Tag Archives: Creator

IS GOD EVERYWHERE?

We have tackled the weighty questions of ‘Does God Know Everything?’ and ‘Can God Do Anything?’ Now we turn our attention to ‘Is God Everywhere?’

I have procrastinated a long time in writing this post. The concept of omnipresence is very abstract and complicated. We must delve into the brain-teasing subject of the spatial relationships of spiritual beings, objects, and places. While this is a favorite area of inquiry for me, we can quickly spiral off into tangents with no practical value to our day-to-day lives as Christians. On the surface, it does not seem that omnipresence is even a doctrine worth spending time on. Omniscience and omnipotence have immediate implications for Christian belief and life whereas whether or not God is “present in all places at all times” (Merriam-Webster) or ‘spatially infinite’ appears to be rather academic. Why did early theologians even bother themselves with this infinite attribute?

Allow me to share a perspective that will hopefully illuminate why this discussion is both helpful and relevant. Some people may assume a religion like Hinduism is polytheistic. Polytheism, in contrast to monotheism, means belief in multiple gods. However, Hinduism is more accurately defined by pantheism or even perhaps panentheism. In a pantheistic system, the divine penetrates and permeates all things: a rock is divine; a tree is divine; a mosquito is divine, the West Nile virus that mosquito is carrying is divine… Now, I do not pretend to be an expert on the incredibly diverse religion of Hinduism, but this concept of pantheism is also found in Taoism, the New Age movement, as well as in the fictional Jedi religion of the Star Wars series. Pantheism is today, in its many forms, an influential worldview.

In contrast, Christianity presents a worldview with a clear distinction between Creator and Creation. God is eternally pre-existent and qualitatively different from everything that came after him. The ‘creature’ (e.g., you and me) is closer in essence to the nothingness from whence it was called into being than to the infinite God that transcends the physical cosmos. Christians can categorically say “this is God” and “this is not God.” So, how do we reconcile this theological proposition of God being “present in all places at all times” with the clear Creator / Creation distinction? How could anything not be divine if God is fully present throughout all creation? Or, perhaps the common perception of omnipresence is off base.

Our discussion will necessitate an examination of the Transcendence and Immanence attributes of God, a look at the Biblical data where language depicting proximity and presence of the divine is used, and a discussion of how the doctrine of omnipresence radically differs between the different persons of the so-called Trinity.

To save time, I will go ahead and share my hypothesis upfront and then examine each member of the Trinity in more depth in subsequent posts:

Current Hypothesis:

God the Father is, by his nature, transcendent and necessarily separate from the physical universe. It would be more accurate to say that the cosmos exists within God rather than to think of God the Father as being present within the cosmos. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). “… in him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:28a)

God the Son, especially post-Incarnation as Jesus Christ, has a physical body and, although he can go anywhere he wants, cannot be in more than one location at a time. “Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.” (Matthew 24:25-16) Jesus has a physical form by choice (albeit now glorified) that precludes omnipresence. “… Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God … emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (see: Philippians 2:5-6)

God the Spirit is who we would most consider to represent the classic depiction of omnipresence. The Holy Spirit can fill the entire universe and be everywhere at all times, although it does not necessarily follow that he IS everywhere at all times. Although the Spirit of Yahweh has operated throughout Biblical history, Jesus specifically mentions asking for the Father to send the Spirit. Elsewhere we read about the Spirit being poured out on all flesh at a future point in time. So spiritual-spatially, this Spirit did not seem to be everywhere at once at all times in the past. Today, Christians can experience the Holy Spirit simultaneously on opposite sides of the planet. A key is this: most descriptions of God being near or distant seem to speak to relational closeness and distance, rather than physical proximity. In the most well-known passage that is used as evidence of the doctrine of omnipresence, the psalmist poetically intones, Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand will lay hold of me.” (Psalm 139:7-10, emphasis added)

To be continued…

CREATION, MIRACLES, AND SUPERSTRING THEORY

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I was reading to my toddler today from the ‘Big Picture Story Bible‘ by David R. Helm (2010) and came across the following passage: “Do you know how God created everything? Simply by speaking words. Imagine, making the world with words! Strong words. Powerful words.” That’s when my inner theologian started to question. Is anything really so “simple” with God?

Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” Clear enough. But speaking in our universe involves vocal chords and sound waves moving through a medium. Likewise, breath in our universe involves lungs, cellular respiration, and various gasses such as carbon dioxide. Does God the Father have vocal chords? Or lungs? What medium did his words move through before anything other than God existed? Does the breath of God contain carbon dioxide?

