God is Everywere. Our Omnipresent God
Psalm 139:7 – 12
God is Everywhere! Our Omnipresent God
Getting to know someone …
Why does Barack Obama have 128 million Twitter followers and CNN Breaking News only 60 million.
That’s not the beginning of a joke, though it sounds like one!
It’s a question for us to think about for a moment!
CNN Breaking news tells us a lot about Obama;, he was all over their coverage of the inauguration.
And yet more people follow Obama, than the organisation which will tells us about Obama.
Of course, it’s not rocket science, is it?!
If we want to find out about someone, yes, there’ll be things we can learn from others who know the person, or have researched them, or have spoken to them,
But without a doubt, the best way to really know someone, is to listen to what they say about themselves!
It’s why 128 million people follow Barack Obama and less than half that follow CNN.
We think it’s better to hear from the person themselves, than through a chain of other people, each with their own perspective.
And yet when it comes to knowing God, it’s very easy for us to spend all our time listening to other people’s ideas,
And imagining things for ourselves, instead of turning to what God himself has told us about himself.
Certainly there’s benefit in seeking the wisdom of others,
But the best place to turn to find out about God, is God himself, and what he’s revealed to us about who he is.
So for 3 weeks, we’re going to be looking at what God says in his Word about himself, in particular about 3 attributes of God.
We’ll start with one Bible passage to, kind of lay the foundation, and then we’ll think a bit more broadly about what God says about each aspect of his character, and how we see it ultimately expressed in Jesus, all the while asking, “why is this stuff important?
What difference does it make to life?”
So we begin this evening with God’s omnipresence.
Obviously, it’s got something to do with God’s presence, but when we say this, we mean that God is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously.
There is nothing in the universe outside the presence of God.
God is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously. (v 7 – 9)
So that’s our definition, and it’s what we find taught in this middle section of Psalm 139.
Flick back there if you’ve closed your Bible, or device.
God is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously.
The title of this Psalm tells us that it was written by David, king of the ancient nation of Israel,
And he’s been thinking about God’s knowledge of him.
See verse 2, You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
Or verse 4, Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
Imagine if your every thought was projected onto the walls around you so other people could see.
I mean, it wouldn’t be so bad at the moment because we never see anyone!
But normally! Being known that well is quite confronting, isn’t it!
And so David begins to wonder, is there’s somewhere he could go, where this God who knows him so well, is not.
See verse 7;, 7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
But what does he conclude?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 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,
The first possibility to find somewhere where God is not is the heavens and the realm of the dead.
the depths doesn’t just mean, down in a deep valley somewhere.
If you have an English Standard Version you’ll see they just transliterate the Hebrew word “Sheol.”
This is where the idea of different dimensions comes in.
We’re talking about places that are real, but you can’t just travel to them in a plane or whatever.
We’ve got the heavens, which we typically associate with God, and Sheol, the realm of the dead.
It’s not exactly the same as the New Testament concept of “hell”, but in that it’s the realm of the dead, a place of punishment, there’s certainly some overlap?
Is God really somewhere like that?
We sometimes imagine that God is absent from the realm of the dead.
You might hear Christians say that “to be in hell is to be outside of God’s presence.”
But God is in all places and in all dimensions.
And it’s not just this passage.
Job concludes in chapter 26 verse 6, The realm of the dead is naked before God, he sees it all.
Proverbs tells us the same thing.
Death, or hell is not to be away from God.
We’d do better to say that hell is to be outside of God’s blessing rather than outside his presence.
And so David continues,
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
This is less surprising, probably; There is nowhere in geography where God is not.
This was Jonah’s problem, wasn’t it? He tried to run away from God.
But God is in all places and all dimensions.
In a time before, probably most of you were alive, maps and globes would often show the countries of the British Empire in pink.
Apparently they wanted red because it was more strong and regal, but if the countries were coloured red, you couldn’t read the labels! So pink it was, right across the map. And the popular proverb was that the sun never set on the British Empire;, There’s always somewhere that belongs to Britain, where the sun was.
