This article is about three terms, each of which describes an alternative view of God’s relation to space and presence in the universe. Those three terms are Pantheism, Panentheism, and lastly Omnipresence.
If one is not careful in defining each of these words, one can be mistaken for another, or they can all sound exactly the same. So let’s break each of these terms apart and explain what they mean.
The word Pantheism in short, means “all is God.” This is the view that between God and the universe, there is no difference. They are one and the same thing. As a result, every person, object, animal, plant, and grain of sand is in one way or another, God.
This view is held by Hindus, Taoists, and various New Age movements.
In its literal form, Panentheism simply means, “all is in God.” Instead of the Pantheist belief that everything is God, in Panentheism, God is everything in the universe, but he/she/it still extends beyond it. Consequently, as the cosmos grows and its inhabitants gain more knowledge, God also grows and gains more knowledge.
This view is held by certain sects of various religions ranging from Islam and Christianity to Buddhism and Sikhism.
In Christianity, the divine attribute of omnipresence describes that God does not have size or spatial dimensions but is present at every point of space in his entirety. For this reason, God is not the universe and we not God or any part of him.
While at first thought, Omnipresence can sound very similar to either one of the other two views, it is important to draw out the distinctions that show the differences.
In both Pantheism and Panentheism, we are a part of God, whereas in Christianity, God is wholly separate from his creation, while simultaneously present everywhere within it (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:24).
In both Pantheism and Panentheism, since the universe is or is part of God, he therefore has physical attributes, which contrasts with the Bible which says that God is spirit (John 4:24), and therefore does not have physical attributes.
In both Pantheism and Panentheism, the full knowledge of God is contingent upon our knowledge, but in Christianity, God already knows everything that actually is or possibly could be (Psalm 139:1-6).
In Pantheism, God’s existence is contingent upon our existence, but in Christianity, God created the universe in an act of free choice. His existence is in no way contingent upon it and he has existed in eternity past without it (Genesis 1; Job 38:4-7; Nehemiah 9:6).
A good and simple analogy I will recycle, which represents the Christian view of omnipresence decently is the analogy of a sponge filled with water. Water is present everywhere within the sponge, but the two are still very distinct from each other. Whereas in the other two views, it is argued that the water and sponge are in one way or another, the same.
In Addition to Other Attributes
In the Bible, we read about many of God’s other attributes, most of which render the possibility of Pantheism and Panentheism impossible. Some of these tells us that God rules over everything (Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 37:20), has limitless power (Job 42:1-2), is unchangeable (James 1:17), perfect (Deuteronomy 32:3-4), and contains knowledge of all things possible (Matthew 11:23) and actual (Job 28:24; Psalm 147:4-5). These along with a clear understanding of God’s omnipresence, remove any reason for a person to be both a Christian and a Pantheist or Panentheist.
- Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1994. 173-77. Print.