The Omniscience of God
Scripture: Job 34:22-23; Ps. 139: Heb. 4:13
Isn't it frustrating to make a proposal, then find that the decision-makers may not be ready or capable of making a decision, and finally have them reply: "We'll take that under advisement." Let me begin with this statement of contrast: God never merely "takes note of an event", nor does he take anything under advisement. That is to say, that when God knows something (and he knows all), his knowledge is related to how he acts. He does not have "bare knowledge" or a knowledge of something that treats facts as unrelated. Not only does God know everything, but he also knows how everything fits together.
The smartest person in the world? Who was it? Was it Einstein? We live in a community that is particularly impressed by great scientists, so many would think of Einstein. Of course, years ago, people associated Galileo with brilliance, or Sir Isaac Newton. Along with Einstein, one may think of Max Planck, Neils Bohr, or today's Stephen Hawking as brilliant scientists.
Or those more inclined to the arts may suggest a Plato or an Aristotle. Still others may recall the brilliance of St. Augustine or Leonardo da Vinci. Or you may have noted one of the recently announced Nobel prize winners in some discipline.
Even a sanctified Christian might suggest Solomon or Job as the wisest. Yet all of these are instances of human wisdom. The chasm between the greatest human wisdom and divine wisdom is about as large as the distance from east to west. As Isaiah confessed: "Our thoughts are not your thoughts, for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so [God's] thought are not [our] thoughts, nor are [God's] thoughts [our] thoughts." (Is. 55:8-9)
God has all information before him. He knows the things that human beings cannot possibly know. He perfectly knows the mind of the triune God (1 Cor. 2:11) which no one else does. "God could not know other things if he did not know himself [totally]; unless he knew his own power, he could not know how he created things; unless he knew his own wisdom, he could not know the beauty of his works; unless he knew his own glory, he could not know the end of his works; unless he knew his own holiness, he could not know what was evil; and unless he knew his own justice, he could not know hos to punish the crimes of his offending creatures. . . . As he is all knowledge, so he has in himself the most excellent object of knowledge." (Charnock, 1, 415) He knows the past perfectly, and never forgets. He knows all the acts and thought of his creatures:
In Gen. 16:13, God is referred to as "the God who sees." Prov. 15:3 teaches: "The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good." Similarly, Ps. 34:15 affirms, 'The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry. Job realized: " God's eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step. There is no dark place no deep shadow where evildoers can hide. (34:22-23). God is described in Zech. 3:9 as having 7 eyes to illustrate his omniscience, and the prophet Ezekiel depicted God as having eyes all around him (Ez. 1:18). And in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus affirmed, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten?" (12:6). John 2:25 goes so far as to assert the omniscience of Jesus, i. e., "He did not need man's testimony, for he knew what was in a man."
"God knows everything: everything possible, everything actual; all events and all creatures, of the past, present, and the future. He is perfectly acquainted with every detail in the life of every being in heaven, in earth, and in hell. 'He knoweth what is in the darkness.' (Dan. 2;22)" (Pink, p. 17)
Berkhof speaks of the "intellectual" attributes of God. "The knowledge of God . . . is that perfection of God whereby he . . . knows himself and all things possible and actual in one eternal and most simple act.(65) The wisdom of God is that perfection of God whereby he applies his knowledge to the attainment of his ends in a way that most glorifies him." (69) God's knowledge is absolute, innate, full, complete, and free. It extends to all things past, present, or future. God is perfect in knowledge.
as taught in the OT:
Do a brief study in the Book of Job. Since this is one of the earliest books in time, we can see that the all-knowing power of God is not a new truth. Job. 37:15-16 contrasts man's knowledge with the kind of knowledge that God has: "Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?" On several occasions in the Book of Job, God's omniscience is asserted against the backdrop of the limited knowledge of human beings.
Job also affirmed that God knew all his ways (23:10) and that God's eyes were on all people (Job. 24:23). Job. 31:4 says: "Does he not see my ways and count every step? If I have walked in falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit, let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless . . . " The rest of that chapter includes a list of possible sins, in which Job expresses his confidence that God would vindicate him. The reason: God, unlike our human accusers, is always correct.
Moses affirmed: "The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert." (Dt. 2:7)
1 Sam. 16:7 teaches that God is not fooled by outward appearance, but that his wisdom penetrates even to hearts. "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
The Psalter also contains numerous affirmations about God's omniscience The first Psalm affirms, "For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." (Ps. 1:6)
Ps. 33:13: " From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth."
Ps. 37:18: "The days of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure forever."
Did you note how often the Lord's knowledge is connected to outcomes? God not only sees, but he also acts. He does not need to take things under advisement.
Ps. 119:168: "I obey your precepts and your statutes for all my ways are known to you."
Ps. 44:21 speaks about "God discovering [even] the secrets of our hearts" if we try to sin and cover it up.
One classical passage that speaks about God's wisdom and omniscience is Ps. 139. In that passage, David begins by admitting that God's knowledge is of a searching nature (v. 1). The phrase in this original can even apply to a burgular who is searching by dim light in the night. His extremely thorough knowledged ransacks us. God indeed knows when David sits or rises (v. 2) ' whether he is indoors or outdoors; he also knows the exact moment and conditions when we go out or lie down (v. 3). There has never been a time when we were not known to God; nor will there ever be. God even penetrates to the interior reaches of our minds. He knows our thought "at a distance" or without even being near. So superior is God's intellect that he knows the words we will speak even prior to our enunciations. Those words that we do speak, God knows "completely.' (v. 4) Humans would be considered wise if they could merely understand outward actions, but God also knows our inner thoughts and words ' before they ever occur.
God knows our actions, our words, our locations at all times. When David realizes that, he remarks that such "knowledge" is too wonderful . . . to lofty for [him] to attain." (v. 6) This unique knowledge is unattainable by humans. Like him, we should be overwhelmed.
Then he moves on to discuss possible counter-examples (7-12). Even if humans seeks to fool the omniscience of God, it cannot happen. A person cannot flee from God's spirit or his presence (v. 7). If I were to ascend to heaven, God would not be ignorant of it; or if one could head in the opposite direction and make a bed in the depths of the earth, still one cannot avoid God's omniscience. No part of the world can hide humanity, not the "far side of the sea," nor the "wings of the dawn." If we could outrace the speed of light at sunrise, we still could not escape God's perfect inspection.
Or if a person thinks that they can shroud themselves in darkness (11), they only find that God can see right through. He has no difficulty seeing right through the darkness or anything else.
"Compared with our stinted knowledge, how amazing is the knowledge of God! As he made all things, he must be intimately acquainted not only with their properties, but with their very essence. His eye, at the same instant, surveys all the works of his immeasureable creation. He observes, not only the complicated system of the universe, but the slightest motion of the most microscopic insect . . . At this moment he is listening to the praises breathed by grateful hearts in distant worlds, and reading every grovelling thought which passes through the polluted minds of the fallen race of Adam. . . . he surveys the past, the present, and the future. No inattention prevents him from observing; no defect of memory or of judgment obscures his comprehension. In him memory is stored not only the transactions of this world, but of all the worlds in the universe; . . . How amazing! How inconceivable." (Henry Duncan, cited in Spurgeon, Treasury of David, vol. 7, p. 238). Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.
Finally, David concludes that God is due praise because he knows all aspects of his creation, from least to greatest (13-18)
The God who created persons in their mothers' wombs, knows all human beings from the moment of conception, even before the finest sonogram would pick them up. No human eye can see to the fusion of the first cells of human life, but God not only can; he also created them. Our developmental processes are not hidden from God (v. 15). God knows us as we are being formed, his knowledge is that extensive, and he knows the smallest particle of cell life with exquisite and total comprehensiveness.
Moreover, God also knows the very end of human life. He knows when our lives will end. The sum total of days were marked out in his perfect record system before the first one began. God's knowledge assures us of his perfect control over our lives. He ordains our exact no. of days, therefore we need not fear.
David reacts . . vs. 17-18: "How precious to me are YOUR thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand." David is in awe of God's knowledge-ability. God's thoughts are uncountable.
Indeed, when we know God's omniscience, we should find: Amazement, awe, and adoration. If we understand these verses correctly, one may note that, "The whole of my life stands open to his view from the beginning. He foresaw my every fall, my every sin . . . yet, nevertheless, fixed his heart upon me. [This] should make me bow in wonder and worship." (Pink, p. 21)
That should be our reaction, when we consider the omniscience of God.
Proverbs 8 elevates wisdom to a very high level.
Prov. 5:21: "For man's ways are in full view of the Lord and he examines all his paths."
Jer. 17:9-10 states: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind . . ." God alone can read the heart.
Jer. 23:23-24 asks, "Am I only a God nearby . . . Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot set him?"
The prophet Ezekiel records God as saying, "For I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them." (Ez. 11:5) Try fooling God sometime; it won't work.
Another place the omniscience of God is seen and illustrated in the OT is the example of Jonah. God came to Jonah, told him to go warn some of the worst people of the day. Jonah thought God's theology had lapsed. Jonah, seeking to take things into his own hand and straighten out the situation, decides that surely God is not correct; so Jonah thinks he can secretly board a ship and contradict Ps. 139. He tried to go to "the far side of the sea" (Ps. 139:9). Jonah tried to shroud himself in the darkness, he tried to hide in the depths, but he could not hide from God's searching eye. God found Jonah when he was fleeing as discreetly as possible, and God finds us when we sin or obey as discreetly as possible.
2 Chron. 16:9: "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him."
One place that the omniscience of God is hinted at in the NT is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was talking about the lillies of the field and warned his disciples not to fear, for God knew what they needed even before they asked. Associated with this was the truth that if God truly knows the future - and has it under control - then we can rest in him and trust him to do his will. God knows what we need, and knows what all people need, long before any of us ask him for it.
God's knowledge is so detailed that he knows the number of hairs on our heads, he sees any tiny, insignificant bird if it falls, and he totally knows all the flowers of the fields. Here's the payoff from this doctrine: God does not merely take these things under advisement. Not only does he know these things, but he also provides for them. When he knows, he acts.
When Romans 3:4 says, "Let God be true and every man a liar" it is telling us something essential about God. He is true, and if any theory or idea contradicts him, that is a lie.
Permit me a short digression: God is truth;
We need to be reminded of that
In Jn. 14:6, Jesus taught: "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
Num. 23:19 says: "God is not man, that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind."
Ps. 25:10: "All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant." All God's ways are truthful; there is no error or deceit in him. Ps. 31:5: "Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth."
Is. 65:16: "Whoever invokes a blessing the land will do so by the God of truth." Jer. 10:10: "The Lord is the true God; he is the living God the eternal king." Jesus prayed (Jn. 17:3): "Sancitfy them in truth; thy word is truth."
Tit. 1:2 speaks of our "faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time." Heb. 6:18 teaches that God has sworn an oath based on his own character, and he cannot lie or change his mind.
1 Jn. 5:20-21: "We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true . . . "
God's truthfulness is a by-product of his knowledge. They are inter-related. God knows all, and he knows all truly. Thus is his knowledge on the soundest of platforms.
To the Church at Thyatira, Jesus speaks this word: "I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds." (Rev. 2:23) No human knowledge is capable of that heart-anatomy.
A prime NT example of God's omniscience is: Ananias and Sapphira - Acts 5
These two were attempting to pass themselves off as great philan-thropists. The early church had just seen an example of magnanimous giving when Barnabas donated a plot of land to be sold for the work of the church. He must have received some accolades. For immediately thereafter, Ananias and Sapphira sell a field, and bring a large gift to contribute to the work of the church. Only one major difference: they shaved a little off and kept some for themselves.
No one would know, they thought. Of course, as the Scriptures also teach, they were free to keep this for themselves. There was no command to donate this amount. They must have wanted the praise. But having a little greed, they kept some for themselves
When Ananias brings the gift, God had seen right through his pretense. Furthermore, God revealed this to Peter, who sternly rebukes this man. He falls over dead. A few hours later, the wife notices he is not at home; maybe the house was neat or something. She goes to find out what happened. As she comes in, Peter confronts her, she lies, and she dies, too.
Now I admit that our Elders, successors to Peter, don't usually have to do this with our church members and their offerings. But the point is: God sees all and is not fooled by our sin. If we try to deceive him, or hide even motivations, it will not work. The OT taught: "Be sure your sin will find you out." (Num. 32:23) AND it still will. Acc. to Ps. 90:8, God sets our iniquities before him, our SECRET sins in the light of his countenance."
You cannot fool an omnscient God. Acts 15:18 says: "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning."
One of the passages in the Bible that is simultaneously scary and encouraging is Heb. 4:13. After describing how accurate the Bible is to dissect our motivations, that vs. Teaches that nothing is hidden from God. All we do and think is uncovered, and displayed before God to whom we must give account.
if this attribute is subtracted
Then no certainty of any rationality in the universe. God is the ground and guarantee of human knowledge. If he cannot possess knowledge, how could we possibly have it.
Take away God's omniscience and you're left with pantheism which tends to represent God as a part of nature at best. In order for God to know everything, he must be above this earthly plane. As long as God is not confused with nature, or absorbed into the world, he may have transcendent knowledge. Without his omniscience, he would be a petty god.
Those who believe in a finite God (unitarians) ascribe to him limited knowledge. Invariably, the false religions do not get this aspect of God right. Maybe it is because they are not truly worshipping God. Any representation of God as not all-knowing, rest assured, is cultic.
If God is not all-knowing, he is reduced to the level of human knowledge. A beggarly god is not worthy of either our fear, or our service. If his knowledge is no better than our's, then such a being is on par with humanity, the victim of shifting theories.
1. That we trust at all is because God knows it all. Why would you trust one with your life, if he only knew part of the mystery? We may well entrust things of passing value to those who are not omniscient, but we would hardly trust our lives and eternal destiny to one with less than total knowledge.
2. Humans must be humble before God and before any matter of thought. As we consider this subject, we find that in comparison with God, all our knowledge is feeble at best. We are continually being confronted with this truth: We do not know near as much as we think we do. Humans constantly have to revise their theories. Our knowledge is constantly changing. Certainty is indeed elusive apart from God who knows all. It is good perhaps to have a regular contrast between our knowledge and God's. It also puts us in our place. One correlate of God's omniscience is humility. When we regularly see how fallible we are, we should have a greater appreciation for God's superior knowledge.
God gave us the Scriptures to reveal the wisdom of God.
God has not left us without adequate information. He has revealed quite a lot to us. Every corner of Scripture illustrates the divine perfection of omniscience. No part of Scripture has ever been proven in error. Only an omniscient source could give us that.
Furthermore, we trust in the Bible itself as our guide for life because we know that God knows all. It would be difficult to trust the Bible, if it was not inspired and written by a perfect, authoritative God. The truthfulness of the Bible and the verity of God rise or fall together. Since God knows all, we may be confident that he has revealed truth in the Bible.
4. 1 Cor. 1:31: He is the WISDOM, holiness, and . . . ."
5. Foreknowledge is taught in the Scripture: 1 Sam. 23:10-13; 2 Kgs 13:19; Ps. 81:14-15; Is. 42:9; 48:18; Jer. 2:2-3; 38:17-20; Ez. 3:6; Mt. 11:21
God not only knows all things as/after they happen. He also knows all things before they happen, and guarantees that they will happen.
God asserts his knowledge of things to come, as a manifest evidence of his Godhead. Those that deny, therefore, the argument that proves it, deny the conclusion too; for this will necessarily follow, that if he be God, because he knows future things then he that does not know future things is not God; and if God knows not future things, then there is not God . . . The whole prophetic part of Scripture declares this perfection of God; every prophet's candle was lighted by this torch; they could not have this foreknowledge by themselves . . . Prophecy must be totally expunged if this is denied."
PRAYER: "Here is encouragement to prayer. There is no cause for fearing that the petitions of the righteous will not be heard, or that their sighs and tears shall escape the notice of God, since he knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. There is no danger of the individual saint being overlooked amidst the multitude of supplicants who daily and hourly present their various petitions, for an INFINITE Mind is capable of paying the same attention to millions as if only one individual were seeking its attention." (Pink, p. 19)
6. The Wisdom of God and the Future.
There is no great basis for the wisdom of God if God does not perfectly know the future.
Mt. 24 contains several teachings about the future and how it will unfold. However, amidst all this, even Jesus Christ had resigned his knowledge of the 2nd Coming. Only God the Father knows that. The exact timing of the 2nd Coming was not known to Jesus, and he told his disciples not to be too concerned with it. Still, God the Father knows all.
It would be impossible to claim omniscience if the future was unknown or in question. The certainty of the future is bound up in the omniscience of God. The next time you wonder, the next time you doubt if God can provide for you and your family, the next time you pray or worship, know that God knows all things so totally, that he knows exactly how you'll be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, next decade, next generation, and all in between. All your days are known to him before your race ever started. That's why we can face the future and not worry.
The next time you are about to sin, remember this: It will not be in secret. There is no victim-less sin. When you sin, whether you are conscious of it or not, it occurs in the presence of the all-knowing and perfect God. Not only that, but he knows all the rationalizations you will come up with, and all the excuses you will make.
And when you sin, this effects your relationship with God. It cannot be untouched.
God's knowledge is comprehensive. He knows all that is past, present, or future. Not even the greatest of human intellect or the greatest synthetic intelligence can know as God knows.
One consequence of this is that God makes no mistakes. It is impossible for future or additional information to change or challenge his wisdom. God not only knows all, but he also knows all correctly. His judgment is never wrong. Imagine that. No leader, no officer, not the greatest sources of knowledge can meet that standard.
Moreover, at any moment in time, God is able to know where all human beings are, and what they are doing - including their hidden thoughts. None of us can truly read minds. To God, all minds are open. As Heb. 4: teaches, "
"Suppose for a moment that [God] could not see the works and know the thoughts of man. Would you then become more careless concerning him than you are now? . . . In nine cases out of ten, and perhaps in a far larger and sadder proportion, the doctrine of divine omniscience, although it is believed, has no practical effect on our lives at all. The mass of mankind forget God. (Spurgeon, p. 133.) They manifest "practical atheism."
If we do not sin with children in the room, how much more should we recall that God is in every room.
It is, therefore, impossible for any human being to 'get away' with anything. Every sin we conceive, every idea that is less than holy, every lust of the flesh, every boastful act of pride, every word that is displeasing to God is known to him. We can neither hide our sin, or justify it. We are thoroughly convicted in his sight. It would take one wiser than God to either prove him wrong, or to demonstrate their purity (non-sinfulness).
In light of this, his grace is all the more dramatic. It would not be an enormous amount of grace for God to forgive a few known sins. It would not be infinitely merciful for God to remit 100 sins throughout the entire human race. However, for God to forgive all the sins he does, for him to remit the millions of millions of sins committed every day, is an act of unrivaled grace and compassion. It is one thing to be unaware of offenses and forgive; it is quite another to be totally aware of offense and still to forgive.
God's grace is seen through his omniscience
Relationship to Grace
God Sees AND Commutes. He not only investigates; our sovereign not only takes note of; he never merely "takes a matter under advisement;" he also sees and acts. In regard to his chosen ones, he sees and acts to take care of our sin problem.
The Knowing and Providing God
Fearful of him, if not adopted; comforted if adopted.