Well, God’s whole map is coloured pink!
There is nowhere where God is not.
And the point isn’t that everywhere David gets to; heaven, Sheol, the dawn horizon, the far west of the Mediterranean, David gets there only to realise that God has got their first, just moments earlier, still panting and trying to catch his breath from beating David there.
No, David says, if I do this, If I go there, you are there.
“You are there already”
“You are there always”
This is why we need to have “simultaneously” in our definition of God’s omnipresence.
It’s not just that God can be anywhere, but that God is everywhere.
Some of you will have come across the poem The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson. It’s considered one of the great poems of the English language.
And supposedly it was inspired by these verses;
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
I don’t know whether Thompson was prompted by Psalm 139 or not, but there’s one difference isn’t there?
The poem pictures God following after,
But David knows, anywhere I could go, God’s there already!
He is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously.
God is not limited as we are
And this is because the things that limit us, are no limit to God!
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Last Sunday night after we packed up here, I was locking up, all the lights were out, and it’s very dark in here when the lights are off,
And as I headed out, various other members of staff who shall remain nameless, jumped up and shouted to try and frighten me!
Now, I’m incredibly brave so I wasn’t scared! But why did Bertie, James and Tim, Oh, they were going to remain nameless, weren’t they?! Why did those members of staff think they could scare me when they were only, 2 metres in front of me
Because darkness limits us, constrains us.
It’s simply not true that if you eat your carrots you can see in the dark!
Darkness stops us seeing!
It hinders our plans and our actions.
But not God!
God is not limited as we are.
And God isn’t confined by space in the way that we are.
If I’m here, then I’m not next door in the office.
If you’re here, you’re not watching online at home.
God isn’t limited by space, both because he created it, and so fills it and extends beyond it,
And because God doesn’t have body, tying him to one particular location or another.
Scholars use the term “incorporeal.”
You don’t need to worry about the word, but if you ever come across it, that’s what it means;, God doesn’t have a body.
See God doesn’t fill creation, by spreading himself very very thinly, like we would have to do if we wanted to have a bit of us, everywhere!
God doesn’t have bits!
We say God transcends space,
He transcends location.
Therefore God’s presence in one place doesn’t limit his presence in another
Therefore God’s presence in one place doesn’t limit his presence in another.
So even on those occasions in the Bible when God turns up in a unique manifestation of his presence;,
Whether with Moses on Mount Sinai;, Moses in the cleft of the rock,
Or various other times.
God appears in a particular situation, and yet there’s no sense, that Gods’ unique manifestation of his presence
there, means he’s less present somewhere else.
You know, God appears to Jacob, at Bethel and suddenly gravity stops working in China because God’s tied up at Bethel,
Or someone else’s prayers don’t get answered because God’s at Bethel, which means he can’t be listening in Jerusalem.
No, God is not limited by space. He is infinite, so being here doesn’t stop him from being there.
Nor is it the case that part of God was at Bethel, and the rest of him was somewhere else. There are no parts to God that he could be divided up between different places.
This is part of what we mean when we say that God is infinite.
I’m trying to grow 2 different lots of chili peppers at home. I got little plants in pots.
And I’ve got a water jug.
But if I tip some of the water onto one lot of plants, I’ve got less water for the other plants, don’t I?
That’s because the water in my jug is finite.
God is not finite, so being in one place doesn’t limit him from being in another place, or indeed, from being in all places as the Psalm tells us.
We on the other hand are finite;, we’re constrained by space, either in this place, or that place, but never both places, and never no place.
We are spatial beings.
God is a is a non-spatial being.
But even to speak of here and there is slightly misleading, because those are spatial terms, aren’t they?
And God is not limited by space.
We have to use these human terms, the Bible does, otherwise we couldn’t speak about God at all, but let’s just remember the limitations of this kind of language.
