Frequently in our years of married life, my wife has turned to me and asked, “What are you thinking?” Quite frankly, there have been times when I did not want to tell her, and I even resented her asking. My thoughts may have been selfish and sinful and I didn’t want to admit them, or I may have been enjoying my own private fantasy and I was too embarrassed to tell her about it. Can you imagine the pressure you would feel if you lived with someone who knew everything you were thinking all the time?
Suppose you had an acquaintance who knew the future with perfect accuracy. He 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 and how he could capitalize on his knowledge at your expense?
Did you ever have 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 did not know nearly as much as he thought he knew, but can you imagine the frustration you would feel if you lived with someone who really did know everything?
There is such a person. He knows what we are thinking; He knows what our future holds; in fact, He knows everything about everything. And surprise of all surprises, when we get to know Him, we find that it does not put pressure on us or make us feel frustrated, stupid, or taken advantage of. Instead it brings confidence and consolation to our lives. Let’s meet Him—the God who knows everything.
The Apostle Paul tells us about God’s knowledge: “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him, in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:18-20). All of us have moments when our hearts condemn us, but God knows that we belong to Him even when we are having doubts about it due to guilt feelings. He knows it, John assures us, because He knows everything. That is the doctrine of omniscience, which simply 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. As a godly woman named Hannah said in a famous Old Testament prayer, “For the LORD is a God of knowledge” (1 Samuel 2:8).
We already understand a few things about God’s knowledge from our study of other attributes. For instance, because God is eternal He must know everything immediately and simultaneously. He never learns anything new by observing the succession of events that occur in time. Because He is immutable His knowledge never varies. It does not increase or decrease. God never has to say, as I have often said, “I remember studying that once, but it has slipped my mind. Let me check my notes.” God’s knowledge is constant and unchanging.
But it would be good for us to grasp a few more facts about God’s knowledge. For one thing, it is perfect and complete. The Psalmist said, “His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5). That was a lesson Job learned in the course of his suffering. His misery was so intense that he was beginning to wonder whether God really knew all the details of what was going on in his life. We can understand that. We would be wondering the same thing if we had the trouble he experienced. But Elihu helped him see it by asking, “Do you know about . . . the one perfect in knowledge?” (Job 37:16) God’s knowledge is perfect-comprehensive and all-encompassing. There is nothing that lies outside its scope. Nothing can possibly happen to us that God does not already know and has not known eternally. And that includes every trial we face in the course of a lifetime.
The Bible is filled with details of God’s knowledge. For example, He knows the number and names of all the stars (Psalm 147:4). He knows every sparrow (Matthew 10:29). He knows every bird of the mountains and every wild beast in the fields (Psalm 50:11). But most important of all, He knows us and everything about us.
The classic passage on that subject is Psalm 139. David assured us that God knows when we sit down and when we stand up (verse 2). He knows our thoughts before we think them, while they are far away from us (verse 2; cf. 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 that we do (cf. also Job 23:10; Proverbs 5:21; Jeremiah 16:7). He knows every word we speak while it is still on our tongues, before it ever comes out of our mouths (Psalm 139:4). In absolute awe David exclaimed,
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high. I cannot attain to it (verse 6).
Jesus told us that the Father even knows how many hairs we have on our head (Matthew 10:30). We don’t know that. Even the fellow who has very few hairs left, who would desperately like to know that they are all still there, has no way of keeping track of how many he has. But the Father knows. He doesn’t need to count them. He just knows.
As you can well imagine, it would be impossible to give God a surprise party. There is no way that we can possibly keep any secrets from Him (Psalm 44:21). We can keep secrets from other people. We may succeed in living a whole lifetime without exposing some of our hidden thoughts to anybody. 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. The prophet Samuel had arrived in town to choose Israel’s future king. One by one Jesse paraded seven of his sons before Samuel, but God rejected them all. He was looking at something Samuel could not see. As he explained it to Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God wanted a man whose heart was wholly His, one with a desire to do His will. He knows whether or not we have that desire. We can make others believe that we do when in reality we want our own will. But God knows.
God knew that there was something missing from the lives of those seven sons of Jesse. But when the youngest was brought in from keeping his father’s sheep, God’s spiritual 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 Scripture could rival his wholehearted devotion to God. God saw that devotion while David was still a youth.
