Psalm 139:7-12

Sermon preached on December 2, 2001 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2001. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

On Thursday morning I watched part of the British Memorial Service for the victims of September 11. It was held at Westminster Abbey and in his address the Archbishop of Canterbury asked the question, "
Where was God on September 11?" That's a good question, one that many people asked after the tragic events of that day.

Where was God on that day? We know that the Bible tells us that He's not like Baal, the false god whose prophets Elijah mocked. Remember what Elijah said to them when Baal didn't answer them? (1 Kings 18:27)

"Shout louder!
Surely he is a god!
Perhaps he is deep in thought,
or busy, or traveling.
Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened."

God is not like that. Indeed, the Bible tells us that

God is always present with us. Not only that, it tells us that God is always present at every point in His creation.

Or as a theologian might put it, God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. Our text reads,

"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."

God is everywhere present on earth. In verse 9 David tells us that even if he sped to some corner of the earth, moving at the speed of light (the wings of the dawn), he would find God there. God would be there to guide him, to hold him fast. We also read about God's presence wherever we are in Acts 17:28. Paul referred to God and said,

"For in him we live and move
and have our being."

We live our lives in His hand. He is all around us. Wherever we go on this earth, God is present. If we go to the outermost reaches of the universe, God is there. In verse 8 David said,

"If I go up to the heavens,
you are there..."

God is present in every part of the universe. He fills it .

But even though God fills the entire universe, we must realize that He is much greater than that.

We must be careful to distinguish God from creation.

Pantheism confuses the two. It equates God with the universe. It says that there is only one reality and that you can describe it as, "God" or as "nature". According to them, God is everywhere in the universe because God is the universe. A somewhat similar idea is that of Star Wars, "The Force". I think they define it as the energy that is put out by every living thing.

But all such ideas are totally erroneous. Although God is present throughout the universe, He is not to be equated with it.
God existed before the universe came into being. Indeed, He created the universe. Genesis 1:1 tells us that

"In the beginning
God created the heavens and the earth."

Psalm 90:2 reads,

"Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth
the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting
you are God."

God is not to be confused with nature, with the universe or anything like that. He fills all things, but He is distinct from His creation. He is much greater than the universe.

The second thing I want you to see about God's omnipresence is that

God is also present in places that are invisible to us.

There is much to creation that we don't see. When someone dies, their body remains with us, but we don't see where their soul goes. It goes to a place that we can't see and can't visit. They are separated from us.

But they are not separated from God. In the second half of
verse 8 David wrote,

"if I make my bed in the depths,
you are there."

The word that in translated 'depths' in the NIV is the Hebrew word Sheol. It refers to the grave, the place of the dead. God is everywhere. Even death does not separate us from Him.

There are two
possibilities in death.

On the one hand, we can speak of the death of Christians.

The Bible tells us that when Christians die they go to heaven. Remember what Stephen said just before he died. He said,

"Look, I see heaven open
and the Son of Man standing
at the right hand of God."

The souls of those who die in Christ go to heaven. They go to be with Jesus. As the apostle Paul said, (Philippians 1:21f)

"For to me,
to live is Christ and to die is gain.
If I am to go on living in the body,
this will mean fruitful labor for me.
Yet what shall I choose?
I do not know!
I am torn between the two:
I desire to depart and be with Christ,
which is better by far;"

Those who die in the Lord go to be with Him. Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us and that He would come again for us to take us to be with Him. (John 14) In Romans 8:38 the apostle Paul declared that death could not separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. No, death cannot do that. When Christians die, they enter God's presence, they go to heaven. It is God's home. As God said in Isaiah 66:1,

"Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool."

God fills heaven and earth. In Jeremiah 23:23-24 God said,

"Am I only a God nearby,
and not a God far away?
Can anyone hide in secret places
so that I cannot see him?
Do not I fill heaven and earth?"

Heaven is God's home. Wayne Grudem writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 176)

"We might find it misleading to say that God is 'more present' in heaven than anywhere else, but it would not be misleading to say that God is present in a special way in heaven, present especially there to bless and to show forth his glory. We could also say that God manifests his presence more fully in heaven than elsewhere."

But there is a second possibility. People who die without Christ go to a place of torment. But what we must realize is that

God is also present in hell.

Even those who die without Christ know His presence in hell.

