The God Who Must Be Either Here Or There
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, 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 (Psalm 139:7-10).
Looking at the title of this post, you might be thinking, “Who among us could believe such a thing?” Well, if my experiences are indicative of brotherhood norms, then there are more than a few New Testament Christians who think this way. But before proceeding further, I want to make it clear that I do not think my fellow Christians who think this way are intentionally trying to create a sham god. Absolutely not! Nevertheless, this is what they do when they argue that the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every obedient believer could only be accomplished by either a fragmented or multi-located Holy Spirit. By this they mean that if the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every Christian is actual, rather than “only in and through the Word,” as they are wont to say, then this could only be accomplished by either breaking (or dividing into pieces) the Holy Spirit, or by means of a multi-located Holy Spirit (i.e., a Holy Spirit that could be in more than one place at the same time, an idea they think is absurd). One who takes this position accused me of believing that “the Holy Spirit is scattered, one-to-a-believer, into thousands, perhaps millions, of fully functional, self-contained, independent units, each one the perfect clone of all the others.” Of course, this caricature does not represent what I believe, as such would be polytheism, pure and simple. But it does represent the kind of maneuvering that goes on in the minds of those who think God is somehow limited by space.
As I’ve pointed out time and again in this study, the one true God is infinite in His characteristics and attributes. This means He is not restricted by any external limitations, which does not include, of course, those internal limitations He may place on Himself or which are due to His nature. Therefore, this infinitude is defined by God’s self-existence, eternalness and omni-characterictics, which are omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. If we, in our theological surmisings, try to take any of these away from Him, then we honor a god who could no longer be the God of the Bible. Instead, he (and I’ve purposely dropped the capitalization here) becomes just another of the sham gods of orthotalksy.
Why then do otherwise faithful, intelligent Christians engage in such shenanigans? I don’t know all the reasons, but in some cases, at least, they think themselves to be defending the faith once and for all delivered1 against whatever false “ism” they happen to be zeroing in on at the moment. This means they never see themselves as anything else but faithful to the Lord and His Word. In reference to the Holy Spirit, this “ism” is most often Pentecostalism. As one who has taught and helped to convert many Pentecostals, I certainly understand the many errors associated with it. But when one thinks he is defending the faith by denigrating the characteristics and attributes of God, then it seems to me that these folks have involved themselves in an equally terrible delusion. Yes, Pentecostals are wrong about the Holy Spirit, seemingly unable to decide whether He’s a “He” or an “it.” They fail to distinguish between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They readily misappropriate passages to teach that all Christians are to be directly guided by the Holy Spirit. They believe the miraculous manifestations (“gifts”) of the Spirit are continuing today, even after that which is perfect has come—that is, the completed Word of God.2 There are, in fact, a whole host of errors associated with Pentecostalism. But to diminish God’s infinitude in the name of fighting Pentecostalism is a gross error that causes one, however unintentionally, to imbibe idolatry.
Theologians have argued that “God, in the totality of his essence, without diffusion or expansion, multiplication or division, penetrates and fills the universe in all its parts.”3 Although I do not feel the need to defend anyone’s theological construct but my own (and I am aware that my thinking could itself be in error), I do think this quote accurately represents the nature of omnipresence as set forth in the Bible.4 However, I wish to make it understood that I totally reject the idea of Pantheism, a concept that says everything is God and God is everything (i.e., that the material universe somehow makes up the very fabric of God). I make this disclaimer because several over the years have accused me of being a pantheist. More than likely, these charges were made by those who have never even talked to or, what’s more, helped convert a pantheist. Unfortunately, pantheism is a terribly wrong concept that presently enslaves more than a billion people, and I feel blessed to have taught and helped to convert more than a few pantheists. No, the uncreated, self-existent, eternal Creator is not some pantheistic everything. He does not consist of that which He has created. Instead, He stands above and beyond that which He’s created. Consequently, the transcendent God is not limited by the space-time continuum and is not, therefore, a spatial being (viz., He transcends all spatial limitations).