One of the last things David did before he died was to give this charge to his son Solomon: “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9). It was a reminder of a truth David knew well, that God knows the secrets of the heart, a good reason to serve Him willingly and keep our thought lives 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 that nobody else knows about, but Moses exploded that misconception:
Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee,
Our secret sins in the light of Thy presence (Psalm 90:8).
The writer to the Hebrews agreed with him. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (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 of the people most of the time. We even begin to fool ourselves. But God is not susceptible to our games. He never gets fooled. He knows everything about us.
If God knows everything then He obviously knows our future, and Scripture bears that out. He knows “what is to come” (John 16:13), and “the things which must shortly take place” (Revelation 1:1). He knows “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10), that is, He has known how things will turn out since before time began. That includes a personal knowledge of our lives. For instance, He knew before Jeremiah was formed in his mother’s womb that he would be a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). He knew before Paul was born that he would preach Christ among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16).
That poses a problem to some. If God knows all of our future actions then it would seem as though they are fixed, settled, and unalterable. If nothing can happen apart from God’s knowledge then the very fact that He knows it will happen makes it certain to happen. 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, am I not? But suppose I don’t want to cut my grass tomorrow! Do I have a choice?
The Bible teaches that God created us with volition. We make choices every day. We even have the privilege of choosing to obey God or disobey Him (cf. Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15). 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 new act would have been the one known from eternity past. He knows everything because everything that happens is part of His perfect plan (Ephesians 1:11). He has included in that plan from eternity past all the choices He knew we would make of our own volition.
There is one more thing we should know about God’s knowledge before we explore its application to our lives. It 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 has directed the Spirit of the LORD, Or as His counselor has informed Him? With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge, And informed Him of the way of understanding? (Isaiah 40:13-14)
The obvious answer to those questions is “no one!” He knows everything by the very essence of His 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 both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?” (Romans 11:33-34) What a magnificent God we know!
Are you agreed that the fact is indisputably established in the Bible? God really does know everything! Unbelievers do not like that one bit.
They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high. They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth. And they say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” (Psalm 73:8-9,11)
It bothers them to think that there is a God who knows what goes on in their minds. At first they will try to hide their thoughts and deeds from Him and pretend that He doesn’t really know (Isaiah 29:15). But when they realize how futile that is they usually deny that there is a God (Psalm 14:1). That is the only way they can rid themselves of the pressure and frustration of a God who knows everything.
The growing Christian does not view God’s omniscience as a threat, however. It does provide him with a challenge to grow, just as my wife’s question about what I am thinking motivates me to grow. I want to be able to share my mind with her freely and without embarrassment. The more I mature in my relationship with her and with the Lord, the more comfortable I am about telling her what I am thinking, and the more comfortable I am with the realization that God knows what I am thinking. So the challenge is there. But the omniscience of God is more than a challenge. It is also the source of great encouragement. We can discover some reasons why that should be true, particularly from the life of our Lord Jesus, the omniscient God in human flesh.
It was two days after John the Baptist had identified Him as the Messiah that Jesus 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) Jesus saw into his innermost being before He had even met him, and He perceived a man whose motives were pure, one who was honest, trustworthy, and free from deceit. It did not matter what anyone else thought. The Lord knew Nathanael’s heart.
Have people ever accused you of being crafty, underhanded, devious, or mercenary when you knew your intentions were pure? As hard as you tried to explain they refused to believe you. Have they made other unjust judgments about your character and your motives? What an encouragement it is to realize that God knows our hearts and that He evaluates us on the basis of what is actually there. All of us are subject to unfair and unkind criticism at times. There is no reason to become defensive. God knows the truth about us and that is all that really matters.
Shortly after Christ’s earthly 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 and lowering a paralytic friend into His presence. When He saw their faith He said, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). The scribes and Pharisees did not appreciate Jesus’ assuming that He could forgive sins, a prerogative of deity, and they were fuming on the inside. “And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?’” (Mark 2:8) He knew the thoughts of those critical unbelievers and He went on to handle the situation beautifully, demonstrating conclusively that He had the power to forgive sins.
We sometimes encounter people who, like the scribes and Pharisees, are rigidly opposed to the person and word of Christ. We do not know what they are thinking nor are we sure what we should say to them or how we should deal with them. But God knows what is going on in their minds and He knows exactly how to approach the situation. He can give us the right words to say, or He can deal with them through somebody else at some later time if He so chooses. 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.