Now this may seem surprising because many think of hell as the absence of God. But that's not true. God is present at every point in His creation. God is present in hell. We see this in Revelation 14:9f. It talks about the fate of anyone who worships the beast and his image and receives his mark. It says,

"he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury,
which has been poured full strength
into the cup of his wrath.
He will be tormented with burning sulfur
in the presence of the holy angels
and of the Lamb.

And the smoke of their torment
rises for ever and ever.
There is no rest day or night
for those who worship the beast and his image,
or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."

They will be tormented in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. Hell is not the absence of God. That cannot be because God is everywhere and everything obtains its existence from His presence. (Colossians 1:17, "'in Him' all things hold together.' See also Hebrews 1:3) The horrible fact is that God is in hell to show His wrath. He is not there to bless. Rather He is present there to punish. It is God who makes the fire that is not quenched, the worm that does not die.

God is present everywhere in His creation. As Wayne Grudem writes, (p. 174)

"There is nowhere in the entire universe, on land or sea, in heaven or hell, where one can flee from God's presence."

The third thing I want you to understand about God's presence is that

God is immense.

We usually think of 'immense' as meaning 'big' or 'huge'. We can think of God in those terms but it doesn't do justice to the Bible's teaching. Immense has another meaning, that of being, 'incapable of measurement, boundless' suggesting the 'infinite'. It is in this respect that theologians speak of the 'immensity of God'.

1 Kings 8:27 at the dedication of the temple, Solomon said about God,

"But will God really dwell on earth?
The heavens, even the highest heaven,
cannot contain you.
How much less this temple I have built!"

Solomon told us that the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain God. This tells us another important truth about God. (Grudem, p. 174)

God cannot be contained by any space, no matter how large.

God's relationship to space is different that ours. Remember a few weeks ago I spoke about how God is transcendent above time, how time is something that God created and that God is not bound by time like we are. God's relationship to space is something like that. God is transcendent above space. God transcends all spatial limitations. Wayne Grudem writes,( p. 174-175)

"We should guard against thinking that God extends infinitely far in all directions so that he himself exists in a sort of infinite, unending space. Nor should we think that God is somehow a 'bigger space' or bigger area surrounding the space of the universe as we know it. All of these ideas continue to think of God's being in spatial terms, is if he were simply an extremely large being. Instead, we should try to avoid of thinking of God in terms of size or spatial dimensions. God is a being who exists without size or dimensions in space. In fact, before God created the universe, there was no matter or material so there was no space either. Yet God still existed. Where was God? He was not in a place that we could call a 'where,' for there was no 'where' or space. But God still was! This fact makes us realize that God relates to space in a far different way than we do or than any created thing does. He exists as a kind of being that is far different and far greater than we can imagine."

Louis Berkhof describes God's immensity this way, (Systematic Theology p. 60)

"that perfection of the Divine Being by which He transcends all spatial limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with His whole being."

Now what does all this mean for us?

First of all, this doctrine should be a great comfort to Christians.

Donald Macleod writes about God's presence,(Behold Your God, p. 66)

"This presence means, primarily, God's help as we face the stresses of our own personal situations."

God is always with us. We are never away from His presence. We are, as Jesus said in John 10:28-29, in His hand. We are in the hand of the Good Shepherd. We are also in the hand of the Father. Jesus said about His sheep.

" I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish;
no one can snatch them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me,
is greater than all;
no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand."

Donald Macleod writes concerning God being with us. (Behold Your God, p. 66)

"This idea pervades Scripture and is set forth in terms of virtually every preposition human language has to offer. God is with us (Matthew 28:20), around us (Psalm 34:7), in us (John 14:17), in the midst of us (Psalm 46:5), behind us (Psalm 139:5), underneath us (Deuteronomy 33:27), near us (Psalm 148:14) and before us (John 10:4). The metaphors used are equally varied: God is a shepherd, a captain, an encircling army, an indwelling garrison, a sentry at the door, a watchman, even a broody hen."

Macleod, p. 66,

"In all these ways God stands by His people, nourishing, keeping and teaching them. Confidence in this is one of the great foundations of the Christian lifeÖ. This is not something variable, true or untrue according to our personal feelings. It is one of the constants and one of the fundamental assumptions of our Christian lives."

God is with us. John 14:23 Jesus said,

"If anyone loves me,
he will obey my teaching.
My Father will love him,
and we will come to him
and make our home with him."

If you are a Christian, that is true of you. His presence with you will never end. In Hebrews 13:5-6, we read,

"God has said,
'Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.'
So we say with confidence,
'The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.'"

But someone may object, "What about Job?"

