By James M. Rochford

The term omnipresence comes from two Latin root words that mean “all” (omnis) and “present” (praesens). One philosopher defines omnipresence in this way: “God is everywhere present at once. Negatively stated, there is nowhere that God is absent.”[1]

God isn’t spread throughout the universe. Rather, since he is infinite, he “fills every part of space with His entire Being.”[2] This means that he is at “every point of space with his whole being,” even if he “acts differently in different places.”[3] Feinberg writes, “God is present in the totality of his being at each point in space. Hence, there isn’t one part of him at one place and another at a different place… God transcends spatial limitations and so is present at all places at once in his total being.”[4]

Craig and Moreland offer the most accurate definition of omnipresence. They write that God is “wholly present to all points in space at once,” and specifically, he is “immediately cognizant of and causally active at every point in space.”[5] To put this in our own words, God is (1) aware of every aspect in existence, and he is (2) able to act in all locations in existence.

Does omnipresence mean that God fills physical space? No. God doesn’t fill the universe like oxygen fills a room.[6] This illustration describes pantheism, which is the view that God is the universe. Feinberg writes, “To avoid pantheism Christian theists claim that God is present with (or in addition to) every point in space, but not as each point.”[7] According to Scripture, however, God made the world and upholds the world, but he exists transcendent from the world. Moreover, since God’s entire being is present everywhere, this shows a key distinction with pantheism as well.

If God filled physical space, this would mean that God’s size would be growing along with the expansion of the universe. But God existed before space, time, matter, and energy. Therefore, God is immaterial and spaceless. Thus, God doesn’t exist in space, but he is transcendent of space. God is an immaterial Mind—not a material being (Jn. 4:24; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16). Geisler writes, “A better illustration is that God is ‘in’ or present to the whole universe the way a mind is in its brain, or the manner in which beauty is present in a work of art, or that thought is in a sentence… In each case, the one is present to and penetrates the whole without a part of it being in a part of the other.”[8]

Is God “up there” in heaven? Yes and no. Since God isn’t localized anywhere, he is present everywhere. American folk religion considers God to be “the Big Guy in the Sky.” This is a crude and distorted depiction of God. It’s true that God exists in the present heaven, but he also exists everywhere else. So, one might say that God exists in heaven, but it is just as accurate to state that God’s presence fills the Earth as well.

Biblical Basis

God cannot be constrained to a physical location. At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon prayed, “Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kin. 8:27) Because God created the universe, he “does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Isaiah writes that God’s presence exceeds the physical universe: “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things” (Isa. 66:1).

God is present wherever we go. Jesus told us to pray alone where no one can see us. Then, he added, “Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Mt. 6:6). Even when we are alone, God is right there with us. Likewise, Jesus stated, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mt. 18:20). Because God is omnipresent, he has the capability to attend millions of prayer meetings simultaneously. He also said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).

David found great comfort in the fact that God would be wherever he went. He prayed, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me” (Ps. 139:7-10). Wherever he went, David knew that God would be there to protect and comfort him. Furthermore, it isn’t as though a part of God is everywhere, but “it is God himself who is present wherever David might go.”[9]

God has no spatial separation from us. Jeremiah writes, “‘Am I a God who is near,’ declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far off? 24 Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’” (Jer. 23:23-24).

God is aware of every place. Solomon writes that the eyes of the Lord are “in every place” (Prov. 15:3). Zechariah writes, “The eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth” (Zech. 4:10). Another prophet of Israel said, “The eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chron. 16:9; cf. Heb. 4:13).

How could Jesus be located in a body during his Incarnation, but not lose his omnipresence?

To begin, Jesus still possesses a human body—even after his physical death. After the resurrection, he appeared to people in a physical body (1 Cor. 15:4-6; Lk. 24:39; Jn. 20:27). Yet, even in this physical post-resurrected body, he can claim that he is omnipresent. Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). So, we should begin with the clear revelation of Scripture before we engage in philosophical speculation.

