Where are you right now? Take a moment and look around . . .
As I write, I am sitting in a café on Bitting Avenue. I can smell the aroma of roasted coffee. I can hear the patrons of the shop discuss their lives, what they will see on TV this evening, the rise and fall of the economy, and who will win the Super Bowl. I feel the warmth of a heater turn on as it is an unusually cold day. Light streams in from the front windows and illuminates the orange walls to bring a warm, homey ambiance to the room. Latin American guitars and beats fill my ears as the music from the café stereo plays. The apple-carrot coffee cake I am eating has a sweet, buttery flavor to it. The padded chair where I am sitting keeps me comfortable but awake. Right now, I am in a place. There are specific and unique events happening in this space that are not occurring simultaneously anywhere else in the universe. This place is special. This place is one of a kind. This place is the only place where I can be in the world right now.
This is not true of God. The Bible tells us that God fills heaven and earth (Jer. 23:24). It says that the highest heaven is not large enough to contain God (1 Kgs. 8:27). Nor is there a single place in the entire universe where a human can go and God not be present (Ps. 139:7–10). The word "omnipresent" sums up this spatial reality of God. He is present everywhere, all the time, in every way. He is not limited by anything and is fully present wherever he is, which is everywhere. Maybe we should venture down the path of comparison. We’ll start with God. He is immense and infinite. He alone can be spatially present everywhere all the time. You and I, on the other hand, can’t even exist in two places at once. This comparison can be helpful to put us in our place. But we need more than just a reminder of how ant-like we are. We need to see the importance of our limitation and the uniqueness of our specific place. We need to see that we are inferior to God in our inability to be everywhere present. And yet the places we inhabit, and specifically our presence in those places, has deep importance. Maybe we do need to be put in our place. What if being "put in our place" isn’t about being humbled to insignificance but elevating our vision to see the dignity in the places we inhabit; to see that our presence is valuable and deeply important. We need to talk about God’s space and place.
The Creation of Place
As I sit here at the café, I am privy to some special things: color, taste, smell, feeling. I can see two musicians meeting with a local artist to discuss album cover designs. Various cars drive by in front of me. Occasionally, I see a biker, although the winter cold prevents this from happening too frequently. This is a very unique place. It is a very creative place.
Who made it? Why was it made? If we ignore the Biblical story, we don’t have great, cosmic answers for these questions. But if we look at the opening pages of Scripture, we have a fascinating drama unfolding before us. The first words of divinely inspired writing from the pen of Moses declare that in the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). Location is created. All of a sudden there is the creation of "place." Place alone, however, is boring. We have heaven and earth. Two categories, two ideas, but not really specific realities. The story continues to unfold. God doesn’t just make categories; he creates places. The earth is filled with vegetation, inhabitants, colors, creatures, textures, liquids, solids, atmospheres, environments—places. The specific place called the Garden of Eden is unique. There are places within the Garden. A river flows through the Garden. The middle of the Garden has specific and diverse vegetation. Four rivers diverge from the main river on the outskirts of the garden. They flow to places with specific names and specific features. Some of those places have gold, some have precious gems. Each distinct. Each unique. Each a special place.
God, who cannot be limited by place, creates multiple locations. He makes places. Each of them are as unique and varied as he is. All of them created good. All of them beautiful. All of them reflecting and imaging his creativity and his diversity. Why does he make these distinct places? He makes them for himself. He creates all the diversity of place and location, with all its varied colors and dimensions, to display his varied and multi-colored glories. The song at the end of the Scripture story sings praise to God because he has "created all things and by [his] will they existed and were created" (Revelation 4:11). The everywhere-present God makes places because he can’t help himself. Place is an overflow of his creative glory. Worship is our response.
Does Place Matter?
Why does all this matter? Since showing up at this specific café, I have noticed the flow of traffic in and out of the store. The aromas that exist in this room now are especially different than the ones that were here a few hours ago. The sounds are new, different, exciting. The musicians are playing their guitars and harmonicas now. It is a new and different place than the one that existed an hour ago. This place is unique and one-of-a-kind again.
Place or location is created by God for his glory. That means that everywhere we go, every location we inhabit, every neighborhood where we dwell is made for God. It shows us a multi-faceted and creative God, a God who is so unique and innovative that one specific location alone could not reflect his glory well. Each place sings the glories of God. Each location tells of his wonders. Each address displays his majesty. Does place matter? On every level, it inherently must.
