Ever have those days when you wish you could be in two places at once? When life gets busy, you start to feel your limitations—not just physically, but geographically. Fighting traffic to “get it all done” is a reminder—once again—that we are limited, while God is limitless.
When Solomon contemplates the task of building God’s temple, he remarks:
27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)
Solomon is only affirming what we’ve said earlier this week: that God is eternal, and distinct from His creation. Here, though, the text indicates that God cannot be “contained” by physical structures. Likewise, Jeremiah remarks that God’s presence is infinite:
24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:24)
‑In theology we call this “omnipresence”—literally meaning “all-present.” It refers to God being unlimited in His ability to make Himself known at anywhere at anytime. Again, this naturally flows from God’s simplicity. Because God is independent of His creation, He is not limited by things like space or distance.
For David, this truth was deeply personal:
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you (Psalm 139:7-12)
For David, God’s omnipresence was reason for praise, reason for joy. Why? Because there was nowhere in creation—or beyond—that was outside the limits of God’s will, and if God’s presence is without limit, our trust in Him can be also.
IS GOD PRESENT IN HELL?
David mentions that God is present in “Sheol.” Now, it’s unclear what Israel believed about the afterlife at this time—it wasn’t until Jesus came on the scene that a clear understanding of “heaven” and “hell” began to emerge. But David’s mention of “Sheol” or “the grave” might prompt some to wonder: can God be present in Hell?
Once again, we must admit that we are only human minds seeking to understand an infinite God. We have good reason to admit our confusion and our lack of understanding. We can at least start by re-framing the question a bit.
First, what does it really mean to be “present?” Does this mean that God is literally, physically present everywhere? Well, if God is independent of creation, He can’t be—because to be everywhere at once would unite Him with creation. So in one sense, God can’t physically be present everywhere because to do so would be to violate His nature.
So what does it mean to “fill heaven and earth,” as Scripture affirms? Well, it means that God can make His character and His will known anywhere at anytime. There is nowhere in creation–or perhaps even the world beyond–that is outside of God’s jurisdiction. So is God present in Hell? Well, as bleak as the subject may be, do we not see God’s justice made known, His judgment carried through? So yes; God is truly present in all places.
IS JESUS OMNIPRESENT?
What about Jesus, then? We’ll learn in a week or so that Jesus is fully God but also fully human. Since Jesus became a human being, did His lose His ability to be omnipresent?
The short answer is “no,” though this is also hard to fathom. Jesus, of course, never stopped being human. Following His resurrection His body transformed into some sort of glorified state, but remained human nonetheless. This means that Jesus is still human, today.
But that doesn’t stop Jesus from being present among His people. On two separate occasions Jesus affirms that His presence is limitless:
“…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)
“…behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
In the sixteenth century, John Calvin wrote:
“Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be home in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!” (John Calvin, Institutes, 2:13:4)
I admit that I can’t quite understand how Jesus’ divine and human natures relate to one another in this context. But we can be thankful that this means that Jesus has no blind spots. There is not a single square inch of creation that is not His. And that also means there is nowhere we can go that lies outside of God’s protection and care. And that is a reason for trust.