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God’s Word for You

Colossians 1:17 God is omnipresent

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 6, 2018

17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Some questions baffle philosophers. Some of the most difficult questions are: What is the purpose of life? What happens after we die? Who made the universe? Why is there evil? All of these are answered in the Bible. The passage before us answers “Who made the universe?”

This verse is also valuable in any extended discussion of the doctrine of God’s omnipresence. This is one of the negative attributes of God (“negative” in this case means that it is generally explained with a negative term such as “not” this or “never” that). The others are: The unity of God (he is in a class by himself), the simplicity of God (he is uncompounded and without parts such as eyes, ears, legs, etc.), the immutability (changelessness) of God, the infinity of God, and that God is omnipresent and eternal.

Being omnipresent (present everywhere) means especially three things:

1, God is omnipresent according to his essence. Although some argue that God is everywhere only in his “operation” (that is, as he acts), Scripture teaches that God is essentially everywhere and is never absent. He says, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot find him? Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24). And David confesses: “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:8). Reformed theologians resist this teaching because they want to resist the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but there it is in the text.

2, God’s omnipresence is such that although he is present everywhere, even in all creatures and objects, he is at the same time outside the creature or object. He transcends objects and does not become the objects. All things “live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28). God is not contained in any thing, but he contains all things.

At this point it is sometimes asked, can God be present in unclean, unholy places? Is God present at a Satanist gathering? At the holocaust? At a Ku Klux Klan meeting? At a murder? In a gas attack on a battlefield? In a sewer? Erasmus (a contemporary of Luther’s) did not think it wise to discuss this kind of thing in public, but Luther disagreed: “While carnal and vain babblers could not speak of this without giving offense, pious preachers could discuss this in sermons with the proper decorum; in fact, with great benefit. The saints were cast into filthy prisons, even into public sewers. If God were not present there, they could not have called upon him until they had been transferred from these revolting places into a beautifully decorated temple. But God is everywhere and fills all things. Whoever takes offense at God’s presence in filthy places has human and childish ideas of God; he evidently imagines that God, whom the highest heavens cannot contain, is confined by spatial limits” (quoted in Pieper vol. I p. 443 from St. L. XVIII:1700).

3, Finally, God is present everywhere without being extended, contracted, multiplied, or divided. He is not partly here and partly there. “Heaven is my throne,” God says, “and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?” (Isaiah 66:1). And Solomon prayed: “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).

Therefore, God is truly and fully present in the Lord’s Supper, and tells us exactly this: “This is my body… this is my blood.” He invites us to consume the meal for the forgiveness of our sins just as the family consumed the fellowship meal that was accepted by God in the Old Testament sacrifices (Leviticus 7:19). Also, it is not only God’s gifts, but the Triune God himself, who exists in all things.

This is a warning and a comfort to us. It is a warning, because nothing is hidden from God, as if he does not see us at night, or behind a locked door. But it is a comfort because nothing can separate us from his mercy and love. We might be separated from loved ones, we might go blind, or deaf, or mad, but God is still with us and in us. And even if I am struck dumb, God’s gospel works in the world and in the people I love. “In him all things hold together.”

Beginning Monday, we will return to our devotions on the Gospel of Luke.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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