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The Nature of Divine Knowledge
by John McPherson
Foundational to our understanding of the Word of God – and God Himself – are our perceptions of the characteristics of His knowledge and understanding. As we consider the planet and its ecosystems, as well as our galaxy and the vast universe beyond it – we cannot help but view the Creator/Designer’s knowledge as being infinite. Surely there can be no limits and/or boundaries to the thoughts and understanding of any Being capable of bringing into existence all of this physical reality.Foundational to our understanding of the Word of God – and God Himself – are our perceptions of the characteristics of His knowledge and understanding. As we consider the planet and its ecosystems, as well as our galaxy and the vast universe beyond it – we cannot help but view the Creator/Designer’s knowledge as being infinite. Surely there can be no limits and/or boundaries to the thoughts and understanding of any Being capable of bringing into existence all of this physical reality.
Beginning in the Book of Genesis, however, a very different picture of God's cognitive awareness and possession of information at any given point in time emerges. God makes it very plain that He does NOT have full, comprehensive knowledge of the present OR the future – where man is concerned, anyway. We read in Gen. 2:19,20 the following: 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. Two things stand out very clearly in these verses. First of all, God clearly enjoyed introducing the animals to Adam, His curiousity concerning what Adam would name each animal prompting Him to leave the naming to the man He had just made. The point is – God didn’t “foreknow” WHAT names Adam would give to these creatures. This was a legitimate “point of discovery” for God, and something to be enjoyed between Himself and the man. Likewise, God enjoyed a FURTHER “point of discovery” when it became apparent that none of the beasts would make a suitable mate for the man. This was an EXPERIMENTAL effort also!! God introduced Adam to the creatures to see if he had any particular affinity for any of them as a peer life-partner and friend. Apparently, such was not the case. So God created another being similar to man – a co-equal life-partner and mate - the woman named Eve.
There are other evidences of God’s knowledge limitations throughout the early chapters of Genesis, including His disappointment and expressed regret over creating man, in Gen. 6:6,7, 6 And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 So the Lord said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." The only reason for being “sorry” or experiencing regret, is that an unforeseen (or unhoped-for possibility) had come to pass. Clearly, God had no, specific foreknowledge of the extent of the degradation and wickedness to which man would descend, prompting Him to annihilate this race of men.
In Gen. 18:20,21 God again clearly states that His knowledge of the very nature and extent of the wickedness of specific men (or groups of people) is unknown to Him apart from PERSONAL INVESTIGATION of the matter on His part. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, it had been reported to Him that these people were degraded to the point that the only appropriate course of action was to destroy them completely. God went down to those cities to ascertain for Himself whether these reports were true. Of course, it should be apparent that it is the ANGELS who report to God concerning the affairs of men.
20 And the Lord said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know."
God’s full knowledge of the wickedness of these cities was FUTURE to His conversation and lunch with Abraham. This is what He, Himself, declared to be the case.
When Abraham was instructed to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, he followed through on God’s command to the letter, until the angel stayed his hand with this message direct from God Himself, “11 But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" So he said, "Here I am." 12 And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for NOW I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." (Gen. 22:11,12) Again, God used a TEST to determine the nature of Abraham’s heart and mind, and His trust in God. Abraham’s faith was borne out in his actions, and THEN God had the information necessary to go to the next level in His relationship with Abraham.
King David, in his Psalms extolling God in terms of His attributes and characteristics had some interesting things to say concerning God’s knowledge. In Psalm 139:1-5 we read the following:
1 For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. O Lord, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. 3 You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. 5 You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.
First of all, it is significant to note that David was under the Holy-Spirit-inspired impression that God’s knowledge was based on investigation of him as a person. “You have searched me and known me” is his very clear statement here. Too often, exegetes and theologians have focused on the extent of God’s knowledge of David, here, without giving due attention to the BASIS for that knowledge (i.e. its source). Far from indicating a pre-existing knowledge of David on God’s part, we are here presented with the reality that God is required to RESEARCH those with whom He desires to have a more intimate, personal acquaintance.
