That God is everywhere is a fundamental teaching. But the Church teaching goes beyond this: God is with us. Always. This is the message of one of the names given to Jesus by the prophet Isaiah: Emmanuel.
How, we might ask, is God always with us? Here are seven ways.
1. He is omnipresent
First of all, the fact that He is everywhere necessarily entails that He is with us. Or does it? It might be tempting to think of God’s being as a kind of cosmic mist—enveloping everything everywhere but not fully everywhere. But that’s not possible because of another divine attribute: simplicity. This means that God is not composite. He is not composed of parts. (Otherwise He could be reduced to less than what He is.) So you cannot have ‘more’ concentrations of God in one place and ‘less’ of God in another.
The upshot of this is that God is present everywhere with the fullness of His being—His justice, mercy, wisdom, and goodness. Of course, God is also immaterial, invisible, and transcendent so we cannot sense this great presence through natural means. But we can take comfort in its reality.
2. Sustainer of our being
God is the source of our existence, the one who sustains our being—that means our material existence as atoms, molecules, and cells, as well as the life and consciousness that quivers within. As Acts 17:28 declares, “In him we live and move and have our being.” This is not to say that that there are not natural explanations for the way atoms are composed or how cells operate. It is to say that behind the laws of nature is a divine lawgiver who continues to sustain those laws.
3. Ultimate cause of our activity
Yes, we have free will but God is what makes our freedom possible — even when we misuse it. As theologian Erich Przywara put it, “And yet not only does the one who works all things bind His working to the distinct nature of creatures … so much so as to cause freedom precisely ‘as’ freedom … inasmuch as God’s ever greater proximity to the creature is the cause of an ever greater independence on the creature’s part” (Analogia Entis, 293).
4. He knows us
In a very real sense, God’s omniscience is another form of His omnipresence. That God knows us intimately is a biblical teaching. “Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows,” (Luke 12:7). His knowledge of us is complete. As Romans 8:27 puts it, God is the “one who searches hearts.” And Matthew 6:4 tells us that God “sees what is done in secret.” Such intimate knowledge of us is a form of God’s presence in our lives.
5. He loves us
As with His knowledge, so also is it with His love. As St. Paul put it in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
6. We participate in His being
Whenever we are good, whenever we think wisely, whenever we excel in anything we are participating in some fashion in the being of God who is the perfect exemplar of all these good things. This may sound radical but does the alternative make any sense? Is it possible to be wise without the wisdom of God? Is it possible to have knowledge apart from the all-knowing Word? A particularly relevant example is artistic creativity. Is it really possible for us to create something apart from God’s creativity? Of course not. Really all of our creativity is just a subordinate and subsidiary to what God does. Tolkien called this ‘subcreation.’ As radical as it may sound it is really just an extension of the second and third points above.
7. Through grace
All of the above apply to every person, regardless of whether they are a person of faith. For those of us who are believers, these six ways that God is always present ought to be a source of encouragement and perhaps even joy. But we also believe that through grace God is present to us in a special way—in prayer, through the sacraments, through the infusion of the virtues and sanctifying grace, and particularly in and through the Eucharist.
But one could also argue that God is, in some way, present to every living person through grace as well. How is this possible if not all are Christians? It is possible because the Church teaches that God makes His offer of salvation—His grace—available to everyone. This is a biblical teaching. Listen to what Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God our Savior has appeared to all men.” And most recently, the Second Vatican Council taught in Gaudium et Spes, “For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”
This doesn’t mean that everyone accepts the offer — that everyone is saved. But it does mean that in a way God is present through this offer of His grace, His free and unmerited gift of salvation, to all men, even those who are not Christian. How much more then is God present to those of us who believe in Him even when He — or we — seem so distant from Him!
Author’s note: In the process of research a particular debt is owed to this source for outlining the various ways God is omnipresent.