Storied Omnipresence

God is everywhere.


Some things make me nervous even though I’m sure they’re true. Start pulling out the “omnis,” and I start looking for the exits. I want a God whose identity is shaped by the story to which God has bound himself, not the God of philosophical abstraction.

Enter Barth’s exposition of God’s omnipresence (Church Dogmatics §31.1). Here, I experienced Barth on his Christological A-game in a way that I haven’t seen in several chapters.

Yes, God is everywhere. But it is not that God measures up to some abstract notion of timelessness or placelessness. The God who is “other” than creation as timeless and placeless is not everywhere, but nowhere.

The Biblical God has revealed himself quite differently. God has made a world where God’s own ability to be somewhere can be made manifest.

God not only can be someplace in general, and not only is everyplace in general, God has chosen to be located in particular ways in particular places. God in the OT was, truly, in the pillar of fire, in the tabernacle, and in the temple–even as neither tent nor temple can hold the God of heaven.

The particular truth that God is present with God’s people in special ways forms the basis by which the more general idea is affirmed that God is present everywhere. God is present in certain times and ways in order to judge or to love; God is present on earth as redeemer and reconciler.

And all of this we know to be true because these instantiations are grounded in the true and ultimate occupying of a particular place that happened in the incarnation of Christ. God’s presence on earth is the definitive indication that God can be present with God’s people, that God has in fact been so present, and that therefore God can be and is present everywhere, if in different fashion.

This section resonated with me for two reasons.

First, Barth was so clearly here forcing the theological confession to conform to biblical narrative rather than vice versa. I’ve been missing this in much of the past few weeks’ reading.

Secondly, Barth’s talk of God occupying space, and being able to interact with humanity because of it, resonated with how I’ve been thinking about Paul’s union with Christ soteriology. I’ve been using language such as, “God has created reconciled, cosmic space in Christ–and we are saved by being placed in that space by Spirit, faith, and baptism.”

Barth wasn’t talking reconciliation in this week’s reading, but he was talking space. Lots of space. God-occupied space. Space which God occupies so as to be present to God’s people.

And, Barth was talking the space of incarnation.

This chapter showed the best of how Barth’s theology works–where the reality of God’s self-revelation in Christ reframes the discussion of old theological points and better depicts the God we meet on the pages of the Bible.

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