To recall the big picture, we’ve been looking at the attributes of Elohim. We’ve discussed the (1) infinite attributes of Elohim, and then we began to discuss the (2) personal attributes of Elohim. The first of those that we’ve been looking at most recently is Elohim’s incorporeality, that is to say, Elohim’s being a spiritual, immaterial being rather than a physical, extended being. We argued that Elohim is best understood as an infinite unembodied mind and that we as finite minds are created in his image even though we are embodied in this physical world.
APPLICATIONS FROM ELOHIM’S INCORPOREALITY
I want to close this section by drawing out three applications from God’s incorporeality.
1. ULTIMATE REALITY IS NOT MATERIAL
That which is ultimate is not material in nature. The ultimate reality is spiritual in nature, not material. That is to say, persons are the locus of value whether these be the divine persons of the Trinity or human persons created in Elohim’s image. Persons are the locus of value. Therefore, one single person is worth more than all of the material universe combined. Think of that. That means that you as an individual person are worth more than the entire material universe in Elohim’s economy. Things have value only insofar as they serve the purposes of persons; only insofar as they are useful to persons. Therefore as St. Augustine said we should love people and use things, not vice versa. Of course, the two great commandments that Jesus reiterated point to this. The first of these is to love the Lord our God with all our strength, soul, heart, and mind. Second, to love our neighbour as ourselves. These two great commandments capture what is of ultimate value in the universe – namely, persons.
2. SPIRITUAL FOCUS, NOT MATERIAL FOCUS
We should have a spiritual focus in our lives and not a material focus. Since the greatest and most important realities in life are immaterial or spiritual, that ought to be our focus. Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says,
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
So many of us, I think, are preoccupied with amassing material wealth and material goods – a fine house, a big car, fancy clothes – and yet, in the end, these are trivialities compared to the spiritual concerns that we ought to have. I remember a remark by the author C. P. Snow that the most horrible thing that could happen would not be worldwide famine. He said the most horrible thing that could be happening would be worldwide famine and we in the West would sit and watch it on our televisions. It is that disproportion between the incredible wealth that we have here and the poverty of so many people in the world that I think ought to move us to be concerned about their lot. Now this is not a “Business Class” and when the time of “Business” comes, then we shall talk about it next time. The point here is, We ought to not hoarding up material things for ourselves; we ought to be thinking about how we can use our wealth and our material goods for the mutual-benefit of others and for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in this world.
3. YOUR YEARNING DESIRE IS SPIRITUAL, NOT PHYSICAL
Our most important needs are spiritual, not physical. Our most important needs are not the needs of our bodies but the needs of our souls. Therefore we need to attend closely to these.
Look at what Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:7b-8. Paul says,
discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
Bodily training or exercise is useful for this life, but this life is short and transitory. Godliness is valuable not only for this life but also for eternal life, everlasting life, and is therefore something that we should exercise ourselves to develop.
Similarly, over in 1 Corinthians 9:25 Paul writes,
“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wealth, but we an imperishable.”
Paul thinks of the Olympic athletes who train so rigorously for the sports in which they compete. They do it for just a perishable crown – an olive garland in those days. But Paul says we are striving for an imperishable crown of righteousness that the Lord will give us on that day when we go to be with him. Think of how much time we lavish on our bodies. Exercising, working out, women making up their faces, getting your hair done, the clothes that we wear, how we look. And yet how much time and effort and concern do we lavish upon the care of our souls? Our bodies beautiful and pampered but our souls undernourished, flabby, and ugly. Our most important needs, I think we need to be reminded, are spiritual and not physical. Therefore we need, as Paul says, to train ourselves like an athlete in developing godliness in our lives. This will carry over for the life to come.
So I think there is an important application of this attribute of Elohim’s incorporeality because it shows us that the ultimate things in life, the most important things in life, are spiritual and not material.
SOME ATTRIBUTES OF PERSONHOOD
The issue surrounding “personhood” is so important. For example, we see this topic resounding in the Political Abortion Debate happening. As Christians, our theological doctrines do not respect the ideology of “pro-choice”; we subscribe to being “pro-life”. What does it actually mean to be a PERSON? Someone said that “you need the breath of life” from God; which other animals and trees may or may not have.
Question: Genesis 6:17 implies that every living creatures has the breath of life in it. Are all living things, therefore “persons” just because they have the breath of life in them? What make’s their breath of life different from the breath of life of we humans?
As a spirit, as self-conscious mind, Elohim possesses all of the cumulative attributes of personhood to an infinite degree. He cumulatively possesses intellectual attributes, volitional attributes, and emotional attributes. So we want to turn now to a discussion of those. By emphasising “cumulative”, I resort to saying that possessing one of these attributes on its own is not convincing to imply personhood. For example, computers such as artificial intelligence have intellectual attributes but they are not persons. Automotive Vehicles have volition attributes but they are not persons. Lastly, animals have emotional attributes but not many of us will say that they are persons. In fact, animals could have all these attributes and we would not say they are persons. This means that some more secret ingredients are still missing. What could they be? I will continue to tease the answer out little by little until we get there.
