Kit and I have less responsibilities right now than ever before. This gives us the opportunity to explore perhaps overlooked corners of the Bible. Items wouldn’t be in scripture unless they were meaningful. Following is an interesting question and some scriptures with which you may not be familiar. I’ll welcome comments or alternate intrepretations. I’m trying to learn about God.
In Our Lord,
Does God Know Everything? a six-minute read
Sometimes I purchase a book. The entire book belongs to me. I am free to use it any way that I wish. For the most enjoyment, I usually read books from the beginning. But sometimes I skip sections or even jump to the ending. Frequently I review sections already completed. This is my book, and nothing dictates how I must use it.
In a much stronger sense than I own a book, all of creation belongs to God including the measurements we know as “time” and “knowledge.” Is God less free with His creation than I am with a book? Can’t He observe His creation in any way that gives Him the most satisfaction or serves His purposes? Like I usually read a book from the beginning, God may choose to follow some aspects of His creation according to His created time.
As Bible teachers, occasionally we are asked if God knew that Adam and Eve would sin. Almost anyone would simply reply, “Of course. God always knows everything.” Total omniscience is the generally accepted “all knowing” view of God. The concept was embraced and taught by John Calvin in the 16th century and still permeates most people’s concept of God. This “all knowing” concept of God leads to inevitable debates about whether “God caused this,” or “God allowed this.” Either way the ultimate responsibility is placed on God. Unfortunately, this attitude carried into everyday life can result in unspoken blame or resentment of God when bad things inevitably happen.
A.J. Tozer wrote, “The most important thing about a man is how he thinks about God.” Our view of God affects the way we live. I fear that our concept of God is often influenced by what we want to think about God. And most people want to believe that God always knows all and thereby can control all. The belief that God controls all can give comfort, but also takes away some personal responsibility which can lead to poorly considered choices.
Probably God did know Adam and Eve would sin, because they were part of His plan to set up a redemptive system for mankind. But you can also make a biblical case that God does not know, or chooses not to know, everything. Theologians call this concept “inherent omniscience” meaning that God can know everything that He chooses to know. Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:12, and Hebrews 10:17 which all quote God as saying, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more,” appear to be clear examples of God choosing to not know something. Those who start with total omniscience as a premise frequently interpret “will remember no more” as “will not hold against them.” However, there are additional scriptures which can collaborate the idea that God may not always know everything.
Consider scriptures such as Amos 7:3 and 7:6 which say, “the Lord changed His mind.” In Exodus 32:10 (and Numbers 14:12), God pledges to destroy the people of Israel and make a great nation from Moses. After Moses entreats the Lord on behalf of the people, Exodus 32:14 says, “So the Lord changed His mind . . .” In the “all knowing” view of God, He knew that he would change His mind. But you can’t change your mind, if you always knew. Total omniscience and these scriptures seem to be a paradox.
In Jonah, God stated clearly that he was going to destroy Nineveh. Then circumstances changed and God “relented” (Jonah 3:10.) Because God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2), we must conclude that He fully intended to destroy Nineveh but changed His mind or relented. Jeremiah 18:8 and 18:10 also suggest change of what God has stated as a possibility. In 2 Samuel 12:22 David, who knew God intimately, clearly thought that God might reverse what He had said. But if God always knows all the future, then He would know that He would eventually reverse Himself. Would that not make the statement a lie? This cannot be. Then God may choose to not know everything in advance.
Or consider Genesis 6:6-7 where God was “sorry” that He had made man, or I Samuel 15:35 where God “regretted that He had made Saul King.” In the “all knowing” view of God, He would have known that he would be “sorry” or “regret” His own actions. How can you regret doing something when you knew the outcome in advance? Is this another paradox?
These scriptural examples may indicate a different aspect of God than the popular theology of total omniscience. Certainly, all knowledge is accessible to God. “God sees all things, and nothing can be hidden from His knowledge not even the secret intentions of the heart.” (Psalm 44:21) But to discover the most accurate picture of God requires that all the scriptures be considered, including scriptures which indicate that sometimes He does not know things in advance. Together the scriptures fit a theology where God can know anything including the future but chooses to know selectively.
Jesus said that God knows when even a sparrow falls. He did not say that God always knows when the sparrow would fall. I can only speculate why God might choose to not know all the future. Perhaps like I usually enjoy reading a book from the beginning, following our lives according to time as He created it is more satisfying to God. Or maybe not knowing all things is God’s mechanism to grant free will to us while maintaining His sovereignty.
For me personally, considering that God may choose to not know all the minute details of my future makes me more thoughtful about my actions. I am not tempted to blame God when things don’t go well. And I feel deeply honored and closer to God because we share the adventure of my life from Him together. Choosing to not know everything takes nothing away from God’s ultimate power and sovereignty. The possibility only makes God more personal to me.
All scriptures in NASB