Published: 7 March 2022

Does God Know Everything?

Does God Know Everything

If you read my last post, the title of this article reveals how I came to grips with the assertion that God is responsible for evil. We have to ask ourselves the question, “Does God know everything?” If He does, the following syllogism reveals that God is responsible for evil:

Major premise: God knows everything including all future events.
Minor premise: God created humans who sinned.
Conclusion: Therefore, God is responsible for introducing sin into the world.

Nearly all Christians believe that God knows everything there is to know. In fact, most Christians believe that omniscience is an inherent trait of being God. They are sometimes shocked that anyone might consider God to not be all-knowing. This assumption creates a very thorny problem, doesn’t it? The next question we should be asking is, “Does the Bible really teach that God knows everything”?

Does the Bible say that God knows everything?

When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, the angel of the LORD stopped him. This was no ordinary angel, He was none other than God Himself. God said a curious thing when He saw that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son. He said, “now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen 22:12). If God knows everything, He already knew what Abraham was going to do. If God already knew, why would He say such a thing?

The major premise is false

Taking this text at face value, it is telling us that God did not know what Abraham was going to do. If it is true that God does not know certain things it resolves the problem of God being responsible for evil by showing that the major premise of the syllogism is false. If the major premise is false, the conclusion is also false and the argument is invalid. 

It reveals that the possibility exists that God did not know in advance that Adam and Eve would sin! If He did not know what Adam and Eve would do, He bears no responsibility for the presence of sin and evil in the world.

More scriptural clues

There are many passages suggesting that God does not know all things. For example, would God intentionally do something He KNEW He would later regret?

So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen. 6:7 ESV)

If God already knew everything, why did He need to investigate the goings-on in Sodom?

I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” (Gen. 18:21 ESV)

And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” (Gen. 18:26 ESV)

Why did God need to test people? Did He not already know what their response would be?

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (Deut. 8:2 ESV)

you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut. 13:3 ESV)

And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart. (2 Chr. 32:31 ESV)

God is able to see all possible futures – even the ones that never become reality. However, just because He can see all possible futures does not mean He reveals to Himself which futures will actually happen. Divine foreknowledge is not indicative of actual future events.

How could God be dismayed if He knew from eternity past what these people would do?

For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. (Jer. 8:21 ESV)

God said that there were things the people did that had not entered into His mind!

They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (Jer. 32:35 ESV)

Perhaps there are other passages which hint that God is not omniscient, but these should suffice. Some may argue that these are accommodative sayings or that they are no more than anthropomorphisms. Maybe some of these passages could be put into those categories, but some are quite plainly saying that God didn’t know certain things in advance. 

Is omniscience an inherent trait of God?

Is it possible for God to be God and not know everything? The New Testament makes it clear that omniscience is not an intrinsic characteristic of God. Jesus’s nature is very mysterious, but we know that He was fully human while at the same time being fully God. However, we have a passage which suggests Jesus didn’t know something:

And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. (Mark 11:13 ESV)

If Jesus were omniscient, He would have known if the fig tree had fruit on it or not. The next verse is crystal clear that Jesus did not know everything:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matt. 24:36 ESV)

Jesus plainly says He did not know the timing God the Father had set. Jesus is God, but He Himself says there was something He did not know. This shows beyond all reasonable doubt that being all-knowing is not a part of the nature of God.

God can know anything He wants to know

There is a big difference between not knowing something and being unable to know something. The Scriptures suggest that God can know anything He chooses to know. God is not like us. There are lots of things humans don’t know and cannot find out. God can know all things, but it seems apparent He chooses to remain uninformed about some things.

God can see all possible futures. What do I mean by that? Every time we make a decision, no matter how small, it sets off a chain of events which will ripple through time altering future events. Do I accept this job offer, or the other one? Do I go to the mountains for my vacation or to the beach? God can know what future events will be regardless of which I choose. I base this conclusion on an event in the life of David.

Future events God foresaw which didn’t happen

In 1 Samuel 23, David inquired of God whether the people of the town of Keilah would hand him over to king Saul (1 Sam 23:12). God told David the people of Keilah would indeed turn him over to Saul so David left the town before Saul arrived. The passage goes on to say that David continued to evade capture (1 Sam 23:13-14).

So, God saw a possible future that did not not come to pass. David chose to leave the town rather than allow a possible future which God foresaw to become reality. What this means is that God is able to see all possible futures – even the ones that never become reality. However, just because He can see all possible futures does not mean He reveals to Himself which futures will actually happen. Divine foreknowledge is not indicative of actual future events.

“This passage clearly establishes that divine foreknowledge does not necessitate divine predestination. God foreknew what Saul would do and what the people of Keilah would do given a set of circumstances. In other words, God foreknew a possibility— but this foreknowledge did not mandate that the possibility was actually predestined to happen. The events never happened, so by definition they could not have been predestined.”[1]Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (pp.64-65). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition. 

“The theological point can be put this way: That which never happens can be foreknown by God, but it is not predestined, since it never happened.”[2]Ibid.

Why would God not choose to know things?

Why would God choose to be uninformed about some things? If it is true that He chooses not to know some things it might be partially explained by His emotions. Our emotions are like His. How difficult would it be for us to be able to know the time and circumstances of the hardships or deaths of loved ones? Wouldn’t we rather not know these things in advance?  This might be a partial explanation for why God might choose to be ignorant of certain things. If it is true, there are no doubt many other reasons He would choose to keep Himself uninformed which we cannot imagine.

If He has chosen not to know some things, it also explains how He can react with emotion; anger, for example, during the golden calf incident. How much emotion would He be able to muster if He had known from eternity past what was going to happen at the foot of Mount Sinai? Surprise induces strong emotion in humans. Is it so different with God?

What about 1 John 3:20?

for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:20 ESV)

This verse is the closest the Bible ever gets to saying that God is omniscient. Nevertheless, in context, it does not say that God knows everything there is to know. John is writing about the heart and how it either reassures us of our relationship with God or condemns us. Even when our hearts condemn us for some failure this is not the important thing. What’s important is whether God approves of us or condemns us.

He knows our motives and those deeds of love for which we may not dare to take any credit (cf. Mt. 25:37-40). He knows that we are his and it is this that is important, not our misigivings. (A less likely interpretation is that God, the Judge, knows all our misdeeds and will punish us.)”[3]Leon Morris, 1 John, ed. D. A Carson et al., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 1404. (emphasis added)

In context, the verse is saying that God knows our hearts – that is, our motives and will judge us accordingly. It is not a blanket statement of omniscience. It is comparable to the disciple’s prayers to God when they were selecting a replacement for Judas:

And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen (Acts 1:24 ESV)

Conclusion

While God certainly can know anything He chooses to know, the Bible suggests that He chooses to not know some things. We can only speculate as to why He might choose not to know. Based on the Bible, it’s certain that He refrains from knowing some future outcomes (e.g. Matt. 24:36).

If God was unaware of which possible future our most distant ancestor’s choices would result in, it is not God we have to blame for evil in the world, but Adam and Eve.

References

References
1 Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (pp.64-65). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.
2 Ibid.
3 Leon Morris, 1 John, ed. D. A Carson et al., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 1404.