Theology Thursday: God’s Nature – Omniscience

Last week, we began looking at God’s nature by examining his Eternality.  This week we will examine another aspect of God’s Nature; Omniscience.
“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;” {1 John 3:18-21 NASB}

Plainly here John tells us that God knows all things.  The word  “know” occurring twice in this section is ginōskō, which means “recognize, perceive, understand, come to know.”  This is the sense of verses 18-20 of 1 John 3:                                                                                     . . . and by loving the brothers in deed and truth, we shall know that we are of the truth, and we shall persuade our heart before him [God] that we are of the truth. Our heart does need to be persuaded, because if our heart condemns us, i.e., if our heart is not persuaded that we are of the truth, it is clear that God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

In other words, no evidence is withheld from God; no truth or fact escapes his notice.  God doesn’t “have an idea” of all things; God doesn’t “have a sense” of all things.  God KNOWS all things.

“all things” is without nuance as well.  The word “pas” is common in Greek meaning “all or every.”  English translations of this word will be “all,” “everything,” “everyone,” “every,” “whoever,” “whole,” an occasional “perfectly,” “always,” “continually,” and “nothing.”  The best translation here in this passage is “all” and the English adds the clearly implied object, “things.”  “God . . . knows all things” and the sense of the present tense is “at all times” as well.  It is used in Matthew 1 to express that Matthew detailed EVERY generation leading up to Jesus (there wasn’t a begat left out).  He refers to it again at the massacre of the innocents in Matt 2 to express that Herod killed EVERY baby in Bethlehem, not just some.  Not a single child in Bethlehem that day was left out.

Repeatedly throughout the Scriptures we find that nothing escapes God’s grasp.  It is one of the most prominent aspects of God’s Nature and is repeatedly mentioned as people delight in and speak about their Lord.

Even before there is a word on my tongue,Behold, O LORD, You know it all. {Ps 139:4 NASB}

then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive and act and render to each according to all his ways, whose heart You know, for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men, {1 Kgs 8:39 NASB}

It should be great comfort to us as Christians that our God knows everything.  When we find ourselves in situations where we are confused, afraid, or simply don’t know enough; we can rely on our Lord who sees every angle, knows every nuance, and has memorized every fact.  What He provides to us is sufficient, and what we’re unable to accomplish intellectually is no challenge for Him.  How wonderful!

Omniscience is a major factor in the sovereignty of God as well.  God does not have to make “contingency plans” for the unexpected.  Rather, God knows for certain how a situation will turn out.  Indeed He is the one who directs every outcome, but even more so, He directs these outcomes with perfect knowledge.  We can trust His plan and purposes knowing that nothing will go wrong unexpectedly.  God knows when your car will break down, when the country will fall apart, and what to say in the difficult evangelism situation.  Therefore, when God directs us through His Word, we never have to stop to ask “I wonder if God ever considered…”  He did, and He has you where you are for a purpose.

Make no mistake, there isn’t a single thing that escapes God’s knowledge.  The Bible is replete with this claim and to deny it is often agenda driven.

From such and agenda we find the heresy of Open Theism which comes in two forms. 1)  “Hard” Open Theism claims simply that God doesn’t know all things.  This is plainly and firmly rebuked throughout Scripture.  2) “Soft” Open Theism claims to adhere to the omniscience of God, but makes the distinction that not all things are knowable.  God can’t possibly know what a person will choose to do.  The theory is that man is autonomous in his will and God is waiting for the free expression of our own desires, thoughts, etc.  God then reacts to us.  He knows the possibilities of what we could do, but not specifically which possibility we will choose.

It should be noted that this places man above God.

The example used of late is that God knew that the 9/11 terrorists planned their attacks and intended to carry them out.  Yet until they happened, God didn’t know for sure they would happen.  In other words, God can know what His creatures are thinking, but He can’t know the future.  But Hebrews tells us something very different from this:

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” {Heb 4:12-13 NASB}

Not only are our thoughts and intentions open to God, “but ALL THINGS are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do”.  That the author goes on to say that more than just thoughts and intentions is “laid bare” and distinguishes that “all things” are laid bare is the crux.

One of the heretical resolutions of the Open Theism dilemma is Molinism.  Molinism states that God has three kinds of knowledge, General Knowledge, Middle Knowledge, and Free Knowledge.  General is facts “Washington DC is the capital of the United States”, or “All bachelors are unmarried”.  Free Knowledge is the knowledge dependent entirely on God’s Will such as “God desires John to be saved”, “God desires Babylon to fall to Persia”.  Middle knowledge is the new factor in Molinism.  Middle knowledge is the idea that God knows all the possible outcomes of a particular set of circumstances such as “If you go to McDonald’s you’ll order nuggets but if you go to Burger King you’ll get a burger”.  The theory is that God plans for all the possible outcomes and since He’s aware of them He is not losing any knowledge.

The problem with this is that it makes God dependent on man for knowledge.  God has to plug man and his choices into the equation in order to be omniscient.  While God is not only aware of your preferences at McDonald’s and Burger King, God is also fully aware of where you will eat every last morsel of food for all eternity, when those morsels will be eaten, and what those foods will be.  There is not a realm of possibilities that God is reacting too, God already knows what is going to happen.

Open Theism denies God’s ability to know things, Molinism denies God’s sovereignty over that which He knows.  A good theological rule of thumb is that when your theology limits God, your theology is probably wrong.  More dangerously, however, is that the heresies of Open Theism and Molinism elevate man and lower God.  When man possesses control or knowledge that God does not have, then God is not fully sovereign; having to yield at least some control to His creatures.  The distinction between creature and creator becomes blurred, and the divinity of God is diminished.  The Bible teaches no such paradigm.  Let us think Biblically and, in practice, allow no such paradigm in our own thinking.

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