God’s omnipresence does present some interesting challenges, especially when we are faced with BIble verses which make it appear like God is “more present” in certain areas and “not present” in others (Gen 1:2, Psalm 33:13-14, Prov 15:29). Let’s face it, due to the limitations of our human understanding, the omnipresence of God appears to suffer from some apparent paradoxes. A prime example of this apparent paradox is the presence or absence of God in Hell. I can tell we are about to topple one of those “Sacred Cows” we hold dear, so hold on tight.
Most Christians understand Hell to be a place of both eternal torment and separation from God (Matt 25:41). If Hell includes eternal separation, one would think God can not be said to be present there. So how can God be omnipresent and yet be absent in one location? Do you see the problem we are facing?
If you look back to our definition of omnipresence (look here) you will find the solution to our apparent paradox. From our definition we see that God is not restricted by such things as time, space, or audience. God might be present everywhere, but He acts differently in different places. For example He can be present in the life of a sinner, leading them to repentance, while simultaneously being present in the life of a believer, assuring them of their salvation. This understanding will help us resolve our apparent paradox.
Could it be that God is present in Hell, but He is not there to bless the occupants? Many times when the Bible speaks of God’s presence it is referring to his presence to bless (Psalm 16:11). On the other hand, when the Bible refers to God removing his presence it is usually speaking of punishment (Isaiah 59:2, 2 Kings 17:18-23), and never the literal vacancy of his presence. Therefore, when the scriptures refer to eternal separation from God it is really speaking of eternal punishment. This seems to be backed up by Revelation 14:10-11, which tells us of the eternal torment of the wicked in the presence of the Lord. Did you catch that? The presence of the Lord means God isn’t absent from Hell, but rather He is present to pour out his wrath on the wicked. His presence is indeed everywhere, but it is not necessarily everywhere to bless.
Likewise, we can use this knowledge to understand God’s “presence” in Heaven. He is also in heaven, manifesting his love and blessings to a degree that we cannot even begin to comprehend. It isn’t that God has chosen to locate “more” of himself in Heaven. Rather, He has chosen to make his presence known in a “special way”, such that Heaven will be the focus of the manifestation of his character and glory. Indeed, in Heaven God will manifest everything that his Word promises, other than His wrath.
In conclusion, we shouldn’t allow the complexity of God’s omnipresence to become a stumbling block in our faith. Can someone wrap their mind around what it means for God to be omnipresent? Likely not. However, the fact our God is ever-present should excite worship in his children. Ultimately the omnipresence of God will inform us of his greatness, highlight the love expressed in the incarnation, and serve as a source of comfort that He is always near to us.