The story is told of an elderly grandfather who was very wealthy. He was in fairly good health for his age, except that his hearing was failing him. So he decided to purchase hearing aids. Two weeks later he returned to the audiologist so that she could make final adjustments. “How do you like the hearing aids?” she asked.
“I like them very much,” he answered. “Why, I now can pick up conversations quite easily, even in the next room.”
The audiologist was delighted. “Your family members must be happy to know that you can hear so much better.”
The old man smiled. “Oh, I haven’t told them yet. I’ve just been sitting around listening—and do you know what? I’ve changed my will twice.”
God sees and hears and knows all things! In fact, according to Psalm 139, God knows what you do, he knows what you think, he knows where you go, and he knows what you say. There is no place you can go in which his all-knowing presence is not there. So here’s the question: Is that reality a threat or a comfort to you?
Ah, if you are running from God, his omniscience (his “all-knowingness”) is a threat. Indeed, it stirs up fear—fear because despite your pious outward appearances, God knows that inwardly you are merely playing religious games—fear because God knows the twisted motives and hidden agendas behind all you do—fear because God knows every secret sin and every evil desire—fear because all is open to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13)—fear because one day you will stand in judgment before the great white throne, and your whole miserable life will be judged on the basis of what is infallibly recorded in the books.
But if you are a child of God, purchased by the blood of his Son, God’s omniscience is a source of great comfort and joy—comfort and joy because God knows you (and your needs) better than you do—comfort and joy because his strength will not allow you to sink in a sea of troubles.
Do you remember the story of Hagar, told in Genesis 16? It is the story of a young woman who is pregnant and on the run from some very difficult and painful circumstances. As you may recall, Abraham and Sarah were unable to have children, so Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham as a second wife. If Hagar were to become pregnant and bear a child, then according to custom, Sarah could claim and adopt the child as her own.
Well, Hagar became pregnant and began to look with contempt on Sarah—after all, she was able to bear a child, whereas Sarah could not. Sarah responded with anger and bitterness. In essence she said to herself, “I am a woman of wealth and standing, whereas Hagar is only an Egyptian slave girl. Who does she think she is?”
Conditions quickly deteriorated. Sarah blamed Abraham for the whole mess (even though the entire scheme had been her idea to begin with). And Abraham, in response to his wife’s anger, basically said to Sarah, “Hagar is your servant. Do whatever you think is best.” Then, the Bible says, Sarah dealt harshly with her (16:6)—the same word later used to describe how the Egyptian taskmasters treated the people of Israel.
What is Hagar to do? The only viable solution she could see was to run from her intolerable circumstances and return to her home country of Egypt. And run she did, finally arriving at a spring of water near the Egyptian border. And while she rested at that place, feeling very much alone and overwhelmed, the angel of the Lord found her (16:7).
What good news! In times of distress and fear and great need, you and I (like Hagar) discover that God is never far from any one of us. More than that, we discover (or perhaps, rediscover) that he knows all about our past, our present journey, and what lies ahead of us. And based upon his perfect, all-encompassing, eternal knowledge, God acts—for his glory and for our good.
In Hagar’s case, the angel of the Lord (the second person of the Trinity) gave her an amazing promise: “Not only will you give birth to a son,” said the angel, “but I will multiply your son’s descendants to such an extent that no one will be able to count them. Oh, and in remembrance of this event,” he said, “you are to name him Ishmael, which means God hears.”
And what was Hagar’s instructive response? She rejoiced. But the Genesis account makes it clear that she did not rejoice primarily in the great prophecies regarding her son (although she undoubtedly was both amazed and thankful). Instead Hagar rejoiced in the presence of a gracious, omniscient God. Indeed, at the end of the passage she celebrated God’s omniscience by giving this name to the Lord who had spoken to her: the God who sees me (16:13). “Can you believe it?” she shouts with joy. “I have actually seen him who looks after me.” (And that, by the way, is the name she gave to the well where the encounter took place.)
Child of God, rejoice in God’s omniscience. Think about it. If God is indeed all-knowing, that means, for example, that he will never discover anything new about you, nor will he ever be surprised by anything you do. God’s omniscience means that he knows the absolute worst about you but loves you eternally and fully through Jesus Christ. He has saved you by his grace. You belong to him.
Further, God’s omniscience means that as a Christian you can live your life in gospel freedom. No character flaw can suddenly come to light that God doesn’t already know about. No long-forgotten skeleton stored away for years in some back closet of your life can suddenly tumble out and startle God. No one—no, not even Satan himself—can make any accusation against you that will cause God to have second thoughts about you.
God perfectly knows what you and I are really like—he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). Why, God knows you so well that even the hairs of your head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30). So take heart! His grace is always sufficient, his supply is always abundant, his timing is always perfect, and his faithfulness and mercies—for you—are new every morning.
Frail children of dust,
And feeble as frail,
In thee do we trust,
Nor find thee to fail.
Thy mercies, how tender,
How firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender,
Redeemer, and Friend.
[Robert Grant, 1833]
Rev. Craig Jennings is Pastor at Grace Lutheran Brethren Church in Bottineau, North Dakota.