1. OMNISCIENCE: INTELLECTUAL ATTRIBUTES IMPLIES A “PERSON”
First, Elohim’s intellectual attributes can be described under the heading of his omniscience. Omniscience, from the Latin, means literally all-knowledge. Omniscience – all-knowledge.
Let’s look at the scriptural data with respect to Elohim’s omniscience. Before looking at specific facets of it, I want to simply read Psalm 139:1-6 because this is such a wonderful summary of the omniscience of Elohim.
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Here the psalmist extols Elohim for HIS infinite knowledge of all things and especially Elohim’s intimate knowledge of the psalmist himself. In fact, when we look more closely at what the Scripture has to teach about Elohim’s omniscience, we find that Elohim does indeed know all things. First of all, the Scriptures indicate that Elohim knows everything that happens. He knows everything that is going on in the universe. Let’s look at some Scriptures together.
“For He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.”
Here Elohim is described as looking down from heaven and seeing everything that transpires upon the face of the Earth. Wow! Thst is amazing. Similarly, two chapters later in Job 31:4, Job asks,
“Does He not see my ways and number all my steps?”
Of course, the answer is yes. This is the Answer that frightens many people especially Atheists like Dr Richard Dawkins who liken’s Elohim to a 1984 Big Brother Intellectual Bully. Elohim knows every step that Job might take. THEY numbers all his steps and knows all his ways. Then over in Job 34:21-23,
For His eyes are upon the ways of a man,
And He sees all his steps.
There is no darkness or deep shadow
Where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.
For He does not need to consider a man further,
That he should go before God in judgment.
So Elohim knows all things as HE looks down from heaven and sees all things that transpire on the Earth.
Proverbs 15:3 emphasizes this same truth:
“The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
Watching the evil and the good.”
My Answer: The word “behold” must be understood in light of the context of its original language. In Habakkuk 1:13 the Hebrew word is “raah” (pronounced: raw-aw’) which means in this context: “look upon = endure to see, with accusative of thing” is used in the perfect tense. Which means what? It means that Elohim cannot literally/ directly see evil. IN Proverbs 15:3 the Hebrew word used is “tsaphah” (pronounced: tsaw-faw’) which means in this context: look out or about, spy keep watch. This is used in the imperfect tense. This is the same word used in Genesis 31:49 that keep watch over a covenant or in Proverbs 31:27 that she keeps watch over the affairs of her household. Now, can you literally/ directly see a covenant or affairs? no. These are things you are conscious of. You cannot literally/ directly see my speech as I am speaking to you now, but you are keeping watch of my speech, my good grammatical as you read this. This is like somebody who knows that the sun is shining outside but cannot look directly at the sunlight. Where Elohim cannot see you, there is resounding loneliness there. That is why Elohim, who knew where Adam was physically, still had to ask “Where are you?” Because spiritually, Elohim cannot even tolerate to directly see the iniquity that you may be in. So, even though Elohim is omnipresent there are places that Elohim is not present in and you can hide from Elohim if you hide in iniquity. This is why Adam could “hide” from Elohim whom Adam was not ignorant of the fact of HIS Omnipresence.
Question: How can Elohim be Omnipresent and still not present in sin? The Bible describes sin as a place you know? How can Elohim be Omniscient/ all-knowledgeable and still, not knowledgeable about sin?
Answer: The Answer to this Question stems from a Christian Theology subject called “Perfect Being Theology” and we will deal with this in more depth in the future. It says that a Perfect Being cannot be perfect and imperfect in the same sense. This means that perfect beings cannot exist on a lower order perfection but must exist on a higher level of perfection where they are associated with “greater making properties (GMP)” not “lesser making properties (LMP)”. GMP lead to more and more of the same thing while LMP leads to less and less of the same thing until it becomes nothing. Elohim cannot engage with “something” and “nothing” in the same sense, that would be a logical contradiction. Elohim cannot be engaging with some-place and no-place in the same sense, that would be a logical contradiction. This means that Elohim sees “sin” as an LMP that destroys its host into nothing or no place. Therefore, Elohim cannot be something or somewhere and not be nothing or nowhere respectfully in the same sense, that would be a logical contradiction. This is why it is possible for Elohim to be Omnipresent and Omniscient and yet, still not present in sin or knowledgeable about sin because sin leads to nowhere and nothing.
In the New Testament Jesus similarly taught. Matthew 10:29-31 says,
Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
Here Jesus says that your Father knows even the very hairs of our head and that even the little sparrow that falls to the ground does not do so without Elohim’s knowledge. So literally everything that happens in the universe is known by God.
Secondly, not only does Elohim see and know everything that happens in the world, but THEY also knows the secret thoughts of each individual. In other words, Elohim literally reads your mind. He knows what you are thinking. 1 Chronicles 28:9 speaks of this truth. This is David’s charge to Solomon. David says,
As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.
