Dr. Richard L. Strauss
November 11, 1979
Many times in our early years of married life, my wife has turned to me and asked, "What are you thinking?" Quite frankly, there were occasions when I didn't want to tell her what I was thinking. In fact, I even resented her asking. My thought life was my own private world and I didn't want anybody trying to invade it. Sometimes my thoughts were selfish and sinful, and other times they were empty daydreams, but in either case, I was too embarrassed to let her know what they were. So I gave her the stock answer that many husbands give: "Oh, nothing."
Can you imagine the pressure of living with someone who knew everything you were thinking all the time?
Suppose you had acquaintances who knew the future with perfect accuracy. They would know what the stock market is going to do tomorrow, what food prices will be next week, what crisis you are going to face in the near future. Can you imagine what a disadvantage that would put you under, or how they could capitalize on their knowledge at your expense?
Maybe you've had a friend who thought he knew everything? Whatever subject was being discussed, he could give you the straight scoop on it. It made you feel pretty dumb, didn't it? He probably didn't know as much as he thought he did, but can you imagine the frustration of living with someone who really did know everything?
Well, there is such a Person. He knows what we're thinking. He knows what our future holds. In fact, He knows everything.
The great surprise is that when we get to know Him, we find that it does not give us pressure or frustration, and it does not put us under any disadvantage. In fact, it brings us confidence and consolation. Let's meet Him: the God who knows everything.
1. The Reality of God's Omniscience
The Apostle John stated it about as plainly as it can be stated.
"Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything" (1 John 3:18-20).
John is saying that if we belong to God, He knows it even when we are having doubts about it, because He knows everything. That is the doctrine of omniscience, which means "all-knowing" (omni: all; science: knowledge). God has perfect knowledge of everything—past, present, and future—both of what is actual and what is possible.
We have already learned a few things about God's knowledge from studying other attributes. For instance, because God is eternal, He must know everything immediately and simultaneously. He never learns anything He doesn't already know by observing the succession of events that occur in time. And because He is immutable, His knowledge never varies. It doesn't increase or decrease. God never has to say, "I remember studying that once, but it has slipped my mind. Let me check my notes." God's knowledge is constant and unchanging.
But we need to understand a few more things about God's knowledge.
a. God's Knowledge Is Perfect and Complete (Psalm 147:5)
For one thing, God's knowledge is perfect and complete. The Psalmist said, "...His understanding has no limit" (Psalm 147:5). God's knowledge and understanding is infinite.
That was a lesson Job needed to learn in the course of his suffering. He was probably beginning to wonder whether God really knew what was going on in his life. Elihu was the person who spoke to Job last in the book, right before God spoke. Elihu told Job that God knows what's going on.
"Do you know about the...wonders of the One perfect in knowledge?" (Job 37:16, NASB).
"He's perfect in knowledge, Job; He knows." God's knowledge is comprehensive and all-encompassing. There is nothing that lies outside its scope. Nothing can possibly happen to us that God does not already know about, and has not known about eternally.
The Bible is filled with details of God's knowledge. For example, He knows the number of stars (Psalm 147:4). He knows every sparrow (Matthew 10:29). He said, "I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine" (Psalm 50:11). God knows every animal. He knows my dog Levi. And he knows your dog or cat—or cobra or whatever it is you keep in your house!
Most important of all, though, is that He knows us, and everything about us. Psalm 139 is the classic passage on that subject.
- He knows when we sit down and when we stand up (Psalm 139:2a). That doesn't seem to be a very important part of my life, but He knows about it.
- He knows our thoughts before we think them, while they are far away from us (Psalm 139:2b; see also Ezekiel 11:5).
- He knows all our ways (Psalm 139:3), a word referring to the whole course and conduct of our lives. In other words, He knows everything we do (see also Job 23:10; Proverbs 5:21; Jeremiah 16:17).
- He knows every word we speak, while it is still on our tongues, before it ever comes out of our mouths (Psalm 139:4). He knows what we're going to think.
Jesus told us He even knows how many hairs we have on our heads (Matthews 10:30). He doesn't have to count them; He just knows.
