Where, exactly, is God? Scripture reveals the reality, both comforting and sobering, that God is everywhere.
"Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me" (Psalm 139:7-10 ESV).
From our human perspective, it can be difficult to imagine a being that has no size, no spatial qualities, and no dimensions. God does not have to "spread Himself thin" to fill the universe. He is fully and equally present in all parts of His creation at all times. God's astonishing omnipresence is one of the foundation stones of Scripture.
However, there are also times in Scripture when God's presence seems especially localized. Once their sin had been found out, Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves from God (Gen 3:8). Later, Cain "went away from the presence of the Lord" after murdering his brother (Gen 4:16). One of the most striking references to God's presence is found in Exodus 33. After being told by God that His presence would go with Israel, and that He would give them rest, Moses communicates that he would not lead the Israelites away from Mt. Sinai unless God's presence went with them. "For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?" (Ex 33:16, ESV). For Moses, God's evident, localized presence was an indispensable distinctive of God's chosen people.
At times, God's presence brings dramatic, tangible effects. When Moses offered sacrifices upon the completion of the tabernacle, he was "not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Ex 40:35, ESV). That event was replayed when Solomon's temple was completed and the priests transferred the ark from the Tent of Meeting (1Ki 8:10-11).
In the New Testament, we are brought face to face with God's presence through the incarnation. Jesus, the one who "tabernacled" with us, is called Immanuel, "God with us." The Holy Spirit also plays a key role in experiencing God's presence. Wayne Grudem writes, "One of His primary purposes in the new covenant age is to manifest the presence of God, to give indications that make the presence of God known. And when the Holy Spirit works in various ways that can be perceived by believers and unbelievers, this encourages people's faith that God is near and that He is working to fulfill His purposes in the church and to bring blessing to His people" (Systematic Theology, p. 641).
This "blessing" is what we usually mean when we speak of God being present. Although God reveals His presence in different ways-to sustain, punish, or to watch (Col 1:17, Amos 9:1-4, Heb 4:13)-we're usually much less aware of His activity at those times. The point to remember is that the infinite God who fills the heavens is somehow able and willing to localize His presence to certain places at certain times.
So how does all this relate to our times of worship in song? We'll look at that next time.
- To live in the presence of God is to live a cross-centered life. Here's the best book on that subject that I know of - by my senior pastor, C.J. Mahaney. Read chapter excerpts from The Cross-Centered Life on the Sovereign Grace website here or order it from the Sovereign Grace Store by clicking here.
- It's the presence of God that makes the church the dearest place on earth. If you need to refresh your vision and passion for the local church, then check out this new audio series from the pastors of my church, "The Church: The Dearest Place on Earth." You can download MP3 files or order the series from the Sovereign Grace Store.
Bob Kauflin is the Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries.