The other night I read something that I would call truly mind-stretching. It’s good to do once in a while. The quote is from an ancient teacher named Boethius (who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries), and it is quoted in this book. In this paragraph, Boethius is trying to explain a helpful way to think about what we call the omnipresence of God–the fact that we can’t ever run away from his presence (as Jacob found out so viscerally). But instead of just saying “God is everywhere,” Boethius starts from a totally different place, and ends up saying it in a very different way. Here is the first part of the quote:
When “God is everywhere” is said, it does not mean that he is in every place (for he cannot be in any place at all), but that every place is present to him to be seized by him, though he himself is received by no place, and therefore is said to be nowhere in a place, since He is everywhere but in no place.
This is fascinating. By starting with God, Boethius ends up with a picture of God’s omnipresence less like God being spread out throughout all the universe and more like that of all of creation and history laid out in front of God. And since God knows and sees every molecule and moment, he is able to work, speak, and appear at any point in that reality–wherever, whenever he wants, with no limitation. He sees and knows it all perfectly, and therefore can be anywhere he wants at any time he wants, with no limitation. So…if you ask, “Where is God?” maybe Boethius would say something like, “Well, where are we? We’re right in front of him, and totally exposed to him, and totally at his mercy, always.” He cannot be contained in the universe (1 Kings 8:27, Isaiah 66:1, Acts 17:24), so in that sense, Boethius says, “he cannot be in any place at all.” But of course, our experience is of this uncontained God being everywhere, and so, David wrote Psalm 139–God is everywhere, to us.
Boethius says that we can helpfully think of time in the same way:
Time is truly predicated in the same way, as when it is said concerning a man, “he came yesterday”; concerning God, “he is always.” Here also something is said to be as if it were said concerning yesterday’s coming, but is predicated to it according to the time he will come. What is truly said of God, “he is always”, signifies a single thing, as though he would have been in all the past, is also in all the present in the way that he is, and will be in all the future.
Gavin Ortlund, the author of the book with these quotes, points out that what Boethius is doing is defining both God’s eternity (God is outside of time) and God’s omnipresence (God is everywhere) actively instead of passively. It is not that God simply exists everywhere. It is that he is actively seeing, working and speaking everywhere.
Maybe that feels a little “out there”–I mean, it is. But still, don’t you love the fact that God can never get old to us, because there are always new ways for us to learn about who he is and deeper ways for us to relate to him? And I have to say, in my experience, one of the best antidotes to having my thoughts overcome by the anxious energy of the world is to really let the Bible lead me to new and deeper thoughts of God. Further up and further in!