If God can be compared with an author, how shall we think of God’s omnipresence?
This may be one of the more difficult “omni-” attributes that we have to think about. We’ve thought a bit about omnipotence, and we have omniscience waiting in the wings; these two are already “invisible” traits.
That is, if I say to you, “Superman is stronger than any human being,” you don’t have any trouble with that. His strength is not necessarily apparent, but lies in wait, and we only see it when he’s doing something. Then, we compare what he can do with what the strongest human beings can do, and we see that he is stronger than they are.
Or take the root of omniscience, intelligence*. Let’s say I invite you into a room full of Stephen Hawking look-a-likes. They are chatting amicably, and amid the computerized chatter I ask you to pick out the real Hawking, who is one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in the world. You can’t easily tell which one is he – his intelligence lies in wait. But a good way to find out might be to ask them all to give a quick exposition on whether black holes lead to new universes (they don’t, according to Hawking).
Now ask either Superman or Hawking – where are you? The answer will be a single location in three dimensional space. You can only be in one place at one time.
Presence as an attribute, in other words, does not lie in wait (unless you’re a ninja). It is the obvious thing about you, that you are somewhere, and only there. It can be an alibi or a damning piece of evidence – but it can’t be both at the same time.
How then is God omnipresent?
We are often – I am often, even until the present moment – tempted to imagine a vast ghost of a being, invisible to us, perhaps like a really thin gas. This ghost permeates the Universe, though we have trouble with this, and not just because it’s eerie.
For a start, can this ghost see? Where are its eyes? Is it entirely composed of “spiritual” eyes? Or, are its eyes focused on us, and the long train of its flowing being extends from here out into space?
Or would we insist that God is not in space – therefore not omnipresent – because we don’t have any direct empirical evidence of him? The opposite is a bit jarring to think about: Some exterior physical presence existing in such a way that you are always and constantly aware of it. (I imagine the body of a nondescript white male in 19th century clothes multiplying himself along the streets of, say, London). This would make us all speak and act as though we were paranoid, no?
If the being has to be imagined “in” space, that is, as part of physical space, then maybe we have the wrong idea.
Rather, I suggest that the author is omnipresent within the context of her story, and we might take our cue from her.
Now, the author is something completely apart from her story and even our human authors are not made of up of the same “matter” as the content of their stories. So there is an implicit – shall we say necessary? – separation between the author and her story.
In this sense – as we saw with God – the author does not maintain a “physical” presence in her story. I am grateful not to have to misconstrue her in such ways (I’m a married man, after all). Isn’t she, nevertheless, present in her story? If so, in what way?
*Here I use “intelligence” to mean something like “an ability to know.” Of course it can also connote “an ability to learn” or something suggesting that the objective of learning has not been achieved, but could be. This distinction will enjoy (or suffer) more treatment in future posts.