Tag Archives: polytheism

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…

HOW MANY GODS ARE THERE?

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How many gods are there anyway? God himself gives us the answer to that question:

“Thus says Yahweh, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, Yahweh of hosts: ‘I am the first and the last, and there is no God besides me. Who is like me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.” (Isaiah 44:6-8)

We can also see the Shema, famously expressing the heart of Judaism:

“Hear, O Israel!Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

The New Testament agrees:

“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19)

Christianity, along with the other two Abrahamic religions, affirms a unique transcendent monotheism.

In his book ‘The Bible Among the Myths,’ Oswalt (2009) observed that the “single most obvious difference between the thought of the Old Testament and that of Israel’s neighbors is monotheism. The Old Testament vehemently and continuously insists that Yahweh is one and that no other being is in the same category with him. But sometimes today it is said that since Israel still believes in a divine being, there is not really that much difference from the surrounding cultures. But this will not do. How many monotheistic religions are there in the world today? There are only three: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And where do these three get their monotheism? All from one source: the Old Testament.

This means that only once in the history of the world has a culture contrived to attain and maintain the idea of the absolute unity of deity. On every side of it peoples far more brilliant than Israel were maintaining with vehemence the multiplicity of deity. Israel alone insisted on the oneness of God, even in the end to the death if necessary.”

Oswalt has also observed that “in comparison to the other literatures of the ancient Near East, the Bible is characterized by a worldview that is sharply different from all the rest. I have called the Bible’s view transcendence and the other one continuity. In the first, the divine is other than the cosmos; in the second, the divine is inseparable from the cosmos. This difference is so significant that even today there are only three religions that believe in true transcendence: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and all of them have derived that conviction from one source only: the Bible.”