All humans struggle with difficult circumstances that produce pain in our lives. As such we can be led to question where God is in the midst of our pain. As we struggle with the problems of our broken world, it helps to take a few steps back and fill out our understanding of who God is. As we begin to see a clearer picture of God’s role in the world, it becomes easier to trust him in the midst of our pain.
As we begin, we need to remind ourselves about the “incomprehensibility” of God. While he has revealed certain things to us, either through creation or Scripture, he is ultimately beyond our ability to fully understand. God is infinite, and he has reserved certain truths for himself. Therefore we must be content with exploring, with the help of the Holy Spirit, what he has revealed as we search out answers to our ultimate questions.
What characteristics of God can we understand based on what he has revealed?
God is Omniscient
First of all, God is “omniscient,” which means that he knows all things. Psalm 139 begins, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely” (vv. 1–4, NIV).
God knows everything about everybody—past, present, and future. For each person who has ever existed or ever will exist, he even knows all their possible futures, all possible contingencies. He is as acquainted with the movement of distant galaxies as he is with the number of hairs on our heads.
I doubt we can really grasp this, but aren’t you glad he is omniscient? Nothing will ever happen to you that surprises him. He will never misunderstand you. He, in fact, knows you better than you know yourself.
God is Omnipresent
Second, God is “omnipresent.” The psalmist continues in 139:7–12: “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. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
It’s not simply that God is huge; he is literally beyond huge. God is spirit (not “a” spirit) and has no spatial dimensions. As such, there is no place in our reality where God is not present. And he is not spread thinly throughout creation; there is not a little of him here and a little of him there. God exists in his fullness in every place throughout reality. That’s why we have his full attention when we pray, and why we do it.
I doubt we can really grasp this either, but aren’t you glad he is omnipresent? Even if we want to, there is no place where we can run and hide. There is no place where God is not present to help, love, and encourage us–not even in our thoughts.
God is Omnipotent
Finally, God is also “omnipotent.” He is our “omni-potentate,” our all-powerful sovereign. Psalm 139 continues, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (vv. 13–16).
The concept of sovereignty simply means that “our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3). It means that all things are filtered through God’s fingers. Nothing happens that he decides will not happen, and he does all that he decides to do. In his sovereignty, he made the decision to allow us to choose right or wrong, but he did not give us the choice of escaping the consequences of our decisions (apart from forgiveness).
I doubt we can really grasp this either, but aren’t you glad he is omnipotent? Aren’t you glad that our prayers do in fact move God to do what he might not otherwise do? Aren’t you glad that he has given us the assurance through the book of Revelation that, at the end of time, he will vanquish our enemy? Aren’t you glad that in the meantime nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38–39)? That even in the midst of our pain we can entrust ourselves to an all-powerful God (1 Peter 4:19)?
This is our God—omniscient; omnipresent; omnipotent—into whose loving arms we have leapt in our conversion, and in whose arms we live as his adopted children. I will spend my life reflecting on and trying to understand these truths. They are enough.
Yet there are many things I don’t know and over which I struggle. While I understand that God uses pain to form us into the likeness of his Son, I don’t understand why vulnerable children are allowed to suffer. And yet, I am content to rest in God’s words spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my [God’s] ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:9).
The problem of pain finds its answer in the person of a loving, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God, and in a faith that holds on to God no matter what. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him…. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 2:20; 3:17–18).
By Dr. Bill Mounce
Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible) and has written numerous Greek resources including the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek. He speaks and blogs regularly on issues relating to trusting the Bible, the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus), Greek and issues of spiritual growth.