All Created Beings Are Spatial Creatures
Space, like time, is a product of creation. Therefore, all created beings are spatial creatures. This means that both the material and spiritual dimensions are spatial, though not necessarily in the same way. Although spiritual “space” is obviously not like material space, each of these dimensions must, by nature of their creation, have spatial limitations. Consequently, space of some sort is characteristic of all created beings.
The material universe of which we humans are a part is three-dimensional space. Our bodies themselves are spatial and, therefore, limited by the three-dimensional boundaries of space. Included in these limitation are the following: a material body can exist in only one space at a time; to get from one space to another, a material body must pass through the intervening space. This means that given the limitations of three dimensional space, it is impossible, when we factor in the fourth dimension of time, for a material body to occupy two different spaces at the same time.
In contrast to this, and evidently at the same time, fully spiritual creatures, such as angels and demons, do not normally occupy our space, as we do.5 Therefore, it can be safely concluded that these spiritual creatures are not restricted by the limitations of three-dimensional space, as we are. Nevertheless, as created beings, they have their own spatial dimension, with whatever limits that exist there. As I don’t occupy that dimension, I can’t tell you what it is like, but that this dimension exists is evident from Scripture. Further, the Bible teaches that when these spiritual creatures interact with material space, they are not totally outside its limits. For example, a spiritual creature, although he can evidently act multi-dimensional, can still only be in one space at a time. This is illustrated by the angelic appearance recorded in Daniel 10. The prophet Daniel had been “mourning” (which clearly included praying) for “three full weeks” (verse 2). When the angel appeared, he said:
Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.6
He went on to say, “Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come” (verse 14).
So, when interacting with our material dimension, this angel could not be in two places at the same time. He had been sent to answer Daniel and make known to him what would happen to his people in the future, but the “prince of Persia” (evidently another spiritual entity) withstood him for “twenty-one days.” The struggle was so intense that Michael (another spiritual creature) had to come and help him. Then, after administering to Daniel, he still needed to return and “fight” with the prince of Persia, knowing that the “prince of Greece” would eventually be involved (verse 20).
It is clear from Scripture, then, that a spiritual creature cannot occupy more than one space at a time. This means that spiritual beings (angels and demons) are not omnipresent. Satan himself cannot be everywhere at once and therefore uses other spiritual entities to represent his interests around the world.
What all this means, as I’ve said before, is that created beings, whether they be spiritual or material, are spatial beings. But in complete contrast to His creation, God, the uncreated Creator, is not a spatial being. He is unlimited by space and is, in fact, transcendent by means of His infinitude. The traditional word for this is immensity. However, because this word has come to mean “very large in size,” one must be very careful to exclude this connotation when speaking of God.
God is not immensely large, so as to fill all of space, even to infinity. Such thinking would be totally false and is manifested in Pantheism. The word itself literally means unmeasurable, not because God is too large to measure, but because, as a non-spatial being, He is not the kind of Being that can be measured. The term simply means that God is not limited by space. As such, all the limitations of space—extension, location and distance—simply do not apply to Him.
Therefore, God is universally present to all of space at all times. This does not mean, however, that He is dispersed throughout the infinite reaches of space, so that every part of space has at least a little part of God. God is not present in all of space, which is pantheism; instead, He is present to all of space. This means that the unlimited God in His whole Being is present at every point of our space. Perhaps a better way of saying this is to say that all space is immediately present before God. Personally, I don’t care how you look at this as long as you understand that the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible is not limited by space, as are His creatures.