Don’t think that I am mocking. A principle I come back to again and again is the ‘dimensional beyondness‘ of God – that Yahweh the Creator is ‘qualitatively different’ than anything found in the created cosmos. God is “spirit” (John 4:24). God pre-existed all things and is not dependent on anything within creation itself.  So, a scripture that informs us that God said, “Let there be light” and there was light is indeed simple, but the reality behind what actually took place might be completely out of our ability as created, mortal creatures to comprehend. I do not pretend to know how God could actualize a world through speech, but the following concept intrigues me.

The bleeding-edge of theoretical physics suggests possible unification in the form of Superstring theory (M-theory being the most advanced version). The absolute smallest building block of our created universe is proposed to be a ‘string,’ an incredibly tiny filament of energy (1033 centimeters). As a guitar string will produce a different note based on how it vibrates, these quantum strings will produce different particle species based on how they “vibrate” (a very simplistic explanation).

Imagine a blank canvas of motionless strings, stretching out in every direction, filling the void. Now imagine God speaking… and having every filament of energy come alive – dancing and oscillating in harmony with the majestic symphony of an instantly manifesting cosmos. This concept can apply to a lot of miracles that involve supernatural changes within our physical world.

Remember in Matthew 8 when Jesus reached out and touched a man with leprosy, and he was immediately cleansed of the disease? Those who are skeptical or discount the many accounts of miracles throughout Scripture may likewise scoff at this – “surely this is just a legendary embellishment attached to the ‘good moral teacher’ Jesus that we accept!” But how hard is it to conceive, even for so-called modern, so-called post-Enlightenment minded people, that the God of the Universe could cause the basic building blocks underlying those cells to change vibrational frequency? Leprous tissue could have been reconfigured as healthy tissue in a microsecond.

Likewise, seeming “thin air” could be reconfigured into the matter comprising bread loaves and fishes, and a torrent of water can gush from a rock. Most recorded miracles do originate from the supernatural but operate in the natural, created universe that we inhabit. There are physical changes that can be observed and documented. A cancerous tumor that is miraculously healed has to go somewhere, or cease to exist, or turn into something else. Some force, such as gravity, must be manipulated in order for dry ground to appear in the middle of a Sea so that Moses can walk through.

In other physics-meets-theology news, if God decides to change the value of the theoretical Higgs Ocean that permeates our entire universe, all matter will boil away. Sounds like 2 Peter 3:12 to me! How else could outer space burn?

GENERAL REVELATION / NATURAL THEOLOGY

starstree

In a previous post I argued that revelation is more accurately described as apocalypse – an unveiling or uncovering of divine reality. However, that would best describe what theologians call Special Revelation. General Revelation and Natural Theology are not quite examples of tearing away a supernatural veil but rather the lingering fingerprints of divine handiwork in creation – both within the material universe and our individual selves.

Natural Theology refers to the beliefs that we can arrive at by observing aspects of General Revelation and using human reason (logic) to attach meaning to those observations. These evidences are theoretically available to all people everywhere.

General Revelation can be divided into two categories: internal and external:

Internal evidences of the existence of God and his attributes include logical deductions (e.g., there must be an uncaused cause) and innate beliefs. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has “set eternity” into human hearts. Various theologians speak of an ‘innate sense of the divine’ within us. C.S. Lewis famously argued in favor of an inherent moral conscience in his book ‘Mere Christianity.’ If somebody accidentally trips you, you will feel far less animosity than if that person tripped you on purpose, even though the end result is identical. There seems to be an untaught, intuitive sense of justice / injustice within us. Even depraved individuals with seared consciences (1 Timothy 4:2) understand when something is unfair to them – far beyond a sense of inconvenience or survival instinct.

External evidences include the witness of creation, which leads to the belief in the necessity of a Creator, as purported by Intelligent Design theory. Psalm 19:1 tells us that “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.” Romans 1:19-20 says, “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

However, the effects of sin have so greatly tarnished humanity, including human reason and moral conscience, that we find General Revelation not being sufficient in leading somebody into a salvific relationship. As Romans 1:21 continues, “they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” General Revelation alone will never lead somebody to accurate conclusions about the incarnation of Jesus Christ nor the atonement. We desperately need God to pull back the veil and reveal himself to us in a special fashion, whether we realize it or not.

Acts 17:26-17, 30: “and he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us … Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent…”