Question: If God Is Present Everywhere, Then How Can Unbelievers Be Separated From Him?
Answer: The Bible says that God is everywhere present in the universe. The psalmist testified that there is no place that a person can be aware from God’s presence. He wrote.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:7) NIV).
However, there are a number of statements in Scripture that seem to indicate that people can be away from God’s presence. They include the following.
1. How Can God Be Separated From Unbelievers?
If God is everywhere present everywhere in the universe, then in what sense will unbelievers be separated from Him? The Bible says that unbelievers will be excluded from His presence. Paul wrote the following to the Thessalonians about what happens to unbelievers.
They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV).
How can someone be out of God’s presence if God is everywhere? Is this not a contradiction? In what sense can this separation occur?
There is more. The Scripture also speaks of people being far from God. We read about this in the Book of Proverbs.
The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous (Proverbs 15:29 NKJV).
How can God be far from anyone, including the wicked, if He is everywhere in the universe? This seems like a contradiction.
In the Book of Isaiah, we read about those who have been cut off from God. Scripture says the following about these people
But there is a problem - your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore (Isaiah 59:2 NLT).
How can this be true? How can anyone be far from God or cut off from God, if He is everywhere present?
2. God Is Present With Unbelievers In His Wrath
The answer to this is simple. We must have a proper understanding of the presence of God. The Book of Revelation describes how God can be present with unbelievers. We read of the fate of those who worship the beast.
You will have to drink the wine that God gives to everyone who makes him angry. You will feel his mighty anger, and you will be tortured with fire and burning sulfur, while the holy angels and the Lamb look on (Revelation 14:10 CEV).
God will be present in judgment in the sense of His wrath. His immediate presence is what is missing in judgment. There is no relationship with God for those who are condemned.
God is able to be present to punish sin wherever it may occur. In the Book of Amos, we read the following
I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said: “Strike the tops of the pillars so that the thresholds shake. Bring them down on the heads of all the people; those who are left I will kill with the sword. Not one will get away, none will escape. Though they dig down to the depths of the grave, from there my hand will take them. Though they climb up to the heavens, from there I will bring them down. Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from me at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them. Though they are driven into exile by their enemies, there I will command the sword to slay them. I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good” (Amos 9:1-4 NIV).
God is present everywhere. Even in the grave.
God is even present in the unseen world of the dead. This is called Hades or Sheol. The psalmist wrote of this.
If I were to climb up to the highest heavens, you would be there. If I were to dig down to the world of the dead you would also be there (Psalm 139:8 CEV).
Thus, the Lord is present even among the unbelievers in the realm of the dead.
3. God Is Present In A Different Way With Believers
While God is everywhere present, He is present in different ways in different places. For the believers He is present to bless them. The psalmist wrote this. He said.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1 NRSV).
For believers, God’s presence is a blessing.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul wrote of God’s special presence being with believers. He wrote the following to the Corinthians.
Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17 NLT).
However for unbelievers He is presence is not the same. Indeed, His presence is there to judge them; He is not present to bless them.
4. The Wicked Are Far From A Blessing: They Are Separated From His Goodness
Consequently, when it says that the wicked are far from God, it has the idea of far from God’s blessing, not His actual presence. Therefore the writers are not speaking in a geographical sense of distance but rather a spiritual sense, they are far from His blessings because they have rejected His truth.
Thus, we have no contradiction in Scripture when we consider these passages which speak of everyone in the universe being in God’s presence while other passages speak of some being away from His presence.
Summary To Question 15 If God Is Present Everywhere, Then How Can Unbelievers Be Separated From Him?
One of the central truths of Scripture is the omnipresence of God. Indeed, Scripture makes it clear that He is everywhere present in the universe. Nothing can escape His notice. However, there is a seeming contradiction when it says that certain people are “cut off” from His presence or sent “away from His presence.” How can this be if God is everywhere present?
The doctrine of God’s omnipresence is not contradicted by the idea of people being banished from His presence. Being sent away from His Holy presence speaks of God’s judgment. God is present with unbelievers but He is present in the sense of His wrath. Indeed, His judgment is upon them. However His immediate presence is not with them. This is because they have no relationship with Him.
Scripture speaks of the wicked being far from God. However this means they are far from His blessing. It does not mean that they are far from Him in a geographical sense. While God is present everywhere in the universe He acts differently toward different people. To the believer He is present to bless them while to the unbeliever He is present in His judgment. Therefore, when we examine all the evidence and correctly understand the terms, we find that there is no contradiction.
This question is from my forthcoming book “Understanding The God of The Bible”