By Ben Swift
But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built? (1 Kings 8:27)
English philosopher and physician John Locke once stated, “There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men.”
Having spent a number of years teaching students in Christian Studies classes, I can testify to the truth in this suggestion. These days, in this information rich age, particularly when in discussion with those children labelled with the ‘gifted’ tag, theological questions become interesting as they enter the realm of theoretical science. Maybe this can be attributed to the rise in popularity of physics through popular TV star scientists such as Brian Cox.
Take for instance the question, “How can God be omnipresent? That is, completely present everywhere we go, yet unseen or felt?”
These types of thoughts are not completely new however. Consider the psalmist who reflected on the idea of God’s omnipresence well before the latest theories put forward by modern theoretical scientists.
Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10
The psalmist here raises an interesting point. Nobody can escape God’s presence because wherever we go, whatever we think, there He is. It’s at this point that the inner childlike curiosity rises up to ask, “How can this be?” Don Stewart in an article on this very topic, makes an interesting and important point. He suggests that because God is spirit, He has no physical form. This means that He is present everywhere in that everything is immediately in His presence. At the same time, He is present everywhere in the universe. God, being spirit, is not subject to the limitations of matter or bound by a bodily form such as exists for humankind or any other form of creation with which we access through our senses.
In order for this to occur God would need to be able to be present outside of the dimensions within which human beings and life as we know it exist. But is this possible? Or maybe a better question would be, “Is this explainable or even comprehendible within the confines of the human mind?”
It is worth considering the fact that if God were not able to exist and operate in dimensions of space and time, outside of those in which we are bound, He would not have been able to create the universe in the first place. In other words, if God is only a part of the universe, He could not also be the creator of it.
It has been accepted by theoretical physicists that mathematically, there are at least ten possible dimensions of space which have existed from the birth of the universe. Although human beings can only directly observe three dimensions plus time, another six dimensions exist within the universe as incredibly compact dimensions of space. Rich Deem in his article, ‘The Extradimensional Nature of God’, suggests that God must be able to operate in all of those ten dimensions plus more, in order to have created the universe. According to this theory, it is possible for Christ, being God, to have been present before the creation of the universe and to have entered it within time as a human being, living in the presence of other human beings, revealing his nature and plan to humanity within our own time and spacial awareness.
Another interesting point to consider here is the supportive relationship of the theoretical physics discussed, to the Christian understanding of the transcendence of God. That is, the understanding that God transcends all space and time and is not subject to its limitations. Louis Berkhof, in his book, ‘Systematic Theology’, makes a good point when he suggests the following:
‘In connection to God’s relationship to the world we must avoid, on the one hand, the error of Pantheism, so characteristic of a great deal of present day thinking, with its denial of the transcendence of God and its assumption that the Being of God is really the substance of all things; and, on the other hand, the Deistic conception that God is indeed present in creation with His power, but not with His very Being and nature, and acts upon the world from a distance.’
While the world of theoretical physics is not one that many of us can claim to understand in depth, it does present us with some ideas that can be beneficial in trying to get our heads around the immensity of God. So let us embrace the questions that come from the mouths of children, or from the child within each of us, and see what new depths of understanding we gain from the great minds that God has gifted the world with.
This is what the Lord says:
“Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?”