The way the glory of God is seen at the Grand Canyon is different than the way his glory is seen on Bitting Avenue. The majesty of God takes on a different view in Mumbai, India than it does in London, England. The worship of God sounds different in the jungles of Ecuador than it does in the high rises of New York City. Yet each place is made by his will and for his glory. Each place has a specific role to play in declaring the glory of God, and no one place holds a monopoly on the display of that glory.
This isn’t to say, in some sort of pantheistic way, that God is in everything or that we each have to find our own way of expressing him wherever we are. Just as a diamond will refract light differently in different places, so God’s glory is seen differently in different places. Some places reveal it better than others. We cannot dismiss the broken and dark places of this world. They do not reflect the glory of God well. It is difficult to see the mercy and justice of God in the slums of Rio or the prisons of Iran. Not every place seems like it is God’s place. This is why there must be restoration. If every place is made by God, for God, then the broken places that do not reflect God’s glory must be restored. It’s for this reason that every place matters.
If all things are created for his glory and if all places should uniquely reflect the varied glories of God, then we are called to see our places (including our workplace) as places of worship. Our specific place becomes uniquely important to our lives because it is from this place, and this place alone, that we can magnify God and bring glory to him. I look at my friendly café and I wonder: “How is God’s presence displayed here? How is this place reflecting his glory? Where do I see his fingerprints of majesty? Does the coffee, the conversation, the art, and the atmosphere reflect anything of God’s nature and glory?”
Take a moment and look around (once again) at the place you are inhabiting as you read this sentence. How does this place glorify and magnify God? How does it reflect his multi-faceted nature? What do you see?
God has created this very place where I am writing. He has created the very place where you are reading. He has created it by his will. He has created it for his glory. Now, you might challenge that statement because you know some architect drew up the design for this building and a contractor came in and had carpenters, builders, electricians, and plumbers actually make this place. But under God’s authority, using the agency of humanity, he created and holds all things together (Col. 1:15). Place matters because God made it matter. You might feel indifferent to this place right now because it isn’t where you want to be or because it is somehow broken and in disrepair. This place might be a comfortable, quiet place for you right now. It might be a place that doesn’t belong to you; you are a visitor in it for only a season. Whatever the situation, because God has made it and made it for his glory, you are suddenly in God’s place.
The Transforming Perspective
For way too long, Christians have considered church buildings as "The House of the Lord." We’d show up at specific places and feel that God was, in some way or another, more present there than anywhere else in the universe. Christians have called them “sacred spaces.” We’d return to our homes and workplaces from Monday to Saturday and believe that the "secular" places were the outskirts of the presence of God. Sure, we knew he was there at our homes or jobs, but not in the same way he was "there" when we went to the church building. God was there; we are here.
Funny, God doesn’t think like that. He’s everywhere. He’s in your house. He’s in your car. He’s at your job. He’s present at your local coffee shop. He exists in the slums, ghettos, high-rises, and cathedrals of this world. There is no place where he is not. That means the place you are right now is God’s place. This ought to be a transforming perspective for us. Where is God? Here. Now. Specifically. Uniquely. The very place you inhabit is God’s place. He is here, right now. The Psalmist wonders, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Ps. 139:7). Jeremiah the prophet asks if a man can hide himself from God (Jer. 23:24)? The answer again and and again is “no!” There is no where we can escape from God’s presence. He is everywhere. He is here.
I wonder what it would be like if we had this perspective more often. How would it change the way we see our neighborhoods? How would we live differently in God’s place? How would we work? How would we play? How would we worship? What would we do with the broken places within God’s place? What would we say to the broken people in God’s place?
We should begin asking ourselves these questions. Our perspective concerning our homes, workplaces, gyms, restaurants, parks, office buildings, theaters, and everywhere in between should be that this is God’s place and God is here. When I see those places this way, I am changed. I want this place to be a reflection of God’s beauty, creativity, majesty, righteousness, mercy, loveliness, and hope.
This place is for God. This place belongs to God. This little ramshackle café on Bitting Avenue is God’s place. The room, the building, the place where you are right now is God’s place too. Seeing place this way moves mountains.
Jeremy Writebol (@jwritebol) has been training leaders in the church for over fourteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He is the pastor of Woodside Bible Church’s Plymouth, MI campus.
Editor: In our Theology Proper: The Antidote to Insatiable Desire we are seeking to understand how knowing God is indispensable to make, mature, and multiply disciples. We want to explicitly connect the theology of the church to its mission. So far in our series: