When God is our Holy Father, sovereignty, holiness, omniscience, and immutability do not terrify us; they leave us full of awe and gratitude.” (Ravi Zacharias)
One of God’s personal attributes is omniscience. The word “omniscience” comes from the Latin words meaning “all knowledge.” What does the Bible mean when it describes God as being omniscient or “all knowing”? Are there any limits to God’s knowledge? What are the implications of God’s omniscience for us? Should it inspire fear or comfort?
The Nature of God’s Omniscience
God knows everything that exists or occurs within the universe. In the words of Job, “he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens” (Job 28:24). There is no place or object or event which is outside the knowledge of God: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place” (Pro 15:3). “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Psa 147:4). No event is too insignificant nor is any object too trivial that God doesn’t notice. The Lord Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Mat 10:29-30). God’s knowledge is infinite.
Not only is God aware of all things that exist presently, God knows everything that will occur in the future. This is called God’s foreknowledge. God knows with certainty the events of the future and is able to declare them in advance: “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isa 46:9-10). God knows even the words we will speak before we open our mouths: “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether” (Psa 139:4).
God not only knows the present and the future but He knows what would happen under any potential circumstance. Sometimes referred to as God’s “middle knowledge,” this is His knowledge of what would occur if certain events were to happen. For example, God disclosed to David what actions the men of Keilah and Saul would take if David remained in Keilah (1Sa 23). This knowledge enabled David to make the decision to leave. Similarly, Jesus was able to state unequivocally that “if the mighty works done in you [Chorazin and Bethsaida] had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Mat 11:21). This means that God’s omniscience extends beyond what will happen (His foreknowledge) to a knowledge of all conceivable potential events in a world where He has given man free will.
Furthermore, God’s omniscience extends into the very soul of every being. God knows the thoughts, desires, intentions and motivations of every individual. As David said to Solomon, “the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1Ch 28:9). God Himself stated, “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind” (Jer 17:10). God’s omniscience extends to the very core of who we are as individuals. “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13). David understood this when he said, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar” (Psa 139:1-2).
In summary, the Scriptures reveal that God has complete omniscience of every detail within His universe. He knows every object, creature, event, action, thought and motivation in the universe – whether existing, future or even potential. His knowledge is infinite (Psa 147:5); it is unlearned (Rom 11:34) and therefore intrinsic to His nature.
Implications of God’s Omniscience
What conclusions can we draw from the truth that God is omniscient? Our first response should be worship and awe. God’s omniscience is beyond human understanding. Like Paul, we should respond with wonder and praise – “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33).
Secondly, God’s omniscience assures us that God’s justice will be thorough and universal. No sin or wrong deed or evil action will escape His notice. Evil men, like Hitler, may escape human justice but they will never escape God’s justice. For the unsaved, God’s omniscience should bring fear and repentance toward a God who will hold them fully accountable. For the Christian, whose sins are forgiven in Christ, this truth should bring soberness and seriousness to our lives as every action and motive will be evaluated by the Lord at His coming. “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1Co 4:5).
The third implication of God’s omniscience is that we can have an open and transparent relationship with Him. God knows our deepest desires, our weaknesses, our failures and our sins. Yet God loves us anyway and wants a relationship with us. “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1Co 8:3). Far from causing us to shrink back from God, an understanding of His omniscience frees us to deepen our relationship with Him. David, in Psalm 139, after contemplating the omniscience of God, said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psa 139:23). Peter, too, understood in the wake of his own failure that Christ’s omniscience was something to rest upon: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Joh 21:17).
Finally, God’s omniscience should be a source of great comfort to the believer. God is fully aware of every event in our lives. God is never caught off guard by our failures or wrong decisions. He knows every potential outcome of every decision we make. Because of that, He is able to guide and direct our lives. He knows our needs, concerns and fears. Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mat 6:8). Hagar, pregnant, alone, outcast and despairing of life itself, was the first to proclaim God’s omniscience. She discovered that God saw her plight and said, “You are a God of seeing” (Gen 16:13). We also can be certain that an omniscient God knows us completely and is able to meet every need.
¹ All Scripture references in this article are from the ESV.