Skip to comments.The Divine Omniscience
Posted on 02/03/2004 5:46:23 PM PST by drstevej
"The Knowledge of the Holy" by A. W. Tozer, Chapter 10
The Divine Omniscience
Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising and art acquainted with all my ways. I can inform Thee of nothing and it is vain to try to hide anything from Thee. In the light of Thy perfect knowledge I would be as artless as a little child. Help me to put away all care, for Thou knowest the way that I take and when Thou hast tried me I shall come forth as gold. Amen.
To say that God is omniscient is to say that He possesses perfect knowledge and therefore has no need to learn. But it is more: it is to say that God has never learned and cannot learn.
The Scriptures teach that God has never learned from anyone. Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to Him the way of understanding? For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor?" These rhetorical questions put by the prophet and the apostle Paul declare that God has never learned.
From there it is only a step to the conclusion that God cannot learn. Could God at any time or in any manner receive into His mind knowledge that He did not possess and had not possessed from eternity, He would be imperfect and less than himself. To think of a God who must sit at the feet of a teacher, even though that teacher be an archangel or a seraph, is to think of someone other than the Most High God, maker of heaven and earth.
This negative approach to the divine omniscience is, I believe, quite justified in the circumstances. Since our intellectual knowledge of God is so small and obscure, we can sometimes gain considerable advantage in our struggle to understand what God is like by the simple expedient of thinking what He is not like. So far in this examination of the attributes of God we have been driven to the free use of negatives. We have seen that God had no origin, that He had no beginning, that He requires no helpers, that He suffers no change, and that in His essential being there are no limitations.
This method of trying to make men see what God is like by showing them what He is not like is used also by the inspired writers in the Holy Scriptures. Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, cries Isaiah, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? And that abrupt statement by God Himself, I am the Lord, I change not, tells us more about the divine omniscience than could be told in a ten-thousand word treatise, were all negatives arbitrarily ruled out.
Gods eternal truthfulness is stated negatively by the apostle Paul, God... cannot lie; and when the angel asserted that with God nothing shall be impossible, the two negatives add up to a ringing positive.
That God is omniscient is not only taught in the Scriptures, it must be inferred also from all else that is taught concerning Him. God perfectly knows Himself and, being the source and author of all things, it follows that He knows all that can be known. And this He knows instantly and with a fullness of perfection that includes every possible item of knowledge concerning everything that exists or could have existed anywhere in the universe at any time in the past or that may exist in the centuries or ages yet unborn.
God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell.
Because God knows all things perfectly, He knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well. He never discovers anything. He is never surprised, never amazed. He never wonders about anything nor (except when drawing men out for their own good) does He seek information or ask questions.
God is self-existent and self-contained and knows what no creature can ever know - Himself, perfectly. The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Only the Infinite can know the infinite.
In the divine omniscience we see set forth against each other the terror and fascination of the Godhead. That God knows each person through and through can be a cause of shaking fear to the man that has something to hide - some unforsaken sin, some secret crime committed against man or God. The unblessed soul may well tremble that God knows the flimsiness of every pretext and never accepts the poor excuses given for sinful conduct, since He knows perfectly the real reason for it. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. How frightful a thing to see the sons of Adam seeking to hide among the trees of another garden. But where shall they hide? Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?... If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day.
And to us who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us in the gospel, how unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some hidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
Our Father in heaven knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. He knew our inborn treachery, and for His own sake engaged to save us (Isa. 48:8-11). His only begotten Son, when He walked among us, felt our pains in their naked intensity of anguish. His knowledge of our afflictions and adversities is more than theoretic; it is personal, warm, and compassionate. Whatever may befall us, God knows and cares as no one else can.
He doth give His joy to all;
He becomes an infant small;
He becomes a man of woe;
He doth feel the sorrow too.
Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy Maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy Maker is not near.
O! He gives to us His joy
That our griefs He may destroy;
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.
The Gospel is only "good news" when God has chosen to save before the foundation of the world, orchestrates all the events of this world, and brings about the final salvation of His church. He can do these things, and we can trust in Him, because He has perfect omniscience.
never learned...being the creator of all things I suppose this is an accurate statement. He knows everything.
