A God who is Everywhere
Reading: Psalm 139
The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space on 12 April 1961. After the flight was over word went round that Gagarin, while in space, had declared: "I don’t see any God up here."
Gagarin was a devout believer and said no such thing. Those words actually originated in an anti-
One of the truths that the Bible makes abundantly clear is that not only does God exist, he is also everywhere. This doctrine is known in theological language as the omnipresence of God. Some foolish Christians dislike doctrine and thereby deprive themselves of much comfort and encouragement they might otherwise enjoy.
This evening I want to remind you of this truth that God is everywhere and to show you how practical such doctrine is.
The Way the Bible puts it
If you have a concordance you will search it in vain looking for references to ‘the omnipresence of God’ – the expression is simply a title that tries to summarise a wealth of Biblical data. In some ways it is a little misleading as it places the emphasis, I think, in the wrong place. It makes God’s presence sound somehow remote and academic whereas the way the Bible treats the subject is much more personal. The fact that God is everywhere is approached from a somewhat different angle if you like – it says that there is nowhere that I can go where I am beyond his reach. God’s presence is not a truth to be intellectually learned but a reality to be related to and to be enjoyed.
Listen again to how the psalmist expresses this:
For the psalmist the truth he expresses is first and foremost a practical truth that has tremendous implications for his relationship with the Living God.
We find that the Bible insists over and over again that God is not simply to be recognised as being everywhere in some impersonal or academic sense. No, the Bible teaches that he is everywhere with an active presence as he continues to relate to the world he has made, to the nations that inhabit it, and to men and women as individuals.
Let me show some of the ways in which the Bible demonstrates this truth. You need to bear in mind that there is no way we can deal with all that the Bible has to say in one relatively short sermon – after all we are looking at one of God’s attributes, that is an essential part of his being.
Let’s start with creation account found in Gen.1:
As God progressed through the creation week he regularly surveyed what he had made and pronounced his judgment upon it. And so seven times over in Gen.1 we read the words "And God saw that it was good" or something very similar. Specifically included were the skies, the sun, moon and stars, the seas and the dry land – nowhere was beyond his penetrating gaze – he could only pass this kind of assessment because he was somehow there.
A part of the creation that is not specifically mentioned in Gen.1 was the planting of a garden for Adam and Eve to live in, that comes in Gen.2. In Gen.3 we discover that God was there too for we read of him walking there in the cool of the day and seeking to have communion with Adam and Eve. God’s presence was not a silent one either but he called Adam and Eve out of the shadows, where they were trying to hide after they had sinned, and he questioned them, holding them to account. He passed judgment on them too, just as he had earlier evaluated his creative handiwork, only now he could not say that they were good – they had sinned and had to be expelled from the garden.
The garden had been intended to be a place where Adam and Eve might enjoy intimate untrammelled communion with God but being cast out of it did by no means mean that mankind had now been placed entirely beyond the reach of his presence. The very next chapter (Gen.4) shows us that God continued to have dealings with the human race and that he continued to hold individuals to account. Mankind was not treated in the mass as it were but God distinguished between them as he approved of one, Abel, and disapproved of another, Cain .
Progressing through the book of Genesis we find that God continued to take an active interest in the human race. It didn’t matter where they were God saw and most of what he saw displeased him – the flood would be his reaction to the universal corruption due to human sin. The Lord watched over Noah and the ark and was present with new promises to give to Noah when the flood subsided.
Genesis ch.10 is full of a list of Noah’s descendants and the nations they formed along with the territories they occupied. This interest in the nations of the world and their boundaries and frontiers is not something that dies quickly away. We may at times wonder why such geographical is given when it means so little to us today and I want to suggest that it all points in the same direction to underline that God is everywhere and he knows everything there is to know about all these nations. Indeed each time we read about a different place in the Bible, whether we know where it is or not, we should remind ourselves that it is known to God and that he is there too! Nowhere is too small or too isolated to be beyond the reach of our God.
Ch.11 contains the account of the Tower of Babel and the origin of our different languages. Specifically we are told that God dispersed the nations throughout the entire earth – Luke in the Book of the Acts tells us that it was the Lord who
"determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place," Acts 17:26.
Our God knows our world in every detail and we find him acting in place after place and certainly not limited just to one or two geographical locations.
Abram/Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldees (southern Iraq of our day) but God met him and called him there. Abraham responded and went first to Haran (in Turkey) where again God met him and spoke to him. It was only then that Abraham travelled on to Canaan. Again God met him promising the land to his descendants. When famine struck Abraham was on the move again and this time he went further south to Egypt where despite his foolish behaviour the Lord took care of him and his wife.
Such protection was not limited to Abraham alone but his descendants would enjoy a similar protection.
The Lord made a promise to Abraham’s son Isaac. He said "I will be with you."
10 times over these words of promise are repeated in Scripture: "I will be with you." And a further 16 times God declared "I am with you". Wherever God led his people they could be assured that he was there too!
And that would include Egypt where his people would be forced to live in slavery for 400 years. God was there! And at the appropriate moment he acted with works of mighty power – the 10 Plagues – he judged the Egyptians and set his own people free.
Then for forty years the LORD would lead his people through safely the wilderness. Early on during that period Moses had feared that the Lord might abandon them and had prayed seriously about it – he longed, as do all God’s true children, to know and experience the presence of God with them wherever they go:
And so Moses led the LORD’s people and the LORD’s was with them. He provided for them in a miraculous manner throughout that time – protection, direction along with food and water.