David goes on to acknowledge that “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.” To be perfectly honest, for David the shepherd-King, whose background was that of a herder in a rather primitive, agricultural society – God’s data-management abilities were undoubtedly overwhelming for him to contemplate. I have no doubt, however, that David would respond IN THE SAME WAY if he were to consider OUR information technologies today, and the means we use to collect and manipulate knowledge.
At the end of the chapter, David invites God's FURTHER investigation of him to gain even MORE DETAILED information, thereby providing God with the necessary data to even more effectively guide David in his development spiritually and in his relationship with God. 23 "Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; 24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23,24)
In effect, it is not beyond the bounds of reason and interpretive accuracy to state that God revealed Himself (through David and other inspired writers of Scripture) as “The Great Scientist”. He loved (and undoubtedly STILL loves) discovery, Himself. He loves surprises. We are created in His image. It is hardly surprising that we, the created beings, share a similar enjoyment of newfound ideas, ways and means of accomplishing tasks more easily and efficiently, etc. The great difference between God and man lies in two, distinct intellectual (and spiritual) qualities. The first is that God’s knowledge has always been (and will undoubtedly always BE) thousands of years (light years even) ahead of man’s and superior to our best technologies. We are likely just beginning to discover things that God has known and developed for His own purposes many millennia ago. Secondly, God is perfect in wisdom and understanding, when it comes to the application of His knowledge. He is perfectly, consistently benevolent in His management and usage of the data at His disposal, and exemplifies perfectly (flawlessly) how to wisely and righteously administer the ecosystems of this planet and its populations. His wisdom and understanding are most perfectly and clearly displayed in His rule over His own Covenant People. The citizens of His Kingdom are His particular concern, and are carefully researched in order for God to have full access to all information on each individual within His eternal Covenant Nation. Outside of His Kingdom, God’s knowledge of individuals is much more limited, and always will be, as His primary concern is the well-fare and well-being of those who are His, thus prompting those who are not in Covenant relationship with Him to consider the advantages of surrendering to His faithful, gracious care.
Most people get rather uncomfortable at the suggestion that God may be limited in some way, and is really more of a divine Scientist and researcher, than a cosmic “puppet master”. These same people would prefer to deny that God could possibly have any interest in enjoying discovery with man. The delight of the “point of discovery” should not be God’s, according to their thinking. God should have exclusively comprehensive knowledge of all that has ever been or ever WILL be. Only such a God is worthy of our worship according to this line of reasoning. MY contention, however, is that a “transcendent”, infinite God with no limitations or boundaries to His consciousness, awareness, and KNOWLEDGE would be incapable of true relationship with finite man. Finite beings would simply be swallowed up in such a “consciousness” which ultimately would have no real parallel to a true “consciousness” as we understand the term. In fact, a “transcendent” God is one lacking true Personality (like the Islamic God, Allah or the Hindu oblivion known as “Nirvana”).
For further evidence of God’s reliance upon investigation in order to acquire knowledge, let us consider His own statement, in Jeremiah 17:9,10, 9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” GOD HIMSELF declares in no uncertain terms that it is necessary for Him to search the heart and test the mind in order to determine for himself the true nature and state of an individual’s personality, mindset, and responsiveness to Him and His Will.
God specifically investigates those who are His own, special People – His Covenant People by faith. This is particularly evident in His statement to the Law-lovers who sought to bring about their own salvation through devotion to Law-keeping and Law-worship. 21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' Regardless of the nature of the knowledge God was clearly declaring that He lacked, here – the fact remains that He very openly and forthrightly (and unequivocally) states that He lacked knowledge of these people. Even if He is only referring to more personal, specific knowledge (i.e. the kind He acquires through personal investigation of those who are His), this is STILL a declaration of a knowledge limitation in some form by God Himself.
Consistently, throughout the Scriptures, we find God relying heavily on information reported to Him by the angels (who are His “eyes”, roaming through the earth, and His “ministers” sent forth to minister to the saints on His behalf). We also find God reliant upon experimentation and testing to determine the true nature of an individual’s heart and mind and the extent of that person’s trust in Him. A divine Being with infinite, unlimited knowledge in every area, and with no chronological parameters to His possession of information (i.e. a “god” who possessed all knowledge of all that would ever occur and all who would ever live in His physical creation from eternity past), would NOT be reliant upon these methods to understand and acquaint Himself with those closest to Him.
