The Attributes of God (Part Twelve)

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain (Psalm 139:1-6 NIV).

Each of the “omni” attributes can be very unsettling to humans, and it is good to be disturbed, if this disruption leads us to draw near to God and to worship and trust him. God’s omniscience means that the Lord knows everything. He knows all that has happened, is happening, and will ever happen (Genesis 15:13-16; Isaiah 42:9; Daniel 2:22; Matthew 6:8) in the whole universe. God knows what could happen, though it does not (Genesis 20:6). God does not acquire knowledge; he does not need to be taught; in fact, he cannot learn because he already knows. Such knowledge is far beyond human experience, since we know so little and are always learning new information.

The classic passage setting forth God’s omniscience is Psalm 139:1-6, but God tells us that he is all knowing in many ways (1 Samuel 2:3). God has perfect knowledge (Job 37:16; Romans 11:33; Hebrews 4:13), and it is beyond our feeble understanding (Isaiah 40:28). God knows the hearts (inner personal beings) of all people (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 7:9; 94:11; Proverbs 15:11; Jeremiah 17:10; Ezekiel 11:5; Acts 1:24; 1 John 3:19-20; Revelation 2:23). He knows where we are (2 Kings 19:27; Job 23:10), what we do (Psalm 33:13-15; Proverbs 5:21; 15:3; Hosea 7:2), how we suffer (Exodus 3:7), and what we desire (Psalm 38:9). He fully understands what we do in secret (Psalm 90:8; Matthew 6:4, 18). He knows all about his creation (Matthew 6:8, 32; 10:29-30), including all that is beyond our discovery (Psalm 147:4-5). God’s has perfect knowledge of future events and so he can perfectly predict what will happen (Isaiah 44:7-8, 24-28). This all-knowledge is clearly related to God’s sovereign purpose (Isaiah 46:9-11)

“Neither the darkness of night, the closest curtains, nor the deepest dungeon can hide any sinner from the eyes of Omniscience. The trees of the garden were not able to conceal our first parents. No human eye beheld Cain murder his brother, but His Maker witnessed his crime. Sarah might laugh derisively in the seclusion of her tent, yet it was heard by Jehovah. Achan stole a wedge of gold and carefully hid it in the earth, but God brought it to light. David was at much pains to cover up his wickedness, but ere long the all-seeing God sent one of His servants to say to him, ‘Thou are the man!’ And to writer and reader is also said, ‘Be sure your sin will find you out’ (Numbers 32:23)” (Pink, Attributes of God, p. 14]

What about prayer? Should we pray if God knows everything? What reason do we have for prayer, if we are not informing God of our needs? To ask such questions is to misunderstand the nature of prayer. True prayer is a believer’s communication with God (Psalm 54:2; etc.). In prayer, we do not inform God, but we do express our needs and desires to him. Prayer is not an attempt to change the mind of the Omniscient One, but it is a true means through which God works his purposes.  In fact, “here is an encouragement to prayer. There is no cause for fearing that the petitions of the righteous will not be heard, or that their sighs and tears shall escape the notice of God since He knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. There is no danger of the individual saint being overlooked amidst the multitude of supplicants who daily and hourly present their various petitions, for an infinite Mind is as capable of paying the same attention to millions as if only one individual were seeking its attention” (Pink, p. 15).

At this point, we should say something about God’s foreknowledge. This word occurs only five times in reference to God (Acts 2:23; Romans 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:2, 20). In each case, it does not mean simple foresight, but it expresses the love or purpose of God in choosing his people or planning the work of salvation in Christ.

The doctrine of God’s knowledge should produce reasons for joy in God’s people (Boice, The Sovereign God, pp. 178-182, his emphasis).

  • “First, because God knows all things, he knows the worst about us and yet he has loved and saved us…”
  • “Second… he also knows the best about us, even though that best may be unknown to any other person.”
  • “Third, God knows what he is going to make of us…”
  • “Finally, we can be encouraged in difficulties… All that is needed is that we take these truths down off the high shelf of theology and put them to work as we live our daily lives.”

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Four)

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast (Psalm 139:7-10 NIV).