As you can well imagine, it would be pretty difficult to give God a surprise party! There is no way we can keep any secrets from Him. No secrets. The Psalmist assured us that He knows the secrets of our hearts (Psalm 44:21). We can keep secrets from other people. We may succeed in living a whole lifetime without exposing some of the hidden thoughts of our minds. But God knows everything that goes on in our hearts and minds.
He gave us a demonstration of His mind-reading, heart-searching techniques one day in Bethlehem. And I'm talking the Old Testament here. The prophet Samuel arrived in town to choose Israel's future king. God told Samuel the king would be chosen from Jesse's household. One by one, Jesse paraded seven of his sons before Samuel, but God rejected them all. He was looking at something Samuel couldn't see.
"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'" (1 Samuel 16:7b, NASB).
God wanted a man whose heart was wholly His—one with a desire to do His will. He knows whether that desire is there or not. We can make others believe it is there when it isn't. But God knows.
God knew that there was something missing in those seven sons of Jesse. But when young David was brought in from keeping his father's sheep, God's x-ray vision perceived a heart that dearly loved Him and longed to please Him. "Arise, anoint him; for this is he" (1 Samuel 16:12).
David had his moments of spiritual failure, as we all do, but few people in the Bible could rival his whole-hearted devotion to God. I would like you to turn over to 1 Chronicles 28 and see one of the last things David did before he died. He gave this charge to his son Solomon:
"And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father." [If you don't do anything else in your life, get to know God.] "And serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever" (1 Chronicles 28:9).
It was a reminder that God knows the secrets of the heart, a good reason to serve Him willingly and keep our thought life pure and pleasing to Him.
Since there are no secrets with God, we might as well face the fact that there is no such thing as a secret sin. We like to think there are some things in our lives nobody knows about, but Moses exploded that misconception.
"You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence" (Psalm 90:8).
Now I know that Habakkuk said that God has pure eyes and does not dwell on our iniquity. But He does know our sins; He is aware of them.
The writer to the Hebrews agreed with Moses:
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13).
We play little games to keep other people from knowing what we are really like on the inside. And we get pretty good at it. We learn how to fool most people most of the time. But God is not susceptible to our games. He never gets fooled. He knows everything about us.
b. God's Knowledge Includes our Future (Acts 15:18)
If God knows everything, then He obviously knows our future, and the Bible bears that out. He knows the "things to come" (John 16:13), and "the things which must shortly come to pass" (Revelation 1:1). He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18, KJV).
That includes a personal knowledge of our lives. He assured Jeremiah that He knew him and had ordained him as a prophet to the nations before he was formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5). He assured Paul that He had called him to preach Christ before he was born (Galatians 1:15-16).
He know Jeremiah's future. He knew Paul's future. God knows your future.
That poses a problem to some folks. If God knows all our future actions, then they are fixed, settled, unalterable. Nothing can happen apart from God's knowledge, so the very fact that He knows what will happen makes it certain. Where then is human freedom?
For example, if God knows that I am going to cut my grass tomorrow, then I am certainly going to cut it. But suppose I don't want to cut my grass tomorrow. Do I have a choice? This is a serious problem, isn't it?
The Bible teaches that God created man with volition. We make choices every day. We even have the privilege of choosing to obey God or disobey Him.
"I have set before you life and death..., choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19 partial).
"Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15 partial).
So we certainly have the ability to act contrary to what God knows we will do. But we won't, because if we did, then that would be the action God would have known from eternity past. He knows everything because everything is part of His perfect plan by which He will bring glory to Himself (Ephesians 1:11).
c. God's Knowledge Is Innate and Inherent (Isaiah 40:13-14)
There is one more thing we should know about God's knowledge before we explore its application to our lives. God's knowledge is innate and inherent. Nobody taught God what He knows. He never had to go to school to learn. He knows simply because of who He is.
Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,
or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten Him,
and who taught Him the right way?
Who was it that taught Him knowledge,
or showed Him the path of understanding?
Obvious answer: no one! He knows everything by the essence of His own being. An infinite God must possess infinite knowledge as a necessary part of His nature. When Paul thought about that, it caused him to exclaim:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
What a magnificent God we know! He knows everything.