Now, when it comes to God’s presence, the temple in Jerusalem was the focus of that in the Old Testament.
It was there that God’s presence dwelt in a unique and special way.
And it wasn’t just that people imagined God to dwell there, God had promised that his presence would be there, and he demonstrated that by manifesting his presence in a cloud at the dedication of the temple, the same kind of cloud that had been visible around Mount Sinai when God was present with Moses, in Exodus 19.
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would go into the very centre of the temple, the Most Holy Place, but he would first make various sin offerings, because he was about to enter the very presence of God, Leviticus 16.
It really was a unique and special place of God’s presence.
And yet even that dwelling of God’s presence didn’t mean that God was localised to that one spot.
Have a listen to what King Solomon said at the dedication of the temple. This is from 1 Kings 8, and it’s just as Solomon’s about to cut the ribbon and open the temple.
He prays to God, asking, 27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 1 Kings 8:27
Solomon understood, that not only was his temple never going to be able to contain God, even the heavens can’t contain God.
God is infinite, and so even the heavens, though vast and beyond our comprehension, cannot contain him.
Come back to my water jug for a minute. When I pour water in the pot, it fills the pot, doesn’t it.
But when we speak of God filling the heavens, we don’t mean he takes up more and more space until its full and then he can go no further.
He fills it, and then, not having a body, goes beyond it.
Because of God’s omnipresence, he was present in the temple in a way that makes it entirely appropriate for Solomon to kneel before him in prayer, celebrating his nearness, proximity to his people.
And yet at the same time as being near, God is also beyond even the highest heavens.
Where can I flee from your presence? David asks in the Psalm.
God is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously.
Now, for some of us this is all entirely straight forward and seems just like common sense, while others of us might be thinking, “this is crazy, all this talk of finite and non-spatial” beings. And who cares?!”
So let’s think for a moment about why all this matters.
A) We’re never out of God’s presence
Well, firstly, since God is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously, we’re never out of God’s presence.
Sometimes Christians talk about God feeling far away, and he might, feel far away, but in fact, he’s not.
Yes, the Bible uses the language of God being far off from people in their wickedness, and hiding himself from them.
But again, this is human language, trying to capture the, withdrawal of God’s blessing, the absence of God’s support to our purposes, our own foolish attempts to separate ourselves from God,
God still fills all of creation.
His essence, if you like, is not far from us.
The 17th century Puritan pastor Stephen Charnock put it like this,
… he is equally present with the blackest devils, as well as the brightest angels;,
He is equally present with the damned and the blessed,
He is equally present with the good and the bad, with the scoffing Athenians, as well as the believing apostles, in regard of his essence,
but not in regard of the breathing of his divine virtues upon them to make them like himself.
God is not far away!
The Apostle Paul says the same thing in Acts 17.
Of course, we experience this even beyond what David knew.
Through the death of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, we have free and unimpeded relationship with this God.
The sin offerings that the high priest had to offer before he could be welcomed by God have been fulfilled in Jesus’ death.
If you’ve trusted in Jesus’ death in your place, to take away your sin and rebellion, then the omnipresent God is with you, dwelling in you now, whether you’re here, or at home, or watching somewhere else in the world,
And with that unique experience of the omnipresent God within us, Christians of all people will never know distance from God.
Oh, we can impair our relationship with God by refusing to listen to him,
Our behaviour can lead to spiritual blockages.
But if you’re a Christian, and God feels far away,
If it feels like you’ve done a David, and managed to end up somewhere where God is not, then please know not to believe that,
Never believe that for a moment.
The story of humanity begins and ends in the presence of God;,
God is with his people in the garden,
God dwells with his people in the new creation.
And there is no moment in between those 2, where you are far from God, as if God is not there.
You may need to repent,
You may need to, in a sense come to him, but not find where he is and get yourself there,
Rather remove whatever it is that’s hindering your relationship with the God who is already present with you.
