This is known as his omnipresence. There is no place in the universe where he is not there—he is in every corner.
This attribute—also called a perfection—is considered incommunicable or “unshareable” or “non-transferrable” to us humans because we cannot be everywhere at the same time and in our whole being. But God can.
Let’s start off with some high-quality writings and definitions. Don’t be frustrated if you have to read this section several times before it “clicks.”
What do theologians say?
Renewal theologian J. Rodman Williams explains the term omnipresence (all-present):
Omnipresence signifies that God is totally present everywhere in creation. Hence we are not to understand God as spatially spread throughout the universe so that a part of him is here, another part there. God’s filling heaven and earth means rather that He is totally and equally present everywhere. He is as much present to a single atom as to the most distant star, to a single seed as to all the plants and trees of the world. There is no place where God is not. He is everywhere. (vol. 1, p. 77).
Norman Geisler reminds us what omnipresence does not mean:
It does not mean that God is creation; this is pantheism. In theism God made the world; in pantheism God is the world; Nor does omnipresence mean that God is in creation, which is panentheism” (p. 493, emphasis original).
Then Geisler gives us three illustrations: God is in the universe or present to the whole universe the way the mind is in its brain, or beauty is present in art, or thought in a sentence. Note how the mind, beauty, and thought are not physical, but are present and penetrate the whole physical things without one part being in another part of the thing. God is indivisible (“simple” or not in parts), and infinite and immense.
So a defective illustration is water filling a swimming pool because water can be divided into separate molecules, where each one is in different parts of the water. God is not physical, so his whole being is everywhere at the same time, not a part here and a part there. So go back to the mind, beauty, and thought illustrations.
Millard Erickson says that objects have to be in one place and not another. They are limited. However, God is different. He is not confined to space at all, for he is the one who brought space and the entire universe into being—he created it. He cannot be local in one place. Then Erickson teaches us about the tension between immanence (he is everywhere or right here) and transcendence (he is not anywhere in creation or out there) (p. 243). It is difficult for us to conceive of those two realities, but only God can do it.
Let’s conclude this section thus: This is called God’s immanence (he is “down here”), which is opposite to his transcendence (he is “up there”). God is not limited by time or space, but he himself is present everywhere without being in parts. God himself is omnipresent. He is not creation itself, but is distinct from it. He is not in creation as if he is confined by it, yet he is everywhere because he is a non-physical being, while all of creation is physical. Therefore there is no contradiction because those are two different terms—physical and nonphysical.
This attribute or perfection means that God is everywhere because he is Spirit and does not exist in parts, here or there, and he is not confined by the universe nor is he the universe.
What do the Scriptures teach?
I use the NIV. If you would like to see the following verses in many translations or in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
God cannot be contained by the universe, but he can be found by humans:
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)
See 1 Kings 8:28, below, for how God connects with us in his immanence (God is here).
In the next passage the psalmist poetically expresses God’s omnipresence:
For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land. (Ps. 95:3-5)
Now the psalmist personalizes God’s immanence / omnipresence to us humans, and then says even the darkness of space cannot hide him:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 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,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 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. (Ps. 139:7-12)
God fills the heavens and earth, and is not just a God for “Me and God by ourselves”:
“Am I only a God nearby,”
declares the Lord,
“and not a God far away?
24 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. (Jer. 23:23-24)
Here Jesus teaches us that even when we go into a secret place God is there and sees us:
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matt. 6:6)
The resurrected Jesus, now in heaven, will always be with us, no matter where we may go:
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt. 28:20b)
Next, Paul preaches to intellectual Athenians that God is not limited by temples or statues, but he is so involved with us that he sustains us; we don’t sustain him by offerings:
24 “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.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. … 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:24-25, 28)
Jesus himself sustains all things, so his power is everywhere without being identical or confused with his creation:
3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Heb. 1:3)
Finally, all created things depend on God, so he knows it and causes its existence.
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being. (Rev. 4:11)
In light of all these passages, God causes the universe to come into being, and in that sense he can be everywhere.
So how do I know God more deeply?
God is omnipresent, but God is here for you. So God acts in space to reveal himself to humans who have faith in him or who at least seeks him. God the Omnipresent One comes down to our level. This truth should not necessarily scare you, for he is love. Isaiah proclaims that when the eternal God dwells in the highest place, God is there to help you; he will enable you to repent and have a contrite heart:
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Is. 57:15)
Finally, God does not dwell in temples in the sense that he is confined there, but when you pray in God’s house he will meet you there:
1 Kings 8:27-28 says:
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! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.
God’s presence is with you, no matter where you go. Travel across country? God is there! Going into battle? God is there! Going through a transition in life, like marriage or having a child? God is there! Going through a sad moment, like a divorce or the death of a loved one? God is there.
God is everywhere you are!
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES “DO I REALLY KNOW GOD?”
Do I Really Know God? He Is Everywhere