3. Knowledge (Omniscience). God's knowledge may be defined as follows: God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.
Elihu says that God is the one "who is perfect in knowledge" (Job 37:16), and John says that God "knows everything" (1 John 3:20). The quality of knowing everything is called omniscience, and because God knows everything, he is said to be omniscient (that is, "all-knowing").
The definition given above explains omniscience in more detail. It says first that God fully knows himself. This is an amazing fact since God's own being is infinite or unlimited. Of course, only he who is infinite can fully know himself in every detail. This fact is implied by Paul when he says, "For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:10-11).
This idea is also suggested by John's statement that "God is light and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). In this context "light" has a suggestion of both moral purity and full knowledge or awareness. If there is "no darkness at all" in God, but he is entirely "light," then God is himself both entirely holy and also entirely filled with self-knowledge.
The definition also says that God knows "all things actual." This means all things that exist and all things that happen. This applies to creation, for God is the one before whom "no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13; cf. 2 Chron. 16:9; Job 28:24; Matt. 10:29-30). God also knows the future, for he is the one who can say, "I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done" (Isa. 46:9-10; cf. 42:8-9 and frequent passages in the Old Testament prophets). He knows the tiny details of every one of our lives, for Jesus tells us, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8), and, "Even the hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt. 10:30).
In Psalm 139 David reflects on the amazing detail of God's knowledge of our lives. He knows our actions and thoughts: "O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar" (Ps. 139:1-2). He knows the words we will say before they are spoken: "Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, you know it altogether" (Ps. 139:4). And he knows all the days of our lives even before we are born: "Your eyes beheld 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" (Ps. 139:16).
The definition of God's knowledge given above also specifies that God knows "all things possible." This is because there are some instances in Scripture where God gives information about events that might happen but that do not actually come to pass. For example, when David was fleeing from Saul he rescued the city of Keilah from the Philistines and then stayed for a time at Keilah. He decided to ask God whether Saul would come to Keilah to attack him and, if Saul came, whether the men of Keilah would surrender him into Saul's hand. David said:
"Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, I beseech you, tell your servant." And the Lord said, "He will come down." Then said David, "Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?" And the Lord said, "They will surrender you." Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition. (1 Sam. 23:11-13)
Similarly, Jesus could state that Tyre and Sidon would have repented if Jesus' own miracles had been done there in former days: "Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes" (Matt. 11:21). Similarly, he says, "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day" (Matt. 11:23; cf. 2 Kings 13:19, where Elisha tells what would have happened if King Joash had struck the ground five or six times with the arrows).
The fact that God knows all things possible can also be deduced from God's full knowledge of himself. If God fully knows himself, he knows everything he is able to do, which includes all things that are possible. This fact is indeed amazing. God has made an incredibly complex and varied universe. But there are thousands upon thousands of other variations or kinds of things that God could have created but did not. God's infinite knowledge includes detailed knowledge of what each of those other possible creations would have been like and what would have happened in each of them! "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it" (Ps. 139:6). "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9).
Our definition of God's knowledge speaks of God knowing everything in one "simple act." Here again the word simple is used in the sense "not divided into parts." This means that God is always fully aware of everything. If he should wish to tell us the number of grains of sand on the seashore or the number of stars in the sky, he would not have to count them all quickly like some kind of giant computer, nor would he have to call the number to mind because it was something he had not thought about for a time. Rather, he always knows all things at once. All of these facts and all other things that he knows are always fully present in his consciousness. He does not have to reason to conclusions or ponder carefully before he answers, for he knows the end from the beginning, and he never learns and never forgets anything (cf. Ps. 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8; and the verses cited above on God's perfect knowledge). Every bit of God's knowledge is always fully present in his consciousness; it never grows dim or fades into his nonconscious memory. Finally, the definition talks about God's knowledge as not only a simple act but also an "eternal act." This means that God's knowledge never changes or grows. If he were ever to learn something new, he would not have been omniscient beforehand. Thus, from all eternity God has known all things that would happen and all things that he would do.
