Monday, January 21, 2008


From time to time, I find it helpful to question things which are often assumed in Christianity. I don't mean things that have been discussed and agreed on, like the Nicene Creed or the Chalcedonian definition or anything, I mean things we always take for granted because we're always taught them, like "Jesus wept" being the shortest verse in the Bible (it isn't; it's three words in Greek; 1 Thess 5:16, 17 are each only two words in Greek, and 1 Thes 5:17 is two words in most English translations as well, though 1 Thes 5:16 is shorter in terms of letters). Sometimes I change my mind partly as a result of thinking it through, like I did with Soul sleep, (mind change).

Anyway - omnipresence. Here's what I think at the moment:

The Bible doesn't teach that God is omnipresent. It teaches he is with believers whereever they are. It teaches he can see everywhere, he can act everywhere and anywhere, but it doesn't teach that he actually is everywhere.

In fact, the idea of God being spatially located in that way doesn't actually make a lot of sense to me. I think it's a leftover from Greek philosophy, and has a nasty tendency to head towards panentheism. Anyone want to argue / agree?


John said...

The only Biblical argument I can think of for omnipresence starts with Acts 17:28. However, that's Paul quoting a Greek philosopher to show that they agree that God is findable.

Anonymous said...

Certainly a very interesting question. It's always good to check up on what you believe and see what the Bible actually says. I'd have to give omnipresence quite a bit of thought.
However, I always find chain reference Bibles useful for this sort of thing... mine has just sent me to Psalm 139:7-12, which makes a strong suggestion of the possibility of God being omnipresent. And then there's Jeremiah 23:23-24:
Am I only a God nearby, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.

Actually, I think that might just convince me!

Anonymous said...

Yes I think the idea of filling everything might be a clincher -but maybe it's worth asking people -what do you mean by omni presence

Anonymous said...

Well, just a bit of personal opinion:
A friend once said something to me about "having seen the Spirit leave one Church and go to another" because the first didn't welcome HIm and the second did. It struck me as a remarkably odd thing to say and suggest. God's presence is promised when His children gather in His name - surely the presence of the Spirit is a partly what that means.
I guess what can upset people about the concept of omnipresence is that God can be present even where there is great evil. "Where was God during the Holocaust?" is a question that Jews and Christians alike have asked many times in the last half century and more. I'm convinced that he was present there in so many ways. Millions, probably.
God is not damaged by evil, nor by doubt or even non-belief in Him. This world remains Hid creation despite mankind's rejection of Him and attempted destruction of that creation.

But even more simply, surely it is possible for an all-powerful God to be omnipresent. And if He can be, then why worry about whether He is?

Daniel Hill said...

`Omnipresence' means the ability to act everywhere. It doesn't mean that God is spatially located everywhere, for, as you point out, he isn't spatially located anywhere (even in believers). Similarly, the soul is in the body, not spatially, but because the soul acts in and through the body. (Some would want to say that the soul is in the brain, rather than the body as a whole, in this sense.)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the questions should be rephrased as:

1.Are there any places where God isn't?

2. Are there any things to God that are unknowable?

If God knows everything, then is some sense he must be onmipresent.

bcg said...

Intriguingly, I just looked omnipresence up in my Dictionary of Christian Theology, and it isn't there! And neither is omniscience. Omnipotence however is.

It is the same story with McGrath's Christian Theology: an Introduction (I have the fourth edition).

I then turned to Calvin's Institutes, which also does not reference either omnipresence or omniscience in the index, but does omnipotence.

I hit the paydirt with Barth's Church Dogmatics:

'Because and as God is one, unique and simple, He is for this reason omnipresent. Omnipresence is certainly a determination of the freedom of God. It is the sovereignty in which, as the One He is, existing and acting in the way that corresponds to His essence, He is present to everything else, to everything that is not Himself but is distinct from Himself.'

'The whole divine sovereignty is based on the fact that for God nothing exists which is only remote... there is no remoteness beside and outside Him which is remoteness without His proximity.'

Which is, being translater (after Custard's earlier post):

God is one, and he is simple (i.e. not made up of parts like we are). He is Lord over all; to exercise that sovereignty he must be present to all, so there is nowhere that is totally remote from God. It is not that one bit of him is present here, another bit there: God is simple, so 'all of him' is present 'everywhere': the 'omni' refers to both the fullness of his presence, and the extent of his presence.

bcg said...

Sorry, that should read:

'that is, being translated'

Although I was of course the 'translator'.

I can spell, honest!

Anonymous said...


My question "What do you mean by omnipresence" was meant to be an example of the type of question we should ask others in discussion rather than a specific challenge here -although maybe not completely redundant.

What I meant is that some people may be using the word to mean something quite pantheistic. Others may mean something along the lines laid out here

John said...

Great discussion - thanks!

I agree that Jeremiah 23 is a much better argument, though what it means for God to fill everything there is that he can see everywhere - it's kind talking about spatial location like we might talk about God's arm.

And if we then chuck in Daniel and bcg's points, that makes a lot more sense of the doctrine. Thanks!