Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me. Psalm 139:7-10
DEFINITION: God’s presence is His “being there.” Omnipresence means that He is everywhere at all times. There is no place or time God is not. Yet the biblical emphasis is on His manifested presence, experienced only at certain times and places and by specific persons.
One glory of the religion of Israel was that, unlike the deities worshiped by surrounding nations, their Lord was not limited to one geographical location. He was in all places all the time. This is one of the traditional “three omnis” attributed to God. Omnipresence thus takes its place alongside omnipotence (without limit in power) and omniscience (without limit in knowledge). God is without limits—infinite—in space and time as their Creator. All created things and persons are limited to a particular space and time, but not God. Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple expressed this fully (2 Ch 6:18). This truth greatly comforts God’s people, but is a terror to those who wish to ignore or to hate Him. No escape is possible.
Heaven—the realm beyond earth’s atmosphere (with the rain and the birds) and beyond outer space (with the sun and the stars)—is God’s home in the sense that His glory is perfectly displayed and adored there, and His will is perfectly obeyed by all who are there: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).
The unseen presence of the Lord in all places and times is assumed throughout the Bible. Yet an experience that revealed His localized presence was what His people longed for. God promised Israel, “I will place My residence among you, and I will not reject you. I will walk among you and be Your God, and you will be My people” (Lv 26:11-12). Both at the tabernacle in the wilderness and at the Jerusalem temple, the people rejoiced that God displayed His presence there (Ex 25:8; 40:34-38; 2 Ch 7:1-3). (In many world religions, a temple is the deity’s dwelling, the god’s house, and an image or idol was placed there. In Israel’s temple such images were forbidden by the Second Commandment. The same is true for Christians.)
Jesus Christ is the localized manifestation of God: “The Word became flesh and took up residence [literally tabernacled] among us” (Jn 1:14). One of His names is Immanuel, God With Us. In the Epistles, both the physical body of the individual believer and the body of Christ (the church) are temples for God’s very presence (1 Co 3:16; 6:19; 2 Co 6:16; Eph 2:21). One of the terrifying descriptions of eternal punishment is of humans without hope of ever experiencing God’s presence: “These will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction, away from the Lord’s presence” (2 Th 1:9).
The final state of glory includes the redeemed perfectly experiencing His presence: “Look! God’s dwelling is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rv 21:3).
REFLECTION: How do you distinguish between God’s omnipresence and His localized presence? Which one is more important? How have you personally experienced God’s presence?
PRAYER: All-present God who ever sees me, I long to experience Your presence this day. Bring me safely to Your heavenly home, where I will dwell in Your presence forever. In the name of Jesus, Immanuel, I pray. Amen.