How Can A Person Be Separated From God If He’s Everywhere?
The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent. Jeremiah 23:23-24 says “Am I a God near at hand...and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?... Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Jeremiah 23:23-24 states God's omnipresence. God says that He is a God “near at hand, NOT a God afar off” that He “…fills heaven and earth” He is everywhere present. It also implies that no one can hide himself in secret places so that God cannot see them. He sees everything. Joshua 1:9 also states God’s omnipresence. Moses says to Joshua “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” The Lord God would be with Joshua wherever he goes because God is omnipresent (everywhere present). The psalmist wrote “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
Yet at the same time, The Bible talks about separation from God. For those who reject Christ and resist The Holy Spirit their entire lives, they will go to Hell, which is often described as separation from God. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says "in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might," In Isaiah 59:1-2, God, speaking to Israel through the prophet Isaiah says "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear."
The souls of the redeemed go directly into the presence of God (see Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23). But the souls of those who rejected God’s provision of atonement will be separated from God (Isaiah 59:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
But how can this be? The appears to be a contradiction here, right? How can God be everywhere present yet some people are separated from Him. If anyone could be away from God’s presence, it follows that God is not everywhere present. If God is everywhere present, it follows that no one is separated from God. So there must be a biblical contradiction here. Either God is omnipresent, or people can be separated from Him. But both cannot possibly be true.
Is this correct? First, let’s examine what a contradiction is. According to the most common law of logic (i.e the law of non-contradiction), 2 opposing statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way. For example, the statements “God exists” and “God does not exist” cannot both be true. Either the theist is correct or the atheist is correct. But the theist and the atheist cannot both be correct. It is absolutely impossible for God to both exist and not exist. Either God exists or He doesn’t. However, two opposing statements COULD both be true either at different times and/or in different ways. For example, the statement “I’m pregnant” and “I’m not pregnant” cannot both be true at the same time. However, they could both be true at different times. The statement “I’m pregnant” could be true at the present time but the statement “I’m not pregnant” could be true at a different time (i.e either prior to the conception or after the baby is born). OR they could be true at the same time, but only if they’re true in different senses. For example, a woman could tell us “I’m not pregnant”, meaning she literally does not have a baby in her womb. However, if she said “I’m pregnant” a few moments later, that could not be true if what she meant by “pregnant” in the sense of having a baby in her womb. But perhaps she’s a novelist and means “pregnant” in a metaphorical sense, meaning that she’s “pregnant with ideas” and can’t wait to “give birth to them on paper”. In this case, the statement “I’m pregnant” and “I’m not pregnant” are both true at the same time, however, they’re not true in the same sense.
Now, when The Holy Bible says that God is everywhere present and yet some people are away from His presence, is this a contradiction? Well, that depends. Is scripture talking about God’s presence in the same way in both of these instances, or are they used in different senses (like the woman who had no baby in her womb yet was “pregnant with ideas”)? I submit to you that scripture means the latter.
In the case of Hell, I believe, because God is omnipresent, that He is technically in Hell as well as in Heaven and in this material universe. However, those who are in Hell do not feel God’s presence. God is there. But the souls in Hell cannot sense His presence even in the slightest sense. It’s like a person who has no sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell, or touch. In the absence of all 5 of these senses, even if another human being was in the room with you, you would have no way of knowing he was there. In a similar sense, God’s presence cannot be felt in even the faintest way in Hell. Conversely, those in Heaven feel God’s presence full blast! Whatever presence of God we may have felt in this life through emotional worship services and from the inner witness of The Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:16), God’s presence will be overwhelming in Heaven.
I believe this is what Paul meant when he said “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). He was absent from God in sense of not seeing him face to face, and experiencing the beatific vision. However, he was present with God in another sense since God is omnipresent. Paul was both absent and present with God in two different senses of the word. It would only be a contradiction if what scripture was using “Absent” and “Present” in exactly the same way.
So, there’s no contradiction here…because scripture is not talking about God’s presence in the same way in these different passages.