Chapter 5 of A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God is titled 'The Universal Presence'. A difficult concept to grasp so I warmed us up last week by talking about his subjective presence- those times when you just know God is present working in your life, but there is no way to prove it. At times, even believers doubt what we see that God is doing in our lives. This week I am going to try and describe God's objective omnipresence, a trait that we take as true even if we struggle to understand it and cannot physically perceive it. Warning, there is math involved.
In geometry I learned about conic sections- shapes that are formed by intersecting a cone with a plane. (I lost you already didn't I?) Think of a flashlight. If you shine your light (pun intended) straight-on a flat wall, it forms the shape of a circle. If you shine it at a slight angle, the light forms an oval. And if you hold the light against the wall shining up it will form a parabola (think of the shape at the bottom inside of a cup). "God is light, in him is no darkness." (1 John 1:5) If we think of Almighty God as a light that shines over all creation then the manifestations of the Trinity are that very same light shining in our lives at different angles.
Another way of thinking about it was put forward by athiest-turned-believer-slash-science-teacher, John Clayton, referring back to the late-nineteenth century allegory called Flatland. The original story described a world that existed in only two dimensions and how their world defined how they perceived things. Clayton takes the allegory one step further and asks what would happen if Flatland were to encounter a sphere. If that sphere were to visit Flatland, it would not appear as a sphere but first as a dot (a line tangent to-straight against- a circle forms a point, just as when a flat plane is tangent to a sphere). As the sphere moves across the plane of flatland the dot would become a circle that would grow until the sphere was halfway across and then the circle would shrink until it eventually became a dot and then it would disappear again. (Picture a bubble on the surface of your bathwater. The bubble, a sphere, forms a circle where it meets the water.) If you lived in Flatland this experience would look like a miracle. If you asked the dot or circle what it was and it answered "I'm a sphere" you would not be able to comprehend what that meant. No matter how it was described, a sphere has no meaning in a world of only two dimensions. (for a more thorough narrative, check out Clayton's own description.)
To describe God's omnipresence, think of the sphere as surrounding all creation just like the light in the first example. The fact is, we live in Flatland and have a limited understanding just due to our limited experience. We can consider God a like a light or like a sphere (or a mother hen, or a fortress, and on and on), but those descriptions are used only because they are easy for us to understand. You and I, this side of heaven, cannot fully understand all of God's qualities. He is omnipresent- ever present- present everywhere. Describe it however you want, but the truth that God is right here, everywhere, is all that's important.
(FYI, I won't be able to respond to comments as I'm on vacation. That's also why this post is a day late)
This blog is part of a book club reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Please join the discussion here and at our hosts, Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. Need a copy of the book? You can get it for free on Kindle.