The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
June 12, 2012
by Peter Amsterdam
The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God
Audio length: 14:26
Download Audio (13.2MB)
(You may need to right-click the above links and select "Save Link As" or "Save Target As" to download videos and audios to your computer.)
(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)
When God created the universe and the world within it, He created matter, energy, time, and space. The world we live in is a three-dimensional material world, and we are limited by its physical laws. In this world, a material object or body can only exist in one space at one time, can only occupy its space at one time, and to get from one place to the next must pass through the intervening space. God is different. He is an infinite Being who is not limited by anything, including the world’s physical laws of space. As explained in an earlier article:
Jesus said God is spirit. God is also uncreated, thus He is uncreated spirit. That God is uncreated makes Him different in essence or being from all created things. He’s not made of anything which was created—He’s not made of matter. He’s not just energy, air, or space, all of which are created things. He possesses a different mode of being; He exists in a manner that is distinctly different from all that has been created, including angels and human spirits. Human beings are corporeal beings with spirits, while angels are incorporeal immaterial beings; yet both are created beings, which makes them different from God.
One of the differences between God and all of His creation is that He is a non-spatial Being, and thus transcends any spatial limits. He can’t be spatially contained by any space, no matter how large.
Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built!
Besides not being limited by space, the Bible also speaks of God as being present everywhere, which means that He is present in all space at all times. This attribute of God is called omnipresence. It is expressed in various ways throughout the Bible, including examples such as God “filling heaven and earth,” or David’s expressions in the Psalms of God being with him no matter where in the universe he might be.
“Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.
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.
He is actually not far from each one of us, for “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
In stating that God is omnipresent, that His presence is everywhere, that is not to say that He is bigger than everything, or that He is so immense that He’s stretched throughout the universe, so that His foot is in one location and His head is billions of light years away. To put it in those terms would be to say that God is spatial, which He isn’t; and that He is the biggest thing that exists, when actually location, distance, and size don’t apply to Him. It would be better to avoid thinking of God as having size or being spatial and to instead think of Him as being present everywhere in His full being.
Wayne Grudem gives some helpful insight:
Before God created the universe, there was no matter or material, so there was no space either. Yet God still existed. Where was God? He was not in a place that we could call a “where,” for there was no “where” or space. But God still was! This fact makes us realize that God relates to space in a far different way than we do or than any created thing does. He exists as a kind of being that is far different and far greater than we can imagine.
When the Samaritan woman spoke to Jesus about the right place to worship, Jesus’ answer expressed the notion that God isn’t confined to one space, but rather is spirit, non-spatial, and can be worshiped wherever one is. Other verses describe God’s omniscient presence in a similar manner.
The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man.
While there aren’t Bible verses which explicitly state that God is present in His fullness in every point in space, there are many verses (some quoted throughout this article) that express that God is present everywhere. Throughout history theologians have agreed that it’s not as if a part of God is in one place and a different part is somewhere else, like His fingernail is in Europe and His ear is on Mars. The inference from Scripture is that God is present in His fullness everywhere. Theologians across the spectrum of Christian belief agree upon and teach this. Here are the ways some of them express it:
Because God is not limited by space, He is universally present to all space at all times … To understand God’s omnipresence we should think in terms of the divine dimension and its relation to the material dimension. The divine dimension does not simply physically surround the space-time universe, nor is it invisibly present within it. Rather, the divine dimension intersects every point of space; it interfaces with the material dimension everywhere.
God’s omnipresence may be defined as follows: God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with His whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.
The whole Divine Essence fills the whole created space and every one of its parts. On account of the absolute simplicity of God, however, the repletive omnipresence must not be conceived as an infinite extension (expansion or diffusion) of the Divine Substance.
Omnipresence signifies that God is totally present everywhere in creation. Hence we are not to understand God as spatially spread throughout the universe, so that a part of Him is here, and another part there. God’s filling heaven and earth means rather He is totally and equally present everywhere. He is as much present to a single atom as to the most distant star, to a single seed as to all the plants and trees of the world.
