The Doctrine of God's Omniscience
Psalm 139 Psalm 145: 4, 5
"If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer—His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.” John Newton. No doctrine arouses quite as much passion as the doctrine of predestination and its relationship to human free will. If God knows all things, and he “ordains whatever comes to pass,” then are we not reduced to the level of robots? How can we have free will if God has already decided everything in advance? On the other hand, if we truly have free will, how can it be said that God ordains all things?
These are questions that have troubled thoughtful Christians down through the centuries. Any time we discuss the ways of God we are certain to be partly right and partly wrong. At the very least, our knowledge will be very incomplete.
1. What God Knows
God’s omniscience - “omni” means “all” and “science” in its original sense means “knowing.” So omniscience means “all-knowing.” God knows all things, past, present and future, real and potential, and He knows them all at the same time. He not only knows what was, and what is, he also knows what will be. More than that, he knows everything that could be but is not.
1 Samuel 2: 3 … the Lord is a God who knows … 1 John 3: 20 God … knows everything. Psalms 147: 5 Great is our Lord … his understanding has no limit. Hebrews 4: 13 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.
But that only scratches the surface. The Bible in many places sets forth the implications of God’s unlimited knowledge. Consider further the following statements: He numbers the hairs on your head - Luke 12:7. He knows your words before you speak them - Psalm 139:4. He knows your thoughts before you think them - Psalm 139:2. He knows your prayers before you pray them -Matthew 6:8. He knows when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed at night - Psalm 139:2, 3. He knows everything you are going to do tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and every moment of every day until the moment of your death - Psalm 139:16. He sees everything you do in secret -both the good and the bad - Matthew 6:4.
No wonder David exclaimed as he pondered how much God knew about him, “You hem me in — behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” Psalm 139:5. He felt trapped by God’s knowledge of his every word and deed.
If you feel small and tiny and even unworthy in his presence, then you have grasped one important fact about who God is.
2. God’s Knowledge and Ours
There are some important contrasts we need to think about.
A. God’s knowledge is independent, ours is dependent.
No one has ever taught God anything because his knowledge is complete from the beginning. But our knowledge is dependent in that we must learn what we know.
B. God’s knowledge is infinite, ours is partial.
He knows everything that could be known, we know a tiny fragment of what could be known. God never says, “A great idea just occurred to me.” All his ideas are great. He knows all the great ideas all the time from the beginning of time.
C. God knows us better than we know ourselves.
Specifically, he knows what is in the human heart. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). God knows things about us we don’t know about ourselves. Psalm 19:12 “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” Psalm 90:8 “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.”
Over 100 years ago, the great London preacher Charles Spurgeon used a powerful word to describe God’s knowledge of our hearts. He said that everything in the heart is “transparent” to God. Nothing is hidden, everything is clearly seen. “The Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9). “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).
All these truths should make us pause the next time we are tempted to think that no one can hear what we are saying or no one knows what we are thinking. How wrong we are!
Before you speak, think. Before you think, remember. It is said that Jewish men wear the traditional yarmulke on their heads because it represents the hand of God pressing down on them. It reminds the wearer that he always lives in the presence of God.
3. Implications of Omniscience
It has been well said that God’s omniscience is a comfort to believers and a terror to unbelievers. The comfort is easy to see. If he truly knows all things and if he ordains all things, then everything that happens to me or to those I love must happen as part of his plan. F. B. Meyer has written, “It is in proportion as we see God’s will in the various events of life and surrender ourselves either to bear it or do it, that we shall find earth’s bitter circumstances becoming sweet and its hard things easy.”
God’s sovereignty means “He knows what He is doing, and He is doing it.” That sums it up, doesn’t it? Although Andrew Murray lived almost 100 years ago, many of his books are still in print, including the classic With Christ in the School of Prayer. During a low period in his own life, he wrote: “He brought me here. He will keep me here. He will make this trial a blessing. He will bring me out again. Therefore, I am here by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time.”
We often hear it said that “disappointment is His appointment.” But that can only be true if God is in charge of the details of life.
