Omnipresence, a study in God’s Incommunicable Attributes

Omnipresence, a study in God’s Incommunicable Attributes by Jack Kettler

The incommunicable attributes of God are those that belong to God alone. For example, such attributes as omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence are incommunicable. These attributes are distinct from God’s communicable attributes such as knowledge, creativity, love, forgiveness. Man can share in the communicable attributes whereas the incommunicable attributes, he cannot.

In this study we will focus on God’s Omnipresence. How can omnipotence be defined?

That perfection of God whereby he is infinite with respect to space, with his whole being present everywhere all the time, yet he cannot be contained by space.*

An attribute of God alone. It is the quality of being present in all places at all times (Jeremiah 23:23.4). He is not bound by time and space. This does not mean that nature is a part of God and is, therefore, to be worshiped. Creation is separate from God, but not independent of Him. **

Omnipresence is the presence of God everywhere at the same time.

From Scripture, God’s Omnipresence is seen in the following verses:

“But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? Behold heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee: how much less this house which I have built!” (2 Chronicles 6:18)

“Wither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Psalms 139:7)

“Thus Saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1)

“Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24)

“Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down.” (Amos 9:2)

“He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.” (John 3:31)

“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:24-28)

The Triune God and Omnipresence:

All three members of the triune God have the attribute of omnipresence. For example, all three are everywhere-present. The Father in Matthew 19:26. The Son in Matthew 28:18 and the Holy Spirit in Psalm 139:7.

Commentary Evidence from the Old Testament passage of Jeremiah 23:24:

Jeremiah 23:24; from Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord,…. If a man should hide himself in the most secret and hidden places of the earth, and do his works in the most private manner, so that no human eye can see him, he cannot hide himself or his actions from the Lord, who can see from heaven to earth, and through the darkest and thickest clouds, and into the very bowels of the earth, and the most hidden and secret recesses and caverns of it. The darkness and the light are both alike to him; and also near and distant, open and secret places:

do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord; not only with inhabitants, and with other effects of his power and providence; but with his essence, which is everywhere, and is infinite and immense, and cannot be contained in either, or be limited and circumscribed by space and place; see 1 Kings 8:27. The Targum is,

“does not my glory fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord;”’

both of them are full of his glory; and every person and thing in either must be seen and known by him; and so the false prophets and their lies; in order to convince of the truth of which, all this is said, as appears by the following words. (1)

Commentary Evidence from the New Testament passage of John 3:31:

John 3:31; from Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

He that cometh from above, Meaning Christ; not that he brought his human nature with him from heaven, or that that is of a celestial nature; but he came from heaven in his divine person, not by change of place, he being God immense and infinite, but by assumption of human nature; which he took upon him, in order to do in it his Father’s will, and the work of our salvation.

Is above all; above John, before whom he was preferred, for he was before him; above the prophets of the Old Testament, and even above Moses, the chief of them; yea, above all the angels in heaven, being God over all, blessed forever: wherefore all glory is to be given him; no honour is to be envied him, or detracted from him.

He that is of the earth; as John was, and all mankind are, being descended from Adam, who was, made of the dust of the earth; and who dwell in houses of clay, and in earthly tabernacles, which are at last resolved into their original dust:

is earthly; of an earthly nature, frame, temper, and disposition; see John 3:6. Men naturally mind earthly things; and it is owing to the Spirit and grace of God, if they mind and savour spiritual things, or have their affections set on things above, or their conversation in heaven; and even such, at times, find that their souls cleave unto the dust, and are hankering after the things of the earth:

and speaketh of the earth; of earthly things, as in John 3:12; and indeed of heavenly things, in an earthly manner, in a low way, and by similes and comparisons taken from the things of the earth; not being able to speak of celestial things, as in their own nature, and in that sublime way the subject requires: but

he that cometh from heaven is above all; men and angels, in the dignity of his person; and all prophets and teachers, in the excellency of his doctrine, and manner of delivering it: and therefore it is not to be wondered at, that he should be followed as he is; but rather it should seem marvellous, that he has no more followers than he has; in the Apocrypha:

“For like as the ground is given unto the wood, and the sea to his floods: even so they that dwell upon the earth may understand nothing but that which is upon the earth: and he that dwelleth above the heavens may only understand the things that are above the height of the heavens.”’ (2 Esdras 4:21) (2)

OMNIPRESENCE from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

OMNIPRESENCE

om-ni-prez’-ens:

1. Non-Occurrence of the Term in Scripture:

Neither the noun “omnipresence” nor adjective “omnipresent” occurs in Scripture, but the idea that God is everywhere present is throughout presupposed and sometimes explicitly formulated. God’s omnipresence is closely related to His omnipotence and omniscience:

That He is everywhere enables Him to act everywhere and to know all things, and, conversely, through omnipotent action and omniscient knowledge He has access to all places and all secrets (compare Psalms 139). Thus conceived, the attribute is but the correlate of the monotheistic conception of God as the Infinite Creator, Preserver and Governor of the universe, immanent in His works as well as transcendent above them.

