Seems like a silly question, don’t it? But, like most, I have a very difficult time thinking “outside the box” when it comes to stepping out and away from the material world we’re so entwined in. For example, it’s impossible for us to picture a dimension that has no clock. One with no yesterday, no tomorrow, just now. We can’t wrap our heads around it to save our life. The same goes for trying to picture anything not having a fixed location in space. You’re over there, I’m over here. We can draw fairly close in a hug but we can’t occupy the same exact down to the millimeter latitude and longitude on this planet. Yet the omnipresent God is not confined to a particular “place.” Dallas Willard wrote, “Confusing God with His historical manifestations in space may have caused some to think God is a Wizard-of-Oz or Sistine-Chapel kind of being sitting at a location very remote from us. The universe is then presented as, chiefly, a vast empty space with a humanoid God and a few angels rattling around in it, while several billion human beings crawl through the tiny cosmic interval of human history in an oversized clod of dirt circling an insignificant star.” (I do love how he puts things.)
Now, being flesh and bone finite entities, we can’t help but think in physical and linear terms. In an attempt to not think that way we resort to rolling out charming Hallmark card-worthy phrases like “God dwelleth within my heart.” While there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that statement it still misses the mark and, if we’re not careful, it can get interpreted as “God lives in my imagination”. All the while the question “Where does God live” stays unanswered. If God’s not out there in the great beyond somewhere and He’s not in our beating hearts then where is He? Jesus plainly stated, “God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). This leads me to believe our basic problem is that we don’t completely savvy what “spirit” really is.
However, if we examine our own selves we find both spirit and space to be evident. It’s like this: I know deep down I’m a spiritual being who, at least for the time being, inhabits a physical body. Strip away everything I see reflected in the mirror and what’s essentially Ollie and Martha Anderson’s only son will still linger. I’m not my arm, my leg, my face or my hair. What I don’t detect in the mirror are my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions or my character traits – yet they most definitely do exist. A surgeon could open me up, poke around in my chest area or skull cavity for hours and still never come across what constitutes me. Therefore I must conclude, when all my atoms and molecules are accounted for and set aside as the material stuff they are, I’m an individual and unique spirit. So are you. Why’s that so difficult for each one of us to conceptualize?
It’s because, from childhood onward, we learn inherently how best to hide our true spirit behind a carefully-manufactured countenance in order to either avoid encountering what we’re scared of or to manipulate others into doing what we want them to do. That’s why an infant’s face is such a refreshing joy to behold. They haven’t yet developed a mask to wear. They have yet to don a costume. Their inner spirit shines through unfiltered and without pretense. We should be more like them. Christ taught us as much. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, had him stand among them, and said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:1-4). Words of indelible wisdom.
Going back to my original question, in primitive terms it’s fair to say God relates to space kind of like we relate to our body in that He certainly occupies the cosmos but there’s no particular corner of it He can be painted into. In other words, you can’t enter “God” into your GPS device and get a map and directions to His office. The only exception was the one-time-only and incredibly miraculous Divine Incarnation 2,000 years ago. The appearance of Jesus on terra firma was God’s extraordinarily gracious gift to mankind. The Scriptures read, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). However, it must be stated clearly that God can be readily found and seen by those who earnestly seek Him. He’s present wherever love is present. Julian of Norwich described God’s love as being an ocean of sorts. She wrote, “If a man or woman were there under the wide waters, if he could see God, as God is continually with man, he would be safe in soul and body, and come to no harm. And furthermore, he would have more consolation and strength than all this world can tell. For it is God’s will that we believe that we see Him continually, though it seems to us that the sight be only partial; and through this belief He makes us always to gain more grace, for God wishes to be seen, and He wishes to be sought, and He wishes to be expected, and He wishes to be trusted.”
Think of it this way: Few of us care to show up in places where we’re not welcome. Too many don’t see God simply because subconsciously they don’t want to see Him. The apostle Paul had seen Him in person on the Damascus road and His overriding passion for the rest of his life was to see Him again. He wrote, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). One day all believers will stand before God and we won’t have any desire to fix our gaze on anything else.
Jesus confirmed that God is spirit. Thus the more spiritual-minded we are, the closer to God we get. Willard wrote, “’Spiritual’ is not just something we ought to be. It’s something we are and cannot escape, regardless of how we may think or feel about it. It’s our nature and our destiny.” It’s a given that every human being has a will and that will, like God, is 100% spiritual. I.E., One’s big toe can never be misidentified as one’s will. Therefore no one should claim to not know what’s spirit and what ain’t. But whereas our will can be thwarted or usurped (and often is) God’s will can’t. When a somewhat skeptical Moses asked for confirmation of His I.D. God didn’t say, “Well, obviously, I’m a fire-retardant azalea bush.” No. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM that I AM’” (Exodus 3:14). I take that to mean God is a supernatural entity that exists totally from its own resources and is not subject to any influence other than His own pleasure. Jesus said, “For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself, and he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:26-27). The fact remains that you and I have a will and we choose to direct it towards producing good or evil. We’re not mindless plants. Nor are we animals that have to behave mostly by instinct. We’re not incidental things. God has granted us, to a degree, a generous amount of self-determination. It is our will that sets us apart and makes us indisputably human. Willard wrote, “The heart, or will, simply is spirit in human beings. It’s the human spirit, and the only thing in us that God will accept as the basis of our relationship to him. It’s the spiritual plane of our natural existence, the place of truth before God, from where alone our whole lives can become eternal.”
