January 11, 2009
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
The Difference Someone’s Presence Makes
The presence or absence of someone makes a difference. You often realize it when that someone is absent. I experienced it when both my parents went to Abu Dhabi to work for a few years while I was still in college. I had to do things I don’t normally do when they were present. It’s hard playing mom and dad to my younger brothers. It’s hard. Sometimes I wish that they did not leave us. But there are times that I would prefer that they are away, especially when I want to do things that might displease them or are not acceptable to them. I did some things that I would not normally do when they are present.
When you are experiencing bad things, you want someone to be present with you. When you are lonely, you prefer that there is a friend sitting beside you. When someone is bullying you at school, you wish your father is with you to protect you. When you are having bad days, you want more of God’s presence. You want to experience that he is with you when you are having trouble with your relationship with your wife. But there are times that in our reaction to our problems, it seems like God is absent. We ask, “Where are you God when I needed you most?”
When you want to do bad things, you can’t do it when someone is present with you. Obviously, you won’t bring in another woman in your house when your wife is there. You won’t tell a friend degrading words about someone in your church when that person is beside you. But why are we doing things we know are sinful and displeasing to God when we know that he is at any place at any time? If we could make God absent during the time when we are doing things that are shameful even for other people to see, we would do it.
That is why the truth that God is everywhere brings discomfort to people who want to do things their own way, without anyone watching them. On the other hand, this also brings comfort to those who needs help, refuge, counsel, and strength.
The Omnipresence of God
David sings, “Where shall I go from your Spirit or where shall I flee from your presence?” (v. 7). This is a rhetorical question and the obvious answer is, “Nowhere!” There is no place you can go where God’s Spirit is absent. There is no place you can escape or hide from his presence. God is everywhere. He is an ever-present God. That is what it means when we say that our God is an ever-present God. He is omnipresent (“omni” means “all”). Last week, we saw that he is omniscient (“all-knowing”). Next week, we will see that he is omnipotent (“all-powerful”). This is our great God.
Being his children, God is with us everywhere we are. Therefore, our response to sin and suffering must be with a heightened awareness that God is with us everywhere we are.
“Where shall I go from your Spirit…?” God is spirit. Unlike us, God has no physical body. He is not confined by space. We cannot be at two places at the same time. But God can be at any place at one time. In fact, he is all places. He asks, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jer. 23:24b). He is so big that the whole universe cannot contain him. We cannot limit God. We cannot limit his presence.
“…where shall I flee from your presence?” We cannot run from God. We can hide from someone we don’t want to see. But we cannot hide from God. That is Jonah’s folly. After receiving a command from God, he tried to flee from God’s presence (1:3). God wanted him to go to Nineveh. He boarded a ship going to the farthest side opposite that city, Tarshish. We know what happened. God chased him. “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” (Jer. 23:24a), God asks. What is your answer?
Verse 8, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Here David is saying that God is in heaven, the highest possible place we can go. God is also in Sheol, that is, the place of the dead or the grave. That is the lowest possible place we can go. When he says, “You are there!” he is saying, “You are everywhere!” God is so high we cannot go above him. God is so low we cannot go under him.
Verses 9 and 10, “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” Even if we fly at the speed of light or plunged ourselves into the deepest part of the ocean, God’s hand will hold us and lead us to where we ought to be. “Wherever he may go, the psalmist knows that Yahweh is there to lead him and to hold him (verse 10); the second verb in Hebrew is ‘to hold, grasp,’ in the positive sense of helping or sustaining, not in the negative sense of seizing or arresting.” He guides. He brings us back. He is present everywhere even if we are running so fast away from his presence. If you and God will compete in a sprint, who do you think will be the first to cross the finish line?
Verses 11 and 12, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” Again the point is clear: There is nothing that can hide us from God’s presence. He will bring everything to light. Darkness may mean lack of truth or morality. It can also mean sorrow and hopelessness. We cannot hide wickedness from God. Even sorrow cannot overwhelm us that God cannot reach us.
This portion of the psalm tells us that our God is an ever-present God. He will deal with our sins and disobedience. He will also deal with our sorrow, pain and suffering. This is how the truth that God is ever-present will affect the way we live and respond to sin and suffering. Let us take that one at a time.
God’s Confronting Presence
First, in response to sin, God’s presence confronts us. To confront is “to challenge someone face to face.” God is always looking at us. He never blink his eyes or turn his back. Whatever we do we are face to face with God.
Two applications in response to God’s confronting presence:
1. Don’t try to hide your sin; rather, confess it to God because he can see it. There are no such things as secret sins before God. “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence” (Ps. 90:8). “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). Before opening a site on the Internet containing sexually-explicit pictures or videos, you will make sure no one in the house is seeing you. Before entering a place where a Christian is not supposed to be seen, you turn to your left and right to check whether there is someone around who knows you. You don’t need to check whether someone is there to see you. Everywhere you go, God is there staring at your face.