Not long ago a man came to tell me about his salvation. “You said something that really got me thinking,” he related. Naturally I asked him what it was so I could use it again in dealing with other unbelievers. But when he told me what I had said, it didn’t sound very impressive to me at all. In fact, I didn’t even remember saying it. Quite frankly, I can’t remember now what it was I said. But God knew what that man needed to hear at that precise moment and He obviously led me to say it. He knows the heart of every person and He knows what they need to hear.
Jesus made a rather startling observation about God’s knowledge when He predicted judgment on the Israelite cities where He had performed most of His miracles. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day” (verse 23).
He knew what the people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have done if they had enjoyed the same spiritual benefits which those Israelite cities received. God’s omniscience includes the potentialities and possibilities as well as the actualities. God knows the “what-ifs” and the “what might have beens,” and His judgment will be based on those facts as well. It will be less severe on those who had less advantages when God knows they would have responded with more (verses 22,24). The reason why He did not give them more is locked in the stronghold of His sovereign and unsearchable wisdom. But one thing we know for sure—His evaluation will be based on absolute and perfect knowledge.
God knows what we could have been if we had enjoyed the same spiritual advantages which others have had. That can be a source of great encouragement, particularly to people who have been saved late in life, who never had the benefit of a Christian home or Sunday school training. There is no need to compare ourselves with others. God merely wants us to use what we are now and what we have now for His glory.
There are other indications of omniscience in the life of our Lord Jesus, for instance, in Jerusalem during the last week of His ministry on earth. He was eating with His disciples in a second-story room when He said, “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Me on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” (Luke 22:21-22) Some theologians insist that God does not know what we are going to do until we do it. That is hardly the case here. Jesus had just informed His disciples that He knew which one of them would betray Him.
But that is not all He knew on that occasion. A little later He said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). When Peter affirmed his faithfulness, Jesus said, “I say to you, Peter, the cock will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me” (Luke 22:34). Jesus knew that Satan was going to tempt Peter, that Peter’s faith would falter but not fail, that later he would repent and come back stronger than he was before, able to strengthen his brethren. Although He knew all that, it did not diminish His love for Peter at all. He promised to use His power of intercessory prayer to sustain Peter through the entire ordeal.
What a wonderful application of our Lord’s omniscience! He knows all of our faults and failures. Not one shortcoming will ever surface unexpectedly to disillusion Him. He sees the whole of our lives, including the temptations we shall face and the sins we shall commit, yet He never stops loving us (Jeremiah 31:3) and He never stops interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25). Somebody asked, “Isn’t it odd that a being like God, though He sees the facade, still loves the clod that He made out of sod? Isn’t it odd?” It’s not only odd; it’s absolutely incredible! He knows me yet He still loves me.
Look at the sequel to the story. It was after Christ’s death and resurrection and He was with His disciples again, this time by the Sea of Galilee. “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.’ He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep’” (John 21:15-17).
Why did Jesus ask Peter those questions if He knew everything? We must conclude that He was not seeking information. He knew that Peter loved Him. Peter himself attested to that when he said, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love you.” That is another clear statement of divine omniscience. Jesus did not ask those questions in order to find out whether Peter loved Him; He asked them for Peter’s sake. Peter had recently denied His Lord and did not understand why he had done it. He probably doubted his own love for Christ and wondered whether he could ever again be used effectively. But the Lord lovingly drew him out, helped him understand his own heart, helped him reaffirm his love, then reassured him of future usefulness. The Lord understood him when he did not understand himself, and He had just the right words of encouragement for the occasion.
The same thing is true of us. God understands us better than we understand ourselves and He is right there to minister to us with the appropriate encouragement and the perfect provision. He does that today through His Word. Do you have a need that you yourself may not fully understand? Turn to the Scriptures and allow the omniscient Lord who inspired them and who revealed Himself through them to minister to your need just as He did to Peter’s.
There is only one thing that God blots out of His knowledge, and that is our sins. He said, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). That is a blessed promise for every true child of God. God knows whether or not we are truly His children. On several occasions the Lord Jesus demonstrated His penetrating knowledge of people who had professed to believe on Him but whose commitment was not sincere (John 2:23-25; 6:64). He knows the same thing about us. If you have never genuinely acknowledged your sin and trusted Him for forgiveness, do it now. He will blot every sin you ever committed forever from His memory.
List some of the things you are glad that God knows about you that other people may not know. Try to remember that He knows them when you are feeling misunderstood or falsely judged.
List some of the things you wish God did not know about. Determine now that by His grace you are going to change them.