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Wednesday
Sep232009

God's Omniscience

This is not a repost of an old post. For some reason, when I did the original series of attributes of God posts, I skipped this one. I’m fixing that now.

When we say that God is omniscient, we mean that he knows everything. There is no limit to what God knows; his knowledge is complete. What are some of the things that are included in God’s all-comprehensive knowledge?

Let’s start with the most remarkable thing that God knows: God knows himself.

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. … [N]o one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10-11 ESV)

God is infinite, yet he knows “even the depths” of himself. His understanding is “beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5), but he knows every one of his thoughts. We think that God’s knowledge of everything about everyone who has ever lived and will ever live is amazing—and it is—but it’s small potatoes in comparison to the whole of his knowledge of his infinite self.

God also knows everything that exists. Scripture tells us that “[God] looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens (Job 28:24 ESV).” And again: “[N]o creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13 ESV).” He calls every star by name and knows when every sparrow dies, so there is nothing in the whole universe, including the tiniest details about the most insignificant things, that is unknown to God.

And it is God who declares “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done (Isaiah 46:10 ESV).” This means that in addition to knowing everything about everything that exists, he knows everything about everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen. Nothing surprises him; nothing catches him off-guard; nothing is forgotten by him.

God’s knowledge of things existing and happening includes knowledge of every aspect of every single person’s life. He knows, for instance, the number of hairs on each head. He knows everything we do, think, and say; and he knows it all before we do it. Yes, before each one of us is born, God knows what will happen on each day we will live.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:1-4, 15-16 ESV)

This comprehensive intimate knowledge, says the psalmist, is “too wonderful” for us. How can I not be in awe when I consider God’s knowledge of me?

But God’s knowledge is not limited to things that actually do or will exist, or things that have happened or will happen. Do you remember that Jesus said that Tyre and Sidon would have repented if Jesus had done his miracles there? God knows everything that is possible—everything that could or would occur were circumstances different. He knows what he is able to do, so he knows what could have occured if he had chosen to cause it to occur.

God’s knowledge is an aspect of his nature, so he doesn’t reason his way to it or receive it from anything or anyone outside of himself.

Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? (Isaiah 40:13-14)

The source of all of God’s knowledge is God himself, and he’s the only existing being who knows what he knows entirely independently. God doesn’t know what will happen because he sees and foresees, for that would be receiving knowledge from things outside of himself. Rather, God knows because he plans, creates and sustains. God declares the end from the beginning because his “counsel shall stand, and [he] will accomplish all [his] purpose (Isaiah 46: 10).”

What’s more, as a perfection of the eternal and unchanging God, God’s knowledge is eternal and unchanging. It can’t increase or decrease; God doesn’t learn or forget. He is always fully conscious of every detail of his infinite, complete knowledge of everything.

I started this post by saying that when we say that God is omniscient, we mean that he knows everything. That’s not wrong, but it’s not a very precise, is it? Louis Berkhof’s definition of God’s omniscience is this:

that perfection of God whereby He….knows himself and all things possible and actual in one eternal and most simple act.

And that’s the outline, more or less, for what I’ve written here. God knows himself, all things actual (what exists and what happens), and all things possible, in one eternal (unchanging) and most simple (complete or whole) act.

How can knowing that God knows everything we think, do and say not change the way we live? We may be able to fool those around us, but God knows everything about us. He knows what we are really thinking and what we do when no one else sees. We can’t hide our shortcomings from him, so pretense is useless. It’s foolish not to bring all our faults before him, asking for forgiveness and deliverance from them.

God’s omniscience can also be a comfort. Because God knows everything about us, he can lead us and protect us and sanctify us. He knows what we need before we do, so he can answer our prayer before we ask it. He knows when we are in trouble and he has the power to deliver us. He knows where we are growing in santification and where we need more of his sanctifying work. For those of us who trust him, our God’s complete and infinite knowledge is a glorious thing!

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you. (Psalm 139:17-18 ESV)

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Reader Comments (4)

How do you get over the paradoxes of omniscience? God can't be able to know everything and not know something. Also, the knowing of all possible futures thing fails for similar reasons. In order for God to be omniscient, he can't not know something. This means that not only would he know all possible futures, he would know the future that was going to happen as well, which means there is no other possible future. I wrote extensively about the problem of omniscience on my blog at godlessons.com

October 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGodlessons

God can't be able to know everything and not know something.

What does God not know?

he know all possible futures, he would know the future that was going to happen as well, which means there is no other possible future.

I've responded to this objection here.

October 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

This is an excellent post. I also covered this topic on my blog but must admit that I did miss something that you covered. You correctly mentioned that God knows all things possible had someting occurred (Tyre/Sidon). There is not a realm in any way that God does not have full knowledge at all times including all that would have happened IF something happened. If you're interested, my post on this topic is at http://fruitoftheword.com/2009/11/09/is-god-omniscient-an-attribute-of-god/ though I must admit your post is more comprehensive than how I dealt with it.

November 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTishrei

Thanks Tishrei. I did read your post and enjoyed it. It's not easy to write on God's attributes, is it?

November 15, 2009 | Registered Commenterrebecca

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