God’s Omnipresence & His Manifest Presence

nt_wright_bibleWe sang a very popular song the other in worship entitled “Holy Spirit” by Francesca Battistelli. The chorus is as follows: Holy Spirit, You are welcome here/ Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere/ Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for/ To be overcome by Your presence, Lord/ Your presence, Lord. As we sang, we certainly felt that God was near. The Lord seemed to use the song yet the question arose:  Is the song theologically correct? According to the Scriptures, isn’t God always present everywhere? Isn’t He always near thus making the song kind of redundant? He is, after all, immanent. I’d like to introduce a distinction with some biblical support that might further our understanding of God’s presence.

The Bible teaches without reservation that God is what theologians call God’s omnipresence. God’s omnipresence means that while God does not have spatial or size dimensions, He is present at every point within space with His whole being. Various Bible verses teach this idea. Psalm 139:7-10 says, “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.” Wherever we run, we cannot escape the objective and real Presence of God within the universe. God asks rhetorically through the prophet Jeremiah in 23:23-24, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? 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.” While God cannot be contained by space (Isa. 66:1-2; 1 Kings 8:27), the Bible teaches he fills all places. As the Puritan pastor Thomas Watson once said, “God’s center is everywhere, His circumference nowhere.” God’s omnipresence is one that is acknowledged. Wherever his kingdom exists, the King is present.

tongue-of-fireWhile the Bible teaches the omnipresence of God, it also includes an experience of God’s relationship to His creatures called His manifest presence. The manifest presence of God is the creature’s experience of, sense of, or awareness of God’s presence within their lives. A.W. Tozer aptly notes in his famous work The Pursuit of God, “The Presence and the manifestation of the Presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His Presence.” Throughout the Bible, the Lord is said to manifest Himself to believers and followers. Exodus 19:20 describes God’s presence coming to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.” In Acts 2:2-4, the Holy Spirit manifests himself upon the disciples in the upper room. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” The Spirit’s presence was tangibly different than it was moments before. God was omnipresent at every moment yet experienced differently on Pentecost. God being manifested in the tabernacle, the temple, the congregational worship, the incarnation, and in the new heavens and the new earth are all examples of his manifest presence. God’s manifest presence is one that is felt, experienced, enjoyed, and adored.

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