In an argument that has informed my efforts to understand God ever since I first read it, Walter T. Stace wrote, “Either God is a mystery, or he is nothing at all.” However, it seems that some of the attributes of God are more ineffable than others. Even though we can’t comprehend God’s omnipotence, we can at least understand something about the nature of power and thus imagine the all-powerful. The same goes for omniscience; since we ourselves know things, we can wrap our heads around knowing everything.
But it’s impossible for me at least even to begin to grasp the concept of omnipresence–everywhere present, in all places at all times. In the effort to give this post at least a semblance of scholarly ballast, I went scurrying to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Encyclopedia, and a particularly relevant blog post. Though those efforts were enlightening, they simply brought up other sticky wickets—God is immanent, ubiquitous, uncontained, and transcendent. I leave it to you to use or ignore those resources at your leisure.
The scriptures are rife with references–some plain, some head scratchers like the vocabulary lesson above. In Psalm 139:7-10 (RSV), we find one of the Bible’s clearest and most resonant descriptions of God’s omnipresence:
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
As the above passage implies, many biblical passages emphasize God’s omnipresence not philosophically, but personally: he is always with is and in us:
- Isaiah 57:15: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
- Jeremiah 23:24: “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” says the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?”
- Matthew 18:20: For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
I have found that being aware of God’s omnipresence in each of our lives is essential as we grow into God’s plan for our lives, and telling our own stories is wonderful way to start. I once taught Sunday school series that I called “Imagine Life with God.” Each week we discussed and practiced ways of being more aware of how God is acting in our lives–and then telling about it! Articulating our faith stories is one of the surest means by which we can obey Christ’s great Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 and share the Good News with those around us.
My prayer is that each one of us will accept that commission and make time for its prerequisites: the quiet contemplation at the heart of the Advent observance, looking and listening for the myriad ways that God is omnipresent in our lives.