2. Philosophical and Popular Ideas of Omnipresence:

The philosophical idea of omnipresence is that of exemption from the limitations of space, subjectively as well as objectively; subjectively, in so far as space, which is a necessary form of all created consciousness in the sphere of sense-perception, is not thus constitutionally inherent in the mind of God; objectively, in so far as the actuality of space-relations in the created world imposes no limit upon the presence and operation of God. This metaphysical conception of transcendence above all space is, of course, foreign to the Bible, which in regard to this, as in regard to the other transcendent attributes, clothes the truth of revelation in popular language, and speaks of exemption from the limitations of space in terms and figures derived from space itself. Thus, the very term “omnipresence” in its two component parts “everywhere” and “present” contains a double inadequacy of expression, both the notion of “everywhere” and that of “presence” being spacial concepts. Another point, in regard to which the popular nature of the Scriptural teaching on this subject must be kept in mind, concerns the mode of the divine omnipresence. In treating the concept philosophically, it is of importance to distinguish between its application to the essence, to the activity, and to the knowledge of God. The Bible does not draw these distinctions in the abstract. Although sometimes it speaks of God’s omnipresence with reference to the pervasive immanence of His being, it frequently contents itself with affirming the universal extent of God’s power and knowledge (Deuteronomy 4:39; 10:14; Psalms 139:6-16; Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 23:23,24; Amos 9:2).

3. Theories Denying Omnipresence of Being:

This observation has given rise to theories of a mere omnipresence of power or omnipresence by an act of will, as distinct from an omnipresence of being. But it is plain that in this antithetical form such a distinction is foreign to the intent of the Biblical statements in question. The writers in these passages content themselves with describing the practical effects of the attribute without reflecting upon the difference between this and its ontological aspect; the latter is neither affirmed nor denied. That no denial of the omnipresence of being is intended may be seen from Jeremiah 23:24, where in the former half of the verse the omnipresence of 23:23 is expressed in terms of omniscience, while in the latter half the idea finds ontological expression. Similarly, in Psalms 139, compare verse 2 with verses 7, and verses 13. As here, so in other passages the presence of God with His being in all space is explicitly affirmed (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6; Isaiah 66:1; Acts 17:28).

4. Denial of the Presence of the Idea in the Earlier Parts of the Old Testament:

Omnipresence being the correlate of monotheism, the presence of the idea in the earlier parts of the Old Testament is denied by all those who assign the development of monotheism in the Old Testament religion to the prophetic period from the 8th century onward. It is undoubtedly true that the earliest narratives speak very anthropomorphically of God’s relation to space; they describe Him as coming and going in language such as might be used of a human person. But it does not follow from this that the writers who do so conceive of God’s being as circumscribed by space. Where such forms of statement occur, not the presence of God in general, but His visible presence in theophany is referred to. If from the local element entering into the description God’s subjection to the limitations of space were inferred, then one might with equal warrant, on the basis of the physical, sensual elements entering into the representation, impute to the writers the view that the divine nature is corporeal.

