Doctrine of God (part 12)May 09, 2010 Time: 00:21:27
I. B. 5. c. 2. b. Application . . . I. B. 5. c. 3. Intellectual Attributes: Omniscience a. Analysis (1) Scriptural Data.
1. Attributes of God
To recall the big picture, we have been looking at the attributes of God. We have discussed the infinite attributes of God, and then we began to discuss the personal attributes of God. The first of those we have been looking at is God’s incorporeality, that is to say, God’s being a spiritual, immaterial being, rather than a physical, extended being. We argued that God is best understood as an infinite, unembodied mind and that we, as finite minds, are created in his image, even though we are embodied in this physical world. I want to close this section by drawing out three applications from God’s incorporeality.
First of all, it means that that which is ultimate is not material in nature. The ultimate reality is spiritual in nature, not material. That is to say, persons are the locus of value, whether these be the divine persons of the Trinity or human persons created in God’s image. Persons are the locus of value. Therefore, one single person is worth more than all of the material universe combined. Think of that! That means that you, as an individual person, are worth more than the entire material universe in God’s economy! Things have value only insofar as they serve the purposes of persons, only insofar as they are useful to persons. Therefore, as St. Augustine said, we should love people and use things, not vice-versa. Of course, the two great commandments that Jesus reiterated point to this. The first of these is to love the Lord our God with all our strength and with all our soul and with all our heart and with all our mind, and the second to love our neighbor as ourselves. These two great commandments capture what is of ultimate value in the universe – namely persons.
Second, it means that we should have a spiritual focus in our lives and not a material focus. Since the greatest and most important realities in life are immaterial or spiritual, that ought to be our focus. Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21, in the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
So many of us are preoccupied with amassing material wealth and material goods, a fine house, a big car, fancy clothes; and yet in the end, these are trivialities compared to the spiritual concerns that we ought to have. I remember a remark by the author C.P. Snow that the most horrible thing that can happen, he said, would not be worldwide famine. The most horrible thing that could happen would be worldwide famine and we in the West would sit and watch it on our televisions! It is that disproportion between the incredible wealth that we have here and the poverty of so many people in the world that, I think, ought to move us to be concerned about their lot. We ought not to be hoarding up material things for ourselves; we ought to be thinking about how we can use our wealth and our material goods for the benefit of others and for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in this world.
Finally, it also means that our most important needs are spiritual, not physical. Our most important needs are not the needs of our bodies but the needs of our souls. Therefore, we need to attend closely to these. Look at what Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:7b-8:
discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.1
Bodily training is useful for this life, but this life is short and transitory. Godliness is valuable, not only for this life, but also for eternal, everlasting life and is therefore something that we should exercise ourselves to develop. Similarly, 1 Corinthians 9:25: “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” Paul thinks of the Olympic athletes that train so vigorously for the sports in which they compete. They do it for just a perishable crown, an olive garland in those days. But Paul says that we are striving for an imperishable crown of righteousness that the Lord will give us on that day when we go to be with him. Think of how much time we lavish on our bodies – exercising, working out, women’s making up their faces, getting your hair done, the clothes that we wear, how we look. And yet how much time and effort and concern do we lavish on the care of our souls? – our bodies, beautiful and pampered, but our souls undernourished and flabby and ugly! Our most important needs are spiritual, not physical, and therefore we need to train ourselves like an athlete in developing godliness in our lives. This will carry over for the life to come. There is an important application of this attribute of God’s incorporeality because it shows us that the ultimate things in life are spiritual and not material.
As spirit, as self-conscious mind, God possesses all of the attributes of personhood to an infinite degree. He possesses intellectual attributes, volitional attributes, and emotional attributes. We want to turn now to a discussion of those.
Personal – Intellectual: Omniscience
First, God’s intellectual attributes can be described under the heading of his omniscience. Omniscience, from the Latin, means literally “all knowledge.” “Omni” is “all” and “science” is “knowledge.” Let’s look at the scriptural data with respect to God’s omniscience.