That being said, theologians offer two central explanations for how Jesus can have a physical body, while also being omnipresent.

(1) Jesus possesses two natures.[10] This is referred to as the hypostatic union. Thus, in his human nature, Jesus has a spatial location. However, in his divine nature, he continues to possess the attribute of omnipresence.

(2) Jesus gave up the use or utility of his omnipotence. When Jesus took on human flesh, he didn’t give up any of his divine attributes. It is impossible for God to strip himself of an attribute and still be considered God. This would be like a square losing one of its sides and still insisting on being called a square! Instead, Jesus “emptied himself” (ekenōsen) of the use of his divine attributes (Phil. 2:7).[11] While walking the Earth in a human body, Jesus could’ve chosen to access what was happening in Australia or in the Andromeda Galaxy. But he chose not to.

If God is omnipresent, is he present in hell?

If God is omnipresent, this would mean that God is present in hell. But how does this fit with Paul’s statement that nonbelievers “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9)? How can God be omnipresent and also withdraw his “presence” from those in hell?

God’s omnipresence does indeed require that he is also present in hell (Ps. 139:8). Yet, in our view, this refers to God’s removal of his relational presence—not his awareness or activity. God “is present in different ways in different places.”[12] Sometimes God is present to judge (Amos 9:1-4), and sometimes he is present to bless (Ps. 16:11). Being sent away from God’s relational presence is a form of judgment (1 Chron. 16:33; Ps. 9:3; 68:2; Isa. 19:1; 64:3; Jer. 4:26; 23:39; 52:3; Zeph. 1:7; 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 14:10).

This fits with our definition of omnipresence: God is (1) aware of every aspect in existence, and he is (2) able to act in all locations in existence. This definition is fully compatible with the concept that God is invisible and not relationally interacting with those in hell. In the same way, while God is omnipresent on Earth, we are almost always not aware of him. In fact, we largely ignore God’s presence. It will be the same for those in hell—only to a far greater degree.

When we conceive of presence in human terms, we think of this as visible and material. However, since God is immaterial, the person in hell will be unaware of God’s presence. God will be both active and aware of the events in hell, but he will not be visibly revealed to those who exist in hell. By contrast, those in heaven will “see His face” (Rev. 22:4).

To summarize, therefore, this question equivocates with the term “presence.” The term “presence” can have multiple different meanings.[13] It can refer to God’s metaphysical presence, or it can refer to his moral or relational presence. A married couple could both be physically present with one another, but because they are both distracted by their phones, they are not relationally present. Many passages depict leaving God’s relational presence in this way (Gen. 4:16; Job 1:12; 2:7; Jon. 1:3, 10; Num. 14:42-43; Ps. 10:1; 51:11). In the context of 2 Thessalonians, Paul is referring to God’s relational presence (Ps. 16:11). Feinberg writes, “God is ontologically present even in hell, but that does not mean hell’s inhabitants have any awareness of God’s presence or any moral or spiritual relation to him.”[14]

If God is omnipresent, how can he indwell believers while also not indwelling non-believers?

God specially dwells with believers (Mt. 18:20; Acts 3:19) and in believers (Eph. 1:13; 1 Cor. 12:13; John 14:23; 17:21, 23). Yet, God doesn’t dwell in non-believers. Once again, this refers to God’s specific relational presence—not his general metaphysical presence. When God indwells a believer, this refers to God’s “special spiritual and moral presence.”[15]

As we defined above, God can choose to be active in certain places more than others. Surely God was more active during the ministry of Jesus in Israel than he was on one of the moons of Jupiter.

If God is omnipresent, why were there “holy places” in the Old Testament?

To repeat, God isn’t constrained to a spatial location (1 Kin. 8:27; 2 Sam. 7:7; Isa. 66:1; Acts 7:48). Yet, in the Old Testament, God appeared to people in the Tabernacle and the Temple. How does the concept of the Temple fit with the idea that God exists everywhere?