When the time came to enter the Promised Land Moses was not permitted to go in with the people but the LORD would continue to lead his people and to give them victory in their battles. It was up to Joshua to lead them now.
I wonder whether you remember an incident that took place near to Jericho and before the city was taken. A man was standing with a drawn sword so Joshua went and spoke to him:
God was there in the place and Joshua must take note of the fact!
God was with his people because he had committed himself to doing just that.
Let me draw your attention to some more examples where the geographical element figures underlining the fact that the LORD is not limited to working in just one or two places but is indeed everywhere.
What do you know about Elijah? He was a godly man called to serve God in a difficult and dangerous time when the nation was in a grave state spiritually. God had a mission for him but before he is allowed to fully undertake it God demonstrates his presence and his power to work in different places and in different ways.
In 1Kings17 Elijah appears on the scene and he has a message which he courageously passes on to the wicked king Ahab. As soon as he has done this the LORD tells Elijah to withdraw to a region to the east of the river Jordan. It was there that the LORD would provide for Elijah by sending ravens to feed him. But there was a drought in the land – Elijah had prayed for it! – and now the brook failed but not Elijah’s God! A new set of instructions are given to Elijah who must now travel right across the country up to the NW just beyond the borders of Israel where the LORD would provide for him by means of another old bird, a widow at a place called Zarephath.
Later Elijah after winning an impressive spiritual victory succumbs to a bout of depression and in that state, fearing for his life, he flees deep down into the south. And there God meets with him and there he twice asks him the same question:
1Kings19:9, 13 "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
Elijah is in quite the wrong place. He had other work he ought to be getting on with and instead he had taken a wrong turning in his life. Was it over for him? No! He found that God too was there and God was living and active there – he recommissioned Elijah.
I wonder if at times we feel ourselves to have taken a similar wrong turn and that we’re in the wrong place and everything is a hopeless cause for us. Take heart from Elijah – God is even in the place where the disobedient and the depressed may find themselves!
If you think I’m stretching the story a bit isn’t the same truth taught to us in the experience of Jonah?
Told to go to Nineveh and preach he deliberately sets off in the opposite direction and even tells his travelling companions that he is running away from the presence of the Lord who made the sea and the dry land. Did Jonah succeed in his efforts to flee from the LORD? You know he didn’t. First God blew and stirred up a storm then when Jonah finally convinces the reluctant pagans to throw him overboard God sends a big fish as his own private lifeboat! Jonah had thought he was going to die but acknowledged that it was the LORD who brought his life back up from the pit of a watery grave! God was there, even there!
The orders for Jonah remain the same – he has a preaching mission to accomplish and that is in Nineveh. This time he goes – to do God’s bidding involve a journey of some 500 miles much less than the 2,500 miles he’d been prepared to undertake to run away! The trouble was that Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites to hear God’s word and was fearful that God would take pity on the enemies of his people. And that was precisely what happened. God was there and blessed Jonah’s preaching to the salvation of the Ninevites.
What a reluctant and faithless servant Jonah was! Yet, even in distant Nineveh the LORD would meet with him and speak to him – I hope Jonah listened and changed but the Bible doesn’t tell us whether he did or not.
One more OT example and we’re done. Daniel and his Friends . Removed far from home Daniel and his friends Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego all proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that God was present with them in Babylon. Daniel proved himself to be a fine and faithful servant in the Babylonian court and was justly promoted to high office. His success prompted others to jealousy and he ended up being famously thrown into a den of lions. Early the next morning Darius the king went to find out what had happened to Daniel:
Dan.6:20 "As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?"
You know the answer don’t you? God was there and he was active in favour of his servant.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had a different experience. They weren’t thrown to the lions but into a furnace that should have burned them to cinders. They believed the LORD was there and could save them – but they were determined to be faithful even should he choose not to intervene on their behalf. There were three men cast into the flames but when spectators looked on they saw four walking – the fourth was remarkable in appearance looking like "a son of the gods". Jesus had come to accompany his servants!
We could go on and on but we must draw to a close.
The clear testimony of the Bible is that God is alive and well and he is to be seen at work everywhere; he is to be found everywhere. The important thing for us to hold on to is not a dry set of statements simply maintaining the truth of a theological statement – that God is everywhere. What is important for us to realise is that he is active and at work everywhere though not in the same way in every place.
Sometimes God is present and the outcome is very dangerous indeed. He was present at the time of Noah and he saved Noah and his family but the rest of humanity was justly punished for its sin.
When Jesus returns those men and women who have rejected his overtures of grace and his loving invitations will call out to the mountain to fall on them and to hide for the presence of God which will be too awful for them to endure. To stand before a Holy God with no Saviour to intercede for you will be a dreadful thing.
But as believers we are meant to take great heart from this doctrine: we’ll never be sent on a mission that takes us to a place beyond our God so we never need fear. He’ll always be able to guide us to protect us and to provide for us. And we’ll never get things so wrong that we end up in a place where he cannot meet us and restore us.
And when it pleases him not to intervene and to allow great suffering, heartache and disappointment to be the lot of his people we can remain confident that he is still there, still watching and indeed storing up our tears in his bottle. Let us never forget that here we have no abiding home but we are pilgrims passing through on their way to a better place – and yet while we remain pilgrims let us remember that it is through Immanuel’s land that we are passing and he is there promising never to leave nor forsake us!
To God be the Glory.