Cannot learn...I would be hesitant to limit God in any form.
God is not only omniscient but omnipresent and omnipotent.
Taking these three together I fail to see what all the debate is about.
You'll recall I used to attend an Alliance Church. ;-)
Does this mean there is nothing that I can teach God? What fun is that ?
Come home Mom. ;-)
By the way, thanks for posting this, drj. I used to own a copy of this book (along with The Pursuit of God and The Pursuit of Man), but I loaned it with a few other books to a friend at my former house church when she went with a C&MA church (and a Calvinistic PCA church) on a mission trip to Romania. By the time she came back, I had left the house church. So no more books... ;( I really like Tozer's books, too.
That should read
1) God knows all (omniscient) so He controls all events accordingly (omnipotent).
God does not adapt to anything.
There are some problems with the internal logic of this article:
To say that God is omniscient is to say that He possesses perfect knowledge and therefore has no need to learn.
Here, in the basic thesis, we have the verb "to learn." There are (at least) two ways in which this verb can be used:
1. to find out something which you did not know before.
2. to "be taught," or "to be instructed" by another person.
The author confounds these two meanings, leading to unsupportable leaps of logic.
But it is more: it is to say that God has never learned and cannot learn.
If we intend the verb "learn" to carry the meaning of #2, this is not an unreasonable proposition. We shall see that the author confounds this meaning with sense #1.
The Scriptures teach that God has never learned from anyone.
This claim (at least on its face) is actually demonstrated by the verses the author cites immediately after.
These rhetorical questions put by the prophet and the apostle Paul declare that God has never learned.
This statement can be accurate, ONLY if "never learned" carries (for this sentence) the meaning #2. To be an accurate description of the verses cited, the sentence would have to read:
"These rhetorical questions put by the prophet and the Apostle Paul declare that God has never been instructed or taught by any created being."
From there it is only a step to the conclusion that God cannot learn.
As above, to be an accurate description of the verses cited, AND to follow logically, this sentence must likewise be written:
"From there, it is only a step to the conclusion that God cannot be instructed or taught by any created being."
Could God at any time or in any manner receive into His mind knowledge that He did not possess and had not possessed from eternity, He would be imperfect and less than himself.
This proposition is one which can described as "might be true," or "might not be true." However, since it is an edifice which was built on a faulty foundation (as shown, above) one must remember that the author has given NO evidence from scripture for this conclusion.
To think of a God who must sit at the feet of a teacher, even though that teacher be an archangel or a seraph, is to think of someone other than the Most High God, maker of heaven and earth.
On its face, this statement looks like a perfectly unexceptionable statement of the character of God. It is problematic, though. Clearly, in this sentence the author is using sense #2 (of the verb "learn"): "... sit at the feet of a teacher..."
The problem arises from the fact that he has (in the above cited sentences) intended that "learn" be understood in sense #1. He also continues the use of sense #1, below. This, even though the verses he has cited have the clear meaning of sense #2.
Thus, the best face which can be put upon this sentence is that it demonstrates faulty logic.
That God is omniscient is not only taught in the Scriptures, it must be inferred also from all else that is taught concerning Him. God perfectly knows Himself and, being the source and author of all things, it follows that He knows all that can be known.
So far, so good...
And this He knows instantly and with a fullness of perfection that includes every possible item of knowledge concerning everything that exists or
could have existed
Now, this is an interesting concept.
anywhere in the universe at any time in the past
or that may exist in the centuries or ages yet unborn.
Here, we arrive at the issue. This is another concept which "might be true," or "might NOT be true." Clearly, the article has not even demonstrated its likelihood, much less proved its truth. That must be done by finding scripture which actually so states.
Here are three verses which appear or seem to show that the future is fixed, and that God always knows what will happen, in the (our temporal) future, and that God does not change His mind:
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he
should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and
shall he not make it good?
I the LORD have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not
go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent; according to thy ways,
and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord GOD.
The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever
after the order of Melchizedek.
If these verses were the ONLY verses which addressed the subject, then maybe the subject could be settled. But, they are not. Consider, if you will, the following passages:
(All from KJV)
And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it
grieved him at his heart.
And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face
of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of
the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
These verses seem or appear to indicate that the earth didn't turn out the way God had wanted it to.