5. The Special Redemptive and Revelatory Presence of God:

The theophanic form of appearance does not disclose what God is ontologically in Himself, but merely how He condescends to appear and work for the redemption of His people. It establishes a redemptive and revelatory presence in definite localities, which does not, in the mind of the writer, detract from the divine omnipresence. Hence, it is not confined to one place; the altars built in recognition of it are in patriarchal history erected in several places and coexist as each and all offering access to the special divine presence. It is significant that already during the patriarchal period these theophanies and the altars connected with them are confined to the Holy Land. This shows that the idea embodied in them has nothing to do with a crude conception of the Deity as locally circumscribed, but marks the beginning of that gradual restoration of the gracious presence of God to fallen humanity, the completion of which forms the goal of redemption. Thus, God is said to dwell in the ark, in the tabernacle, on Mt. Zion (Numbers 10:35; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; Psalms 3:4; 99:1); in the temple (1 Kings 8; Psalms 20:2; 26:8; 46:5; 48:2; Isaiah 8:18; Joel 3:16,21; Amos 1:2); in the Holy Land (1 Samuel 26:19; Hosea 9:3); in Christ (John 1:14; 2:19; Colossians 2:9); in the church (John 14:23; Romans 8:9,11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ephesians 2:21,22; 3:11; 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 10:21; 1 Peter 2:5); in the eschatological assembly of His people (Revelation 21:3). In the light of the same principle must be interpreted the presence of God in heaven. This also is not to be understood as an ontological presence, but as a presence of specific theocratic manifestation (1 Kings 8:27; Psalms 2:4; 11:4; 33:13; 104:3; Isaiah 6:1; 63:15; 66:1; Habakkuk 2:20; Matthew 5:34; 6:9; Acts 7:48; 17:28; Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 1:3). How little this is meant to exclude the presence of God elsewhere may be seen from the fact that the two representations, that of God’s self-manifestation in heaven and in the earthly sanctuary, occur side by side (1 Kings 8:26-53; Psalms 20:2-6; Amos 9:6). It has been alleged that the idea of God’s dwelling in heaven marks a comparatively late attainment in the religion of Israel, of which in the pre-prophetic period no trace can as yet be discovered (so Stade, Bibl. Theol. des Altes Testament, I, 103, 104). There are, however, a number of passages in the Pentateuch bearing witness to the early existence of this belief (Genesis 11:1-9; 19:24; 21:17; 22:11; 28:12). Yahweh comes, according to the belief of the earliest period, with the clouds (Exodus 14:19, 20; 19:9, 18; 24:15; Numbers 11:25; 12:5). That even in the opinion of the people Yahweh’s local presence in an earthly sanctuary need not have excluded Him from heaven follows also from the unhesitating belief in His simultaneous presence in a plurality of sanctuaries. If it was not a question of locally circumscribed presence as between sanctuary and sanctuary, it need not have been as between earth and heaven (compare Gunkel, Gen, 157).

6. Religious Significance:

Both from a generally religious and from a specifically soteriological point of view the omnipresence of God is of great practical importance for the religious life. In the former respect it contains the guaranty that the actual nearness of God and a real communion with Him may be enjoyed everywhere, even apart from the places hallowed for such purpose by a specific gracious self-manifestation (Psalms 139:5-10). In the other respect the divine omnipresence assures the believer that God is at hand to save in every place where from any danger or foe His people need salvation (Isaiah 43:2).

LITERATURE.

Oehler, Theologie des A T (3), 174; Riehm, Alttestamentliche Theologie, 262; Dillmann, Handbuch der alttestamentlichen Theologie, 246; Davidson, Old Testament Theology, 180; Konig, Geschichte der alttestamentlichen Religion, 197.

Geerhardus Vos (3)

In closing we will look at a Gem from Louis Berkof:

The Infinity of God by Louis Berkhof:

The infinity of God is that perfection of God by which He is free from all limitations. In ascribing it to God we deny that there are or can be any limitations to the divine Being or attributes. It implies that He is in no way limited by the universe, by this time-space world, or confined to the universe. It does not involve His identity with the sum-total of existing things, nor does it exclude the co-existence of derived and finite things, to which He bears relation. The infinity of God must be conceived as intensive rather than extensive, and should not be confused with boundless extension, as if God were spread out through the entire universe, one part being here and another there, for God has no body and therefore no extension. Neither should it be regarded as a merely negative concept, though it is perfectly true that we cannot form a positive idea of it. It is a reality in God fully comprehended only by Him. We distinguish various aspects of God’s infinity.

1. HIS ABSOLUTE PERFECTION. This is the infinity of the Divine Being considered in itself. It should not be understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of God. Infinite power is not an absolute quantum, but an exhaustless potency of power; and infinite holiness is not a boundless quantum of holiness, but a holiness which is, qualitatively free from all limitation or defect. The same may be said of infinite knowledge and wisdom, and of infinite love and righteousness. Says Dr. Orr: “Perhaps we can say that infinity in God is ultimately: (a) internally and qualitatively, absence of all limitation and defect; (b) boundless potentiality.”[Side-Lights on Christian Doctrine, p. 26.] In this sense of the word the infinity of God is simply identical with the perfection of His Divine Being. Scripture proof for it is found in Job 11:7-10; Ps. 145:3; Matt. 5:48.