B) God isn’t contained in a church building
Since we’re never out of God’s presence, we also never need to go anywhere to get into God’s presence.
Now, again, perhaps that seems entirely logical, but think about what it means for our understanding of church.
We don’t come into this building, in order to come into God’s presence.
Nor do we summon God to come and join us, by what we do here.
Those of you who are watching at home, aren’t missing out on God’s presence by not being here.
We don’t come to church, in order to enter God’s presence. And yet we often hear Christians speaking like that, as if God was sometime contained within these walls.
David says I can’t go anywhere to flee from your presence, God, and yet we sometimes think, “Once I leave this building, I’m out of God’s presence.
Are we going to get to heaven and meet David, and say, “hey, you got it wrong! All you needed to do to get out of God’s presence is walk out the door of church on a Sunday night!”
Now, that’s ridiculous, but it highlights how silly our thinking is sometimes.
Now, it’s great to be able to meet in a building.
We’d be even colder than we are if we were outside!
But let’s not confuse the encouragement we get from meeting God’s people face to face,
Or the awareness of God’s presence that gathering, and singing, and hearing from God’s Word gives us,
Let’s not confuse them with thinking that God is contained in this place, or that we could summon God’s presence here with the right combination of words and singing and smoke machines!
But, in the same way the Bible uses the language of God being far from the wicked, even though he’s still present.
We also find language of God coming near to his people, for example, in his Word.
In Deuteronomy 4, Moses recounts Israel’s relationship with God, and he reminds them that God is always present with them, especially through the hearing of his Word.
So it’s not that God lives within these 4 walls,
Or that he’s not here until our activity here summons him,
But it is true that we experience the nearness of God in a unique way as we hear the Bible.
To have the Bible read is to have God speak to us,
When we gather, and the Bible is read and explained, we have a personal encounter with God.
Theologians sometimes say that God “attends every word of Scripture”, that is, when the Bible is read, God is present and active, making sure every word achieves the purpose for which it’s spoken, Isaiah 55:11.
So yes, we should expect an encounter with God when you come to church, but not because we’ve come into where God is, or we summon God to where we are, but because God comes alongside us in his Word.
To say that we come into God’s presence because of the building,
Or because of our music and whatever else, is to minimise God.
To be brutally honest, it blasphemes God, because we make God out to be less than he is.
In 1 Kings 18, Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal, saying maybe the reason Baal hasn’t responded to their prayers is because he’s travelling. “Maybe he’s on a work trip so he can’t be here today!”
That’s a finite being, a false god, who can’t be everywhere at once.
And if we start talking about the true and living God as if he’s in here, but not in somebody’s front room, we’ve lumped God in with Baal and all the other false gods.
We’ve diminished God.
Our language around church, and gathering, and building, and presence, really matters!
God’s omnipresence matters.
It matters to the person who can’t make it to church because of COVID.
Their experience of Sunday is less because they miss the encouragement of seeing other people,
They don’t get to use their gifts to serve like God put them in the body of Christ to do,
But they’re not missing out on God’s presence, they’re not further from God than you and I are, in the building.
God’s omnipresence matters to the kid who is the only Christian in their family, or the person who’s the only Christian in their workplace.
See, they are not on their own.
There may be long stretches when there’s no other Christian around them to support them and teach them, and encourage them, but they’re not out of God’s presence.
They don’t need to come back to church for a topping up of being near God before going out far away from God.
Keep coming back to church, yes, for equipping and encouragement, to be fueled for ministry, but the last thing we want is people walking out that door thinking they’re leaving God behind.
And what pressure we’d put on those who lead in our services, if it was up to them to conjour up God’s presence, or lead us into the presence of God by what they do.
C) God’s omnipresence means God sees and knows everything
More briefly, God’s omnipresence means God sees and knows everything. We get both these ideas in Psalm 139.
Scholars use the term omniscience to speak of God knowing everything. Again, you don’t have to remember the word, but let’s remember the fact of it.