2. The Relevance of God's Omniscience
The fact is indisputably established in the Bible: God really does know everything. And the unbeliever doesn't like it one bit.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
They say, "How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?"
(Psalm 73:8-9, 11)
It bothers an unbeliever to know that there is a God who even knows what goes on in his mind. At first he will try to hide his thoughts and actions from God and pretend that God doesn't really know (Isaiah 29:16). When he realizes that won't work, he usually denies that there is a God (Psalm 14:1). He doesn't want there to be a God. That is the only way he can rid himself of the pressure and frustration of a God who knows everything.
a. God Knows When our Motives Are Pure (John 1:47)
The growing Christian doesn't view God's omniscience as a threat. It does provide him with a challenge to grow. The more I grow in my relationship with my wife, the more comfortable I am about telling her what I am thinking. I don't usually say "nothing" anymore.
I respond much the same way to God. And the fact that He knows my heart makes me want to grow. It makes me want to please Him with my thoughts. It's a challenge, but it is also the source of great joy. Let me see if I can suggest some reasons why, particularly from the life of our Lord Jesus, the omniscient God in human flesh.
It was two days after John the Baptist had identified Jesus as the Messiah that He called Philip to be His disciple, and Philip in turn found his friend Nathanael. The first time Jesus laid eyes on Nathanael, He said, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile" (John 1:47, KJV).
Jesus had never met Nathanael. Jesus saw into his innermost being before He ever met Him and saw a man whose motives were pure, who was honest, trustworthy, and free from deceit. I don't know what other people thought of Nathanael; the Bible doesn't tell us. But if he was like most human beings, at some time or other someone had questioned his motives. But it didn't matter what anyone else thought. The Lord knew Nathanael's heart.
Has anyone ever accused you having impure motives? Or of being crafty, underhanded, devious, or mercenary, when you knew your motives were right? As much as you tried to explain your actions, they refused to believe you. What an encouragement it is to realize that God knows our hearts and He evaluates us on the basis of what is really there, not what people think is there.
b. God Knows How to Handle Unbelievers (Mark 2:8-12)
Shortly after Christ's ministry began, He was teaching and healing in a crowded house in Capernaum when suddenly He was interrupted by four men tearing the tiles off the roof. Then when they made a hole in the roof they lowered a paralytic friend into His presence. When He saw their faith, He said, "My son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5, NASB). The scribes and Pharisees didn't appreciate Him assuming the prerogatives of deity but they didn't say anything.
"Immediately Jesus knew in His spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and He said to them, 'Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Get up, take your mat and walk?” But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.' So He said to the man, 'I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.' He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!'" (Mark 2:8-12).
Obviously it was easier to say, from a human perspective, that your sins are forgiven. No one could actually see whether they were or not. But it was difficult from a human perspective to heal a man. So Jesus forgave the man's sins, then He healed him. And everyone except the Pharisees were amazed. Jesus knew the thoughts of those critical unbelievers and He handled them beautifully.
We sometimes encounter people who, like the scribes and Pharisees, are rigidly opposed to the message of Christ. We don't know what they are thinking, nor what to say to them, nor how to handle them. But God knows what is going on in their minds and He knows exactly how to handle them. He can give us the right words to say, or He can deal with them through somebody else. But whatever He does, we can be assured that He knows what is in the heart of man, and He has every situation in perfect control.
c. God Knows What Might Have Been (Matthew 11:20-24)
Let's see something else about God's knowledge. Jesus made an unusual revelation about God's knowledge when He predicted judgment on the Israelite cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.
"Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day'" (Matthew 11:20-21, 23).
Jesus knew what the people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have done had they enjoyed the same spiritual benefits those Israelite cities had. God's omniscience includes the potentialities and possibilities as well as the actualities. God knows the "what if's," the "what might have been's." This passage teaches that His judgment will be based on all the facts. It will be less severe on those who had less advantages when God knows they would have responded with more. The reason why He did not give them more is locked in the stronghold of His sovereign and unsearchable wisdom. I can't tell you why He didn't give them more advantages. Maybe they didn't respond to the spiritual light they did have. I don't know. But one thing we know for sure: His judgment will be based on absolute and perfect knowledge.
