What is the presence of God? What is being in the presence of God?
God is omnipresent, meaning He is present at all times and in all places. What does it mean, then, to be in God's presence?
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In the beginning of human history, God enjoyed a close presence with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8). After their sin, they became separated from this presence. Throughout the Old Testament period, we find various ways in which God revealed His presence in special ways. These included speaking, as He did with Noah; in physical form, as Genesis 17—18 describe; and in visible form, as He did with the Israelites in the forty years in the wilderness.
Psalm 114:7 looks back at Israel's wilderness journey and describes God's presence as something that could make someone tremble in fear: "Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob."
Jeremiah 3:17 speaks of a time when God's presence will dwell in a special way in Jerusalem, saying, "At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart." Lamentations 2:19 calls for repentance in the presence of the Lord: "Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!"
In Jonah, we see God's presence described as time hearing from the Lord. After Jonah heard God's voice, we read, "So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD" (Jonah 1:3).
In the New Testament, the angel Gabriel said he lived in the presence of God: "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news" (Luke 1:19). In 1 Corinthians 1:28-29, Paul spoke of God's presence as a time which people speak with God: "God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God."
Second Thessalonians 1:9 speaks of the presence of the Lord in another way: "They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might." This presence of the Lord is similar to that mentioned by Gabriel, speaking of being before the Lord in heaven. This is also similar to what Paul states in 1 Timothy 5:21 to Timothy, saying, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality."
Though God's presence is everywhere, the Bible also speaks of being before God in heaven as God's presence, His special presence in certain locations (such as in Jerusalem), and other times in which He revealed Himself at a particular time or place uniquely. Today, God's Spirit lives within those who believe in Him (John 14:23). We do not need to go somewhere special to seek His presence, but are called to worship Him and live guided by His Spirit that lives within us. We may sense God's presence in a special way emotionally at times, yet God is present at all times and in all places and in each believer.
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