Because God fills creation, there is no word or thought or action that happens apart from God.
So the idea of a hidden sin, or even a secret, is entirely false, isn’t it?
My sinful thoughts,
My angry words, muttered under my breath,
My frustrations and lovelessness towards others, I always imagine those things to be hidden and secret.
But God is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously, so he sees them and knows them.
It’s why David can say earlier in the Psalm you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
Which, when we want to pray to God,
When we’re lonely,
When we’re at the end of our tether and crying out to God,
That’s when God’s omnipresence is great!
And full of assurance.
But when I’m dabbling with sin,
When I give in to temptation,
When I’m making choices that I know are displeasing to God, then the reminder of God’s constant presence is, more confronting than comforting, isn’t it?
If we pretend that God doesn’t see our sinful behaviour, the only one we’re fooling, is ourselves!
– Would we shy away from sharing the gospel with someone if God was standing right next to us?
Would we speak like that about a Christian brother or sister is God was in the room with us?
Would I indulge my sinful and selfish desires if God was right there?
God is right there!
So let’s not kid ourselves, and pretend God doesn’t see and know.
That is to say, God’s omnipresence is either something to be celebrated or something to be feared, depending on whether or not we’re submitting to his rule, following his king, Jesus, or still active in rebellion against him.
The presence of God in the realm of the dead, establishing justice is experienced very differently to someone knowing the comfort of his presence as guide or, being held fast as verse 10 of the Psalm tells us.
So, as we finish, come back to verse 10 of Psalm 139 with me, to hear what David says it’s like to be in God’s presence.
D) God’s presence is always good news for his people (v 10)
David had said even If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
God is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously, which means sometimes God is present to judge sin and wrongdoing, but for God’s people, the fact that God is present is always good!
Do you hear David’s words? Wherever I go, I don’t just turn up and you’re there!
I turn up and you’re already there,
God’s hand, and right hand in particular, are of course, images, metaphors, since God is incorporeal, without a body.
But God’s right hand is the Bible’s image for the way God acts powerfully to rescue and deliver his people.
So in Exodus 15, Moses and the Israelites praise God for defeating the Egyptian army as God freed his people from slavery in Egypt. And they sing Your right hand, Lord,
was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
shattered the enemy. (15:6)
The same image is used in Psalm 44 to describe God leading the people into the Promised Land of Canaan;, victory didn’t come by the sword, but by God’s right hand.
Do you see the significance of David’s language, calling to mind these enormous moments in the history of God’s people?
It’s that hand of God that is active for David, no matter where he is in the world!
Now, David’s not saying that God is going to repeat those events. Those were one-off events in salvation history.
It’s not that the events will be the same, but that God is the same!
It’s no accident that the word for presence in Psalm 139 and most other places in the Bible, comes from the word for, “face.”
It’s not a word that first brings to mind ideas of power,
That’s what’s in the word that God’s chosen to communicate his presence.
This is why, at another time in his life, David could say 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for, you, are, with me;
We’re in the midst of a pandemic the likes of which we’ve never seen before, but we need fear no evil, since God is present and we can share David’ confidence;,
For God to be present is for his right hand to be at work for us.
John Calvin, the 16th Century church reformer writes:
“Doubtless it is a terrific thing to walk in the darkness of death, and it is impossible for believers, however great their strength may be, not to shudder at it;,
but since, God is present and providing for their safety, the feeling of security overcomes that of fear.”
Why does God’s omnipresence matter?
Because God in his Word assures us, that he is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously, which is always good news for us, his people.
Father, we praise you for who you are, our omnipresent God, in all places and all dimensions.
We thank you that you are therefore never far from us,
We never need to try and find you, or summon up your presence with us.
Thank you that for all who come to you, your presence is never something to be afraid of, but an assurance of your good work for us.
Enable us, through this conviction of your presence with us always, to fear no evil, or situation, or circumstance. We give you great thanks. Amen.