The God who knows all things (God is Sovereign Part 4)

If God made and rules over everything in Time and Space, then it flows from this that He knows everything, past, present and future. This is sometimes referred to as omniscience.

Theologians distinguish between God’s knowledge of Himself and His knowledge of creation.  Bavinck says:

“To be distinguished from God’s self-consciousness is his world consciousness. An earlier theology, accordingly divided ‘the knowledge of God’ into a natural or necessary knowledge (the knowledge of simple intelligence) and free or contingent knowledge (the knowledge of vision). The two are not identical as pantheism would have it, for the Absolute is only to be conceived as being logically and potentially prior to the world. It is totally insufficient to explain the existence of the world. God does not need the world to become personal and self-conscious.”[1]

You will see here that, once again, Bavinck emphasises God’s independence from his creation. He contrasts Christian theology with Pantheism which confuses God with His creation.  Sometimes we use art and creativity to learn. Art therapy can be a helpful way of working through an issue or an emotion. The result is that as the person works on a painting, sculpture, dance, poem or song, they realise something about themselves, maybe something hidden deep in their subconscious which unlocks the solution to their problem. We are not meant to think about God like that. God does not need His creation in order to learn about himself. God was not unfulfilled before he spoke Light and Darkness into existence.  This is why God’s knowledge of his creation is descried as “free” or “contingent.”

“Natural” or “necessary knowledge” is what God knows about Himself. It also describes the way in which the Father knows the Son and vice versa. It is necessary because God is a personal Being, not an impersonal force. God cannot stop knowing; otherwise, He would not be God. In other words, God is simple!

Turretin talks about how God knows things.  He says:

“Concerning the intellect of God and the disquisition of his knowledge, two things above all others must be attended to: the mode and objective. The mode consists in his knowing all things perfectly, undividedly, distinctly and immutably.  It is thus distinguished from human and angelic knowledge.”[2]

What does he mean by this? Well, helpfully, he goes on to break down and expand upon what he means into these categories – “perfectly, undividedly, distinctly and immutably”:

“perfectly because he knows all things by himself or by his essence (not by forms abstracted from things – as is the case with creatures – both because these are only in time with the things themselves, but the knowledge of God is eternal, and because he can have no cause outside of himself).”

This means that what God knows is complete and exhaustive. There isn’t a gap in his knowledge. He will not find out something new about the subject later on.  He knows every detail that there is to know.  His knowledge reflects his character. He is infinite and so his knowledge is infinite too.

“Undividedly because he knows all things intuitively and noetically, not discursively and dianoetically.” – i.e. he does not have to deduce one thing from another.”[3]

We probably need to look up a couple of words in the dictionary here! “Intuition” is to do with the ability to know things “immediately without conscious reasoning.”[4] “Noetically” simply means that something is known intellectually with the mind.”[5] “Discursive” is all to do with discourse or discussion and if something is known “dianoetically” then this is the opposite of intuition and relies on logical deduction. In other words, God does not need to acquire knowledge through learning, experience and reasoning. All of his knowledge is available to him, perfectly and at once.

“Distinctly, not that by a diverse conception he collects diverse predicates of things, but because he most distinctively sees through all things at one glance so that nothing g, even the most minute, can escape him.”[6]

We humans have a problem. Because we are finite, we have to choose how we are going to know about something. We can either gain broad knowledge or get the big picture or we can get stuck into the detail. The problem with the first is that a big picture view tells us the scope of the subject, but missing detail can lead to mistakes in decision making. “The Devil is in the detail.” The problem with the second is that we are so obsessed with the detail that we lose perspective on what it is telling us. We “cannot see the wood for the trees.”

God does not have the problem that we have. His vastness and greatness does not put him at a distance. He knows the detail; “the very hairs on your head are all numbered”[7] and he knows the big picture.

“Immutably because with him there is no shadow of change, and as he himself remaining immovable gives motion to all, so he sees the various turns and changes of things by an immutable cognition.”[8]

God is the constant reference point. His knowledge does not change. Things change around Him, but He knows about all of the changes. He knows when you will fall in and out of love, He knows you both as the young person now with a full head of dark brown hair and he knows the older you with balder, greying hair. And when you are old and grey, He will not know you or love you any less.

[1] H Bavinck, The Doctrine of God and Creation, 195.

[2]Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III.XII.ii. (Giger, 1:207).

[3] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III.XII.ii. (Giger, 1:207).

[4] Oxford English Dictionary, 587.

[5] Oxford English Dictionary, 763.

[6] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III.XII.ii. (Giger, 1:207).

[7] Matthew 10:30.

[8] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III.XII.ii. (Giger, 1:207).