God is unlimited in regard to space, and, like time, he created it. In other words, God is omnipresent. He is bigger than space and encompasses it, and yet quite able to act to act within space. Since God is spirit, he is fully present in every place, though he does not manifest himself in all places in the same way. Though difficult to grasp, God clearly tells us this about his being (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139:7-10; Isaiah 40:12; Jeremiah 23:24; Acts 17:27-28; Ephesians 1:23). Listen to what some Christian teachers have said about this awesome truth as they attempted to explain it. “He is everywhere, i.e. his nature hath no bounds; he is not tied to any place, as the creature is, who, when he is present in one place, is absent from another. As no place can be without God, so no place can compass and contain him.” [Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 1, p. 369]

“Space must have its limitations because its existence is commensurate only with the universe. Where there is no creation, there can be no space nor time. But creation cannot be infinite, but must have its bounds, impossible as it may be for us to imagine the non-existence of space. In our mode of existence, space and time are so necessary that we cannot even deny their existence without using words which involve that existence. Thus if we say, ‘Where there is no universe, there is no space,’ the very words ‘where’ and ‘there’ involve the notion of space… When, therefore, we speak of God’s immensity, we mean more than his filling all space, just as when we speak of his eternity, we mean more than his existing throughout all time” (Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, p. 71). The Lord helps us to understand his immensity in regard to space in Isaiah 40:12, 15-17. God measures the heavens, which are incalculably large to us, by his hand. Whole nations of people are only “like a drop in a bucket”.

“God may be conceived of as present in any place, or with any creature, in several modes, first, as to his essence; second, as to his knowledge; third, as manifesting that presence to any intelligent creature; fourth, as exercising his power in any way in or upon the creature. As to essence and knowledge, his presence is the same everywhere and always. As to his self-manifestation and the exercise of his power, his presence differs endlessly in different cases in degree and mode. Thus God is present to the church as he is not to the world. Thus he is present in hell in the manifestation and execution of righteous wrath, while he is present in heaven in the manifestation and communication of gracious love and glory” (A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 108).

The doctrine of God’s omnipresence either produces fear or comfort or a mixture of both to all who think about it. To those who know not God, the very idea of the God of justice and power being present at all times and situations is terrifying. They are always in God’s presence; they cannot run away. But to those who know the Lord, this teaching gives great encouragement and hope. God, Father and Friend, is always near, though everyone else forsakes us. We can never be in a situation where the Lord is not close by to protect, to help, to comfort, and to cheer. Certainly, the reality that the Lord God is everywhere present, wherever we may go or we cannot presently go, should cause us to worship. “Lord, you are with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Cause them to remember your glory. Refresh them with your love.”

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Three)

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27a NIV).

God is infinite.

However, people are finite; we are very limited beings. A man might have many cars, but he can only drive one at a time. A woman might have many clothes, but she can only wear one outfit at a time. You might have a couple dream vacation destinations and the means to get to them, but you can only be one place at a time. And we could go on and on! To be infinite means to be without limits. When we use this term in reference to being, we say that God has no limits in regard to time (he is eternal), space (he is everywhere present), and power (he is all-powerful). To think of a Being without limits is beyond our comprehension, because as creatures we are limited in each of these ways. Therefore, we must be careful not to allow our limited concepts to restructure God’s revelation. We must accept by faith what he says, though we lack the ability to extend out to his unlimited nature.

Let us begin with the concept of God’s eternality. Our minds are bound to the concept of time. Everything about us is bound to the endless procession of seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc. But God has no personal relation to time, because he created everything (Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16-17). He stands outside of time, but he can and does act inside of it. God uses the word eternal to convey this idea about his being to us (Genesis 21:33; Deuteronomy 33:27; Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16). To help us grasp what he is like, he uses phrases like “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2) and “who inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15 NKJV). We can also think of God’s “eternal power” (Romans 1:20). God lives forever (Deuteronomy 32:40), and reigns forever (Psalm 9:7; 146:10). His “years never end” (Psalm 102:27), so he is the “eternal King” (Jeremiah 10:10). Consider also Psalm 90:4. A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night (NIV).

“When we have enlarged our captions to the utmost, they still utterly fail to comprehend the vast subject. We stretch out thoughts backward and forward; but no beginning or end of God’s existence appears. To relieve our overstretched imagination, and to stop the unavailing effort to comprehend what is incomprehensible, we bring in the negative idea—no beginning, no end. Duration without beginning and without end, becomes the expression of God’s eternity… We dwell in time, a habitation with its various apartments; and we pass from one to another in order; but God’s habitation is undivided eternity. Our lifetime has its parts, childhood, boyhood, manhood, and old age; but God’s life is as indivisible as his essence” (Dagg, Manual of Theology, pp. 64-65).

God is unlike creation, which is subject to time and decay (Hebrews 1:10-12). Humans are bound by time and our life passes quickly (Psalm 39:4-5; James 4:14). His “years” and vitality never become less or diminish in any way.

The consideration of God’s eternal nature means has numerous practical benefits. First, God warns us not to judge him or to become overly curious (Job 38:4). Second, if we know the Lord, we can always count on him to “be there” for us (Psalm 48:14; 90:2), unlike family and friends that pass away. Third, we have a firm foundation for constant trust (Isaiah 26:4). By grace, we have the confident expectation of life with the Lord forever.

Grace and peace, David