We Are Not Omnipresent
I grew up in an apartment and always had food on the table, thanks to my mom’s waiting tables at a restaurant nearly every night. She often worked “doubles” too, adding lunch shifts to pay the bills. But we didn’t travel or vacation often — that wasn’t a part of our reality. I attended a “rich” high school because of an interesting way the school boundaries were designed. The cars in the student parking lot at my high school were much nicer than those in the teachers’ parking lot. When I arrived at my high school, it felt like I had pulled up to the school in Beverly Hills, 90210, one of my favorite TV shows growing up.
Most families at my high school had money, yet they rarely traveled outside the country. I can recall only one student I knew who went on a big trip. She went to Paris with her family over the summer. Things have changed since the early 1990s. Now people travel... a lot.
In our modern age, we enjoy more and more access to nearly anywhere we want to be. We can be present in different ways because of advances in travel (for example, affordable cars, cheap airfare, improved international travel), written communication (for example, postal service, text messages, email), audio communication (for example, telephones, long distance phone calls, international phone calls, cell phones), as well as video communication (Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and so on). I believe these wonderful advances in technology have also brought a curse. I call this the curse of “everywhereness.” We think we can be pretty much anywhere at any time. But we can’t. This is beyond our limits.
God existed before any created “space” existed. Before we talk about space and location, it’s important to know that God transcends all “locatedness.” Before any location came to be, God existed and created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Ever since the creation of the world, God exists throughout all creation, every square inch, all the time. God proclaimed rhetorically through Jeremiah, “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24).
Is there a secret location, perhaps a cave or an island, or even some sort of otherworldly place where God isn’t already there? No. The psalmist teaches us,
If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
— Psalm 139:8
God does not need a passport. God does not travel. God is already anywhere you can think of right now, and everywhere you can’t think of, and has been there forever. Deists — those who believe God created the world like a machine, started it, and then stepped away — confine God to a distant Heaven. Wrong. Polytheists — those who believe in multiple gods — confine God to certain places here and there. Wrong. Pantheists — those who see God in everything — confine God to creation itself. Wrong. God is not His creation. He transcends it. Yet
He is omnipresent in all His creation and beyond.
You might concede my point and say, “Okay, I get it; God is omnipresent and humans are not.” Yes, it’s true. But many of us have not let this truth sink into our hearts. We feel the pull of being everywhere, of doing it all, and want to avoid the fear of missing out (FOMO). We have been convinced by our friends’ curated social media travel highlights, the connectivity of our smartphones, and perhaps our own travels that we can, and maybe should, be able to be anywhere, perhaps everywhere, we want to be. We long for the impossible, for serene island vacations or almost anything different from our daily reality.
- The grass is always greener on the other side of our social media feed. But more significantly, we expect more of ourselves than is humanly possible. We want to be physically present in more than one place at a time. We want to be God.
The temptation of the garden echoes yet again in each of our lives.
When we are at work, we want to be elsewhere, and so we use technology to approximate omnipotence. We pull up pictures of a different location on our phone. When we are speaking with someone right in front of us, we may wish we were with someone else, and that becomes possible by sending a quick text message or taking a peek at our phone. When we are at home, we feel like being somewhere else, and that can be done by ordering an Uber to shuttle us across town. Are any of these inherently bad? No. But they are idolatrous pathways by which the lure of omnipotence — being like God — captures our heart. We fail to focus on where we are and who we are with. We disregard, overlook, and disrespect where God has already placed us right here and right now.
The majority of Jesus’s life was spent in a relatively small geographic area. A two-hour drive, as the crow flies, could take us from Bethany, the southernmost city of Jesus’s ministry, to Tyre and Sidon, the northernmost area of his ministry. From east to west, the area of Jesus’s travels was narrow, perhaps as little as thirty miles wide. The earth has over fifty-seven million square miles of land, which is about 29 percent of its total surface. Jesus’s entire ministry inhabited fewer than four thousand square miles, or roughly 0.007 percent of the land on earth. God’s strategic plan for the redemption of the entire cosmos occurred on one small speck of the earth.
Jesus was certainly aware of other locations to which He could have gone. I’m sure Mary and Joseph told Him of His time in Egypt as an infant. Jesus, like everyone in the Roman Empire, would have heard many details of other cities in the empire, not the least of which was Rome. And as a Jew, He would have heard a lot about the history of Jewish people in Egypt and of the Babylonian exile.
Jesus didn’t use a cheat code to transport Himself to His destinations; He endured the sweat and callouses of walking long distances from one place to the next. The gospel accounts are full of the details of His journeys, and Jesus made the most of this time. He taught. He listened. He encountered people He wouldn’t have met if He teleported Himself place to place. He stopped. He continued. Jesus embraced the entire experience of slow, limited, and interrupted travel.
- Jesus’s limited presence during His ministry made life difficult for others as well.
For example, in John 11, Jesus knows that His friend Lazarus is dying, yet He takes several days to arrive and be physically present. In that time, Lazarus has died, waiting for Jesus to get there. Jesus goes on to raise Lazarus from the dead and uses this situation to foreshadow His own resurrection. Yet the particulars of this story were all a by-product of the fact that Jesus’s life on earth was limited. He could be in only one place at a time, even when the life of a dear friend was at stake.
In Luke 8 Jesus is on His way to heal a twelve-year-old girl who is dying. Jesus pauses and delays His journey to listen to an outcast — a perpetually sick, bleeding woman — whom He heals. When Jesus continues His journey and arrives at the house of the little girl, He is too late. She had died (Luke 8:53). Yet Jesus raises her from the dead. In this case, Jesus’s physical presence was integral to the healing.
The Gospels also show us that Jesus healed from a distance. Jesus healed the daughter of a woman even though her daughter wasn’t physically present with Jesus (Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28). He healed the servant of a centurion in a similar way (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). This also happened to an official’s son in John 4:46-54. While Jesus wasn’t physically present with those He healed in these situations, we should note that the mother, centurion, and official were with Jesus. All these people lived within 0.007 percent of the land on earth that Jesus roamed during His ministry. They benefited from the limited human presence of Jesus Christ. Certainly, there were other people on earth in those exact same moments who would have longed for Jesus Christ in the midst of their emergencies, yet Jesus wasn’t physically present with them.
The power of God is never limited to one small speck of the universe.
God is both omnipotent and omnipresent. God’s presence is not limited; human presence is limited. This is what we learn from the life of Jesus as we focus our theological bifocals on the two natures of Christ: human and divine. In the Gospels, we see Jesus embracing the limits of being human. He walks in a limited area. He is late because His trip took an unexpected twist. He is accessible only to those who are around Him. He didn’t bend the rules of being human; He embodied them. He modeled how to live a limited human life. The human life of Jesus Christ is our guide for living with our own limited capacities.
Excerpted with permission from The Good News of Our Limits by Sean McGever, copyright Sean McGever.
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Let's embrace our limitations of physical space and time as Jesus did. Let's let Him be our guide instead of constantly suffering from FOMO! Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily