Our God – All Knowing
Last week we considered one of the ‘omni’s’ of God – His omnipresence. He is everywhere present in all his fullness at the same time without being contained by time or space. This morning, we’re focusing on another ‘omni’ - God’s omniscience. He is all-knowing. In classical theology the doctrine of God’s omniscience means that God knows all things, past, present and future, real and potential, and He knows them all at the same time. He not only knows what was, and what is, He also knows what will be. On top of that, He knows everything that could be but is not.
Like the word omnipresence the word omniscience is not, strictly speaking, a biblical term. The word itself is not found in the Bible. It is a theological word that has come into wide usage because, like the word trinity, it correctly describes the biblical evidence. The word means to see or know all things. For God, if this doctrine is true, everything is eternally "present."
I have recently been going through some boxes that we have been carrying around with us from house to house. To my astonishment as I began to go through the contents of those boxes I began to find things that I had forgotten about – things that were associated with memories and activities long forgotten. Time has a way of dimming our remembrance of much that has happened to us in the past. You many have had the experience of being introduced to someone only to immediately forget their names. But God is not like that. He always knows what is - past, present, and future, because He is omniscient. He never forgets a name!
This is one of those doctrines that is explicitly taught in Scripture but is not specifically named:
1 Samuel 2:3: “…the Lord is a God who knows…”
Psalm 147:5: “Great is our Lord…His understanding has no limit.”
Proverbs 5:21"For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, And He watches all His paths."
Proverbs 15:3: “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”
Ps 33:13-15 "The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out On all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works."
1 John 3:20: “God…knows all things.”
How much does God know? Friends, God knows everything - everything possible and everything actual; all events and all creatures, in the past, present and future. His knowledge is absolute, innate, full, complete, and free. God is perfect in knowledge. He knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well. He never discovers anything, he is never surprised, never amazed. He never wonders about anything, nor does He seek information or ask questions. And He knows how everything fits together because he decreed all things that come to pass. “He works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will (Eph 1:11)
There is no one who knows us more thoroughly than the God of the universe and there is no one who accepts us more completely despite His knowing than Our Omniscient God.
But even this apparently clearly stated doctrine is not without controversy even in evangelical circles. At issue is the question of how much the Lord knows. Open theists would not say that God is weak or powerless. They say that God is capable of predicting and ordaining certain future events because He is capable of working in the world and bringing certain events to pass when the time is needed. Therefore, God could inspire the Old Testament writers to prophesy certain events and then He could simply ensure that those events occurred at the right time.
Open theists claim that they do not deny the omniscience of God. They, like classical theologians, state that God is indeed all-knowing. But they differ in that God can only know that which is knowable and since the future has not yet happened, it cannot be exhaustively known by God. Instead, God only knows the present exhaustively, including the inclinations, desires, thoughts, and hopes of all people.
In what appears to be an effort to solve, or at least soften the "problem of evil," and the “free will” of man, this movement has begun to teach that God creates people, but the people create their own decisions, and therefore God cannot know what they will be, until they come to pass.
Are we reading the same Bible . . . This week and next we’re going to consider the knowledge of God: WHAT He knows and WHY He knows. And we begin with Psalm 139:1-6 -
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me, You know when I sit and when I rise You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways (Ps. 139:1-2a & 3).
David is saying here, “God, you know me completely. You know all of my actions; all of my words, all of my thoughts; you not only know what I’ve done, you know my motives - why I did it. You know it all!”
I think that most of us understand this truth about God. And yet many of us are able to compartmentalize and operate on two levels. While we understand intellectually that God knows everything about us, on a day-to-day level, we live as if we can keep secrets from our ever-present God. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid that if God knew everything about us, He would reject. It’s hard for us to comprehend a God who can know the total truth about us and accept us anyway.
Psalm 139:1 states that God knows us because He searches us: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” The Hebrew word (חֲ֝קַרְתַּ֗נִי ) here means, “to examine carefully or explore – to probe” and can even apply to a burglar who is searching for some valuable possessions. The word carries with it the idea of digging in order to uncover. David is saying that God knows him penetratingly well because He has scoured and ransacked every detail of His life. Because He has carefully examined us, He knows us.
“What does God know about us?”. . .
He knows what we do (2a). “You know when I sit and when I rise…” God knows when we sit down and when we stand up. He knows when we plop into the recliner in front of the TV and when we get up to get some more nachos and cheese. The two opposites of sitting and rising represent all of our actions throughout the day. Proverbs 5:21 says, “For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and He examines all His paths.” God knows every move we make.
