Dr. Richard L. Strauss
November 23, 1979
Have you ever felt like you wanted to run away from God? That's a hard thing to admit, but try to be honest about it. Maybe you've felt like the responsibilities of the Christian life were too heavy for you to bear. You just couldn't be the person you were supposed to be, or do the things God was asking you to do.
Maybe you feel that way right now. Maybe the model of a Christian husband or wife is too overwhelming; you just can't live up to it. You know how a Christian parent is supposed to treat his children, but you seem to blow it at least once a day. You know you ought to talk to those unsaved neighbors about Christ, but you haven't been able to bring yourself to do it. Maybe you committed yourself to teach that class of kids for a year, but you just don't want to face them another Sunday. You know God wants you to flee temptation, but you can't seem to resist it. And you feel like God is on your back. If you could just get away from Him for awhile go someplace where He can't see you, everything would be all right.
That is exactly how the prophet Jonah felt.
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me'" (Jonah 1:1).
God told him to go to the city of Nineveh and preach against its wickedness. That was the last thing in the world Jonah wanted to do. Nineveh was the capital of a proud and powerful nation, and He was sure people there would reject him, maybe even try to kill him. If they did repent God would probably hold back the punishment He had predicted and Jonah would become a laughingstock. There was no way he was going to Nineveh.
"But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord" (Jonah 1:3).
Twice it is mentioned in that verse. Jonah wanted to get away from God's presence. Somehow he had developed the ridiculous notion that God didn't live in Tarshish. He was everywhere else, but not in Tarshish—wherever Tarshish was. We're not really sure where, but many scholars believe it was located on the Atlantic coast of Spain.
Let's talk about that concept: getting away from God. This is a message about God's omnipresence.
1. The Explanation of God's Omnipresence
Jonah should have known better. As a prophet in Israel, he was certainly familiar with the inspired Psalms of Israel's greatest king. David had written a powerful passage about trying to run from God's presence.
a. Psalm 139:7-12
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
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,
Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.
You see, what David is saying is that if God is an infinite spirit, then He is not only free from the limitations of time, but free also from the limitations of locale. He is omnipresent—that is, present everywhere, all the time. No other living being has that attribute. Every other being is restricted to a particular place at a particular time.
I cannot be in Escondido and New York City at that same time. Angels cannot even do that. Satan cannot do it. I know that surprises some people who think that Satan is bothering them all the time, but he can't. Of course, he has legions of demons who do his bidding so they can bother you, but Satan can only be in one place at a time.
But God is wholly present in every part of His domain at the same instant. He isn't partly present in one place and partly present in another; He is as fully present in every particular place as if He were in no other place. God cannot be split into little pieces. Wherever He is, He is in the fullness of His being.
This attribute of God is one of the most difficult for us to grasp with our finite minds. We can understand that God has all power and that He knows everything. But how can He be everywhere at once? The inability of the human mind to comprehend this doctrine may be one reason why so many people choose to worship some lesser being. They have the feeling that to be everywhere may really mean to be nowhere, and they want to worship a god who is somewhere, so they turn to a finite being, or to an idol.
I am not sure that I understand it fully, but I am fully sure that God claims this attribute for Himself in His Word. David assured us that there was absolutely no place he could go to escapes the presence of God, even if he wanted to. Not even pitch blackness could screen him from God's presence, because God sees in the dark as well as the light. Daniel said that, too.
"He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him" (Daniel 2:22).
b. Jeremiah 23:23-24
Jeremiah proclaimed the same truth to the people of his day. The land was filled with dishonesty, profanity, and immorality. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The false prophets of Jeremiah's day were not only condoning it but actually participating in it (Jeremiah 23:11, 14). They were telling the people that God had assured them He would not judge them (Jeremiah 23:17). That's when God spoke through Jeremiah.
"'Am I only a God nearby,' declares the Lord, 'and not a God far away?'" (Jeremiah 23:23).
Those false prophets thought God didn't know what they were doing and saying, that He was limited to one place at a time, that if He was near somebody else, He couldn't be near them. If He was in heaven, then He couldn't know what was happening on earth.
"'Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?' declares the Lord. 'Do not I fill heaven and earth?' declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24).
He fills heaven and earth, just as fully present in one place as another. There is no conceivable place where God is not fully present in the totality of His essence. If there were anyplace God is not present, He could hardly have said that He fills heaven and earth. But He said it, and He means it. Just as an aroma fills a room, God fills His universe and beyond.