Someone may object that God promises to forget our sins. For example, he says, "I will not remember your sins" (Isa. 43:25). Yet passages like this can certainly be understood to mean that God will never again let the knowledge of these sins play any part in the way he relates to us: he will "forget" them in his relationship to us. Another objection to the biblical teaching about God's omniscience has been brought from Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; and 31:35, where God refers to the horrible practices of parents who burn to death their own children in the sacrificial fires of the pagan god Baal, and says, "which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind" (Jer. 7:31). Does this mean that before the time of Jeremiah God had never thought of the possibility that parents would sacrifice their own children? Certainly not, for that very practice had occurred a century earlier in the reigns of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3) and Hoshea (2 Kings 17:17), and God himself had forbidden the practice eight hundred years earlier under Moses (Lev. 18:21). The verses in Jeremiah are probably better translated quite literally, "nor did it enter into my heart" (so KJV at Jer. 7:31, and the literal translation in the NASB mg.—the Hebrew word is , H4213, most frequently translated "heart"), giving the sense, "nor did I wish for it, desire it, think of it in a positive way."5
Another difficulty that arises in this connection is the question of the relationship between God's knowledge of everything that will happen in the future and the reality and degree of freedom we have in our actions. If God knows everything that will happen, how can our choices be at all "free"? In fact, this difficulty has loomed so large that some theologians have concluded that God does not know all of the future. They have said that God does not know things that cannot (in their opinion) be known, such as the free acts of people that have not yet occurred (sometimes the phrase used is the "contingent acts of free moral agents," where "contingent" means "possible but not certain"). But such a position is unsatisfactory because it essentially denies God's knowledge of the future of human history at any point in time and thus is inconsistent with the passages cited above about God's knowledge of the future and
KJV kjv—King James Version (Authorized Version) NASB nasb—New American Standard Bible mg mg.—margin or marginal notes
5 5. The same phrase ("to have a thought enter into the heart") seems to have the sense "desire, wish for, long for" in all five of its occurrences in the Hebrew Old Testament: Isa. 65:17; Jer. 3:16 (where it cannot mean simply "have a factual knowledge of' ); 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; as well as in the equivalent Greek phrase ave^n en T^v KapSiav in Acts 7:23.
with dozens of other Old Testament prophetic passages where God predicts the future far in advance and in great detail.6
How then are we to resolve this difficulty? Although this question will be treated in much more detail in chapter 16 on God's providence, it may be helpful at this point to note the suggestion of Augustine, who said that God has given us "reasonable self-determination." His statement does not involve the terms free or freedom for these terms are exceptionally difficult to define in any way that satisfactorily accounts for God's complete knowledge of future events. But this statement does affirm what is important to us and what we sense to be true in our own experience, that our choices and decisions are "reasonable." That is, we think about what to do, consciously decide what we will do, and then we follow the course of action that we have chosen.
Augustine's statement also says that we have "self-determination." This is simply affirming that our choices really do determine what will happen. It is not as if events occur regardless of what we decide or do, but rather that they occur because of what we decide and do. No attempt is made in this statement to define the sense in which we are "free" or "not free," but that is not the really important issue: for us, it is important that we think, choose, and act, and that these thoughts, choices, and actions are real and actually have eternal significance. If God knows all our thoughts, words, and actions long before they occur, then there must be some sense in which our choices are not absolutely free. But further definition of this issue is better left until it can be treated more fully in chapter 16.
4. Wisdom. God's wisdom means that God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals. This definition goes beyond the idea of God knowing all things and specifies that God's decisions about what he will do are always wise decisions: that is, they always will bring about the best results (from God's ultimate perspective), and they will bring about those results through the best possible means.
Scripture affirms God's wisdom in general in several places. He is called "the only wise God" (Rom. 16:27). Job says that God "is wise in heart" (Job 9:4), and "With him are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding" (Job 12:13). God's wisdom is seen specifically in creation. The psalmist exclaims, "O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures" (Ps. 104:24). As God created the universe, it was perfectly suited to bring him glory, both in its day-by-day processes and in the goals for which he created it. Even now, while we still see the effects of sin and the curse on the natural world, we should be amazed at how harmonious and intricate God's creation is.
God's wisdom is also seen in his great plan of redemption. Christ is "the wisdom of God" to those who are called (1 Cor. 1:24, 30), even though the word of the cross is "foolishness" to those who reject it and think themselves to be wise in this world (1 Cor. 1:18-20). Yet even this is a reflection of God's wise plan: "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise...so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor. 1:21, 27, 29).
Paul knows that what we now think of as the "simple" gospel message, understandable even to the very young, reflects an amazing plan of God, which in its depths of wisdom surpasses anything man could ever have imagined. At the end of eleven chapters of reflection on the wisdom of God's plan of redemption, Paul bursts forth into spontaneous praise: "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge
6 6. See additional discussion of this question in chapter 16, pp. 347-49.
of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Rom. 11:33).
