In 1974, J.I. Packer wrote a classic book titled Knowing God. At the beginning of the book he made a profound distinction between knowing about God and knowing God. That is a very challenging thought. On several occasions, I have taught a theology class at my church. One of the greatest dangers of studying theology is that we can learn many facts about God and never really encounter Him personally.
God created humanity to know Him personally. Humans are the only part of creation made in the image of God. Humans are the only part of creation that has the ability to consciously recognize God. Every society, culture and people group on earth has to deal with the question about God’s existence and His identity.
Theologians have tried to answer our questions about God by creating handles that we can grab onto. One of those sets of handles is called the attributes of God. These are defined aspects of the nature of God that are intended to give us greater understanding. At the top of the list are the “omni” attributes. God is omniscient, meaning that He knows all things. God is omnipotent, meaning that He is all powerful. God is omnipresent, meaning that He is everywhere present at the same time.
I can easily embrace the concept that God is all powerful and that He knows all things. I have a harder time getting my head around the idea that God is always present everywhere. Because I am bound by time and space, my understanding of God is hindered. It is hard to fathom how God could be present in Thailand, Russia and Minnesota at the same time. Yet, the Bible makes it very clear that He is.
When I ponder the idea of God’s omnipresence, I am struck by its implications. God is not present in some amorphous, intangible way. God is present in all of His glory and power right here, right now. God is fully interactive in my world. The idea that God is fully present, all of the time, for me is awe inspiring.
King David was keenly aware of God’s presence in his life. He found great hope and comfort in that reality. In Psalm 139, he expressed his awe at God being so intimately engaged with his life.
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:1-18 (NIV)
I have often used this passage to give hope to people going through difficult times. I have often turned to this passage when I have needed encouragement. But this reality is not just for the difficult times of life. It should remind us that God is present in our lives every single day. He desires to reveal more of Himself to us. He doesn’t want us to just know about Him; he wants us to know him.
There are many people in our world today that live with a vague knowledge about God, but who do not know God. The Apostle Paul encountered this when he traveled to Athens. He was disturbed that so many people were looking for God, but they had not found Him. So he proclaimed the good news about Jesus to them. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. Acts 17:22-23 (NIV)
We do not have to settle for knowing about God in some vague way. We can know Him personally. He isn't far away. He is right here, waiting for us to recognize His presence.