Now, before going further, it is important to point out that I do not believe everyone who disagrees with me on the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the body of every obedient believer is engaged in idolatry. Certainly not! I have fellowship with those who think the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian only in and through the word. In fact, I believe it fair to say that the majority of brethren I have associated with over the years believe this way. They could be right, although I do not think so. Nevertheless, neither the integrity of God nor His Word (viz., the Holy Scriptures) suffers from such a conclusion, and as long as my fellow Christians do not withdraw from me due to my position, then I expect continued fellowship with those who disagree with me on this compelling subject. But my humble opinion, for those who haven’t quite figured it out yet, is that the Holy Spirit actually dwells in the physical bodies of Christians.7
However, when some, in order to defend their position that the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian only in and through the Word, begin to make God in man’s image, subject to the same limitations as the creatures He created, I wish to make it clear that such are engaged in idolatry. In my opinion, there is no excuse for such thinking. Nevertheless, teachers of God’s Word, seemingly without any embarrassment at all, make all sorts of spatial-limiting arguments for why it is supposedly impossible for the Holy Spirit to actually and equally occupy all the bodies of all obedient believers.
I believe at least some of the reasons for this is that, unfortunately, many Christians today have drunk deeply at the humanist-materialist well. These give lip-service to omnipresence, but then define it in such a way as to effectively deny it. This is, as I’ve said, nothing but orthotalksy. If God is omnipresent, then don’t expect me to be impressed by arguments that claim He can’t be in more than one place at a time, and if He were, He’d be divided into pieces (or clones) of Himself. This is not just poppycock, but is a manifestation of unbelief, and anyone who claims to be a teacher of God’s Word while making such a claim ought to be ashamed of himself.
It needs to be understood that God’s omnipresence does not prevent Him from manifesting Himself in a localized place. In fact, while it is true that His ontological Being is present to all of space equally, He has, at various times and for various reasons, entered space at specific points and become present in it. These “theophanies,” as they are called, most often involved redemption. There was, for instance, the account of God’s presence in the garden of Eden “in the cool of the evening.”8 There was His appearance before the Israelites as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.9 Of course, the most dramatic case of God entering time and space was the Incarnation itself.10 But, and this point needs to be clearly understood, in entering time and space, God, in His self-existent, eternal and infinite Being, did not cease to be omnipresent. He was, while existing as Jesus of Nazareth, still present to every point of space and was, in fact, holding everything together by the “word of His power.”11 With this in mind, it seems evident that the omnipresence of Immanuel or “God with us” is the real subject of John 3:13, which says, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of God who is in heaven.”
I’ve heard people say they didn’t know what this passage was saying, but they knew it couldn’t mean what folks like me think it means. This isn’t exactly cogent exegesis, if you ask me. Nevertheless, some among us are confident that the ontological presence of the Word, who was Himself God, could not be on earth, in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and be in heaven at the same time. I suppose it could be that this difficult passage is not saying what I think it’s saying, but the teacher of God’s Word who claims that it “can’t be” is clearly not taking into consideration the omnipresence of Jehovah’s ontological Being—a Being not limited by time and space. Yes, I know the concept is mind-boggling, but such is, I believe, characteristic of the magnificent nature of Almighty God. When contemplating the nature of God, it is not detrimental to have our minds boggled a bit.
It has been my experience that when one moves off of center on a particular Bible subject, he’s probably off on something else as well. Why? Because the Word of God, which is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”12 is a palliative against false doctrine. If we take a wrong position on something, we can be sure other passages will confront our wrong interpretation and, if we are amenable, they will surely correct our error. However, when we come to a conclusion that a particular interpretation is right, and we are unwilling to be corrected, convinced beyond all doubt that our position is the right one, we will surely have to misinterpret and misapply other passages that impinge our belief. In other words, the Word of God, if we will let it, when properly understood and believed, will make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”13 The starting point for all this is, of course, Genesis 1:1. Failing to grasp the implications here will surely cause us to misunderstand some critical aspects of the nature of both God and His creation. Therefore, it behooves us to spend a little time thinking about the implications of Genesis 1:1.