Through Isaiah, He said, "The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool" (Isaiah 66:1). There is no place to hide from His presence.
c. 1 Kings 8:27
King Solomon affirmed the truth of God's omnipresence the day the temple was dedicated. It was a building where God would place His name, where He would dwell and where He would meet His people. But in Solomon's majestic prayer of dedication, he revealed a truth that many people still misunderstand today.
"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).
God would dwell in that temple—He promised that. But He would not be restricted to it. You cannot limit God to a building. You cannot even limit Him to a universe. God is everywhere.
He is imminent, that is, here. God is right here in this room. He is also inhabiting and pervading His universe. But at the same time He is transcendent—that is, rising above, and exalted, supreme over His universe.
People don't like to hear this, particularly unbelievers. They want to lock God in a building, where they can visit Him once in a while when it suits them—Christmas and Easter, maybe. But they want to get away from Him the rest of the time.
d. Acts 17:24-28
The Jewish religious leaders in the book of Acts didn't like it. Stephen got himself killed for quoting Solomon and Isaiah on this subject, as well as sharing a few other thoughts from the Scriptures (Acts 7:48-49).
And Paul drew the ridicule of the intelligentsia on Mars Hill for daring to suggest the same thing. Look at what Paul said.
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands" (Acts 17:24).
You cannot lock God in a building. And since He is everywhere, "He is not far from any one of us" (Acts 17:27b).
"For in Him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28a).
Incredible! Just as a bird lives in the air and a fish lives in the water, we actually live in God. Each of us, believer and unbeliever alike, lives in God's presence every minute. Paul was speaking to unbelievers when he said that.
That almost defies our imagination. And for that reason, philosophers throughout the ages have perverted the truth. Some called pantheists have overemphasized God's immanence. To them, God is merely the impersonal forces and laws of nature. He is to be identified with the material universe. So God ends up being the trees and the mountains and the rivers and the sky. The Deists, on the other hand, overemphasize God's transcendence. For them, God is present in His creation only by His power, not in His being and nature. He made the world, but He is not now actively involved in governing it. He has left it to itself. English literature is filled with both distortions.
The truth is that God is both immanent and transcendent. He is distinct from His creation, yet present in every part of it both in his power and in His essential being. God is everywhere.
And yet, the Bible will not let us suppose that God is present in the same sense everywhere. For example, He does not dwell on earth in the same sense He dwells in heaven (Matthew 6:9). He did not dwell with Gentile nations in the same sense He dwelled with His ancient people Israel (Exodus 25:8; 40:34). He did not dwell with the Old Testament Jew in the same sense that He dwells with the New Testament believer (John 14:17). He does not dwell with the unbeliever in the same sense He dwells with the believer (John 14:23). And He does not dwell with the believer now in the same sense He will dwell with him in eternity (Revelation 21:3).
I am not sure how God can dwell with different people in different ways, yet be fully present everywhere in His total being. Maybe He simply makes His presence known in a different measure. But He does claim to be everywhere, and I for one believe it. I read somewhere about a little boy who believed it, too:
He was just a little lad, and on a fine Lord's day,
was wandering home from Sunday School and dawdling on the way.
He scuffed his shoes into the grass; he found a caterpillar;
he found a fluffy milkweed pod and blew out all the filler.
A bird's nest in the tree o'erhead so wisely placed and high,
was just another wonder that caught his eager eye.
A neighbor watched his zig-zag course and hailed him from the lawn,
asked him where he had been that day, and what was going on.
"Oh, I've been to Sunday School." He carefully turned the sod,
and found a snail b'neath it. "I've learned a lot of God."
"M'm, a very fine way," the neighbor said, "for a boy to spend his time.
If you'll tell me where God is, I'll give you a brand new dime."
Quick as a flash his answer came, nor were his accents faint,
"I'll give you a dollar, Mister, if you'll tell me where God ain't."
2. The Application of God's Omnipresence
Jonah soon found out that David was right all along. God is everywhere, and there is no way we can hide from His presence. Jonah went down into the hold of the ship, but God was there. He was thrown into the raging sea, and God was there. He was swallowed by a great fish, and he discovered that along with the tangled seaweed, and stifling heat, and burning acids, God was there. Then he was vomited out on dry land, and found out that God was still there. The reality of God's omnipresence turned his life around. He decided it would be the better part of wisdom to obey a God who was everywhere. He could have saved himself a great deal of grief if he had remembered that from the very beginning.
