Does God Know Everything

Does God Know Everything

Does God Know Everything

Before it Happens?

“Do not go beyond what is written”

(1 Corinthians 4:6).


The Bible tells us that God is omniscient. He knows everything. He knows many things before they happen. The Bible speaks of many things as being predestined or foreordained - large words that mean that God planned them and knew of them before they happened.

It also tells us that man has free choice, free will, and will be held accountable for the choices he makes. This implies that not everything is foreordained and that how man chooses makes a difference.

Theologians have struggled for centuries to try to find a comprehensive formula fitting these two principles together. I hesitate to deal with such matters, but perhaps a simple and nontraditional approach may have something in it that is useful.

I shall start by saying that I rather like the approach of C. S. Lewis, a man of remarkable vision and insight. In “The Great Divorce” he raises this question with an elderly Scotsman, who replies, “Dinna fash [trouble] yourself about that, laddie. Ye canna understand it now.”

Lewis’ point, I believe, is that we humans live in a world that is measured by space and time. Everything happens in a certain physical space and a certain time sequence. God, who created everything, created space and time. God is not limited by what he created. In his dealings with us he usually works within the space and time limitations that we live in, but he himself is not limited by either space or time. While we are on earth, limited by space and time, we cannot understand how God sees time. The Bible tells us that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). Almost 2,000 years ago Jesus said that he was coming “soon” (Revelation 22:20). His sense of “soon” must be rather different from ours! (Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are from the New International Version, and any emphasis has been added.)

It also seems that at times something happens in the spiritual realm long before it happens in the physical realm. Samuel told Saul, “The Lord has taken the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it... to one better than you” (1 Samuel 15:27). It was over 20 years later, after many close calls, that David actually became king of all Israel.

God is the God “who is, and who was, and who is to come” (Revelation 1:8). He is the eternal “I AM” (Exodus 3:14; see John 8:58). Perhaps it can be said that God exists outside of time, and that, to him, the past, the present and the future are all one. The Bible doesn’t really tell us. But I think it quite likely that God sees time differently than we do.

While on earth we humans “see but a poor reflection, as in a mirror” and we “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12; see also verse 9). I believe these statements apply just as much to our understanding of Scripture as they do to any other area of our understanding The Bible tells us that God’s ways and his thoughts are not our ways and thoughts; they are far higher (Isaiah 55:8-9). Paul, the most intellectual of the New Testament writers, said, “Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Romans 11:33). Isaiah declared that God’s “understanding no one can fathom” (Isaiah 40:28). Job said , “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3; see also Psalm 139:6).

God “has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). He has revealed a great deal about his ways. He has revealed all we need to know. But he has not answered all our questions. Scripture was not written to answer all our questions. Scripture is not a book of systematic theology. It was not given to us primarily to delight our intellects, although it often does that. It was given us to change our lives. It is “living and active”, it “penetrates”, it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). It is “at work” in us who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13). “The engrafted word of God... is able to save your souls” (James 1:21 KJV). “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus’ words “are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). “The one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:57). The truth of God’s word cleanses and sanctifies us (John 17:17). I believe it is primarily God’s word, as revealed in his Scripture, that enables us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Because our understanding of this area is limited, I suggest that it is wise to follow Scripture’s admonition, “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6; see also Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19).

In this spirit let us look at some of what Scripture has and has not said about God’s foreknowledge.


God knows of many events before they occur. Scripture is full of predictive prophecies, in which God declares in advance what will later occur. Some of these prophecies are fulfilled almost at once, as with Jesus’ prediction that Peter would deny him that night (Matthew 26:34). Some are fulfilled within a fairly short period of years, such as Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem which occurred about forty years later (Matthew 24:2). Some are fulfilled hundreds of years later, as were the many Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. Some may relate to the very distant future, such as Peter’s prophecy of a new heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:12-13).

How does this occur? Let me suggest two ways.

(1) As I have noted, it may be that past, present and future are all one to God. Our time-limited minds find it hard to imagine how this could be, or what it would be like. But it may be that in one aspect God can perceive and deal with things outside of any time frame, while in another aspect, perhaps simultaneously, he deals with man within the time frame in which man lives. This is all speculative, because Scripture does not really tell us.

(2) Scripture makes it very clear that God is in control of history, of human events. It also says that God plans many of these events before they occur. In this sense God knows the future because he has planned it and his plans will be carried out.

Let me give one example. About 586 B.C. the kingdom of Judah was destroyed by Babylon, and many of its people were carried off into captivity in Babylon. Scripture says that God’s anger was aroused at them because of their disobedience and idolatry and “he brought up against them the King of the Babylonians” and “handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar” (2 Chronicles 36:17). He told Jeremiah, “I am about to hand this city over to the Babylonians, and to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, who will capture it” (Jeremiah 32:28). God raised up a harsh pagan kingdom to carry out his purpose of punishing Judah for their persistent disobedience and idolatry.

In this context, consider God’s words as given through Isaiah:

“Remember the former things, those of long ago. I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” (Isaiah 46:9-11; see also Isaiah 14:24, 27).

Much of what we call predictive prophecy is simply God announcing ahead of time what his plans are and what he intends to do. God makes plans and then carries them out. “I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted and they came to pass” (Isaiah 48:3). His plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2; Psalm 33:11; Isaiah 14:24). God “works out everything in accordance with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). And he has declared, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7; see also Isaiah 42:9).

We tend not to recognize how intimately God is involved in everything that happens on earth. He raises up nations and brings them down. “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing” (Isaiah 40:23). He tears down and destroys and builds up and plants nations and kingdoms (Jeremiah 1:10). “There is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). God declares, “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (Jeremiah 27:5).

