What is Omnipresence? Is God Spatial?


Inman (2021) identifies two features characteristic of discourse on divine presence: immensity and omnipresence. Briefly, divine immensity says no boundary can limit or contain God. Divine omnipresence may be construed in one of two ways (cf. Wierenga 2013).

  1. First, operational or derivative presence (hereafter DP). Basically, DP says “God is everywhere” means just “God attends to every place.” He’s causally active anywhere and aware of anything at any place. In the Christian tradition, church fathers used DP to distinguish the Christian God from local, tribal pagan deities (Theophilus, To Autolychus 3). Christian thinkers, such as Athanasius, Aquinas, Cyril and Clement of Alexandria, and Herman Bavinck, used DP to address problems related to how God can be located in two places at once. DP has enjoyed significant advocacy in the Christian tradition.

    • One critique I wish to flag for DP runs as follows. DP seems reducible to two other divine attributes; namely, omnipotence and omniscience. If “God is everywhere” means “God attends to every place,” then talk of omnipresence seems to reduce to talk of God’s power and knowledge. However, when I talk about God’s presence, I think I’m talking about something unique and substantive about God’s relationship to space, something not reducible to other attributes. So, I’m suspicious that “God is everywhere” means just “God attends to every place.”

  2. Another major view in the Christian tradition is essential presence (hereafter EP). On this view, for any place in created reality, God is essentially present there if he is wholly spatially located there (cf. Hudson 2009). Basically, “God is everywhere” means “God is located wholly (but not exhaustively) anywhere.” Hilary of Poitiers advocates EP in Book 1 of On the Trinity. Reformed theologian Augustus Strong (1976) succinctly summarizes EP, saying, “By this we mean that God, in the totality of his essence, without diffusion or expansion, multiplication or division, penetrates and fills the universe in all its parts.” Thus, on EP, if God is anywhere, he is everywhere entire and undivided.

    • By itself, EP seems too easy to satisfy. It could be satisfied by an anesthetized patient in a hospital room, a student sleeping during a lecture, or even anyone who sleeps for any length of time (Dyck 1977). Each could be said to be essentially present in their respective locations, but none seems fully there. “God is everywhere” should mean something more.

While both DP and EP by themselves fall short as sufficient conditions for divine omnipresence, maybe we could unite them into a joint necessary condition. Let’s call this maximal presence (hereafter MP): for any place in created reality, God is present there only if God is spatially located there (EP) and God acts in and is comprehensively aware of any thing that happens there or elsewhere (DP). “God is everywhere” means “God is located wholly and wholly attentive anywhere.” On MP, omnipresence becomes a distinct, insightful attribute with its own cognitive content; we can explore what it is for God to have an address in space. Second, MP leaves room for divine freedom, activity, and attention, thereby allowing for God to practice acts of redemption in particular locations and communities, like Mt. Sinai or Gesthemane’s Garden.

With MP, whether God exists in space or is spatial becomes a natural next question. If true, MP seems to imply that God enjoys spatial location and activity. So, is God spatial?

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