When Paul preaches the gospel both to Jews and to Gentiles, and they become unified in the one body of Christ (Eph. 3:6), the incredible "mystery" that was "hidden for ages in God who created all things" (Eph. 3:9) is plain for all to see, namely, that in Christ such totally diverse people become united. When groups so different racially and culturally become members of the one body of Christ, then God's purpose is fulfilled, "that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places" (Eph. 3:10).
Today this means that God's wisdom is shown even to angels and demons ("principalities and powers") when people from different racial and cultural backgrounds are united in Christ in the church. If the Christian church is faithful to God's wise plan, it will be always in the forefront in breaking down racial and social barriers in societies around the world, and will thus be a visible manifestation of God's amazingly wise plan to bring great unity out of great diversity and thereby to cause all creation to honor him.
God's wisdom is also shown in our individual lives. "We know that God works all things together for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28, author's translation). Here Paul affirms that God does work wisely in all the things that come into our lives, and that through all these things he advances us toward the goal of conformity to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). It should be our great confidence and a source of peace day by day to know that God causes all things to move us toward the ultimate goal he has for our lives, namely, that we might be like Christ and thereby bring glory to him. Such confidence enabled Paul to accept his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7) as something that, though painful, God in his wisdom had chosen not to remove (2 Cor. 12:8-10).
Every day of our lives, we may quiet our discouragement with the comfort that comes from the knowledge of God's infinite wisdom: if we are his children, we can know that he is working wisely in our lives, even today, to bring us into greater conformity into the image of Christ.
God's wisdom is, of course, in part communicable to us. We can ask God confidently for wisdom when we need it, for he promises in his Word, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). This wisdom, or skill in living a life pleasing to God, comes primarily from reading and obeying his Word: "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (Ps. 19:7; cf. Deut. 4:6-8).
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; cf. Prov. 1:7), because if we fear dishonoring God or displeasing him, and if we fear his fatherly discipline, then we will have the motivation that makes us want to follow his ways and live according to his wise commands. Furthermore, the possession of wisdom from God will result not in pride but in humility (Prov. 11:2; James 3:13), not in arrogance but in a gentle and peaceful spirit (James 3:14-18). The person who is wise according to God's standards will continually walk in dependence on the Lord and with a desire to exalt him.
Yet we must also remember that God's wisdom is not entirely communicable: we can never fully share God's wisdom (Rom. 11:33). In practical terms, this means that there will frequently be times in this life when we will not be able to understand why God allowed something to happen. Then we have simply to trust him and go on obeying his wise commands for our lives: "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19; cf. Deut. 29:29; Prov. 3:5-6). God is infinitely wise and we are not, and it pleases him when we have faith to trust his wisdom even when we do not understand what he is doing.
5. Truthfulness (and Faithfulness). God's truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.
The term veracity which means "truthfulness" or "reliability," has sometimes been used as a synonym for God's truthfulness.
The first part of this definition indicates that the God revealed in Scripture is the true or real God and that all other so-called gods are idols. "The Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens" (Jer. 10:10-11). Jesus says to his Father, "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3; cf. 1 John 5:20).
We might ask what it means to be the true God as opposed to other beings who are not God. It must mean that God in his own being or character is the one who fully conforms to the idea of what God should be: namely, a being who is infinitely perfect in power, in wisdom, in goodness, in lordship over time and space, and so forth. But we may further ask, whose idea of God is this? What idea of God must one conform to in order to be the true God?
At this point our train of thought becomes somewhat circular, for we must not say that a being must conform to our idea of what God should be like in order to be the true God! We are mere creatures! We cannot define what the true God must be like! So we must say that it is God himself who has the only perfect idea of what the true God should be like. And he himself is the true God because in his being and character he perfectly conforms to his own idea of what the true God should be. In addition, he has implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.
The definition given above also affirms that all of God's knowledge is true and is the final standard of truth. Job tells us that God is "perfect in knowledge" (Job 37:16; see also the verses cited above under the discussion of God's omniscience). To say that God knows all things and that his knowledge is perfect is to say that he is never mistaken in his perception or understanding of the world: all that he knows and thinks is true and is a correct understanding of the nature of reality. In fact, since God knows all things infinitely well, we can say that the standard of true knowledge is conformity to God's knowledge. If we think the same thing God thinks about anything in the universe, we are thinking truthfully about it.