And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants,
when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.
And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the
judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of
the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of
them that oppressed them and vexed them.
These verses seem or appear to indicate that God changed his mind, about punishing his people.
1 Samuel 15:11
It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back
from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it
grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
1 Samuel 15:35
And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death:
nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he
had made Saul king over Israel.
These verses seem or appear to indicate that the crowning of Saul didn't turn out the way God had wanted it to.
2 Samuel 24:16
And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it,
the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed
the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD
was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite.
1 Chronicles 21:15
And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was
destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to
the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel
of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
These verses seem or appear to indicate that God changed his mind, about punishing his people.
Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy
For the LORD will judge his people, and he will repent himself concerning
These verses seem or appear to indicate that God may be asked to change His mind.
Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward:
therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am
weary with repenting.
This verse seems or appears to be saying that God can become tired of changing his mind!
Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the
LORD your God; and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he hath
pronounced against you.
Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he
not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him
of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure
great evil against our souls.
And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD
your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great
kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind
him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?
The future actions of humans may influence the mind of God.
The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD.
The LORD repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord GOD.
These verses seem or appear to indicate that God uttered a couple of "Thus saith the LORD," and then changed His mind, and uttered a different "Thus saith the Lord."
Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce
anger, that we perish not?
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God
repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he
did it not.
And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not
this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto
Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to
anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
The future actions of humans may influence the mind of God.
These verses are provided for information, only, as a way to demonstrate that differing points of view can both be Biblically reasonable. They are not to be considered "proof texts," and will not be defended as such.
This certainly does appear to be a conflict in the scriptures. We first have to agree that the scripture are not in error but inspired by God. Once we agree to that then we must agree that both must be true.
For narrowing down this from the many verses you cited that goes back and forth lets take two scriptures chosen at random. (Which verses is used does not affect the logic.)
1) Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
2) 1 Samuel 15:11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
Now, we have already agreed that scriptures are without error so we know that both of these verses are correct. We also know that God cannot be both-one who does not repent and one who does. That would make no sense. Since they cannot conflict, one verse must be interpreted based on the other verse. I think we would also agree these verses tell us something of the nature of God.
Scenario 1 God Does Not Repent (Does Not Change His Mind)
If we say the first statement is true, that God does not repent (or change His mind), then how do we interpret the second verse? We know God made Saul king and then said He repenteth of making Saul king. Under this scenario we know God did not change his mind nor are the scriptures in error.
Therefore, in order to interpret verse 2 (Saul) we must say God already knew Saul would turn out to not follow His commands. If that is the case the statement under this scenario the words, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king must be interpreted in some other fashion in order to be true to the inerrant Word of God. Under this scenario without arguing the verse itself, one must conclude this statement must refer to some other characteristic of God. We would have to search the scriptures (within the context of the scriptures to understand what this characteristic of God is but we know (under this scenario) it is not God changing His mind. Plus, because this is a characteristic of God then it may change from passage to passage so it may take on other meanings.
Scenario 2 God Does Repent (Change His Mind)
Lets assume God does change His mind and the verse with Saul is correct. Then the first verse God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent needs to be interpreted. In this case it says that God doesnt repent (change His mind). He says what He does NOT do.
Under this scenario it is no longer a characteristic of God but an action. (God does NOT do [something]). In this case He doesnt lie, He doesnt repent, etc. would be all actions. We know with Saul, God repented of his actions. So what does God NOT do? There becomes no way to interpret this (or other) verses except for what it says, repent.
If this is true that God does not repent then this scenario cannot be true because it says with Saul that God did repent. His actions clearly demonstrated a conflict in the scriptures. Thus the scriptures would be false and we know that cannot be the case. You cannot solve the riddle of this scenario.
My understanding through all of this is that Scenario 1 (God cannot change His mind) looks at it as a characteristic. Scenario 2 (God can change His mind) looks at it as an action which I dont think is correct. The problem with Scenario 2 as I see it is it states what God is NOT and relies upon actions rather than characteristics.
Please DONT FLAME me. I welcome all logical discord for this interesting problem. It would be helpful to provide solutions than issues. Thanks.