God’s presence is also spoken of in Scripture as sustaining all things, keeping the universe functioning as He intends it to on a continual basis.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.
Besides creating the physical world, God also created a spiritual dimension in which spiritual beings—angels and demons—dwell. These spiritual beings are creations of God, and thus are spatial beings as well. Though the spiritual dimension is different from the material dimension in which we exist, it nevertheless has spatial limitations. The inhabitants of the spiritual dimension have limitations, unlike God, who is unlimited. An example of an angel’s spatial limitations is seen when the angel sent to help Daniel spent twenty-one days fighting to get there. The angel obviously couldn’t be in more than one place at a time.
[The angel] said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia.”
We’ve been talking about God’s omnipresence, and specifically focusing on His presence in connection with His creation—that He is fully present in every point of creation. While God Himself is omnipresent, His presence has been manifested in certain specific ways and times. He has appeared in some instances in what are called theophanies, where He has taken on a physical form that is visible. Some examples are when He showed Himself as a pillar of smoke by day and of fire by night, or when He descended on Mount Sinai. He was also present in God Incarnate, Jesus. The fact that He has appeared through theophanies, and that God the Son became Incarnate, doesn’t mean that God was not present everywhere at those times, for as shown in Scripture, God is unlimited by space.
The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
There were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Though not necessarily connected to God’s omnipresence, God’s presence is spoken of in another sense throughout the Bible to express His favor or displeasure by His being near or far. In this context, God being near or far isn’t speaking of spatial distance, as in being physically close or distant, but it’s speaking relationally. When Scripture says that God is far from evildoers, it doesn’t mean that somehow His presence is not with them as it is everywhere else in creation, or that His presence is somehow more with believers than it is with all of the rest of creation. God is always everywhere. The distance spoken of in connection with God’s favor or displeasure isn’t physical. Instead it is spoken of figuratively, expressing that God is pleased or displeased, that the evildoer is relationally separated or far from God, and that those who love God are relationally close to Him.
Jack Cottrell expresses this point in this way:
God’s ontological presence, His omnipresence, is constant and does not change. But depending on our own attitude toward Him, His presence takes on different meanings for us. To those who arouse His anger, His presence is as barren as His absence; to those who seek Him aright, His presence becomes a fountain of blessing.
God is said to be far, and to hide His face, from those who are wicked and who sin against Him.
The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.
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.
I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their transgressions, and hid My face from them.
God speaks of the nearness of His presence as an expression of His pleasure with those who love Him, who seek Him, and who do good.
The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.
You have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in Your presence forever.
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.
Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
God is present in times of need. His Spirit dwells within us, and He is with us always.
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
God’s omnipresence, one of His many amazing attributes, can be meaningful to each of us in our relationship with Him. It helps us see that we love, worship, and serve a wonderfully powerful God, one who is always everywhere in the universe, and who always dwells within us as well.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Other versions cited are The New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New Revised Standard Version (NRS), The New King James Version (NKJV), and the King James Version (KJV).
 Paraphrased from Jack Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Creator (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983), 264.
 The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God: God Is Spirit.
 1 Kings 8:27.
 Jeremiah 23:24.
 Psalm 139:7–10.
 Acts 17:27–28.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press 2000), 175.
 John 4:23–24.
 Acts 17:24.
 Jack Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Creator (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983), 267.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press 2000), 173.
 Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960),29.
 J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), Vol 1, p. 77.
 Colossians 1:17.
 Hebrews 1:3.
 Daniel 10:12–13.
 Exodus 13:21.
 Exodus 19:16–19.
 John 1:14.
 Jack Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Creator (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983), 258.
 Proverbs 15:29.
 Isaiah 59:2
 Ezekiel 39:24.
 Psalm 145:18.
 James 4:8.
 Psalm 41:12.
 Zephaniah 3:15.
 Ephesians 2:13.
 Psalm 42:5 NAU.
 1 Corinthians 3:16.
 Ephesians 2:22.
 Matthew 28:20.