God knows what you might have been if you had enjoyed the same spiritual advantages others have had. That can be a source of encouragement.
God gave me a lot of spiritual advantages: the home I was raised in, the education I had. Perhaps if you had had those privileges, God would be using you more effectively than He is using me. Only God knows what might have been. And that will be factored into His evaluation of our lives.
d. God Knows our Faults and Failures (Luke 22:31-34)
There are other indications of omniscience in the life of our Lord but let's join Him in Jerusalem during the last week of His ministry on earth. He is eating with His disciples in a second-story room, when He says:
"But the hand of him who is going to betray Me is with Mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays Him!" (Luke 22:21-22).
Some men—some authors of books even—insist that God doesn't know what we are going to do until we actually do it. Don't you believe it! That is hardly the case here; Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him.
But that's not all He knows.
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."
Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know Me."
He knew that Satan was going to tempt Peter. He knew that Peter's faith would falter but not fail. He knew that later Peter would repent and come back stronger than he was before, able to strengthen his brethren. And though He knew all that, it didn't reduce His love for Peter at all. Instead, Jesus prays for him through the entire ordeal.
What a wonderful application of our Lord's omniscience. He knows all our faults and failures. Not one will ever surface unexpectedly to destroy our relationship with Him. He sees the whole of our lives, including the temptations we shall face and the sins we shall commit. Yet He never stops love us (Jeremiah 31:3). He knows when the desire of our hearts is to please Him, even though we fail, and He never stops interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25).
I jotted this down years ago: Somebody said:
Isn't it odd
that a being like God,
though He sees the façade,
still loves the clod
that He made out of sod?
Isn't it odd?
Incredible! He knows me, yet still loves me.
e. God Knows Us Better than We Know Ourselves (John 21:15-17)
Look now at the sequel to the story. It is after Christ's death and resurrection and He is with His disciples again, this time by the Sea of Galilee.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
Why did Jesus ask Him this? The Lord is not seeking information here. He knows everything. We've already seen that established in the Bible. Jesus knows Peter loves Him. Peter affirms that he knows Jesus knows. "Lord, You know that I love you." There is His omniscience again, just as clearly stated as it ever was. The Lord knows everything. He doesn't need to ask in order to find out whether or not Peter loves Him.
Why then does He ask? He is asking the question for Peter's sake, to assure him that he really does love his Lord, that he has been forgiven, that he is usable, that by God's grace and power he can have a ministry in the lives of others. Peter was probably doubting that. He couldn't understand why he had denied His Lord. He probably doubted his love for the Lord. But the Lord understood him even when he didn't understand himself, and He had just the right words of encouragement for the occasion.
What a blessing to know that God understands us better than we understand ourselves. He knows us perfectly. He knows all of our needs (Matthew 6:8). He knows all of our sorrows (Exodus 3:7). He knows all of our weaknesses (Psalm 108:14). He is a God of knowledge (1 Samuel 2:3). And He is right there to minister to us with the appropriate encouragement and the perfect provision.
There is only one thing God willfully blots out of His knowledge, and that is our sins. "...for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:34).
That is a promise for every true child of God. God knows whether or not we are truly His children. On several occasions God the Son demonstrated His knowledge of people's hearts who had professed to believe on Him, but whose commitment was not sincere (John 2:23, 25; 6:64). He knows the same about us today.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
If you have never genuinely acknowledged your sin and trusted Him for forgiveness, why not do it now? God knows whether you've done that, or whether you're just playing a little game of religion. Don't play a game. Believe that Jesus died for your sins. Repent of those sins and put your trust in Jesus, who paid the penalty for those sins. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we ask that these thoughts about Your omniscience will encourage us and challenge us as believers and bring deep conviction of sin to the life of anyone who has not yet put his trust in Jesus Christ. I pray that those in that situation may respond to the convicting work of Your Spirit, and put their trust in the saving work of Your Son, Jesus. For it is in His name that we pray. Amen.
God Is Immutable
I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
Malachi 3:6 NIV
Continue to AT-09: The Lord Is with Us