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  • God’s Omniscience

    By Peter Amsterdam

    Audio length: 11:15
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    Because God is the infinite and supreme Being, His knowledge is unlimited. He knows absolutely everything. The common theological terminology for this is omniscience, which comes from the Latin omni, meaning all, and sciens, meaning knowledge. Scripture tells us that God’s knowledge is perfect knowledge1; He knows everything.2

    God is different in being than we are, and as such, the nature of His knowledge is different from ours. He inherently knows everything. His knowledge isn’t learned; it doesn’t come from outside sources or from observation or experience, or through the process of reasoning. God doesn’t learn, because He knows everything. The Bible asks if anyone will teach God,3 or if He has need of a counselor.4 It’s a rhetorical question, and the implicit answer is that He doesn’t need counselors or teachers. His knowledge is infinite.5

    Unlike God, we gain knowledge by learning—we take in information from outside of ourselves, one thing after another, and this information is added to our knowledge base. We know much more than we are conscious of at any given time, as most of what we know lies in our subconscious, and when we need it, we mentally access it and it comes back to mind.

    God’s knowledge is different in that His knowledge is always before Him. He doesn’t have to recall it. God knows all things and is always conscious of all. He doesn’t have to call up information from His subconscious. His is perfect knowledge. His knowledge and ways of thinking completely transcend ours.6

    As theologian Kenneth Keathley explains,

    Since God is omniscient, He innately knows all things—this means He does not go through the mental processes that finite beings do of “figuring things out.” God never “learns” or has things “occur” to Him. He already knows all truths. The fact that God is omniscient does not merely mean that God is infinitely more knowledgeable than us, but that His knowledge is of a different type and quality.7

    God’s knowledge of Himself and His creations

    God isn’t only a repository of knowledge, like a giant computer that contains all the information of the universe but has no knowledge of itself and thus can’t knowledgeably act on the information it has. He’s far more than that.

    God knows all things about Himself, as Paul implied: “The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”8

    He also knows all things outside of Himself, all about the universe and His creation, as expressed in His knowledge of the death of every sparrow and the number of the hairs of everyone’s head.9 Nothing created is hidden from Him.10 He knows everything that exists and everything that happens.11

    He knows everything about everyone—past, present, and future. He knows what we are going to say before we say it.12 Even before a person is born, God knows all about his or her life, including how long each person will live.13

    God knows our every action and deed. The Bible tells us that He “looks down from heaven; He sees all the children of man … and observes all their deeds.”14 Besides knowing our actions, God also knows our intents. His knowledge of us isn’t limited to our outward actions. He knows the reasons we do what we do. He knows the deepest thoughts of our hearts. “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”15

    God’s infinite knowledge includes knowledge about every person, both what is in their heart and what they do. This knowledge makes God’s judgment of people true and accurate. Nothing is hidden from Him. Individuals may be able to fool others (or even themselves) as to their deeds or their intentions, but before God all is laid bare. He judges righteously because He has perfect knowledge both of people’s actions and intentions, of the good and of the evil.

    Lewis and Demarest express God’s infinite knowledge in this manner:

    God knows all of nature’s energy—matter, laws, animals, and finite spirits. God also knows living people. He knows not only their physical characteristics, but also their inner thoughts, struggles, motives, volitional decisions, and expressions of those determinations in words, acts, events and happenings. God knows all things.16

    God knows not just the past and the present, He also knows the future. The book of Isaiah expresses that one of the characteristics of the true God is His complete knowledge of the future and being able to make future events known. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose.’”17

    Jesus also told of things to come when He told His disciples that He was going to be delivered into the hands of those who would kill Him and that He would rise again18; when He told Peter to go to the sea and catch a fish in order to pay the tax19; when He stated that Judas would betray Him,20 and that the disciples would be thrown out of the synagogues and be persecuted and killed.21

    Hypothetical knowledge

    The theological term for God knowing all things that happen—past, present, and future—and the thoughts and intents of the hearts of human beings is knowing all things actual. God knows all things actual. God also knows all things possible, meaning that He knows things that would or could happen in certain circumstances, but don’t—things that are conditionally possible. Some refer to this as hypothetical knowledge.

    One example is when David was on the run from Saul. At one point he was told that the Philistines were fighting against Keilah, so he inquired of the Lord and He told David to fight the Philistines and save Keilah. He and his men did so and saved the inhabitants of Keilah.

    Saul eventually heard that David was in Keilah and said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.”22 So Saul summoned his people to war in order to besiege David and his men. God knew, and revealed to David, what would happen if David and his men remained in Keilah. He knew that in that situation, the men of Keilah would give David over to Saul. It didn’t happen, because David left Keilah; but had he not, then he would have been handed over.