Spurgeon lays out the implication of sinning in light of God’s constant presence, “This makes it dreadful to sin, for we commit treason at the very foot of his throne.” Have you ever tried bad-mouthing your wife in front of other people when she is standing right beside you? Yet that is what many of us are doing when we do the things not pleasing to him. It is like slapping him hard on his face or spitting on him.
The Methodist pastor Charles Allen tells of his golfing buddy who was, according to others, “easily frustrated on the golf course and, after bad shots, very foul-mouthed.” Yet Allen has never heard that guy say anything bad or foul. Then one day he asked him about it. The man simply replied, “When I am with my preacher I control myself.” When you know you are with God (and you are, indeed!), will you say the same things you said yesterday? Will you still do the same thing you did when your wife is not with you?
2. Don’t run away from him; rather, run towards him for he is running after you. It is not like a policeman chasing you because you beat the red light. Rather it is like a shepherd going after his sheep. “He leads me beside still waters…He leads me in paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:2, 3). Then in verse 6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The word translated “follow” in Hebrew is the same word that means “pursue, chase.” The idea is not that of God’s goodness walking behind us. It is running towards us even when we are trying to run away.
Have you seen a dog chase a running boy and then suddenly stops because it gets tired? Have you seen a group of gangsters pursuing someone from another gang stopping after some time because the one they are chasing is gone? God is never like that. He does not get tired of chasing us with his goodness and mercy. He will never ever stop. So what are we to do? Run faster away? Of course not! We run toward him knowing that he is running toward us. Where are you going right now? Away from him or drawing near to his presence?
God’s Comforting Presence
Second, in response to the suffering of his children, God’s presence comforts us. Samuel Storms wrote, “God’s omnipresence should console the righteous. No matter what the trial, no matter the place of its occurrence, no matter the swiftness with which it assaults, no matter the depth of its power, God is ever with us! ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me‘” (Ps. 23:4).
Two applications in response to God’s comforting presence:
3. Don’t be sorrowful; rather, rejoice because God is with you. Philippians 4:5, “The Lord is near” (NASB). It can be either near in time or near in space. Although the Lord’s soon return is a source of great comfort, it seems that the idea here is the Lord’s being near in terms of his presence with the believers. MacArthur agrees, “There is no greater source of spiritual stability than the confidence that the Lord is near…He is near both to hear the cry of the believer’s heart, and to help and strengthen them.
One verse before the statement of Paul that “the Lord is near” says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). When trials seems to overwhelm us, we forget that the Lord is near. We forget who our God is. We forget that he is present with us everywhere and whatever the circumstances are. Some friends might leave you when the going gets tough, but God will stick with you. He promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Isn’t that a reason to rejoice so that we can also say with the psalmist, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11)? Don’t be sorrowful, no suffering or pain can take you away from God’s reach. Jerry Bridges pointed out, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.”
4. Don’t be anxious; rather, lift up your anxieties to God in prayer for he always hears. After saying “the Lord is near,” Paul goes on to say, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6). When I was in Cagayan de Oro a few years ago, Jodi called me one day and informed me that she fainted after leaving the train station. She wants me to be there and show my concern. But I can’t be there, we are hundreds of miles apart. If I can I would be there to help her. God is always available to hear our call. We can call to him unlimited. If we know that he is with us everywhere a whisper of prayer of help is enough for him to hear us and help us. “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). Listen to this hymn by Oliver Holden (1765-1844):
Those who seek the throne of grace
Find that throne in every place;
If we live a life of prayer,
God is present everywhere.
In our sickness and our health,
In our want, or in our wealth,
If we look to God in prayer,
God is present everywhere.
When our earthly comforts fail,
When the woes of life prevail,
‘Tis the time for earnest prayer;
God is present everywhere.
Then, my soul, in every strait,
To thy Father come, and wait;
He will answer every prayer:
God is present everywhere.
God is present everywhere. How does the Lord’s presence make a difference in your life? When you wake up in the morning, are you aware that he is beside you? Do you talk to him and acknowledge that he is there? When you go to work, do you work as if God is with you? When you are with your unbelieving friends, do you talk with them as if God is listening to everything you say? When you are at home and alone, are you thinking God is sitting beside you while watching TV? When you go to bed, do you thank him and say, “Lord, you are with me whereever I go. You are there to confront me when I am sinning. You are there to comfort me when I am in pain. Thank you, Lord.”?
The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).
Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, Helps for translators (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 1126.
C. H. Spurgeon, Psalms, Crossway classic commentaries (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1993), 332.
 Charles Allen, The Miracle of Love (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1972), 36.
Cited in John MacArthur, God: Coming Face to Face With His Majesty, Includes Indexes. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1993).
John MacArthur, Philippians (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 277.
Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 375.