God withdrew His presence from Job and Job went through great trials. He was left to face them alone. God left Him destitute.

I would most emphatically disagree with that characterization. God did not leave Job. It felt that way to Job, but it was not the case. It was much like the truth of the poem, "Footsteps" where the person looked back over his life and saw that in some places there was only one set of footprints. He asked God about it and wondered why. But God told him that those were His footsteps, that those were the places where God had carried him.
Donald MacLeod writes about God, (Behold Your God, p. 67)

"He is invincibly determined to save us and His love will never let go until he presents us faultless in the presence of His glory (Jude 24). Clearly, then, believers will always enjoy that presence of God which is essential to their perseverance. They will be kept right up to the completion of their salvation. (1 Peter 1:5)"

Yet, having said that, we should recognize that there are times when some aspects of God 's presence may be withdrawn from believers. Macleod writes, (Behold Your God, p. 67)

"there may be times when every outward indication of God's love is withheld. Whenever we look, we see only calamity."

God is still with us, protecting us, but we don't feel it, we don't see it.

About this, I want to say three things.

First, sometimes this happens and it is not connected to our sins.

That's what happened to Job. He was the most righteous man on earth. That's why it happened to him. He went through a horrible, horrible time. It was a very grievous period of his life.

I suggest that part of our daily prayer be that these outward aspects God's presence not be withdrawn from us. Pray that you continue to enjoy the outward manifestations of God's presence. God is always with us in an absolute sense, yet life can be miserable when the outward manifestations of His presence are withdrawn. Pray that you don't experience that withdrawing.

Secondly, give thanks for all the times when you have enjoyed the outward manifestations of God's presence.

Why have you enjoyed good things? It's because of God's gracious presence. Every good gift comes from above, from the Father of heavenly lights. (James 1:17) Good things are the result of God's gracious presence. As Psalm 16:11 says,

"You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

Donald MacLeod writes, (Behold Your God, p. 73)

"To Him we owe any love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control that we possess. When God is present in a life, such qualities are the inevitable result."

Thirdly, sometimes this withdrawal of the outward manifestations of God's presence are connected with sin.

That happened to Samson and to the Israelites when they failed to take the city of Ai. As we read in Isaiah 59:1-2,

"Surely the arm of the LORD
is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities
have separated you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.

Get sin out of your life. Don't tolerate it. See it for what it is—something that will bring misery, will bring separation from God's presence to bless.

To non-Christians, God has been so good to you.

So far in this life you have enjoyed much of the gracious presence of God. Why? His kindness is designed to lead you to repentance.

(Romans 2:4) As Acts 17:27 speaks of this and says,

"God did this so that men would seek him
and perhaps reach out for him and find him,
though he is not far from each one of us."

Go to Jesus today. He's your only hope.

After the fall, man was banished from the Garden of Eden, from God's presence. That means that right now, you live in estrangement from God. In Genesis 3 we read that that way back to God was barred. There was a flaming sword which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

How can you get back? There's only one way- Christ made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:20) MacLeod, (Behold Your God p. 68)

"The flaming sword is plunged into the heart of the Last Adam. (Zechariah 13:7)"

Jesus is the way.

God is inescapable.
You can't run away from God. Jonah tried to do that. He attempted to flee from God on a ship. God sent a storm to stop him. The sailors threw Jonah overboard and God prepared a fish to swallow Jonah. God was everywhere that Jonah went.

God knows everything you do. There is no privacy. He is always there. You can't fool Him. One day you will have to deal with His presence. You can't escape God. James Montgomery
Boice writes, (Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 107)

"Even if we ignore him now, we must reckon with him in the life to come. If we reject him now, we must eventually face the One we have rejected and experience his eternal rejection of us."

Don't let that happen to you. Go to Jesus today.

Where was God on September 11?

He was there, at the World Trade Towers. He did remarkable things that day. For those that were His people, He took them to Himself. Their passing was like that of Stephen- heaven opened for them, they went to glory. For those of us who watched, God was present giving us a great warning. Remember Jesus' words in Luke 13? (verses 2-3)

"Do you think that these Galileans
were worse sinners
than all the other Galileans
because they suffered this way?
I tell you, no!
But unless you repent,
you too will all perish."

Unless you repent, you too will perish.

God was also present to punish those who had not obeyed Him. For them the Day of His wrath had come, and they couldn't stand. (Revelation 6:16)

Don't let that happen to you. Jesus said, (
Matthew 11:28-29)

"Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls."