The God who is near
Isaiah 66:1 says that heaven is God’s throne, but that does not mean that God is contained there. Thomas Brooks wrote: “Though heaven be God’s palace, yet it is not his prison.” God is everywhere. We call this attribute God’s “omnipresence”.
What is omnipresence? Omnipresence is often misunderstood or misrepresented. People often fall into one of three traps. The first is pantheism, which believes that God is everything and that everything is God. Budism, Hinduism and “mother nature” cults all hold to some form of pantheism. According to the Bible, however, God is unique and distinct from his creation.
The second trap is panentheism. This is more subtle. Panentheism doesn’t believe that everything is God or that God is everything, but that God is in everything and that everything is in God. Some theologians believe that this is what Paul had in mind when he said: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The problem with panentheism is that God and creation are seen as “interdependent”. As the philosopher Alfred Whitehead said: “It is as true to say that God creates the world as that the world creates God.” In panentheism God could not exist apart from creation. In subtle ways it denies that God is truly distinct from his creation and it denies that God made the world out of nothing. According to the Bible, however, God does not need the world; we need God.
The third trap is deism. Deism views God as so transcendent, so exalted, and so distinct from his creation that he is not actively involved in it. Deists believe that God created the world, but that God then withdrew from it. Deism pictures God as a divine clockmaker, who assembles the clock, winds it up, but then leaves it alone as it winds down. This view denies any form of divine intervention, does not believe in the power of prayer or miracles. God is completely aloof from creation.
Is that how the Bible portrays God? It is true that God is transcendent. Psalm 113:4-6 proclaims: “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” God is transcendent. But it is equally true that God is immanent, involved, near. Omnipresence means that God is everywhere all the time. God does not have size or dimensions, which means that he can be present at every point of space with his whole being.
Psalm 139:7-10 reveals a God who is near: “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.” For this Psalmist this was a great comfort, because there was nowhere he could go where God could not keep him. In Jer. 23:23-24 the Lord says: “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” God is everywhere.
How does this truth affect us? It should encourage us as we pray. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a praying contest: they each had to call upon their god and the one who answered with fire would be declared the winner. The prophets of Baal spent most of the morning and the early afternoon calling out to Baal, but there was no answer. Elijah mocked them, saying: “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (v. 27). Maybe Baal was out of town. But when Elijah prayed, he did not pray to a God who was aloof, far away or uninterested. He prayed to the God who is near: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (v. 36-37). God answered with consuming fire. God is close enough to hear us pray.
God’s omnipresence should also encourage us as we wrestle with sin. Yes, the thought that God is there when we commit our most heinous sins is frightening, as it should be. God knows our sinful thoughts, words and deeds. Psalm 139:11-12: “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.” How should we respond to God’s omnipresence when we’ve sinned? By running to him, not from him. It would be pointless to try and hide form God, like Adam and Eve did. We should rather confess and repent, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa. 57:15). God is near repentant sinners.
Finally, God’s omnipresence should encourage us as we go through trials. Before his ascension Jesus assured his disciples: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20). God will never lead you where his grace cannot keep you.
What a joy to serve the God who is near.
Because of Christ,
The God who knows
I think it was Adrian Rogers who said: “Has it ever occured to you that nothing occurs to God?” As fallible human beings we don’t know everything and we easily forget things we do know. God is not like that. In Job 37:16 God is called “him who is perfect in knowledge”. 1 John 3:20 says that God knows everything. These and so many other passages reveal God’s omniscience.
What is omniscience? Wayne Grudem offers this helpful definition: “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.” That is a mouthful, I admit. What does it mean?
God knows himself
First, it means that God knows himself. This might seem simple and unnecessary, but think about it for a moment. Scripture tells us that God is infinite, that there is no end to his glories and perfections. He is so exalted that the human mind will never be able to fully comprehend him. And yet, Scripture also tells us that God knows himself. In 1 Cor. 2:10-11 the apostle Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes: “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God... no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
There is nothing about himself that God does not know. We don’t even know ourselves fully. You didn’t know you liked icecream until you tried it. You didn’t know you had musical talent until you picked up the violin. We discover something about ourselves daily: wells of strength we did not know we had, sins that were hiding in the depths of our hearts. Our understanding of ourselves is limited; God’s isn’t. He never needs to discover anything about himself, because he knows himself fully and perfectly.
God knows reality
Second, God knows what everything that is. This includes everything that has been, is and will be. Nothing is hidden from God. Heb. 4:13 states: “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” 2 Chron. 16:9 says: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth”. God not only knows about the big events taking place in the world, but also about every detail of our lives. Jesus said: “even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30).
God not only knows the past and the present; God also knows the future. Isa. 46:9-10: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose”. The future is an open book to God. He is never caught by surprise.
God knows every possibility
Third and finally, God not only knows himself and everything that is, but also what could be. This means that God knows what could have happened, but did not happen. For example, in 1 Sam. 23 David is fleeing from Saul. He hid among the people of Keilah, but he wasn’t sure if he was safe there. So he asked the Lord if Saul would come looking for him in Keilah, and if he did, whether the city would deliver him over to Saul. Now listen to verse 11-13: “Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant." And the LORD said, "He will come down." Then David said, "Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?" And the LORD said, "They will surrender you." Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition.”
Saul did not find David at Keilah, nor did the people of Keilah deliver David into Saul’s hand. But the Lord knew what would have happened, had David remained in Keilah. Similarly, Jesus knew what would have happened if he did miracles in Tirus and Sidon: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matt. 11:21). Two verses later Jesus said what would have happened had he done his miracles in ancient Sodom: “For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” (Matt. 11:23).
Why is God’s omniscience important? There are a few ways we can apply this. First, God’s omniscience strengthens our faith. We can trust God’s plans, wisdom and purposes. Could things have worked out differently? Yes, but God knows what would have hapepned and he God chose this way, these circumstances, this plan. He knows best.
Second, God’s omnsicience humbles our pride. We like to think that we have it all figured out, but we don’t. Isaiah 55:9 reminds us: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We are in no position to ‘give advice’ to God. Also, God knows about every sin you have ever committed and will yet commit, and he sent Jesus to die for them. God knows you and loves you anyway.
Third, God’s omniscience fuels worship. The first 6 verses of Psalm 139 celebrate God’s omnisience: “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”
How wonderful it is to know the God who knows us so perfectly.
Because of Christ,
The Majesty of God
We are easily distracted, especially in our modern, noisy, technologically driven age. There is always another beep, another light, another notification fighting for our attention. Why are we so easily distracted?
Thomas a Kempis, author of The imitation of Christ, once wrote: “I confess truly that I am accustomed to be very much distracted; for oftentimes I am not there, where I am bodily standing or sitting, but am rather there where my thoughts carry me. There I am, where my thought is; and there, oftentimes, is my thought, where that is which I love.” Our distractions say a lot about where our hearts are – what we truly love, desire and delight in.
Have you ever been distracted by God? When was the last time your thoughts spontaneously wandered into the garden of God’s glory and majesty? Think about it for a moment. God’s majesty – with the entire country in lockdown because of Covid-19 you may not be able to gaze upon the majesty of the mountains or the oceans, but you can still meditate upon the majesty of God.
Who is like our God? In Deut. 33:26 Moses declares: “There is none like God… who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.” All that God does is majestic: “Full of splendour and majesty is his work” (Ps. 111:3). All that God says is majestic: “the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Ps. 29:4). All that God is, is majestic: “O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendour and majesty” (Ps. 104:1).
The Lord Jesus Christ gave his disciples a glimpse of that majesty on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9). Such was the majesty of the transfigured Jesus Christ that even talkative Peter struggled for words. Before such majesty every knee will one day bow.
What is majesty? I believe Novatian, the early church writer, summed it up best: “The mind of man cannot fittingly conceive how great is God and how majestic His nature… What can you say about Him that is worthy of Him – He who is more sublime than all sublimity, loftier than all loftiness, more profound than all profundity, brighter than all light, more brilliant than all brilliance, more splendid than all splendour, mightier than all might, more powerful than all power, more beautiful than all beauty, truer than all truth, stronger than all strength, greater than all majesty, more potent than all potency, richer than all riches, kinder than all kindness, better than all goodness, more just than all justice, and more merciful than all mercy? Every kind of virtue must of necessity be less than He who is the God and Author of them all. Nothing really can be compared to Him, for He is above everything that can be said of Him.”
Take up the challenge of Psalm 145:5 over these next 21 days: “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.”
Because of Christ,