    Another example of God knowing all things possible was when Jesus denounced the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, because they did not repent after He had done so many mighty works there. He said that if the miracles performed by Him had been performed in Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, they would have repented and Sodom would still be standing.23

    These examples show that God not only knows what happens and will happen, but also what would happen in situations had other factors been in play. He knows all things actual and all things possible.

    William Lane Craig gives a helpful illustration of hypothetical knowledge.

    I think one of the greatest illustrations of this is Charles Dickens’ story, A Christmas Carol. When Scrooge is confronted with the spirit of Christmas yet to come, the spirit shows Scrooge all of these horrible things—Tiny Tim’s death, Scrooge’s own grave—and Scrooge is so shaken by these visions, these shadows, he falls at the spirit’s feet and says, “Tell me, spirit, are these shadows of things that will be, or are these shadows of things that might be only?”

    What the spirit was showing Scrooge was not shadows of things that will be. We know from the end of the story that Tiny Tim does not die, that Scrooge repents. … What the spirit was showing Scrooge was hypothetical knowledge of what would happen if Scrooge were not to repent. That’s what he was giving him. He wasn’t giving him foreknowledge of the future; rather, the spirit was imparting this hypothetical knowledge of what would happen if Scrooge were not to repent.24

    God’s omniscience, like other attributes of God, isn’t completely comprehensible to our human understanding. His thoughts are higher than ours, as would be expected since He is the infinite Being, the one who created the world and all that is in it, who dwells in eternity, who knows the past, present, and future.

    Originally published May 2012. Adapted and republished November 2019.
    Read by John Laurence.


    1 Job 37:16. Unless otherwise indicated, scriptures referenced are from the ESV.

    2 1 John 3:20.

    3 Job 21:22.

    4 Romans 11:34.

    5 Psalm 147:5 NKJV.

    6 Isaiah 55:8–9; Romans 11:33 NAU.

    7 Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 16.

    8 1 Corinthians 2:10–11.

    9 Matthew 10:29–30.

    10 Hebrews 4:13 NAU.

    11 Job 28:24.

    12 Psalm 139:1–6.

    13 Psalm 139:13–16.

    14 Psalm 33:13–15.

    15 1 Samuel 16:7.

    16 Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce Demarest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 231.

    17 Isaiah 46:9–10.

    18 Mark 9:31.

    19 Matthew 17:27.

    20 Mark 14:18–20.

    21 John 16:2.

    22 1 Samuel 23:7.

    23 Matthew 11:21–23.

    24 William Lane Craig, “The Doctrine of God, Lecture 7,” June 24, 2007.

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Directors’ Corner

News, writings and thoughts from TFI Directors

  • Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (Marriage and Sex, Part 1)

    (Points for this article are taken from Christian Ethics, by Wayne Grudem.1)

    The next topic in this series on Christian ethics is the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.”2 The definition of adultery according to the American Heritage Dictionary is Consensual sexual intercourse between a married person and a person other than the spouse. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, this commandment is repeated numerous times.3 The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for adultery is na’aph, and in the New Testament Greek the word moicheuo has the same definition.

    This commandment can be viewed in a sense as a directory which contains a number of subtopics. In addition to adultery, it encompasses topics such as the institution of marriage, as well as divorce and remarriage; being single, having children, birth control, infertility, and adoption; and sexual matters including sex before marriage, fornication, incest, pornography, and homosexuality. Through several articles on the themes of marriage and sex, Living Christianity will look at each of these subtopics.

    Sexual ethics in the Western world underwent monumental change in the latter part of the 20th century, resulting in a major shift away from biblical teaching on the subject, and in many things that are prohibited in Scripture becoming widely accepted in contemporary society. In addressing these topics, the focus will be on what the Bible teaches. However, not all Christians or denominations agree on how to interpret the teachings regarding marriage and sexuality in Scripture, so where there is major disagreement among Christian denominations, I will try to present the different views.

    The purpose of the seventh commandment is to protect marriage, and the understanding of marriage within Scripture is a lifelong relationship between a man and woman. While same-sex marriages are recognized in a number of nations, the focus here will be on the biblical view of marriage.

    The first chapter of Genesis states:

    God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.”4 

    As Genesis continues, we find that Adam, the man God had created, was alone. In chapter two, we read that God created Eve, the first woman, from Adam’s side. After doing so, God said:

    Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.5 

    In these verses we see marriage, the first human institution, established. It is the only institution which predates the fall of humans into sin, which occurs in Genesis chapter three.

    The biblical understanding of marriage is a lifelong covenant partnership. A covenant is a solemn agreement made between two parties; in the case of marriage, between a husband and wife.

    The LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.6

    In the marriage covenant, a man and woman promise each other that they will be faithful to their marriage as long as they live.

    Christian wedding ceremonies refer to God’s presence as a witness to the couple’s wedding vows. Christian ceremonies usually state something along the lines of We have come together here in the sight of God and in the presence of this congregation to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony.