On the basis of creation texts such as Genesis 1:1 and Proverbs 8:22-23, it can be argued that time, at least physical time, had a “beginning.” In fact, Genesis 1:1, which is neither a subordinate clause nor a summary title, says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” According to James Barr, this was an absolute beginning which, when taken with the expression, “So the evening and the morning were the first day” (verse 5), indicates this was, in fact, the very first day, which may well be intended to teach that “the beginning” was not just the beginning of the physical universe, but the beginning of time itself and that, therefore, God may be thought of as timeless.14 In this statement, Barr appears to reflect what Jude said so succinctly: “To the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen.”15 When this is coupled with Proverbs 8:22-23, which clearly looks back to “the beginning,” it can be fairly said that the Old Testament implies that time started at the beginning. Add to this Jude’s statement mentioned above, along with John 1:1-3, which says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made,” and it seems clear that the Bible teaches the beginning of the creation was not just the beginning of space and matter, but it was the beginning of time as well.
If all this is true, and I think there is not much doubt about it, then the Creator, at least before He created, was neither subject to time (i.e., He was timeless) nor space. In addition, as the immortal and eternal God,16 He did not, indeed He could not, consist of the material nature (matter) of His creation. He was, in fact, totally other (i.e., transcendent). All this stands in stark contrast with creation, which by virtue of its creation owes its existence to something outside itself (viz., God). It is in this regard that we are said to live, move and have our being in the Creator.17 How, then, are some New Testament Christians able to claim that God is somehow limited by space or time?
It is only God, by virtue of who He is, who is free from the constraints of the space-time continuum. And it should be clear that the God who is not so free can never be anything more than one of the small “g” gods of orthotalksy. It is simply not possible that the one true God can be divided or torn asunder, and anyone who thinks so, no matter what position on the Holy Spirit he defends, is not honoring the God who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures. It is impossible for the omnipresent God to be “scattered…into thousands, perhaps millions, of fully functional, self-contained, independent units, each one the perfect clone of all the others.” In fact, the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible is a God who could make Himself known in a million simultaneous theophanies and still be present to all the rest of creation at the same time. He could indwell a multitude of Christians equally, and all at the same time, without diminishing Himself in the least. He can do all this not because He is a spirit, but because He is God, the uncreated Spirit, “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.”18
Christians, particularly those who teach God’s Word, must not transfer to God any of the creaturely limitations. As the Creator, He is simply not subject to them. Along these lines, it is interesting to me that modern science, which hasn’t always been especially friendly to the Creator, has started to bow in His direction. Although I believe “big bang” cosmology to be inconsistent with the Biblical account of creation, and therefore wrong, nevertheless, it is most interesting to hear scientists conclude that time and space came into existence at “the beginning” of the universe. The British physicist, Paul Davies, typifies what I’m talking about:
If we extrapolate this prediction to its extreme, we reach a point when all distances in the universe have shrunk to zero. An initial cosmological singularity therefore forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity. For this reason most cosmologists think of the initial singularity as the beginning of the universe. On this view the big bang represents the creation event, the creation not only of all the matter and energy of the universe, but also of spacetime itself.19
Others, addressing this same thing, assert: “At this singularity, space and time came into existence, literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated as such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.”20
This aspect of current cosmological theory is especially troubling for some scientists, particularly those with atheistic beliefs. For example, the Russian astrophysicist, Andrei Linde, acknowledges, rather candidly, the problem that such a model poses for him: “The most difficult aspect of this problem is not the existence of the singularity itself, but the question of what was before the singularity…. This problem lies somewhere at the boundary between physics and metaphysics.”21
Sounds to me like Fred Hoyle’s old “steady-state” theory (viz., an eternal universe) with its well-known dictum Exnihilo, nihil fit (“Out of nothing, nothing comes”) has finally bitten the dust. As philosopher William Lane Craig says, “The steady state model has been abandoned by virtually everyone.”22
So, the theory most scientists subscribe to today is the big bang model, especially the inflationary version. Again, I am not arguing that this theory is correct. In fact, I totally reject the 15 billion years this theory postulates for the universe. I mention it here because it argues that the expanding universe necessarily had a beginning, and that it did not begin to expand into already existing space, but that it was space itself—which prior to the big bang had not existed—that was expanding outwards, with the alleged cosmic expansion creating space as it went along.