So where is God? Honestly, He’s in a holy kingdom we should all strive to be in a lot more often than we are. When all is said and done a Christian must conclude that the spiritual world is far more substantial than the temporary material world we tend to mistakenly think is permanent. When Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world…” (John 18:36) He wasn’t just trying to be coy or clever. He was telling the absolute truth. (The truth, by the way, that Pilate requested but didn’t stick around long enough to hear.) It’s not incorrect to define spirit as unbodily personal power. It has literal substance. We all know it does. Our every thought, feeling, wont, urge, preference, opinion, etc. and what they eventually lead us to do are aspects of this spiritual substance that wields a modicum of power outside the boundaries of the physical.
Jesus told us all about it. He said the very words we speak are spiritual and contain kinetic power. He preached, “Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and then passes out into the sewer? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person” (Matthew 15:17-18). The majority of what Jesus taught had to do with the spiritual world because, whether we realize it or not, it’s the “real” world. It’s the realm we’re going to spend eternity in whether it’s spent with God or otherwise. Paul warned of becoming too attached to and concerned for the welfare of the material world. He wrote, “For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace…” (Romans 8:5-6). Followers of Christ should constantly be aware that our future existence will be sustained solely by spiritual realities while those of the physical will be a fading memory.
Sadly, “spirit” has lost its specialness in the modern era. Frederick Buechner wrote, “The word spirit has come to mean something pale and shapeless, like an unmade bed. School spirit, the American spirit, the Christmas spirit, the spirit of ’76, the Holy Spirit – each of these points to something you know is supposed to get you to your feet cheering, but which you somehow can’t rise to. The adjective spiritual has become downright offensive. If somebody recommends a person as spiritual you tend to avoid that person, and usually with good reason. Inspiring is even worse. Inspirational is worse still. Inspirational books are almost invariably for the birds. Like its counterparts in Hebrew and Greek, the Latin word spiritus originally meant breath (as in expire, respiratory, and so on), and breath is what you have when you’re alive and don’t have when you’re dead. Thus spirit = breath = life, the aliveness and power of your life, and to speak of your spirit (or soul) is to speak of the power of life that is in you. When your spirit is unusually strong, the life in you unusually alive, you can breathe it out into other lives, become literally in-spiring.” (I admire him, too. Buechner always tells it like it is with a dash of humor thrown in.)
As to our response to the query, “Where does God live?” I doubt the Lord considers it a sin if we point upward. It’s as good a direction as any. God, more than anybody, knows the limitations imposed upon us by our environment and situation. But scientists tell us that even things we’d swear on a Bible are stationary are actually in motion. For instance, the very atoms that make up the mass of Mount Everest are never at rest. We’re told the very light necessary to observe a microorganism through an electron microscope, because light’s both wave and particle, will cause the object under scrutiny to move. Thus “where” something is is relative. The same goes for “when” an event happens. The very moment I notice something occurring, in that millisecond it’s already in the past. Everything’s progressing towards what God has in mind. If one doesn’t believe in God or considers Him to be an impersonal “force” then futility, despair and disillusionment are all that lie ahead for them. Conversely, Jesus offers all men and women the opportunity to enter a kingdom of endless possibilities. Through His teachings (not to mention His atoning sacrifice) He invited all of us to live in an undying world where it’s safe to do and be good not only to ourselves but to our neighbors, as well. As Paul told his young student, “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
In the 80s and 90s I was overly-intrigued by and got overly-involved in what I now consider an “out in la-la-land” alternative Christian sect that touts its own independent “Holy Word.” The thick book goes to great lengths to describe the actual location where God resides and rules over the universe. Its unsubstantiated guess is as reliable as any other unprovable proposition, I reckon, but that kind of unfounded tomfoolery is just one of the many reasons I came to my senses, walked away from it and never looked back. I found that the Bible I rejected for so long is much more sensible. To aver that God is situated someplace in particular is ridiculously presumptive. To say that He’s “everywhere” is just as superfluous, though. Makes Him sound like some kind of ethereal phantom. I’ve found God is always located wherever I need Him to be any given moment and the more I pray and express my desperate need of Him the more I can feel His reassuring presence. I’ve learned I can depend on Him to provide everything necessary for me to live an abundant, satisfying life. Because of Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit lives in me and He’s guiding me day by day into an unfathomable future that my wildest, most fantastic dreams and fantasies can’t do justice. Where is God? He’s here. He’s constantly in the now.