June 3, 2014 Broadcast

The Omnipresence of God

A Message by Steven Lawson

As embodied beings, we are limited by space and time. When confronted with competing demands on our time, we often excuse ourselves by stating that we can’t be in two places at once. God, however, can be in two places at once. In fact, He is everywhere at once. In this lesson, Dr. Lawson unfolds the biblical teaching of God’s omnipresence, demonstrating that there is no place in heaven or hell, nor the entire universe, where God is not present in the fullness of His being.

From the series: The Attributes of God

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Running Away from God

  2. blog-post

    4 Truths About Hell

  3. devotional

    God is Everywhere

Running Away from God

Having introduced the book of Jonah, we are now going to move on to a brief study of this Old Testament prophet. Dr. R.C. Sproul will help us with this examination as he guides our look at this book through his teaching series Jonah.

Prophets were set apart to God, but they were not sinless. Jonah illustrates this point perfectly, as his first response to the Lord's mission to Nineveh was to flee by boat to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). Nineveh was located at present-day Mosul, Iraq, and Tarshish could be another name for the port of Tarsseus in Spain or a name for any land on the shores of the Meditteranean Sea that is distant from Israel. Either way, the point is clear: God had commanded Jonah to go one way, and Jonah headed in the opposite direction. He wanted nothing to do with Nineveh. Jonah 1:3 also says that the prophet was going “away from the presence of the LORD." This prophet thought he could get away from His Creator, betraying his need for a refresher course in God's omnipresence (Ps. 139:7–12).

The Lord was not going to let the man He called get away so easily, and He sent a great wind and mighty storm on the sea (Jonah 1:4). The sailors on the ship responded by crying out to their gods for deliverance (v. 5), which was ironic considering the difference between their response to God and Jonah's. While the fleeing prophet of the one true God ignored the reality of the Lord's omnipresence and, thus, His providence, the sailors remained convinced of the reality of the supernatural and its involvement in the affairs of men, even if they were confused about the identity of the Sovereign of the universe.

When their cries went unheard, the captain roused Jonah, and the crew cast lots to discover who was responsible for the deadly storm (vv. 6–7). Jonah was identified and, to his credit, admitted that he was disobeying the Lord (vv. 8–10). The sailors found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Since Jonah caused their trouble, getting rid of him could possibly save them. Nevertheless, since Jonah served the one true God of all, they did not want to make the Lord angrier by killing His prophet.

Jonah told the men to cast him into the sea, but their initial response was to fervently try to save him. Again the sailors showed themselves better theologians than the prophet, erring on the side of mercy before they consented and threw Jonah overboard. As a result, the sea calmed at once, and the sailors worshiped God (vv. 11–16).

4 Truths About Hell

Tom Ascol

"There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell." So wrote the agnostic British philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1967. The idea of eternal punishment for sin, he further notes, is "a doctrine that put cruelty in the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture."

His views are at least more consistent than religious philosopher John Hick, who refers to hell as a "grim fantasy" that is not only "morally revolting" but also "a serious perversion of the Christian Gospel." Worse yet was theologian Clark Pinnock who, despite having regarded himself as an evangelical, dismissed hell with a rhetorical question: "How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave His Son to die for sinners because of His great love for them would install a torture chamber somewhere in the new creation in order to subject those who reject Him to everlasting pain?"

So, what should we think of hell? Is the idea of it really responsible for all the cruelty and torture in the world? Is the doctrine of hell incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ? Hardly. In fact, the most prolific teacher of hell in the Bible is Jesus, and He spoke more about it than He did about heaven. In Matthew 25:41–46 He teaches us four truths about hell that should cause us to grieve over the prospect of anyone experiencing its horrors.

1. Hell is a state of separation from God.

On the day of judgment, Jesus will say to all unbelievers, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire" (v. 41). This is the same sort of language that Jesus uses elsewhere to describe the final judgment of unbelievers (see 7:23).

To be separated from God is to be separated from anything and everything good. That is hard to conceive because even the most miserable person enjoys some of God's blessings. We breathe His air, are nourished by food that He supplies, and experience many other aspects of His common grace.