Before looking at specific facets of it, I want to read Psalm 139:1-6 because this is such a wonderful summary of the omniscience of God:
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Here the psalmist extols God for his infinite knowledge of all things and especially God’s intimate knowledge of the psalmist himself. In fact, when we look more closely at what the Scripture has to teach about God’s omniscience, we find that God does indeed know all things.
First of all, the Scriptures indicate that God knows everything that happens. He knows everything that is going on in the universe. Let’s look at some Scriptures. Job 28:24: “For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” Here God is described as looking down from heaven and seeing everything that transpires on the face of the Earth.2 Similarly, two chapters later in Job 31:4, Job asks, “Does not he see my ways and number all my steps?” Of course, the answer is, yes, God knows every step that Job might take. He numbers all his steps and knows all his ways. Then over in Job 34:21-23:
For His eyes are upon the ways of a man,
And He sees all his steps.
There is no darkness or deep shadow
Where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.
For He does not need to consider a man further,
That he should go before God in judgment.
God knows all things as he looks down from heaven, and he sees all things that transpire on the Earth. Proverbs 15:3 emphasizes this same truth, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” In the New Testament, Jesus similarly taught this. Matthew 10:29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. For the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore, do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Here Jesus says that God knows even the very hairs of our head and that even the little sparrow that falls to the ground does not do so without God’s knowledge. Literally everything that happens in the universe is known by God.
Secondly, not only does God see and know everything that happens in the world, but he also knows the secret thoughts of each individual. In other words, God literally reads your mind – he knows what you are thinking. 1 Chronicles 28:9 speaks of this truth. This is David’s charge to Solomon. David says, “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts.” God searches our hearts and understands the intent of every thought. The heart, in Hebrew terminology, was conceived to be the center of the human personality, the very essence of a human person. Over and over again, the Old Testament describes the hearts of men as open to God like a book to be read by him. For example, in Psalm 44:21, the LORD “knows the secrets of the heart.” Similarly, in Jeremiah 17:9-10:
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.”
God knows the heart of every person and reads his thoughts. In the New Testament we find this same truth reiterated in a very graphic manner in Hebrews 4:13: “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.” There is no secret thought, no inner recess of our minds, no hidden corner of our hearts that isn’t open and transparent to God.3 He not only knows all that is happening in the universe, but he knows the very secret thoughts of every individual.
Thirdly, even more startling still, the Scriptures affirm that God knows the future. He knows what has not yet happened but will happen. Go back to Psalm 139:4 and 139:14b-16:
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. . . Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 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.
Here the psalmist says that even before he thinks a thought or says a word, God already knows of it in advance and, in fact, while he was still being formed in his mother’s womb, God knew and counted all of the days that the psalmist would live from his birth until his death.
Isaiah also has a strong emphasis upon God’s foreknowledge of the future. In fact, for Isaiah, the characteristic earmark of the true God in contrast to the pagan false gods of Israel’s neighbors was God’s foreknowledge of the future. Isaiah 41:21-24:
“Present your case,” the LORD says. “Bring forward your strong arguments,” The King of Jacob says. Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods; indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together. Behold, you are of no account, and your work amounts to nothing; he who chooses you is an abomination.
Here, Isaiah flings in the teeth of these pagan deities the challenge to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the future is so that we might know that you are a true god! And, he says, they are nothing; these idols are an abomination and can tell us nothing about what is to come. Similarly, in Isaiah 46:10: “[Yahweh] declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established and I will accomplish all my good pleasure’” In contrast to the idols and pagan deities of Israel’s neighbors, Yahweh, the true God, was known by his foreknowledge of the future. So God knows the future.
Finally, the Scriptures also affirm that God cannot learn anything. He already knows everything. Therefore, it is impossible for God to learn anything. Romans 11:33-36:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became his counselor? Or who has first given to him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
There is no one who can teach God anything. Similarly, in Job 21:22: “Can anyone teach God knowledge, in that He judges those on high?” The question is merely rhetorical; no one can teach God knowledge. Indeed, in Job 37:16, God is declared to be perfect in knowledge. Psalm 147:5 sums it up: “Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” That says it all. God’s understanding is infinite; he is infinite; he is perfect in knowledge.4
4 Total Running Time: 21:26