He is not “somewhere,” yet he fills heaven and earth. He is not spread throughout space, like light and air, but is present with his whole being in all places. . . . There is no place or space that contains him; hence, instead of saying that he is in all things, it would be better to say that all things are in him. Yet this is not to be understood to mean that he is the space in which all things are located, for he is not a place. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II.4)
In his discussion about the omnipresence of God, Bavinck offers a good reminder: a caution to help guide out thinking. God’s omnipresence is not just a function of his bigness. God is not everywhere simply because he is bigger than all things.
For a good portion of the day the sun shines on both Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon. Yet while the sun is shining in both places at the same time, it is never present equally and simultaneously in both places. God’s presence is not like this. God is everywhere, and he is wholly everywhere.
But Bavinck is honest with the evidence and with our own experience. While God is present everywhere, his presence is multi-form and variously manifested. Was God not in the wilderness before he indwelt the tabernacle? Had he been absent from Jerusalem before Solomon’s dedicatory prayer of the temple? Did Ezekiel really see God leave Jerusalem and leave it void of his presence until an itinerant teacher from Galilee entered its courts to cleanse it? So Bavinck is right to go on to say, “…in another sense God is present in his creatures in different ways. There is a difference between his physical and his ethical immanence. To suggest an analogy: people too, may be physically very close to each other, yet miles apart in spirit and outlook.”
So what explains this experience? If God is present everywhere, why are there times he seems close and others when he seems far? The second century Greek apologist Theophilus provides an answer:
All men have eyes, but some have eyes which are hooded by cataracts and do not see the the light of the sun. Just because the blind do not see, however, the light of the sun does not fail to shine; the blind must blame themselves and their eyes. So you also, O man, have cataracts over the eyes of your soul because of your sins and wicked deeds.
Just as a man must keep a mirror polished, so he must keep his soul pure. When there is rust on a mirror, a man’s face cannot be seen in it; so also when there is sin in a man, such a man cannot see God. So show yourself to me. Are you not an adulterer? a fornicator? a thief? a swindler? a robber? a [sodomite]? insolent? a reviler? quick-tempered? envious? a braggart? disdainful? a bully? avaricious? disobedient to parents? one who sells his children? God does not become visible to those who do such things unless they first cleanse themselves from all defilement.
All this brings darkness upon you, just as when a flux of matter comes over the eyes and they cannot see the light of the sun. So also, O man, your ungodliness brings darkness upon you and you cannot see God. (Ad Autolycum, I.2, Trans. Robert M. Grant)
A fitting commentary on Isaiah’s declaration in Isaiah 59:1-2, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” God is everywhere, but he does not dwell with sinners. Light has no communion with darkness. Therefore James counsels, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10).
When you want to do something bad, you withdraw from the public and hide in your house where no enemy may see you; from those parts of the house that are open and visible you remove yourself to go into your own private room. But even here in your private chamber you fear guilt from some other direction, so you withdraw into your heart and there you meditate. But he is even more deeply inward than your heart. Hence, no matter where you flee, he is there. You would flee from yourself, would you? Will you not follow yourself wherever you flee? But since there is One even more deeply inward than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from an angered God except a God who is pacified. There is absolutely no place for you to flee to. Do you want to flee from him? Rather flee to him. (Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms)
“There is no place where you may flee from an angered God except a God who is pacified.” Ponder this simply amazing truth. The only refuge you have from the fierce wrath of God against you and your sin is the fierce justice of God offered to you in Christ and his righteousness. Do not flee God. Do not push him away. He is the only one that can save you from his consuming anger. The mercy that is in Christ is greater than the sin that is in you.
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?