That seems to be one of our greatest weaknesses, too. We hear these truths and we believe them. I think most of you believe God is omnipresent, everywhere, because you see it in God's Word. But we tend to forget these truths when we need them. We become oblivious to God's presence.
Jacob had that problem. He was running from his brother's wrath when he stopped for a night's rest at Bethel. During the night he had a dream about a ladder with the Lord standing above it speaking:
"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15).
God was with Jacob, but he didn't even realize it.
"When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it'" (Genesis 28:16).
Isn't that just like us? The eternal, sovereign, changeless, all-powerful God of the universe is with us, and we aren't even aware of it. That's happened to me. All of a sudden I realize, wow, God has been here all the time and I didn't even think about it. We live as if He were nowhere around. God doesn't like the fact that we act like He wasn't even there, any more than any of us like others to act as if we weren't there.
Let's remind ourselves of some of the places God promised to go with us, then acknowledge that He is there, and everywhere.
a. God Is with Us in Temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
The Apostle Paul taught us clearly that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit lives within us. He goes everywhere we go, and that should provide an incentive for us to flee from sin.
"Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies" (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Each one of our bodies is a mini-temple, a sacred, dwelling place for the omnipresent God. God wants us to treat our bodies as such. Sexual relations outside marriage defile the temple of God. They dirty up God's dwelling place. To be conscious of God's presence is to guard the purity of His home.
But respect for God's home is not the only deterring power of this doctrine. If we love our Lord at all and want to please Him in any degree, the knowledge that He is with us, watching what we do, is going to have a restraining influence on our behavior. We usually try not to offend someone we truly love. While we may be tempted to do something they disapprove of when we are separated from their watchful eye, we seldom even entertain the thought when they are standing right there looking at us.
The next time you are tempted to disobey God's Word and disregard God's will, visualize God standing right there watching the whole scene. He is there, you know, so you might as well think about it. Sometimes we act like ostriches with their heads in the sand. We think that because we can't see God, He can't see us. But He can and He does.
"The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3).
b. God Is with Us in Need (Hebrews 13:5)
The writer to the Hebrews has something to say about God's presence. He has been talking about temptation to sexual sin, but then turns his attention to the love of money and he exhorts them—us—to be content with what we have. Now let me tell you why that was a problem. Some of the folks to whom he was writing had lost their jobs because of their faith in Christ, and they were facing desperate needs. They were probably worrying about how those needs would be met, but worse still, they were envying other believers who were not suffering and had all they needed. It is this envy that needs to be dealt with.
"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'" (Hebrews 13:5).
Be content with what you have because God is with you. We may not have everything we want in life, but we do have the Lord. He is right there with us. He sees our needs, and He will meet them in His own time and in His own way.
You say, "But I have this bill due tomorrow that I can't pay." Maybe that's His way of encouraging us to evaluate our lifestyle. He wants us to be diligent and to work hard. He wants us to seek His wisdom about every penny you spend, and to stay out of debt. God promises to meet every need without going into debt.
"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
c. God Is with Us in Loneliness (Genesis 16:13)
I want you to meet a lonely woman in the Bible. She was a slave, uprooted from her home in Egypt, and taken to be the handmaid of Abraham's wife Sarah. She had gotten pregnant by Abraham at Sarah's suggestion, but the whole mess of the situation brought such tension and turmoil to the household that she, Hagar, finally ran away. There she was, unloved, unwanted, pregnant, and absolutely alone in a strange land, the victim of Abraham and Sarah's sin. That's when the Lord appeared to Hagar with tender words of encouragement and advice. She learned that God was with her and saw her in her loneliness. He cared.
Listen to what she says.
"She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her [literally El Roi, the God who sees]: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me'"(Genesis 16:13).
Even in her loneliness, God cared.
He is the same God today. He's with us in our loneliness. He still offers words of encouragement and advice. He still cares.
I know you want a warm body near you when you are lonely, and hand you can feel and a voice you can hear. And God may provide that for you in His perfect time. But meanwhile, He is with you, and to believe that can help to dispel the aching loneliness.
d. God Is with Us in Difficult Service (Joshua 1:9)
Many men of God in the Bible faced tasks they believed were beyond them. But the confidence to go on came through the assurance of God's presence. When God called Moses to return to Egypt to deliver the people from bondage, he shuddered at the enormity of the task.
