Biblical Perspectives Magazine, Volume 24, Number 32, July 31 to August 6, 2022

God Only Wise

Psalm 139:1-18

By Rev. Kevin Chiarot

John Paul Sartre, famous 20th c. French philosopher, was appalled by the idea of God's omniscience. The idea of a God who knew your innermost thoughts, who knew you exhaustively, who was always watching, was unnerving and repulsive to him. It was something like living in a cosmic police state. He called such a God a cosmic voyeur.

And, as far as I know, Sartre was only concerned with God's knowledge of things present. He did not, I believe, have FORE-knowledge, knowledge of the future, in view. We can assume it would not have lessened his disgust. And yet, for David, in Psalm 139, and for the church historically, the same idea – God's intimate acquaintance with us, including our futures, was a source of great comfort and joy—even of wonder.

So we will look at this doctrine of the all-seeing, all-knowing God under three headings. Knowledge, Will, and Wisdom.

I. Knowledge

First, then, knowledge. Let's being with a definition. When we speak of omniscience we mean God knows all there is to know. That is he knows the past, the present, and the future (including all possible worlds and all possible futures) – and he knows them fully, and in exhaustive detail. Here is David, in one of the classical places that God's omniscience is taught:

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.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. That's exhaustive knowledge of all things present before God's eyes.

But David extends this to the future: Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. All my future speech acts are known in advance. And later in this same Psalm he says: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

All my future days. The exact span of my life – known to God – written in his book from eternity. Such knowledge – unlike for Sartre – such knowledge, is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. There is, David is saying, something wonderful and high, ineffable and unattainable (unmanageable) in God's knowledge. God is, Job says, perfect in knowledge; Psalm 147 says his knowledge is unsearchable. To sum it up, 1 John 3 says, God knows all things.

Now, lets probe further into the nature of this knowledge. I want here to connect up God's knowledge with a lot of what we've already learned about the being of God. Hopefully, we already know, from the doctrine of God's simplicity, his uncompounded unity, that — at the very least – God's knowledge cannot be isolated from other aspects of his being. And that is putting it mildly. To put it more strongly – God's knowledge is God. What God has; he is. There is nothing in God, that is not God.

So let's consider God's knowledge then, with this inter-relation of attributes in mind (a sort of review of a lot we've covered in this series, only with an eye to God's knowledge).

Let's take, first, God's eternity. If God is eternal, then he exists outside of time, and is in NO way constrained by it. Thus, the question of God knowing the future is really a non-issue. There is no past, present or future to God. He just IS, He lives in the eternal now, and sees all of time in one act. (Consults his own being, his decrees)

Thus, the whole ministry of the prophets, which can look to us like predicting, or foretelling, the future, is, for God, no harder or different from knowing the present. So, of course God has detailed foreknowledge. Both Jeremiah and Paul are set apart and called to their ministries from the womb. And this would include, God knowing all possible futures. So, for example, in 1 Samuel 23, David, fleeing from Saul, prays to the Lord, and says: "Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, please tell your servant." And the Lord said, "He will come down."
Then David said, "Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?" And the Lord said, "They will surrender you."

God doesn't just know the options; he knows the outcomes. There is nothing contingent to God, and there is nothing potential to God. Why? Because there is nothing contingent or potential IN God. What God knows; he knows from eternity. Fluctuation or change in God's knowledge, would be fluctuation or change in God's eternity. That is, in God's "Godness." God's knowledge is eternal. He knows the end from the beginning, as Isaiah, for example, throughout chapters 40-48, repeatedly asserts, And he knows the end from the beginning, because he IS the End and the Beginning, the Alpha and the Omega.

In the same way, the immutability of God would entail, that God's knowledge is as full and perfect as his unchanging being. God's knowledge is unchanging. Or, as mentioned, God as simple. As uncomposed of parts. His knowledge, his will, what we call his attributes, his goodness, love, righteousness, etc. – all of these things, are not parts of God, they are one, and indeed, identical, in the being of God.

If God's knowledge is incomplete – which many Christians hold it to be – then God's will, and all of God's attributes, share the same deficiency. God's knowledge is (like God) simple, uncomposed, and fully actual, without any potential.

Or consider God as infinite. Do you think you can have a God who doesn't know everything and still maintain his infinity? Good luck with that. If God is infinite, then his knowledge is infinite. Here's Stephen Charnock: "If his understanding be infinite, then he knows all things whatsoever that can be known, else his understating would have bounds, and what has limits is not infinite, but finite."

What about God's aseity? God's utterly independent fulness as the I AM. Can that God be awaiting creaturely choices for his knowledge? God simply IS – and is independent of the creature. Which means his knowledge just IS – and is independent of the creature. In short, God's knowledge is not distinct from his essence. God IS his knowledge. God knows all things in a single intuition, a single action, the perfect act by which he is God. He knows all things, not by observing, or by reasoning discursively, from premises to conclusions, or by processing new information, but by eternally consulting his own being as God.

Here's Herman Bavinck summarizing for us: "For this reason his knowledge is undivided, simple, unchangeable, eternal. He knows all things instantaneously, simultaneously, from eternity; all things are eternally present to his mind's eye."

At every point, then, he has the knowledge of the Creator, not the knowledge of the creature. This means his knowledge is creative and causal. That is, things are, and things, happen, BECAUSE God knows them, NOT vice versa as it is for us. We know the rose is red by looking, we know that 3+3=6 by doing the math, we discover these things. God's knowledge is what causes the rose to be red – he does not need to look and check. His knowledge is what CAUSES – not agrees with — but CAUSES – all the truths of mathematics to be.

Here Augustine on this: "It is true of all his creatures, both spiritual and corporeal, that he does not know them because they are, but they are, because he knows them."

By thinking, the object he thinks, comes into being. Future human choices ARE what they are, BECAUSE God knows them, God does not know them, because they are. We get all this backwards because we correlate God to humanity repeatedly – because of what I have called cognitive idolatry.

It turns out that to NOT affirm the doctrine of the absolutely all-knowing God, the God who IS his knowledge, is not merely a difference over the doctrine of salvation, or the question of human free will. It turns out that one will need to jettison, one will need to abandon classical Christian theism, to deny the exhaustive knowledge of God, as it has been historically held by the church.

II. Will

That's knowledge. Our second point is will. In us creatures, our will and our knowledge, our will and our intellects, can be distinguished. And traditionally they have been— as the two faculties of the human soul. But in God, will and intellect are one. So all we have said about God's knowledge, applies to his will. And this means God has an eternal, flawlessly executed will, what is traditionally known as his decree.

In the words of the WCF: God, from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, ordain whatsoever comes to pass.

That is the decree, the eternal unchangeable counsel of God. In Isaiah's words:

I am God, there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning,
and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, '
My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'

Notice, the decree follows from this simple fact: I am God, there is none like me. Therefore, all I decree, my eternal counsel shall stand. Of all that opposes this counsel, the psalmist says: The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. This counsel embraces incidental, apparently random, things. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. It embraces even evil events.

Here's Proverbs 16: The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

Sounds like a Calvinist scribe edited that text. The book of Acts tells us, that Jesus, was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, and yet this did not undermine human agency or guilt, for, the text continues, he was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Human freedom is not obliterated by this decree, our Confession says, but is rather established by it. Both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, did, Acts tells us, whatever God's hand and plan had predestined to take place. This does not mean that God approves of, or is the author of, sin. We distinguish historically between God's moral will – his commandments for creatures — his law, do this, don't do that. We distinguish this, from his secret eternal decree – which is what we are considering here. Does God will for innocent people to be executed? No. His moral law forbids it. Did God will for Jesus to be executed? Yes. His eternal counsel decreed it.

Bavinck uses the analogy that a father may forbid a child to use a knife that he uses with no ill effects. So God forbids us rational creatures to commit sin, which he himself can and does USE to glorify his name.

According to Paul in Ephesians 1, this God, who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, and who predestines us unto adoption, is the One who "works ALL THINGS, ALL THINGS after the counsel of his will."

Again, the difference between Calvinists and others on God's plan and predestination, is ultimately a difference about the being of God himself – about the "I am he" of Isaiah. The God who knows all, is the God who decrees all — the two cannot be separated. God's knowledge is God's decree. Because in God, intellect and will are identical. Thus God's willing, like his knowing, is eternal, infinite, unchangeable, fully actual, perfect. The omniscient God is unthwartable and unconquerable in his will.

III. Wisdom

Finally, wisdom. This should be predictable by now, but let's start by affirming it: God's wisdom is not distinct from his will or his knowledge. Even in humans, wisdom and knowledge are deeply related. Wisdom (or what we might call prudence or skill) is the flower and fruit of knowledge. And true knowledge is the fount of wisdom. So, as a robust conception of God demands, we affirm: God's wisdom is his knowledge, and his knowledge is his wisdom – they are identical in God.

The point I want us to see here is that this is not raw knowledge, or cold, detached knowledge, or an overwhelming, brute force decree. Our God – the omniscience God, the God of the eternal decree – is wise. He is judicious, skillful, there is a kind of artistic beauty in God's knowing and willing.

This is why when we look at his work, in creation for instance, we see skill, and the Bible uses architectural images, or the language of the craftsman or artist. Proverbs 8 is a marvelous and extended example of this. Or we get the aesthetic language of glory in Psalm 19 – the heavens declare the glory of God.

God is wise and we see that wisdom in all is ways and works. Psalm 104 provides a beautiful summary: O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all.

This knowledge, this wisdom of God, glimpsed in creation, becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ. Who, Paul tells us, was made for us wisdom from God. And he who alone knows the Father, wills to reveal him to us. That we might know God, and his wisdom and his will.

Do you find some of what we said today, about God's knowledge, and will, and wisdom, to be scandalous, difficult, counter-intuitive, strange, maybe even a stumbling block? Well, I understand that, but let us be reminded, that this Wisdom, when it walks among us in the flesh, turns out, shockingly (counter-intuitively, scandalously) to take the form of the folly and weakness of the cross. Yet, it is a foolishness which is wiser than men, and to those who are called, it is Christ crucified, the very wisdom of God. It is through the foolishness of preaching this foolish cross, that the wisdom of God is manifest, and God Only Wise saves a people for himself. Thus, there are — and shall be — myriads around the throne in heaven singing:

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and WISDOM and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

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