On earth even atheists enjoy the benefits of God's goodness. But in hell, these blessings will be nonexistent. Those consigned there will remember God's goodness, and will even have some awareness of the unending pleasures of heaven, but they will have no access to them.

This does not mean that God will be completely absent from hell. He is and will remain omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–8). To be separated from the Lord and cast into hell does not mean that a person will finally be free of God. That person will remain eternally accountable to Him. He will remain Lord over the person's existence. But in hell, a person will be forever separated from God in His kindness, mercy, grace, and goodness. He will be consigned to deal with Him in His holy wrath.

2. Hell is a state of association.

Jesus says that the eternal fire of hell was "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41). People were made for God. Hell was made for the Devil. Yet people who die in their sin, without Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, will spend eternity in hell with the one being who is most unlike God. It is a tragic irony that many who do not believe in the Devil in this life will wind up spending eternity being tormented with him in hell.

3. Hell is a state of punishment.

Jesus describes it as "fire" (v. 41) and a place of "punishment" (v. 46). Hell is a place of retribution where justice is served through the payment for crimes.

The punishment must fit the crime. The misery and torment of hell point to the wickedness and seriousness of sin. Those who protest the biblical doctrine of hell as being excessive betray their inadequate comprehension of the sinfulness of sin. For sinners to be consigned to anything less than the horrors of eternal punishment would be a miscarriage of justice.

4. Hell is an everlasting state.

Though some would like to shorten the duration of this state, Jesus' words are very clear. He uses the same adjective to describe both punishment and life in verse 46. If hell is not eternal, neither is the new heaven and earth.

How can God exact infinite punishment for a finite sin? First, because the person against whom all sin is committed is infinite. Crimes against the infinitely holy, infinitely kind, infinitely good, and infinitely supreme Ruler of the world deserve unending punishment. In addition to that, those condemned to hell will go on sinning for eternity. There is no repentance in hell. So the punishment will continue as long as the sinning does.

The dreadfulness of hell deepens our grateful praise for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Hell is what we deserve. And hell is what He experienced on the cross in our place.

Believing the truth about hell also motivates us to persuade people to be reconciled to God. By God's grace those of us who are trusting Christ have been rescued from this horrible destiny. How can we love people and refuse to speak plainly to them about the realities of eternal damnation and God's gracious provision of salvation?

Clearer visions of hell will give us greater love for both God and people.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

God is Everywhere

Continuing our contemplation of God’s infinity, we will today try to understand better the omnipresence of God. As revealed in today’s passage, God is at hand in all places, and we can never hide anywhere from His presence. If there is no place that we can hide, then our Creator is necessarily present in every location in existence. He fills every place in creation.

But what does this mean? A problem with conceiving of God’s omnipresence involves the translation of the Hebrew and Greek terms used for “spirit.” Ruach and pneuma, respectively, can also be rendered into English with the words “wind” or “breath.” Even though we cannot see the molecules of breath or air with the naked eye, we do know that wind and breath have physical substance. They are gases, and gas is one of the states of matter.

This fact, plus the tendency of the media to portray a spirit as a gaseous substance, influences how we conceive of God’s omnipresence. If we are not careful we might believe the Lord is like an infinite gas diffused throughout creation. This is not the case. God’s being is altogether different from physical matter. He exists on a plane wholly distinguishable from the one readily available to the five senses.

Another term used for omnipresence is “ubiquity.” Ubiquity means “equal whereness” and escalates the idea of God’s presence. When we say God is ubiquitous, we are saying that the fullness of His presence is located everywhere. It is not as if the Lord’s “head” is located on earth and His “foot” elsewhere in the universe. Instead, the fullness of His being is equal at all times and in all places. This immensity does not refer in any sense to physical size. In part, it signifies that His love, wrath, mercy, justice, knowledge, and so on, are fully present everywhere in creation and beyond.

Even though the Lord is fully present everywhere, this does not mean we always feel His presence equally. He is free to make us feel His proximity more strongly at certain times and in particular places (for example, Ex. 3:1–4:17). Yet, though we may not feel Him strongly at all times, we know that He is always present with us nonetheless (Ps. 23).

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