching loneliness.
He Is With Us Through Difficult Service. Many godly people in Scripture faced tasks which they believed were beyond them, but the confidence to carry on came through the assurance of God’s presence. For example, when Moses was called by God to return to Egypt and deliver the people from bondage, he shuddered at the enormity of the task. When he tried to beg off, God said, “Certainly I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). That was just the encouragement he needed to go on.
Again, after the nation’s sin with the golden calf, God told Moses to lead the people on to their promised land. But he was afraid to go until the promise was reaffirmed. Finally it was: “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14). The promise of God’s presence was the inspiration he needed to do the job he was called to do.
When Joshua took over the leadership of the nation after Moses’ death, he struggled with the same lack of confidence. But God was right there to encourage him: “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (verse 9). If God would be with him, he could conquer the land against insuperable odds.
When our Lord’s disciples heard His commission to make disciples of all nations, they must have trembled at the vastness of what they were being asked to do until the Lord added, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). That would make all the difference in the world.
I can testify to you quite honestly that I would not be in the Lord’s service today were it not for the promise of God’s presence. The job is too big, the responsibilities too great, and my abilities much too weak and inadequate. But I have that promise—God is with me. And you have it too. God never asks us to do anything by ourselves. When he gives us a job to do He promises to be with us as we do it. Whether it is teaching a class, witnessing to a friend, sharing our testimony with a group of unbelievers, lovingly confronting another Christian with his sin, or anything else He might want us to do, He is right there with us, directing, assisting, and enabling us as we do His will.
He Is With Us in Danger. The Apostle Paul faced many dangerous situations in the course of his apostolic ministry, one of which was in Corinth. The Jews there were disturbed at the great numbers of people turning to Christ and the situation seemed to be as potentially explosive as a barrel of TNT beside a campfire. Paul seriously considered leaving. “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city’” (Acts 18:9-10). The key to Paul’s courage was in those words, “I am with you.”
God said much the same thing to the tiny nation Israel when she was surrounded by giant world powers which threatened to destroy her.
Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
That is also His promise to us. There is nothing to fear for the child of God. He is present in all the places people sometimes fear. He is on that airplane, in that elevator, in that cramped room, on those high places, in that wild animal infested jungle, in that new and strange situation with people we do not know, in that operating room during delicate surgery, in the recovery room where the pain and discomfort are fierce. He was even in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished to see four people in the furnace instead of only the three he had cast in (Daniel 3:24-25). It was a fulfillment of God’s promise to His people.
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 (Isaiah 43:2).
Why should we fear anything when God is there? The Psalmist put it so beautifully.
God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea (Psalm 46:1-2).
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold (verse 7).
He Is With Us in Death. Death is the ultimate source of fear and anxiety for many people. But again, God is right there with us.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).
When we face the death of a loved one, this thought brings greater consolation than all the well intentioned words of our human friends put together: God is with us. And when we face our own departure from this earthly scene there is no reason for alarm. God will accompany us right into Heaven’s glory.
Sometime ago someone handed me this interesting account:
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord and across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me, the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life there was only one set of footprints. I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life.
I questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, You said that once I decided to follow You, You would walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why in times when I needed You most, You would leave.” The Lord replied, “My precious child, I would never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you see only one set of footprints, it was then I carried you.”
What more can we ask? Wherever we go, whatever we face, our omnipresent Lord is with us. Ignore Him no longer. Let Him be part of every situation and circumstance. The awareness of His presence will add an exciting new dimension to the quality of your life and to the confidence you enjoy in living.
Begin to cultivate a consciousness of God’s presence. Greet Him at the beginning of each new day. Remember often through the day that He is right there with you. At bedtime rehearse the events of the day and think about how you could have allowed Him to be more a part of them, and what difference it would have made if you had. Say “goodnight” to Him before you drop off to sleep, remembering that He will be with you all night long.