2. HIS ETERNITY. The infinity of God in relation to time is called His eternity. The form in which the Bible represents God’s eternity is simply that of duration through endless ages, Ps. 90:2; 102:12; Eph. 3:21. We should remember, however, that in speaking as it does the Bible uses popular language, and not the language of philosophy. We generally think of God’s eternity in the same way, namely, as duration infinitely prolonged both backwards and forwards. But this is only a popular and symbolical way of representing that which in reality transcends time and differs from it essentially. Eternity in the strict sense of the word is ascribed to that which transcends all temporal limitations. That it applies to God in that sense is at least intimated in II Pet. 3:8. “Time,” says Dr. Orr, “strictly has relation to the world of objects existing in succession. God fills time; is in every part of it; but His eternity still is not really this being in time. It is rather that to which time forms a contrast.”[Ibid. p. 26.] Our existence is marked off by days and weeks and months and years; not so the existence of God. Our life is divided into a past, present and future, but there is no such division in the life of God. He is the eternal “I am.” His eternity may be defined as that perfection of God whereby He is elevated above all temporal limits and all succession of moments, and possesses the whole of His existence in one indivisible present. The relation of eternity to time constitutes one of the most difficult problems in philosophy and theology, perhaps incapable of solution in our present condition.

3. HIS IMMENSITY. The infinity of God may also be viewed with reference to space, and is then called His immensity. It may be defined as that perfection of the Divine Being by which He transcends all spatial limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with His whole Being. It has a negative and a positive side, denying all limitations of space to the Divine Being, and asserting that God is above space and fills every part of it with His whole Being. The last words are added, in order to ward off the idea that God is diffused through space, so that one part of His Being is present in one place, and another part in some other place. We distinguish three modes of presence in space. Bodies are in space circumscriptively, because they are bounded by it; finite spirits are in space definitively, since they are not everywhere, but only in a certain definite place; and in distinction from both of these God is in space repletively, because He fills all space. He is not absent from any part of it, nor more present in one part than in another.

In a certain sense the terms “immensity” and “omnipresence,” as applied to God, denote the same thing, and can therefore be regarded as synonymous. Yet there is a point of difference that should be carefully noted. “Immensity” points to the fact that God transcends all space and is not subject to its limitations, while “omnipresence” denotes that He nevertheless fills every part of space with His entire Being. The former emphasizes the transcendence, and the latter, the immanence of God. God is immanent in all His creatures, in His entire creation, but is in no way bounded by it. In connection with God’s relation to the world we must avoid, on the one hand, the error of Pantheism, so characteristic of a great deal of present day thinking, with its denial of the transcendence of God and its assumption that the Being of God is really the substance of all things; and, on the other hand, the Deistic conception that God is indeed present in creation per potentiam (with His power), but not per essentiam et naturam (with His very Being and nature), and acts upon the world from a distance. Though God is distinct from the world and may not be identified with it, He is yet present in every part of His creation, not only per potentiam, but also per essentiam. This does not mean, however, that He is equally present and present in the same sense in all His creatures. The nature of His indwelling is in harmony with that of His creatures. He does not dwell on earth as He does in heaven, in animals as He does in man, in the inorganic as He does in the organic creation, in the wicked as He does in the pious, nor in the Church as He does in Christ. There is an endless variety in the manner in which He is immanent in His creatures, and in the measure in which they reveal God to those who have eyes to see. The omnipresence of God is clearly revealed in Scripture. Heaven and earth cannot contain Him, I Kings 8:27; Isa. 66:1; Acts 7:48,49; and at the same time He fills both and is a God at hand, Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23,24; Acts 17:27,28. (4)

Final thoughts:

God is also immanent. This means that God is within or near His creation. Immanence is intimately related to God’s omnipresence, in that God is always present within the universe, though separate from it. God is within the universe and is its sustaining cause.

Surely, man cannot claim to share this attribute!

“They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” (Psalms 102:26-27)

The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Nothing in us caused or merited this supreme act of love on God’s part!

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Jeremiah, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 376.

2. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, John, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, pp. 111-112.

3. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘OMNISCIENCE,’” “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 2090-2092.

4. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1979), pp. 59-61.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM Theological Dictionary: https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd.html

On God’s Omnipresence by Stephen Charnock https://www.monergism.com/gods-omnipresence

The Omnipresence of God by Thomas Watson https://www.monergism.com/omnipresence-god-0

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