How can God be active in our lives if he's not here with us?
We’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s missing is awareness.David Brenner
Have you ever looked around you and wondered, Where is God?
Perhaps, for you, it was a particularly gorgeous day outside; you could feel the afternoon sun warming your whole body. Maybe you asked yourself, Is God here in this beauty? Or perhaps it was the opposite. A trying time followed by another challenge . . . and another and another. Did you survey your life, shake your head, and wonder, Where is God in all this pain?
Maybe you’ve heard that God lives in heaven. But heaven can seem awfully far away, can’t it? In fact, sometimes it feels like God isn’t around at all—especially when bad things happen in our lives.
Yet the Bible frequently describes God as a father who protects and provides for his “sons and daughters."1 But if God is a spiritual father who is active in his children’s lives, where is he? How can he be so far from his children?
To begin, we must not fall into the trap of thinking about God in the same way that we think of earthly things. God is not subject to human limitation. If someone asks us where we are, there is only one truthful answer; we can be in only one place at a time.
The same is not true of God. God can be everywhere at once. Though it can be hard to grasp, this is what people of faith believe. They believe God is present with everyone at the same time. Simultaneously, God is in heaven.
The Christian concept of the Trinity is key here. Christians understand God as “three-in-one”: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.2 These three persons are distinct but united; three persons form one God.
How does this help us answer the question of where God is? Well, let’s take a look.
God the Father: God Is in Heaven
Within the Bible, God the Father is described as “the God of heaven,”3 and heaven is called “the house of God.”4 In fact, in Isaiah 66:1, God himself says, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.”
There are countless more instances that demonstrate God’s residence in heaven. Even God’s own words reflect this. He promises that he “will rain down bread from heaven” for the sake of the Israelites.5 Then, after revealing the Ten Commandments, God says to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven.’”6
After the Exodus, the Hebrew prophets repeatedly entreated the Lord to “hear [their prayers] from heaven.”7 They were confident of God’s location.
But this didn’t end with the Old Testament. Even Jesus instructed us to call God “our Father in heaven” when we pray.8 In John 17:1, Jesus himself looks “toward heaven” and prays to the Father.
Christians believe that, as our Father in heaven, God loves us like a parent loves his children. But how can God actively love us as a father if he is in heaven and we’re on earth?
God the Son: God Is on Earth
There are some instances within the Old Testament of God the Father coming down to earth—perhaps most notably as a pillar of smoke or fire when leading the Israelites out of Egypt.9 However, Christians point to one main example of God’s presence on earth: Jesus.
The gospels claim that God the Son came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus is sometimes called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”10
The gospels describe Jesus as a human person who was born at a particular time in history, a person who lived in a specific part of the world for a certain period of time. But Jesus was not just a human; he was “conceived . . . from the Holy Spirit.”11 As Christians often put it, Jesus was fully God and fully man. Jesus is God in the flesh.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is described as the Son of God.12 The Bible tells us that Jesus lived among us, died for our sins, was resurrected three days later, and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father.13
Though this may seem strange, the most important question to ask here is this: Why would God come to earth as a human being at all? According to the Bible, Jesus came to “save his people from their sins.”14 God became a human person for our salvation.
Yes, the Bible clearly says that Jesus lived on earth. And yes, the Bible also clearly says that Jesus died.15 But the good news, according to the New Testament, is this: Jesus did not remain dead. The gospels say that on the third day after the crucifixion, Jesus conquered death and was resurrected.16 After this, Jesus remained with his disciples for several weeks, teaching them and encouraging them.
Eventually he told them he had to go to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them.17 Jesus gathered his disciples, spoke to them a final time, and then was “taken up into heaven.”18
Yet that’s still not the end of the story. The Bible tells us that Christ will “appear a second time.”19 “The Lord himself will come down from heaven. . . . And so we will be with the Lord forever.”20 Now, in heaven, Jesus waits for his time to return.
But what about in the meantime? Sure, Jesus was once on earth—but now he’s in heaven. How does this help us in the present?
God the Spirit: God Is Everywhere
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he promised that he would not leave believers entirely alone. Jesus assured the disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever. . . . [and] the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”21
The Holy Spirit—God the Spirit—is the final person of the Trinity. After Jesus’ death, God the Father sent the Spirit as a source of strength, direction, and comfort in this troubled world.22 Christians believe that through the Spirit, God continues to guide his followers who are here on earth.
The Holy Spirit is present everywhere, both on earth and in heaven. Psalm 139:7–10 shows us this:
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.
From these verses, Christians conclude that God is present everywhere, actively loving, guiding, and protecting his people.
So what does the Holy Spirit do? The Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth.”23 The Spirit provides gifts “of wisdom and of understanding . . . of counsel and of might . . . [and] of the knowledge and fear of the Lord” to God’s people.24 Christians are to rely on this inner sense of God’s direction when it comes to making wise decisions. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
Jesus told his disciples that they would know God the Spirit, for “he lives with you and will be in you.”25 God the Spirit is an active presence in the lives of God’s people—the Spirit is everywhere in all of God’s people. The Spirit guides us, spiritually nurtures us, and transforms us from people who once lived for ourselves into people who live “for him who died for them and was raised again.”26
Everywhere at Once
So which is it? Is God in heaven or is God everywhere on earth? Well, the answer is both.
God is not merely in heaven. God is here, actively participating in our lives—whether or not we always recognize his presence. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit together show us that even in the worst of times, God has not abandoned us.
On days when it seems that God is nowhere to be found, may you find comfort in these words: “Acknowledge and take heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”27