Kids are often the best instigators of theological thought. I am becoming more and more convinced that if those who are called to teach the Bible and theological truths are not making it a consistent habit to prioritize the education of kids, they may quickly get lost in a sea of irrelevant thinking that has no connection to the real world. Kids have a way of grounding us. I remember one time when my sister, Kristie, was eight-years-old. My mother sat on her bed telling us about Jesus’ return. “Jesus could return at any time,” my mother said. Suddenly, Kristie jumped off the bed and ran out of the room as fast as lightning. My mother called her back and asked why she was running. Kristie responded, “I’m going to get my shoes!”
Just the other day, I was talking to Zach, my three year old, about God. He asked me where God was. I am always at a bit of a loss with that question when kids ask it. When my daughter Katelynn was his age and asked the same question, I told her that he was right here with us. “In this room?” She said, “Yep,” I told her. She then ran and hid. She thought Jesus was a ghost walking around in our house. Zach asks, “Where is God. I don’t see him.” I told him, “I don’t know. Where do you think he is? “Up in the sky,” he responded. I said, “God is everywhere. No matter where you go, you cannot get away from him.” For a three year old, that is about the best I can do right now. But we need to be careful. Technically speaking, the “God is everywhere” response can be very misleading.
My associate, Tim Kimberley, executive director of Credo House Ministries, was recounting how a professor of ours in seminary, Dr. Jeffery Bingham, chair of the theological studies department at Dallas Theological Seminary, used to have fun with the notion that God is everywhere. While speaking about it in class, he would pause, take a deep breath, and say, “Wait, did I just breathe in some God?”
When we talk about the essence of God, we are talking about a God that does not have a relationship to time, space, and matter. In other words, God created everything (time, space, and matter) out of nothing and does not share in its physical attributes. This is such an important statement that it bears repeating: God created everything (time, space, and matter) out of nothing and does not share in its physical attributes. The theological term for this is “Transcendence.”
The dictionary defines transcendence as “Having continuous existence outside the created world.” Good, but not quite as much as we need. God does not really have an extension in space. One cannot measure the breadth of his stature. In his trinitarian essence, he has no height, weight, color, or gait to his walk. Being transcendent is another aspect of God’s “holiness.” To be “holy” means “to be set apart,” “to be different.” God is not only morally holy, but he is also ontologically holy. In other words, his very being—his essence, his ontos—is separate, distinct, and beyond us. This means that in a very real sense, we will never “see” God with our eyes. Notice what Paul says here:
1 Timothy 6:16
[God] who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. (NAS)
I love this verse. Notice that he dwells (or has his place of existence) in a light that is unapproachable (apositon; a negation of positon, meaning “to come before” or “approach”). And if that were not enough to convince us of the utter transcendent holiness of God’s nature, Paul goes on to say that no one has seen or can (dunatai; “has the ability”) see him. I have heard people say that the Western Evangelical concept of God and his transcendence are not found in the Bible, but are left overs from distorted Greek thought. Someone forgot to tell Paul!
I know that some of you are disappointed since you don’t think you will be able to see God. While it is true that we won’t ever see his essence, we do see real manifestations of him in his relational presence.
If I stopped with transcendence, we would have nothing but the primary ingredients for a worldview called “Deism.” Deists believe that God is transcendent to all of creation, but they also think that he cannot, due to his utter transcendence, interact within creation. Hence the uniqueness of the Christian worldview. The Bible teaches us that God is both transcendent and immanent. He is both far off and near. He is both creator and sustainer. He is beyond time and acting within it. He is holy and active. God is relationally present, manifesting his love and power in many ways, not the least of which is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Each member of the Trinity are active in time, space, and matter in a very real way.
Is God Everywhere?
Having run through some of this theological prologue, I think we can now begin to deal with the idea that God is everywhere. We believe that God is omnipresent (omni “all” + present). But his omnipresence does not have to do with his extension in space as if God’s being is spread out all over the universe (Stop. Did I just breathe in some God?). It has to do with space’s relationship to him.
Here is what I believe to be a better definition of God’s omnipresence:
“God is Everywhere.”
“Everywhere is in God’s immediate presence.”
I write this because I see many Christians describing God in such a way that toys with pantheism. While we might accommodate to some degree to such concepts when our children are three-years-old, we must quickly graduate to a proper view of God that recognizes the tension between the transcendence of God’s being and the immanence of his presence and activity.
Pantheism is the belief that God’s being is present everywhere and in every thing. Indeed, for the pantheist, when you breath, you do breath in God. The “god” of pantheism is an impersonal being who created all that there is out of necessity. The universe is what he is. The God of the Bible is in no way physically dependent or a part of his creation. He freely created all things out of nothing (ex nihilo).
However, sometimes the Christian definition of God’s omnipresence feels very pantheistic (Hold on. Did I just breathe in some more God?). Often our understanding of God’s omnipresence suggests that God is some extremely large being, taking up a vast amount of space, or that he is somehow evenly spread out across the entire universe. Folks, we are not pantheists. We believe in a God who stands in a transcendent relationship with all his creation, yet is actively and relationally engaged in it. This is a great mystery to be sure, but it is a mysterious necessity and should not yield to descriptions that do more harm than good.
While God’s essence is not everywhere, God’s presence is everywhere. Therefore, there is nowhere that can flee from God’s immediate presence.
“Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.9 If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,10 Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” 12 Even the darkness is not dark to Thee, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee. (NAS)