A. Every Decision Is a Free Choice
That leads me to give you my personal understanding of predestination and free will. I confess that I have struggled with this whole question for many years. Eventually I have come to an understanding that has freed me to a great degree. It basically consists of 3 points.
i. From our human standpoint, we are completely free. When you wake up in the morning, you have a choice to get out of bed or to stay in bed. You can put on a red dress or a blue one. When you get in your car, you are free to drive to work or you can drive to Durban if you like. Every decision you make is a free choice. By that I simply mean that you do not feel constrained by some divine power that forces you to eat at Spur instead of McDonald’s. As far as you are concerned, you “pay your money and you make your choices.”
ii. God sees and knows everything you do. He hears everything you say. He will someday judge you for all of it. Nothing escapes him. Everything is transparent before his eyes. Yes, you have free will but you are 100% responsible for every choice you make—that includes the choices you make in the words you say and the thoughts you think. He won’t just judge the “big” things; he’s going to judge the “little” ones, too. What, then, is predestination?
iii. Predestination means that God works in, with, through and sometimes in spite of your decisions to accomplish His will for your life. He controls the circumstances, the environment, and the thoughts of your heart. Everything that happens to you is part of his plan for your life. There are no accidents with God. He doesn’t roll dice.
That’s why Joseph could say, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Even the evil that men do serves his purposes, often in ways we cannot see and would not understand even if he told us.
Theologians say that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass in the sense that he “participates” in every human decision. Yet he does so without being the author of sin. Precisely how this can be is a mystery our small minds simply cannot fathom. No one is totally “free” from God. That includes both the missionary labouring in Albania and the serial killer who brutalises young women. The choices of both are “free” from the human point of view, yet God works in both instances to accomplish his will. And both will be judged—one to be rewarded for sacrificial service, the other to be punished for unspeakable crimes.
I am deeply conscious that we are all much more comfortable with the notion of God working through the good that people do. How God works through evil stretches the mind and challenges the heart. Yet both sides of this question are true and both must be believed if we are to be truly biblical in our thinking.
2. Salvation is of the Lord
When you came to Christ, you made a decision of your will. You chose him. Predestination simply means, God chose you first and if he didn’t choose you first, you would never have chosen him. To say it another way, God so arranged the circumstances that when the moment was right, you had no other choice but to freely choose Jesus. You weren’t aware of it at the time, but in looking back, you can see the invisible hand of God drawing you to Christ.
So it is for all of us. Salvation is of the Lord. It is a work of God from beginning to end. Our choice is a free choice, but it is made possible only by God’s Spirit enabling us to believe and be saved.
Think of the gate of heaven, and above it is a large sign, “Whosoever will may come.” As you pass through the gate, you look back and from the inside the sign reads, “Chosen from the foundation of the world.” Or to say it yet another way: “He doesn’t make you go against your will, he just makes you willing to go.” I have often said that God will not force anyone to believe. He gives you a new heart and a new desire and from that new desire you freely choose the Lord.
C. Bad News for Sinners
This doctrine of God’s omniscience should strike terror into the heart of every unbeliever. Jesus said, “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36). God’s omniscience is the basis of his judgment. This is not good news for sinners.
We cannot hide anything. He knows all our works and thoughts and brings them all into judgment. The wicked man says, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees” (Psalm 10:11). Wrong! Who knows? God knows!
Job 34:21 “His eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step.”
Jeremiah 16:17 “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.”
Omniscience means that God will take into account every word and every deed. Nothing will escape his penetrating gaze in the last great day. Galatians 6: 7 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
You can sin and go to Hell if you desire. No one is going to fool God. No one is going to escape judgment.
But here is the good news for sinners. No one has to go to Hell. If you go, it won’t be because you were predestined for Hell. It will be because you rejected God’s gift of salvation.
Earlier I said that no one can be saved unless God calls him. That thought may trouble you, but it shouldn’t. How do you know if God is calling you? If you have the slightest desire, then God is calling you. If you want to be saved, then God is calling you. It truly is as simple as that.
If God is calling you, then come running to the Cross of Christ. Fling yourself upon God’s mercy. Hold fast to the bloody Cross as your only hope. If you want to be saved, you can be saved and you will be saved. That is the promise of God to you. No one will ever be lost who truly wanted to be saved. No one will be in hell who truly wanted to go to heaven by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.
“Whosoever will may come” is still the gospel message. When we finally get to heaven, we will look back and discover that we were indeed “chosen from the foundation of the world.” It’s true that I don’t claim to understand it all, but that’s okay, because I’m just little old me and he’s a great big God.
If you are still without Christ - may he make you restless in your heart until you find your rest in him. If you are a believer, may you find comfort and joy in believing both now and in the days to come. Amen.