"But Moses said to God, 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?' And God said, 'I will be with you'" (Exodus 3:11-12a).
Again, when God spoke with Moses after the nation's sin with the golden calf, it was the same story. God told him to lead them on to their promised land, but Moses didn’t want to go if God wasn't with him. So again God reaffirmed His promise.
"The Lord replied, 'My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest'" (Exodus 33:14).
When Joshua took over the leadership of the nation after Moses' death, he struggled with the same lack of confidence. But God was right there to encourage him.
"No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you... Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:5, 9).
If God was with Joshua, he could conquer the land.
When our Lord's disciples heard His commission to make disciples of all nations, they must have trembled at the vastness of what they were being asked to do...until the Lord added that one phrase. Do you remember is? "And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20, NASB). That made all the difference in the world.
I can testify to you quite honestly that I would not be here today were it not for the promise of God's presence. With my personality, I don’t have the innate gifts to [lead a large church like this]. This job is too big, the responsibility too great, and my abilities much too weak and inadequate. But I have that promise. God is with me.
The whole pastoral staff has that promise. The leadership of this church has that promise. And you have it, too. You can be confident. God never asks us to do anything by ourselves.
If He has given you a job to do, He promises to be with you when you do it.
e. God Is with Us in Danger (Acts 18:9-11)
The Apostle Paul faced many dangerous situations in the course of his apostolic ministry, one of which was in Corinth. The Jews were disturbed at the numbers of people turning to Christ and the situation seemed to be as potentially explosive as a barrel of TNT beside a campfire. Paul seriously considered leaving the city.
"One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.'" So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God” (Acts 18:9-11).
The key to his courage was in those words, "I am with you." God said much the same thing to the tiny nation Israel in the Old Testament when she was surrounded by giant world powers which threatened to destroy her.
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10).
And that is His promise to us.
There is nothing to fear for the child of God, for God is present in all those places where people are often afraid. Some people are afraid to get on airplanes. God rides airplanes; did you know that? He is in every plane in the sky right now, and in every plane on the ground—because He's everywhere. He's also in elevators, in that cramped room, in those high places, in those snake-infested jungles, in that new experience with people we don't know.
He was even in that fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished to see four people instead of just the three he had cast in (Daniel 3:24-25). It was a fulfillment of God's promise through Isaiah.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
Why should we fear when God is there? Turn to our Scripture reading for this morning:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea...
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:1-2, 7
An ever-present help in trouble. The Lord of hosts is with us!
f. God Is with Us in Death (Psalm 23:4)
This is the ultimate source of anxiety and fear for many folks. But God is right there with us.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
When we face the death of a loved one and that shadow falls over us, this thought brings greater consolation than all the words of human friends put together: God is with us. And when we face our own departure from this earthly scene, there is no reason for alarm. God is walking with us right into heaven's glory (see Psalm 73:24).
What more can we ask? Wherever we go, whatever we face, our omnipresent Lord is with us. Ezekiel called Him Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord who is there (Ezekiel 48:35).
That's who He is. He's always here. He's everywhere. He is our omnipresent God.
Believe that, Christian. Don’t ignore Him any longer. Cultivate a consciousness of His presence in your life. Let Him be a part of every circumstance. The awareness of His presence can make a difference in the quality of our lives, and bring us more satisfaction in our lives than we ever thought possible. Our God is with us.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
But I have to say there's no comfort in the doctrine of omnipresence for an unbeliever. You are in God's presence even if you never trusted Jesus Christ as your savior. And God will even be present in hell because He's everywhere. But it won't be any source of consolation or comfort to you, I can assure you. The Bible teaches that His presence will be manifest in judgment and in wrath. That doesn’t sound like fun to me. But there's no need for you to suffer that—absolutely no necessity whatsoever—because God sent His Son to Calvary's cross to die in your place and to experience all His wrath and judgment against sin. the price has been paid. Christ died for our sins. All He asks you to do is acknowledge that we're sinners, put our trust in Him and believe that He paid the penalty for our sins. Trust Him to be our savior and sin-bearer. And He forgives us. He brings us into His family, makes us His children, and assures us of eternity in His presence, where we will enjoy His companionship, and fellowship, and comfort—not His judgment and His wrath. If you've never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, we invite you to do that today.
God Is Omnipresent
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9 NIV
Continue to AT-10: The Holy One