Our definition also affirms that God's words are both true and the final standard of truth. This means that God is reliable and faithful in his words. With respect to his promises, God always does what he promises to do, and we can depend on him never to be unfaithful to his promises. Thus, he is "a God of faithfulness" (Deut. 32:4). In fact, this specific aspect of God's truthfulness is sometimes viewed as a distinct attribute: God's faithfulness means that God will always do what he has said and fulfill what he has promised (Num. 23:19; cf. 2 Sam. 7:28; Ps. 141:6; et al.). He can be relied upon, and he will never prove unfaithful to those who trust what he has said. Indeed, the essence of true faith is taking God at his word and relying on him to do as he has promised.
In addition to the fact that God is faithful to his promises, we must also affirm that all of God's words about himself and about his creation completely correspond to reality. That is, God always speaks truth when he speaks. He is "the unlying God" (Titus 1:2, author's translation), the God for whom it is impossible to lie (Heb. 6:18), the God whose every word is perfectly "pure" (Ps. 12:6), the one of whom it can be said, "Every word of God proves true" (Prov. 30:5). God's words are not simply true in the sense that they conform to some standard of truthfulness outside of God. Rather, they are truth itself; they are the final standard and definition of truth. So Jesus can say to the Father, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). What was said about the truthfulness of God's knowledge can also be said about God's words, for they are based on his perfect knowledge and accurately reflect that perfect knowledge: God's words are "truth" in the sense that they are the final standard by which truthfulness is to be judged: whatever conforms to God's own words is also true, and what fails to conform to his words is not true.
The truthfulness of God is also communicable in that we can in part imitate it by striving to have true knowledge about God and about his world. In fact, as we begin to think true thoughts about God and creation, thoughts that we learn from Scripture and from allowing Scripture to guide us in our observation and interpretation of the natural world, we begin to think God's own thoughts after him! We can exclaim with the psalmist, "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!" (Ps. 139:17).
This realization should encourage us in the pursuit of knowledge in all areas of the natural and social sciences and the humanities. Whatever the area of our investigation, when we discover more truth about the nature of reality, we discover more of the truth that God already knows. In this sense we can affirm that "all truth is God's truth"7 and rejoice whenever the learning or discovery of this truth is used in ways pleasing to God. Growth in knowledge is part of the process of becoming more like God or becoming creatures who are more fully in God's image. Paul tells us that we have put on the "new nature," which, he says, "is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator" (Col. 3:10).
In a society that is exceedingly careless with the truthfulness of spoken words, we as God's children are to imitate our Creator and take great care to be sure that our words are always truthful. "Do not lie to one another seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature" (Col. 3:9-10). Again Paul admonishes, "Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor" (Eph. 4:25). In his own ministry, Paul says that he sought to practice absolute truthfulness: "We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:2). God is pleased when his people put "devious talk" far from them (Prov. 4:24) and speak with words that are acceptable not only in the sight of people but also in the sight of the Lord himself (Ps. 19:14).
Furthermore, we should imitate God's truthfulness in our own reaction to truth and falsehood. Like God, we should love truth and hate falsehood. The commandment not to bear false witness against our neighbor (Ex. 20:16), like the other commandments, requires not merely outward conformity but also conformity in heart attitude. One who is pleasing to God "speaks truth from his heart" (Ps. 15:2), and strives to be like the righteous man who "hates falsehood" (Prov. 13:5). God commands his people through Zechariah, "Do not devise evil in your hearts against
7 7. See All Truth Is God's Truth by Arthur Holmes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977).
one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, says the Lord" (Zech. 8:17).
These commands are given because God himself loves truth and hates falsehood: "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight" (Prov. 12:22; cf. Isa. 59:3-4). Falsehood and lying come not from God but from Satan, who delights in falsehood: "When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44). It is appropriate then that with "the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted" and the "murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, [and] idolaters" who are found in "the lake that burns with fire and sulphur" far from the heavenly city, are found also "all liars" (Rev. 21:8).
Thus, Scripture teaches us that lying is wrong not only because of the great harm that comes from it (and much more harm comes from lying than we often realize), but also for an even deeper and more profound reason: when we lie we dishonor God and diminish his glory, for we, as those created in God's image and created for the purpose of reflecting God's glory in our lives, are acting in a way that is contrary to God's own character.
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