The attribute of omnipresence is fully compatible with the concept of God moving specially or uniquely in certain places such as the Tabernacle or Temple. Omnipresence doesn’t require God to be equally active in all parts of reality.

If God wants to be more active in certain places, that is his prerogative. However, God’s actions in a specific location do not reduce his presence in every other location. He isn’t constrained by a Temple, and his activity in the Temple doesn’t drain his resources from other parts of the universe. Therefore, there is nothing contradictory in thinking that God can move powerfully in the Temple while also being present everywhere else at the same time.

If God wasn’t omnipresent, what implications would this have for our lives?

If God wasn’t omnipresent, we would wonder if we were suffering alone. God never promises us that he will protect us from suffering, but he does promise to walk with us through suffering. David wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me” (Ps. 23:4). Whenever we suffer, we can know that God is very near to us—closer than anyone else in our lives.

If God wasn’t omnipresent, we would wonder if God was distant from us. This was how Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal in their great contest before the Ahab and Jezebel. When the false-god Baal didn’t answer the prayers of his prophets, Elijah was “mocking” them by asking, “You’ll have to shout louder, for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” (1 Kin. 18:27 NLT) The true God isn’t this way. He can be in “countless places and involved with many different situations simultaneously.”[16]

If God wasn’t omnipresent, we would confine God to certain locations. Indeed, this concept of God pervades world religions. Worshippers in most religions meet with the divine in a holy place on a single day of the week. Yet, how do holy places diminish our concept of God’s nature?

(1) Holy places can diminish who we think God is. If God is really an infinite and unlimited being, it diminishes his nature to believe that he is confined to a room or finite space. If you fell into this sort of religious thinking, you would start to think that you could domesticate God by leaving him behind in the sanctuary each week.

(2) Holy places can lead to hypocrisy. After all, if the holy place is where God dwells, what should you think about your time in the rest of the world? If God dwells in the sanctuary, then you would be on our best behavior in the “house of God.” But what about once you’re outside the holy place? You could very easily fall into the mentality of “Sunday saint, Monday ain’t!”

(3) Holy places create unnecessary distinctions between the sacred and the secular. For instance, most hospitals have sanctuaries where people go to pray. You probably agree that it’s preferable to pray in a quiet place, and perhaps, this is the only reason people pray there. However, why not just call it a quiet place, rather than a holy place? Many visit a sanctuary to actually get closer to God. According to biblical teaching, God is just as accessible in the hospital room, as he is in the sanctuary. When we have a robust view of God’s omnipresence, we ask ourselves why we wouldn’t just pray in the room with our loved one.

(4) Holy places project a bizarre picture of God to onlookers. Some Christians admit that holy places aren’t biblical now that Christ has come. But they argue that sanctuaries and holy places help them feel closer to God. We cannot argue with how someone feels. But at the same time, we have to ask, “What does this communicate to non-Christians who are watching what you’re doing?” Moreover, we must ask, “Even if you feel close to God in a holy place, is this how God desires to feel close to you?”

You may have experienced God powerfully in a certain place. Perhaps God called you into a specific ministry while you were on a retreat or special trip. Maybe he spoke to you for years in a certain building where you listened to the Bible taught accurately and powerfully. But just remind yourself that it had nothing to do with the building or the location. God can make a burning bush “holy ground.” Perhaps Moses had nostalgia for that location, but this is “psychological, not theological.” Remember, that “God is not localized.”[17]

[1] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 493.

[2] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 61.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 173.

[4] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), p.249.

[5] J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (2nd ed., Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 1060, 1061.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 493.

[7] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), p.250.

[8] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 493.

[9] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 174.

[10] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 495.

[11] This theory is in sharp distinction from the liberal and heretical “Kenotic Theory” that states that Jesus gave up his divine attributes while in his incarnation. Such a view is false. The view we are espousing is a modified Kenotic Theory that insists that Jesus has always retained his divine attributes, but he simply didn’t utilize them.

[12] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 175.

[13] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), p.250ff.

[14] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), p.251.

[15] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001)

[16] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 300.

[17] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 300.