Now, if scientists who are limited, in the things they do, to the material creation—although it is true they don’t always act like they are—can understand the universe had a beginning, and that such a creation would have to be created ex nihilo or “out of nothing,” then I should think that modern-day Christians who are, generally speaking, the best educated the world has ever known, should not fail to understand the profound implications of such a creation: namely, that the Creator is over and above time, space and all finite reality, and can no more be confined to space than He can be measured by time.
It is inescapable that if something exists now, one of three things must be true of it: (1) it is either eternal, (2) it is created by something that is eternal, or (3) it is self-created. The first option is ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, since an eternal universe would have wound down or dissipated a long time ago. The third clashes not only with the First Law of Thermodynamics, but with logic’s Law of Contradiction, because in order to have created itself, the universe would have had to exist before it existed, an idea that is scientifically and philosophically ridiculous. This leaves only the second option, and the God extolled in this series satisfies all the necessary criteria of such a Creator. Natural revelation, when properly interpreted, points at a Being whose existence explains why science can explain anything, but why it cannot explain everything. As the famous and erudite Mr. Stephen Hawking has said about the big bang theory, “It would be difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of God who intended to create beings like us.”23 Commenting on this, William Lane Craig wrote:
Since everything that began to exist has a cause of its existence, and since the universe began to exist, we conclude, therefore, that the universe has a cause of existence. We ought to ponder long and hard over this truly remarkable conclusion, for it means that transcending the entire universe there exists a cause which brought the universe into being ex nihilo…. This conclusion ought to stagger us, ought to fill us with a sense of awe and wonder at the knowledge that our whole universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it.24
Finally, the high-profile astronomer, Robert Jastrow, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in an article in the New York Times, asked the question: “Have Astronomers Found God?” His answer was that they had, or had at least come close to doing so. After arguing that the universe had a beginning in time, and after accepting that its creation by an act of God was a reasonable possibility [Jastrow is a professed agnostic], he went on to point out that astronomical evidence points to a theistic view of the world: “The details differ, but the essential elements…are the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”25
His final words in this article were quite appropriate to our study:
This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians…. We scientists did not expect to find evidence for an abrupt beginning because we have had until recently such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time…. At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.26
Brethren, let us “act like men”27 in the midst of a lost and dying world.28 Let us determine to know and proclaim the Rock who is our salvation.29 As we do so, let us forever put away from us the sham gods of orthotalksy.
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- See Jude 3.
- See 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.
- See Cottrell, What The Bible Says About God The Creator, pages 264-273.
- See Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24; 1 Kings 8:27.
- See Jude 6.
- Daniel 10:12-13.
- See 1 Corinthians 3:19 and 3:16-17.
- Genesis 3:8ff.
- See Exodus 33:9; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10ff.
- See John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16.
- Hebrews 1:3; see also Colossians 1:17.
- 2 Timothy 3:16f.
- 2 Timothy 3:17.
- James Barr, Biblical Words for Time, 1962, pages 145-147.
- Jude, ASV of 1901.
- See Deuteronomy 33:27; Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 1:17.
- See Acts 17:28.
- See 1 Timothy 1:17; Jude 25.
- “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology and Black Hole Evaporation,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J.T. Fraser, N. Lawrence, and D. Park, 1978, pages 78-79.
- John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, 1986, page 442.
- “The Inflationary Universe,” Reports on Progress in Physics 47, 1984, page 976.
- Reasonable Faith, page 103.
- A Brief History of Time, page 140.
- The Kalam Cosmological Argument, page 149..
- June 25, 1978.
- 1 Corinthians 16:13.
- See Philippians 2:15.
- See 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:7.