Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A God who Is Everywhere

Depending on their varying vantage points, different people can see the same set of facts in quite differing ways. In terms of religion, the same doctrine can comfort one person, while causing consternation on the part of another. Take, for example, the omnipresence of God.

Christians have traditionally understood that God is omnipresent -- that is, he is at all places at all times. There is no place that one can go that God is not. The Psalmist expressed the thought this way:

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.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me
and the light about me be night,"
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you
---Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV)

The second commandment prohibits the use of graven images as objects of worship, and this is partly due to the notion that the use of such images encourages the idea, conscious or unconscious, that God is limited to being where the images are located. Isaiah showed the inadequacy of fashioning a likeness to God, saying that such attempts failed to understand that God "sits above the circle of the earth" (Is. 40:18-22, ESV) God is too great to be pictured. He can not be reduced even to our most ornate or creative masterpieces.

For the Christian, the idea that God is at all places at all times is a source of comfort. In Psalm 139, quoted above, the writer reflected on God's omnipresence by saying, "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God....I awake and I am still with you"(vv. 17-18, ESV) Understanding God to be great in grace and mercy and eternally committed to those whom He has called as His own, the Christian rejoices that there is no place that he can go and be outside of God's oversight and protection. While we sometimes are tempted to wish that we could go our own way, in the end we are grateful to remain under his watchful care.

Unfortunately, others have a different reaction. Over the weekend, I attended at the Christian Book Expo in Dallas a debate between Christopher Hitchens and four Christians on the existence of God. The tone of the debate was civil and respectful, but Mr. Hitchens made quite clear his utter disdain for the notion of a God that he could never get away from. He compared the thought to an evil parent from whom a child could never escape, not even for a moment, for all eternity.

Of course, this is not a new complaint. Among many others, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre considered the idea of a subject-object relationship with God as being something to despise, and, as with Mr. Hitchens, the thought led him into atheism. However, while it is not new, this strikes me as sad. To know God is to value His presence. The fact that He is forever with me brings joy and freedom, not sorrow and slavery.

Of course, ultimately -- and Mr. Hitchens also pointed this out, though he mistakenly believed it to be in his favor -- the question of God's existence cannot be decided based on what we wish to be true. I am convinced that the best evidence suggests that God really is there -- and here. We are never outside of His presence. For that, I shall be forever grateful.

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