There are a couple of other considerations I would like to present in closing, here. If God really knew EVERYTHING that would ever occur in human history (i.e. ALL was “predestined” and “predetermined” before the creation of man on this planet), then why do the Scriptures make such a big deal of the whole “predestination/election” thing? What’s so significant about something that is a universally established principle that is a part of the very fiber and fabric of everyone’s existence and reality? This is a serious, philosophical (and exegetical) flaw in the case for God’s supposed “omniscience”. The Scriptures contain many passages emphasizing the unique process of "election" and "predestination" associated with certain, unique people - and groups of people - in Israel's limited history. God had a comprehensive "foreknowledge" exclusive to THAT "world" and history - particularly of the "elect", which was never universal in scope. The last of the "elect" passed from this planet in 70 AD, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. At that time, God's "predestination/election" process came to an end, as did "prophecy" (that practiced by the Biblical prophets according to the promptings and inspiration of the Holy Spirit). This is why much of the Bible seems to imply "omniscience" where God's knowledge is concerned, while in reality, it only demonstrates the fact that God blueprinted the entire history of Israel from beginning to end, at its inception. He brought it to completion, through His manipulation of events and people throughout the history of the Old Covenant Nation. That "work" of election/predestination was brought to a conclusion at the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. God had redeemed an "elect" People unto Himself, and there was no longer a temporal, physical "world" and "race" from within which He had to specifically choose certain individuals to respond favorably to Him.
Finally, we need to consider this aspect of God's situation: If God had predetermined all that would ever occur in history, He would have painted Himself into a volitional corner. He would have no option but to mindlessly respond to every predetermined action of man, according to the unchanging dictates of His immutable Character. He would essentially be no more than an automaton Himself, carrying out all of His pre-established Will with no other option than to bring it to completion according to the detailed, prelegislated schema laid out in eternity past. This would be an extremely foolish action on God’s part, of course. By no means would He consider creating a planet and race of intelligent, self-conscious beings with no, legitimate ability to inter-relate with them according to the continually changing circumstances and outcomes of the decisions and activities of those beings. The God of the Bible loves man’s creativity and intelligence, both of which have their source in Him. To fully appreciate and enter into enjoyment of those aspects of man’s being, God has chosen to limit His own knowledge of the future of individuals and Nations on this planet. One generation comes, another goes, one civilization rises, another falls. God’s Kingdom stands immovable, and God’s creation remains – eternally. God is both outside of His creation AND intrinsically, actively involved with its sustenance on a daily, continuous basis.
In conclusion, then, although we have seen that God’s knowledge is NOT “unlimited” and the Scriptures do NOT reveal Him as “omniscient” – His knowledge (particularly in comparison to man’s) is incredibly vast. This knowledge is something we can both comprehend (to an admittedly limited degree) as to its nature, AND we can revel in it, take comfort in it and find our sustenance therein. Truly, for Full Preterists, and all Christians who fully understand and appreciate the nature of our true spiritual economy and circumstances today, this text is a fitting ending to this article.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Prov. 9:10)
The only true understanding of reality, Truth and our relationship to the Creator, is found in the vast (and yet gloriously limited) knowledge of God. How wonderful it is, that the Great Creator chose to generate a physical reality and planetary dwelling place for his self-conscious, autonomous, created beings known as "man" and yet create it in such a way that He, Himself, would likewise experience certain limitations in His involement with us and the rest of His creation. Thus, He enjoys surprises and the delight of new events and circumstances, but in a far superior way to our own experience of them. He has eons of time and experience supporting His own knowledge, while ours is still relatively primitive and vastly inferior to His. I, for one, find this revelation of God's knowledge as found in His Word, a daily comfort and source of enjoyment as I consider the true nature of His Person and Being, and His desire to interact with me, co-operatively bringing a future into being for myself and those around me, that is as closely aligned to His Character and Person as possible.
Serving the Truth,