God says, “There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). “I am the Lord and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7; see also 1 Samuel 2:6). God is omnipotent.

God sustains “all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). “His judgments are in all the earth” (2 Chronicles 16:14). Not one sparrow falls to the earth “apart from the will of your Father” (Matthew 10:29). “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere” (Proverbs 15:3). Nothing escapes his notice (Psalm 139:7-12; see Psalm 19:6, Proverbs 5:21).

Sometimes this is expressed in surprisingly strong terms. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).

All of this is very reassuring. We can take great comfort in knowing that God is in charge, that he sees everything that is happening, that he is all-powerful and that what he plans will be carried out. Because he is all-powerful, and also all-good, he is our fortress and our stronghold, and we can put our trust completely in him. It is good to know that we can, indeed, “trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5).

But does this mean that everything is foreordained, planned and controlled by God in advance, determined by God before it happens? Let us look at another major thread in Scripture.


Scripture teaches clearly that God has given man free will. Man can, and must, choose. His choices have consequences, often very heavy consequences. Man is accountable to God, and will be judged by the choices he makes.

God did not create man as an automaton, or a robot. He wanted someone who would serve him and love him, not out of necessity, but out of choice. He wanted a love and a service that were freely given. If we do not understand this, we do not understand much in Scripture.

God gave Adam and Eve one commandment: Do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge. They chose to disobey God. They chose to do it their way rather than God’s way. They chose to believe the serpent (satan) rather than God. They, and all mankind, have paid the consequence for their choice. “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin”; “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men”; “through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:12, 18, 19). Disobedience is a choice. One man’s wrong choice brought sin, death and suffering into the world.

Were Adam and Eve free to choose? Did God know ahead of time how they would choose? He knew that they could disobey, but did he know that they would disobey? Did he intend that they would disobey? Was their disobedience part of his plan?

There are some who argue that God must have known that they would disobey. I have great difficulty with this argument. It seems to me to be saying that God deliberately set Adam and Eve up for failure. It is saying that, when God created Adam and Eve, he put them under the curse of sin and death. If this were true, how could God say that all that he had made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31)? It also seems to me to be saying that God willed and intended, from the beginning, that death, sin and suffering would come into the world. If God knew from the beginning that Adam and Eve would disobey him, then he must have intended from the beginning all the terrible consequences of their disobedience I find this very hard to attribute to God. Unless the words of Scripture clearly compel it, I am very unwilling to say that God intended, from the beginning, to bring sin, death and suffering into the world.

As I read Genesis chapter 3, it shows God as surprised and disappointed by the choice Adam and Eve made, and as changing several of his plans because of what they had chosen. God said to Adam and Eve, “What is this you have done?” (Verse 13). Then he said “Because you have done this” (verses 14, 17) various new things would happen. Eve would have pain in childbearing (verse 16). Adam would undergo painful toil (verses 16-17). Because “the man has now become like one of us”, Adam and Eve would no longer have eternal life (verse 22). Adam and Eve were expelled forever from the garden (verses 23-24). The whole context, as I read it, is, “You have disappointed me; you have not done what I hoped and expected you would; therefore I will have to make a number of changes in the way I deal with you.” It seems to me this is the natural reading of the chapter.

Revelation 13:8, referring to “the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (KJV has “foundation”) seems to speak of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as predestined from the time the earth was created. This would seem to imply that Adam and Eve’s disobedience was predestined. But note that the first Scripture that can be read as a prophecy of Jesus’ coming is Genesis 3:15, which comes after, and as a consequence of, their disobedience. On the whole, I do not read this passage as outweighing the strong sense that I find in Genesis, chapter 3, that Adam and Eve had a genuine choice, and could have gone either way.

Throughout Scripture we find this theme of choice. Always it is presented as a genuine choice. Men are free to decide either way. And they are responsible for the choices they make.

In Deuteronomy, chapter 28, God explained in great detail the blessings that he would bring if his people Israel choose to obey him, and the curses that he would bring if they choose to disobey him. If they obey him, he will bless “everything you put your hand to”, he “will open the storehouse of his bounty”, he “will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you”, “the Lord will make you the head, not the tail”, etc. (Verses 1-12). If they do not obey, “the Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin”, he “will plague you with diseases”, he “will cause you to be defeated before your enemies”, he will “afflict you” with boils, tumors, festering sores, madness, blindness and confusion, he will “bring a nation against you from far away”, he will “bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster”, he will “ruin and destroy you”, etc. etc. (Verses 15-68). Although these curses are primarily stated as applying to the nation of Israel, God made it clear that they apply also to individuals (Deuteronomy 29:18-21).

Then God gave them a choice, stated in a manner that emphasizes its awesome importance. “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

God told them that how he dealt with them would depend on the choices they made; he spelled it out in great detail. He then presented them with a clear choice. He told them which way he wanted them to choose. But he left them free to choose. Unfortunately they did not choose as he wanted. Much of the rest of the Old Testament is the story of the wrong choices the Israelites made in response to this challenge. God repeatedly warned them, but they refused to listen. Eventually he destroyed Israel (the northern kingdom) and sent Judah into captivity in Babylon and Persia for 70 years because of their persistent disobedience.

It was because they refused to listen and to repent that God brought disaster on them (2 Kings 17:7-23; 2 Chronicles 36:15-17; Jeremiah 11:17, 16:10-13, 17:4, 32:30-35, 35:17, 44:2-6). Did God plan this disaster from the beginning? Was it his intention, before the Exodus began, that the nation of Israel would be destroyed and its people scattered? I do not think so. Scripture says that all these disasters came on them because of their choices - choices that were not predetermined but that they made because their hearts were wrong.