by Mike Hovland
God’s knowledge is one of the greatest and most comforting of God’s attributes. Every other attribute of God is made sweet by this and through this the other glories of God become effective in the lives of his people. In this article we want to explore the doctrine of God’s knowledge for the edification of his people.
The knowledge of God transcends our knowledge in that he is infinite and we are finite. Still, the manner of our knowing things comes from our creator who made us in his image. In theology proper we sometimes begin with the creature and then credit what we see in ourselves to the creator recognizing that he is infinite and perfect. We have knowledge and the ability to know things. We have knowledge of ourselves. We know others in relationship with them. We know the properties of certain things. We have skills and abilities that enable us to perform certain functions and accomplish various tasks.
All of these things are analogous to God’s knowledge. Psalm 94:9 asks, “He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?” In the context the nations were acting as though there were no judgment of God. They said, “The LORD does not see” (94:7). Since God had created eyes and ears the nations should know that he does indeed see and hear. Moreover, his seeing and hearing is not in vain, he will certainly judge with righteousness and justice. God’s knowledge in this context is likened to our faculty of sight and hearing. God is Spirit and therefore does not have flesh and bones like us. He does not have literal eyes and ears. These are metaphors for his knowledge. What God ‘sees and hears’ he knows.
According to Scripture God sees and knows all. There is nothing that falls outside of the scope of his knowing—it is an exhaustive knowledge. His eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth (2 Chron. 16:9). All things are open to his person (Heb 4:13). The Psalmist says, “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” Ps 139:12). No darkness can cover a single detail from the all-knowing God who created darkness and light (Ps 139:11). God knows the minutest details, like how many hairs are on each person’s head (Matt 10:30) and when a sparrow will fall to the ground (Matt 10:29). Amazingly, God is said to know the human heart with all its thoughts and intentions (Jer 11:20; 17:9–10; 20:12; Ps 7:10; 1 Kgs 8:39; Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24; Rom 8:27; Ps 139:2; Ezek 11:5; 1 Cor 3:20; 1 Thess 2:4; Rev 2:23). God knows all things (1 John 3:20).
This knowledge of is unlike our knowledge in that it is exhaustive and, get this, God does not learn but knows all things from eternity. He does not need to quickly count how many stars there are or how many hairs are on my head. His knowledge doesn’t increase as he observes the creation. His purpose is eternal (2 Tim 1:9; Eph 3:11). His counsel, plan, purpose, or what we often call his decree is from before the foundation of the world (Matt 25:34; Rom 16:25–26; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:4–5; 1 Pet 1:20). This is how God also knows all future events and situations (Ps 31:15; 39:5; 139:6; Acts 17:26). In fact, Yahweh challenges the idols to declare something past or future in order that “we may know you are gods” (Isa 41:22–24). One of the signs of the true God is that he knows and understands the former things, their effects, and the things that will happen because of all of the interrelated causes and effects throughout history (cf. Isa 42:9; 43;9–12; 44:7; 46:8–11).
God knows all things before they happen in time because he knew them before anything came into being. The reason anything is future or not future is because God knew it. God does not know things because they are future, things are future because God knows them. The future is dependent on the decree of God that preceded all things. This is also how God’s knowledge worked in creation. God did not create and then know the things we created. He knew his creation and then he created it.
Here is where aseity ties in with the doctrine of omniscience. The doctrine of aseity is that God is independent of creation and has need of nothing. All things depend on him. He depends on nothing. He is also unchangeable. He is the perfect being. Nothing can be added or subtracted from his essence. Therefore the creation of the world cannot be understood to cause God to increase in knowledge, nor can the flow of time add anything to his understanding that he did not already know. God knew all things in and of himself before they themselves came into being. There is no increase, change, or factors outside of God himself, that could alter what he determined would happen. Again, before the world, God knew what he would do to create and govern the world and therefore he knows what will happen in time. God’s knowledge is in and of himself.
How does this doctrine apply to us? Like I said at the outset, this understanding of God’s understanding makes the other attributes shine brighter. The knowledge of God means that all of his attributes will be to our benefit.
For example, think about what would happen if God did not know all things. Imagine if darkness truly did cover us from his sight, or if something somewhere could escape his notice. This would cause unimaginable grief. It wouldn’t matter how compassionate and merciful God is if there were objects of mercy that he forgot or missed. What good is an omnipotent God who is able to help us and willing to help us, if he is ignorant of us? If God did not have exhaustive knowledge of our hearts, he could not judge the world. Where then would be our vindication?
Almost every attribute that I can think of is directly related to and interconnected with God’s knowledge. God is loving because he knows himself and us. God is righteous and does righteousness because he knows what is right in any and every situation. God is jealous because he fully knows himself and his own glory and he knows that nothing compares with himself. God is able to act because he knows exactly what should be done, what to do, and what will be done.
Another comfort from this doctrine is in our justification. When we think about our sin—past, present, and future—we can be overwhelmed with the knowledge of what we deserve. Sin does not lessen in time before the eyes of our righteous judge. No sin is forgotten, or lessened as time moves along. But we are not counted righteous on the basis of our own righteousness. Our righteousness is an alien righteousness, the righteousness of our savior Jesus Christ. In him God is well pleased (Matt 3:17; 17:5, etc.). The righteousness of Christ is counted as ours in the gospel. It is imputed to us and forms the basis of our relationship with God. When God interacts with us he does as though we had merited that righteousness. Now think how intimately God knows this righteousness. He knows the inner workings of Christ’s righteousness. He knows every trial he overcame, every sin he resisted, every good work he did, every positive thing he did. God knows this righteousness to the full and he counts it as yours in him!
Much more could be said, but let me leave you with just one more area of comfort from the knowledge of God. If you are his child he knows you through and through. He knows your sin, your temptations, your trials, your circumstances, your character, in short, your whole person. He also knows the goal of your salvation—to conform you to the image of Christ (Rom 8:28–29). He knows what things will tend best to bring about his purposes in your life and through your life. He knows it all, and he promises to make it all work together for your good that he might be glorified through you. God’s knowledge is a tremendous comfort because he knows what we are going through and he knows what he is working in us in it all.