Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Reflecting on Divine omniscience and prayer from Psalm 139

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Psalm 139:1-6 "O Lord, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. 3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all. 5 You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it."


Today's post wants to explore the life-applicable realities of a precious attribute of God revealed in the Bible - Divine omniscience. What is entailed in the Biblical concept of God's knowledge? In Psalm 139, David introduces us to God by first noting this particular property of God's essence. God's knowledge, as seen in these verses, covers at least four areas that we find mentioned in the Bible. The areas I'll mention below summarize the essentials of this vital truth about God. Along the course of today's post, I'll mention how the particulars of omniscience give confidence in prayer.

1. The first has to do with God's direct knowledge of all things. 

For God, there is no such thing as "knowledge by comparison". God knows all things directly. David writes in Psalm 139:1 "O Lord, You have searched me and known me." We as human beings perceive things by way of our senses. Our minds take in the information of our senses and translates them into sounds, pictures and memories. Psalm 147:4 says for instance of God's knowledge of the stars: "He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them." Astronomers estimate that there are roughly 2 trillion galaxies in our observable universe. Each galaxy, in turn, contains an average of 100 billion stars. God knows the location, chemical composition and destination of each star in one thought. 

Undoubtedly, God possess direct knowledge of Himself. James Pettigrew Boice writes in his Abstract of Systematic Theology: 

"The knowledge of God, therefore, not being acquired, cannot be increased. Time does not add to it. Succession of events does not bring it before God. All the objects of his knowledge are to him eternally present and known."

On a most practical level, God's omniscience includes the prayers of His people. God doesn't need prayer to achieve His purposes. Instead, God has designed His purposes to include prayer. Prayer is often short-circuited by a limited view of God. We often times think God has very limited knowledge or no knowledge at all. If only we would consider that God has already known, how greatly our prayer-lives could soar above those troubles of life.

2. Secondly, God not only knows all things directly, God also possesses knowledge of all things with respect to their location in time. 

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes: 

"God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures." 

God knew when the fall would occur, knew when Christ would be crucified and where everyone would be at that moment (Acts 2:23-24). God's relationship to time is as a Being that perceives every point of space along the line of time - from beginning to end. To illustrate, whenever we watch a parade, our perspective of the parade on the ground-level is limited. However,  people watching the parade in the upper-stories of a building can see the parade from beginning to end. Two vantage points of the parade are valid, however, the ground-level view of the parade is contained within the upper-level view. Such an analogy may help grasp what we've said and will say regarding God's omniscience and humanity's ability to choose.

Biblical terms such as "foreordination", "predestination", "election" and "decree" are all used in scripture to describe God's omniscience at work with respect to time (Job 42:2; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Daniel 4:35; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:11). Such Biblical teachings ought not to scare us into thinking that God operates our world by fatalism or that we're all a bunch of puppets operated by invisible strings. 

Divine omniscience, in ways we cannot comprehend, makes possible the ability people have to make genuine decisions. God knows what decisions I would make tomorrow without my natural ability to choose being violated. The Psalmist speaks of God knowing when he rises and sits, as well as God knowing what would arise on his tongue before He spoke it. Bible prophecy proceeds on this notion of God's omniscience. 

Amazingly, God's omniscience does not violate human decisions. No person can explain "how" divine omniscience and human responsibility co-exist. Instead, scripture only reveals "that" God's all-knowing governance (omniscience) and daily decisions function together with no contradiction. 

Think of the Lord Jesus Christ in how He possesses, without contradiction, both a truly Divine will and truly human will. The Biblical teaching describes God's relationship to time as His ultimate will and the human will operating without conflict (see Acts 2:23-24; Acts 4:27-28). Prayer is an island of the believer's dependence on God surrounded by the ocean of His omniscient ability to know and answer such prayers.  

3. In addition to God knowing all things directly and all points in past, present and future, God thirdly knows the essence of all things. 

To illustrate what we've said thus far, God knows, say, an object like a baseball. God knows the trajectory that baseball will take once it is hit. In this third point, God also knows the behaviors of every atom making up the baseball. God also knows what direction the baseball would take if placed in different circumstances (called middle-knowledge). God knows the essence of what makes up all things. Boice again notes on this point: 

"His knowledge is not limited to the manifestations and operations of spiritual beings, but extends to their essences, and includes not only what they are, but also those tendencies which indicate what they may be." 

Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology echoes this idea of God knowing the essence of all things by including scriptural citations: 

"God, therefore, does and can know in the ordinary and proper sense of that word. He is an ever present eye, to which all things are perfectly revealed. “All things,” says the Apostle, “are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13.) “The darkness and the light are both alike” to Him. (Ps. 139:12.) “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?” (Ps. 94:9.)"

To once more apply these ideas to prayer, when Christians pray, they're asking for God to affect circumstances that are not yet a reality or bring about situations that are different than those of the current moment. The essence of circumstances and the people praying to Him about those situations are known clearly and comprehensively by God.

4. God knows the best means to accomplish His best ends. 

So we see that God's omniscience includes the fact He has direct knowledge of all things in space, second, He possess knowledge of all things in all times and then thirdly, God possesses knowledge of the essence of all things. Now lets consider a fourth area in our reflection on God's omniscience from Psalm 139:1-6, namely: that God knows the best means to which to accomplish His greatest ends (i.e wisdom). In Psalm 139:5, David indicates God has enclosed him in from behind and that His hand is upon Him. 

The preservation of the saint of God in their salvation is a feature of that aspect of God's omniscience we call His "wisdom". God knows how to preserve His people, and has promised as much (John 10:27-28; 1 Peter 1:3-5). The eternal columns of Christian salvation, sunk deep into the cross and God's omniscience, is a marvel to say the least. These features of God's knowledge cause the Psalmist to exclaim in Psalm 139:6  "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;It is too high, I cannot attain to it."

Closing thoughts

May we praise God for these wonderful aspects of His omniscience. In today's post we noted four qualities of God's ability to know all things. We also looked at how Divine omniscience can grant greater confidence in prayer. 

1. God possesses direct knowledge of all things. 

2. God possesses knowledge of all things with respect to their location in time. 

3. God knows the essence of all things. 

4. God knows the best means to accomplish His best ends. 

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