Where is God?

388px-But435.1.1r.wc.300Group member Wayne Scott recently asked fellow member Chris Fisher about his views on the omnipresence of God, which sparked an interesting discussion. For centuries Christians have taken for granted that God is Omniscient (all knowing), Omnipotent (all powerful) and Omnipresent (present everywhere).

The first two attributes are universally accepted by all but process theists; God can do what he wants and he can know everything there is to know, and some would add “and then some…”, but the third attribute, being in all places at all times, is tougher to pin down. Chris runs the Reality is not Optional blog and wrote the following article in support of his position, the title of which speaks for itself:

God is not Omnipresent

One beautiful and positively cinematographic passage Chris uses in his argument is 1 Kings 19:11- 13:

11 And he said , Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; [but] the LORD [was] not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; [but] the LORD [was] not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; [but] the LORD [was] not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

13 And it was [so], when Elijah heard [it], that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, [there came] a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

Here we see one of a number of Old Testament “arrivals” of the LORD, where at one point he was not, and then he was. It seems clear that an Old Testament view of God is that he was either highly anthropomorphised or did indeed appear in a virtually human form. In the Garden of Eden we have the following, in Genesis 3:8-10

8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. {cool: Heb. wind}

9 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where [art]thou?

10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid , because I [was] naked; and I hid myself 

Certainly here we see God as a fellow being with Adam, with more than a hint that God was enjoying a pleasant afternoon stroll, even looking for his new friend. But this human vision of God does not sit well with the traditional Church view of God, as immutable and distant, aloof, unseen and dispassionate. Chris sees this latter view as having it’s roots in paganism, and quotes Plotinus, another Greek philosopher of the Platonic tradition:

The authentic and primal Kosmos is the Being of the Intellectual Principle and of the Veritable Existent. This contains within itself no spatial distinction, and has none of the feebleness of division, and even its parts bring no incompleteness… every part that it gives forth is a whole; all its content is its very own, for there is here no separation of thing from thing, no part standing in isolated existence estranged from the rest, and therefore nowhere is there any wronging of any other, any opposition. Everywhere one and complete, it is at rest throughout and shows difference at no point; it does not make over any of its content into any new form; there can be no reason for changing what is everywhere perfect.

This view is as far away from the ancient Hebrew view of God as it is possible to get, where God is personal and relational. And it’s that personal attribute which casts doubt on the notion of Omnipresence.

Chris’ argument is really not about whether God is omnipresent or not, but rather what the authors of scripture thought. And it’s certainly clear that some took the omnipresent view and some the view that God need to see something to understand it, or that he came from somewhere to view something. I think Chris weakens his argument here:

Can God see everything but not be omnipresent? I can watch a live golf match on TV, I do not have to be present. How many more resources does God have? And note, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, God can choose not to know something.

I’m personally uncomfortable with the concept of a self-sufficient God pulling on resources, but perhaps Chris meant it less literally. With regards to God choosing not to know, we have to be careful about how literally we take the words of bronze age inhabitants, recorded well after the event, in terms of their presentation of God.

If you’d like to join our group you can read the whole discussion here

167px-The_Lord_Answering_Job_Out_of_the_Whirlwind_Butts_setMeanwhile, here is my view: We lack both the language and the comprehension to fully understand the concept of omnipresence, yet we seem to speak of omniscience with no trouble at all. We can never explain how God can hear all prayers globally simultaneously; it is entirely beyond our language. God is personified in the Old Testament and walks and talks with man, something we have either lost now, or anthropomorphised in the past. I lean in favour of a God who was present with man when he chose to be. These appearances are known as theophanies, where the Deity communes with man in human form. But equally I believe that a being who can create all that is ex nihilo can certainly be omnipresent if he so chooses. It’s not an either/or situation. The writers of Genesis held to both views, and many hold the first five books of the Old Testament to be the work of one author. I don’t, as I hold to higher criticism, but its clear that both views are represented in scripture and we believe scripture to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, so both views must hold, particularly as they are non-contradictory.

Read the whole of Chris Fisher’s blog here.