By Frank Jamerson
This assignment to discuss the omniscience of God has driven me to appreciate more fully the words of the Psalmist: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I ‘cannot attain unto it” (Psa. 139:6). Indeed, as one philosopher said: “The more I think about God, the more incomprehensible he seems to be.” How can a finite mind comprehend an infinite Being? How can one who does not even know all about himself comprehend one who knows all about everybody? Though we cannot comprehend and certainly cannot explain how God knows all, we hope that our excursion into this subject will be enlightening and interesting to you.
The great Psalm from which we just quoted shows that God knows my thoughts, my history and all that I do. “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising (my resting at night and my activities of the day); thou understandest my thought afar off (at its earliest birth, even before it is uttered by the tongue). Thou compasseth my path and my lying down (he surrounds and fences me in so that nothing escapes), and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, to O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before (He is always directing; always restraining), and laid thine hand upon me” (Psa. 139:1-5), The next few verses (vv. 7-12) discuss His omnipresence and the next two His omnipotence. Both of these attributes are related to omniscience, though our study is to concentrate on the latter. God knows all because He is everywhere present and has all power.
This knowledge of God extends to all divisions of time – past, present and future. God, through Isaiah, challenged the idols to “Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and show us what shall happen: let them show the former things what they be, that we-may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may be dismayed and behold it together” (Isa. 41:21-23). The idols could do neither, because there was no knowledge in them.
Knowledge of Past
One of the great evidences of the inspiration of the Bible is that it is historically accurate. Its writers wrote about events that they had not seen and yet when the archaeologists’ work was done, it confirmed the historical account. Moses wrote of creation (Gen. 1,2), as did David and Job (Psa. 33; Job. 26:7-14). When they did that, they were writing by the inspiration of God who knows all things. Isaiah said that God declares “the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Isa. 46:10). “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18).
Knowledge of Future
Omniscience implies that God has the power to know anything He chooses to know. Every prophecy recorded in the Bible is evidence that God can know the future. Moses wrote that Israel would have a king four hundred years before they had one (Deut. 28:38). Daniel predicted the next three empires (after the Babylonian, of which he was a part), and named two of them (Dan. 2; 8:20,21). Every prophecy of the Messiah was written at least four hundred years before Christ was born into the world. The only reasonable explanation for fulfilled prophecy is the foreknowledge of God.
Knowledge of Present
The writer of Hebrews said, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). This knowledge of God is inseparably connected with His omnipresence. “Am I a God at hand, with the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord” (Jer. 23:23,24). God is not limited by the things close to Him, but has universal knowledge, not only of things done, but of the very thoughts of our hearts. When the apostles were choosing a successor to Judas, they said, “Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen” (Acts 1:24).
Omniscience is necessary for God to be a just judge. How could He “render to every man according to his works” (Prov. 24:12), if He did not know everything? Paul told Christians: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor. 4:5). God’s judgment will be just, because His knowledge is perfect!
Does this mean that God knows everything before it happens? He certainly has power to know if He chooses to do so, but He may choose not to use that power. Jesus said that God “is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt. 3:9), but He did not exercise that power. One writer summarized the point this way:
But what do we mean by God’s omniscience? We can only mean that he knows all that is a possible object of knowledge. He knows all that is, and as it is. He knows all the past and all the present, and all that is casually involved in the present state of the universe. He knows all that is the truth; the false he knows as false, the true as true. He knows things as they are; for example, if my final moral destiny is as yet uncertain and unfixed, then he knows it as uncertain and undetermined… Whenever a planet or a sparrow ceases to be, then the knowledge of it as an actuality passes out of the storehouse of God’s knowledge of actualities. Whenever a new planet becomes a reality, then God’s knowledge of realities is increased by so much …The true expression of God’s omniscience is, therefore, this: God knows all that has been, all that is, and all that is necessarily going to be (The Christian Quarterly, April, 1876, via Lard’s Quarterly, Vol. V, p. 304).
Foreknowledge and Foreordination
Does God’s knowledge contradict man’s freedom of choice? Certainly not! There is a vast difference between the knowledge of God and His purposing will. Jeremiah said: “And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart” (Jer. 7:31). James Bales commented on this passage: “There are some who think that Jeremiah 7:31 and 32:35 prove that God did not choose to foreknow certain things. However these passages may not prove this since they may simply mean that God never had in His mind or in His intention these particular things for men. We may know certain things which we do not purpose for people to do” (The Biblical Doctrine of God, James D. Bales, p. 46). Whether God knew what they would do or not, He certainly did not decree, or purpose that they engage in such sins.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter said, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). Though their actions were foreknown, they were still responsible for their actions and needed to repent and be baptized to be forgiven of their sins (Acts 2:37,38). God is not a “respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11), therefore He has not predetermined that certain ones would be lost and others saved (2 Pet. 3:9). He has the power to know, if He chooses, but that does not remove my personal responsibility. Each person has the freedom of choice and will give an account for himself in the day of judgment.
With these facts in mind, let us consider the following three facts.
First, the omniscience of God makes hypocrisy foolish. Why would one think that an outward show would impress a God who knows the heart? When brethren think that they can commit fornication, drink, lie, etc., so long as they pretend to be a Christian on Sunday, they do not understand the omniscience of God. Preachers who think that standing in a pulpit on Sunday will excuse an immoral life during the week, have the same problem.
Second, an understanding of the omniscience of God will change the performance of many on their jobs. “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:22-24). God knows whether we are faithful and honest, even if the boss does not!
Third, our labor in the Lord will not be overlooked. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). With Paul, we can say: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
We conclude this discussion on the omniscience of God with the last verse of the first Psalm: “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 2, pp. 41-42
January 17, 1985