The assertion is that God, having brought us under His omnipotent gaze, knows everything we do. In verse one, David speaks to the Lord and acknowledges that God has looked deep into His heart, and discovered the truth of all that is there about him. When the Psalmist moves from place to place, and even when he takes His seat or rises from it, God is not caught unaware. He knows everything.
There is a very good example of this in the New Testament. Wasn’t the Lord most surely aware of every circumstance in the life of the apostle Paul when he sent an angel to tell His apostle that not one person's life on board the ship would be lost? (Acts 27:21-25). How could God have His messenger say such a thing if he did not know all that would take place?
Did he not also know that Paul would do the responsible thing and tell the soldiers that if the sailors did not stay with the ship, they could not be saved? Surely, the Lord knew that the soldiers would make the right decision. The Lord was not waiting to find out what they would do. Though there are passages that indicate that the Lord tests us, and "awaits" our obedience, these are certainly anthropomorphic. There are far too many affirmations in Scripture that God knows all things, from the beginning, to think otherwise.
He not only knows what we do . . . he knows what we think . . .
You perceive my thoughts from afar (Ps. 139:2b).
It’s amazing and at the same time difficult to comprehend, but God knows what we think even before we think it!
Jeremiah 17:10 helps us understand the depth of God’s knowledge: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind…”God knows everything you’re thinking and He still loves you.
God knows everything that we are thinking and can in a sense "read our minds" without being physically present with us to observe our mood, or our visage? Indeed the Lord can do such a thing, and that is part of David's confession of faith. He knows everything we think. Does not this aspect of the knowledge of God undergird the teaching of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount? We cannot be content with a show of outward obedience to the law, because there is a God above who sees into the very heart of man. This is the view of the writer of Hebrews when he says, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13).
(Psalm 139:3) "You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways."
The word for “discern” “scrutinize” זֵרִ֑יתָ in verse 3 means to “sift or winnow as grain.” God knows where we go, because He can see everything, and discerns everything. He sifts through our lives, understanding what is really going on. He immediately comprehends the good and the bad things we do from the time we stumble out of bed in the morning, to when we collapse into bed at night. He sees it all, and when we think we are making our great escape, as we learned last week, He is always with us no matter where we go.
God knows what we do. He knows what we think. He scrutinizes every detail of our lives. . . And before a word is on my tongue He knows it completely, O Lord (Ps. 139:4).
As I write, I do not know precisely what I will say in the next sentence or paragraph. In fact, thanks to word processing I will no doubt easily revise my words repeatedly, hopefully for the better each time. I do not know what I shall say, but the Lord knows each statement, each change, and the outcome, though I do not. This is the testimony of the Word of God. God knows everything that we will say even before we say it.
If you’re at all like me, you often don’t know what’s going to come out of your mouth until you say it. God not only hears everything that we say, He knows what we’re going to say, before we can even form the words in our mouths. Someone has said that our thoughts are likes words to God He hears them and understands them completely as if we had shouted them from the rooftop.
He knows what we need . . . (5). “You hem me in behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” David is using images of war. He knew all about strategic battle plans, ambushes and how to surround a city. David felt trapped by God’s knowledge of His every thought, word, and deed. He knew that God surrounded him. He could not turn back and try to escape because God is behind him. He cannot run forward because God is in front of him and His hand keeps David from harm.
Look at verse 6. As David considers the fact that God knows him completely and what is his reaction? He is overwhelmed: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” He can’t even begin to understand, much less describe, the depth of God’s personal knowledge of His every action, of His every thought, of His every trip, of His every word, and of His every need. The word “wonderful” is placed at the beginning of the sentence in Hebrew for emphasis. It should read like this: “Wonderful is God’s knowledge to me. It’s too lofty for me to even understand or imagine – to comprehend – to grasp!”
Friends, when we try to understand the greatness of God’s knowledge, we can’t help but be overwhelmed, like David was. Remember this: wonder and worship are always the proper responses to the glorious attributes of God. Amazement leads to awe, which should draw us to adoration. Paul responded in a similar way in Romans 11:33-36:
“Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things.
But lest we think that God’s knowing is simply awareness as if he were standing above time and space Deistically watching events in our lives as they occur. God knows every intimate details – when we sit and when we rise – our thoughts – the words that come from our mouths even before they are spoken – all there is to know about each of us and all his creation BECAUSE he has unchangeably foreordained from all eternity for his own glory all things that come to pass.
And that’s the mystery and the wonder that ought to drive us to proclaim with the Apostle Paul . . .
“To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”