    According to Scripture, all marriages, whether Christian or not, are covenants made before God. When Jesus was speaking about marriage, He referred to what was written in the book of Genesis, that the husband and wife shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. He then added, What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.7 The point Jesus made was that when a couple gets married, there is a fundamental change, as God Himself has united the couple together in a spiritual union, and they are “one flesh.” This makes every marriage ceremony a sacred occasion, which God is a witness to, whether the couple believes in God or not.

    Every marriage is the beginning of a new family, distinct from the families of the bride and groom. Genesis speaks of the husband leaving his father and mother [to] be united to his wife.8 As such, a new household is established. Marriage, in many societies, also changes the couple’s legal status. If one spouse dies, the remaining spouse has inheritance rights. If one spouse becomes ill, the other has authority and responsibility to care for the one who is sick and to make decisions regarding their medical care. If they have children, they have authority and responsibility for raising them.

    The decision to marry is one of the most important decisions a person makes in their life. Scripture weighs in on who a believer should marry. In the Old Testament, we read that God forbade the Jewish people to marry people who worshipped other gods.

    “When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you ... You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.”9 

    We find the classic example of this in the life of King Solomon, who married numerous foreign wives.

    When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.10 

    There are, however, examples in Scripture of non-Jews who converted to Judaism and married Israelites, such as Ruth.11

    In the New Testament, we find the statement:

    Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?12

    While this wasn’t specifically addressing marriage, the principle it teaches can be understood to apply to the choice of a spouse. Elsewhere, the apostle Paul wrote:

    A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.13

    In writing the “only in the Lord” clause, the apostle Paul meant that while the widow could remarry, she should only marry another Christian believer. While Paul only addressed widows in the passage, it is generally understood within Christianity that this indicates that Christians should marry other believers. Of course, many Christians have married non-Christians and have had wonderful marriages, sometimes resulting in the non-Christian spouse becoming a Christian.

    While these New Testament statements don’t specifically forbid marriage between believers and non-believers, they offer wise counsel regarding who one chooses to marry. Generally speaking, a Christian spouse may not be in a position to fully live their faith if they marry a non-believer; as in order to be in sync with their non-Christian spouse, they may need to move the Lord and their faith more to the margins of their life. It may put some restrictions on practically living and practicing their faith. For example, it might hinder their devotional life, raising their children in the faith, showing hospitality to other believers, tithing, supporting missionaries, or having fellowship with other believers, in order to preserve peace in the home.

    Conversely, if the believer in the marriage is actively involved in the practice of their faith, the non-believing partner might be marginalized. If the non-Christian husband or wife doesn’t understand the point of studying the Bible, prayer, witnessing, or gathering with other Christians either in church or in small groups, then they won’t participate in these activities along with their believing spouse. In such a case, the oneness of the marriage, the deep unity between the spouses, may not flourish as it should, as one partner will be left out of the other person’s important commitments. In such instances, there can be a lot of stress in the marriage, which can lead to the marriage dissolving; or, the marriage may stay intact because of one spouse or the other capitulating in some aspects, but this may leave both parties feeling lonely and unhappy.

    Of course, all married couples have some disagreements, arguments, and challenges to overcome. However, Christian couples have the common denominators of their faith, Scripture, prayer, and the Holy Spirit, which yoke them together and can help them overcome their differences or give them the grace to lovingly accept them. The primary difference between a Christian marriage and a non-Christian marriage is that Jesus is present and is hopefully at the center of the marriage. When a couple is united in Christ, their goal is to grow in Christlikeness through their marriage, and when they do, a strong Christian marriage is formed.

    Christianity calls for marriage partners to practice mutual submission as husband and wife and serve each other in love. We are to love our spouse unconditionally, as Christ loves us, as well as respect them for who they are. Our marriage is our most important earthly relationship, and while other relationships are important, none should be put before this one. Though after some time spouses may not feel as “in love” as they did when they first married, strong marriages last because they have made a commitment to each other in the presence of God, which goes beyond their present emotional feelings.

    In the book of Genesis we read that God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him,” and thus He made a woman from a rib He took from Adam. As such, God made two of one. When a couple is married, He makes one of two. Marriage unites a man and a woman so that they become one flesh.14


    Notes

    Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


    1 Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).

    2 Exodus 20:14.

    3 Deuteronomy 5:18; Matthew 5:27, 28; Matthew 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Romans 13:9; James 2:11.

    4 Genesis 1:27–28.

    5 Genesis 2:24.

    6 Malachi 2:14.

    7 Matthew 19:6.

    8 Genesis 2:24 NIV.

    9 Deuteronomy 7:1–4.

    10 1 Kings 11:4.

    11 Ruth 1:16.

    12 2 Corinthians 6:14.

    13 1 Corinthians 7:39.

    14 Genesis 2:24.

     

  • Nov 12 Life Balance Check, Part 5: Fellowship, Family, and Friends
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