Elohim searches all hearts and understands the intent of every thought. The heart in Hebrew terminology was conceived to be the centre of the human personality – the very essence of a human person. Over and over again the Old Testament describes the hearts of men as open to God like a book to be read by him. So for example in Psalm 44:21 it says the LORD “knows the secrets of the heart.” Remember, this makes sinners like Atheists very scared but this makes saved-sinners like you and I very comforted that the one who sees all that I am, all my imperfections, still loves me unconditionally. Similarly in Jeremiah 17:9-10 the prophet says,
The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.
So Elohim knows the heart of every person and reads his/her thoughts.
In the New Testament, we find this same truth reiterated in a very graphic manner in Hebrews 4:13. The writer says,
“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
So there is no secret thought, no inner recess of our minds, no hidden corner of our hearts that isn’t open and transparent to Elohim. THEY not only knows what is happening in the universe but THEY knows the very secret thoughts of every individual.
Thirdly, even more startling still, the Scriptures affirm that Elohim knows the future. THEY knows what has not yet happened but will happen. Go back to Psalm 139 that we were looking at a moment ago. Psalm 139:4, 14b-16. There THEY says,
Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
. . .
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
Here the psalmist says even before he thinks a thought or says a word, Elohim already knows it in advance and in fact while he was still being formed in his mother’s womb as an embryo or a fetus Elohim knew and counted all of the days that the psalmist would live from his birth until his death when as yet there was none of them. Let us face the truth! Elohim knows who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. Many of us have asked ourselves, “how does HE know that?”. And the key to that question is “how” in “how does HE know that?”. We will come to this in the future.
Isaiah also has a more strong emphasis upon Elohim’s foreknowledge of the future. In fact, for Isaiah, the characteristic earmark of the true God in contrast to the pagan false gods of Israel’s neighbours was God’s foreknowledge of the future. Look at Isaiah 41:21-24,
“Present your case,” the Lord says.
“Bring forward your strong arguments,”
The King of Jacob says.
Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place;
As for the former events, declare what they were,
That we may consider them and know their outcome.
Or announce to us what is coming;
Declare the things that are going to come afterward,
That we may know that you are gods;
Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.
Behold, you are of no account,
And your work amounts to nothing;
He who chooses you is an abomination.
Here Isaiah flings in the teeth of these pagan deities the challenge to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the future is so that we might know that you are truly God. And he says they are nothing – these idols are an abomination, they can tell us nothing.
Also Isaiah 46:10, Isaiah says Elohim, Yahweh, the true God,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’
So in contrast to the idols and the pagan deities of Israel’s neighbours, Yahweh the true God was known by HIS foreknowledge of the future. So Elohim knows the future.
Finally, number four, the Scripture also affirms that Elohim cannot learn anything – THEY already knows everything and therefore it is impossible for Elohim to learn anything.
Question: If Elohim cannot learn anything, then why does Hebrews 5:8 say that Jesus, who is also Elohim, learned obedience through suffering? Didn’t Elohim know obedience through suffering in principle? Why does HE have to learn it on earth?
My Answer: For a Perfect Being like Elohim, the principle of suffering and subordination must exist eternally in THEY as THEY is the cause of all reality. Whatever is in the cause, must show or be represented in at least 1 dimension in the effect. Do you understand this? From a good tree/ cause, comes a good fruit/ effect. There are many commentaries that do not answer this question or try to answer the question in a confusing way. They say that Jesus learned obedience practically or experientially. However, doesn’t the principle of practical/ experiential obedience already exist in Elohim eternally? Yes, it does. Jesus did not have to learn obedience in that way. Let us remember why Jesus suffered. 1 Peter 3:18 says that Jesus suffered for sins that one time. We have already established that a Perfect Being such as Elohim, cannot imbibe in HIS Eternal Nature, the principle of sin, if not, THEY will not exist. THEY will be the author/ source/ cause of sin. THEY is not. So Jesus has never ever been conversant to with the principle of “obedience suffering by SIN”. This is how he learned obedience according to a good exegesis of this passage.
Let’s move on. Romans 11:33-36. Here Paul proclaims,
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
So there is no one who can teach Elohim anything because now, HE perfectly knows what it means and feels like to suffer obedience ‘as if’ HE was a sinner – and no man taught HIM that, HE learnt it all by HIMSELF. There is no one who is HIS counsellor for Elohim knows all things that are things and that lead to more things – Greater Making Properties.
Similarly, in Job 21:22 we read,
“Can anyone teach God knowledge, In that He judges those on high?”
The question is merely rhetorical. No one can teach Elohim knowledge. Indeed in Job 37:16 Elohim is declared perfect in knowledge.
Psalm 147:5 sums it up.
“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.”
That comprises it all, that says it all. Elohim’s understanding is infinite. THEY is infinite; THEY is perfect in knowledge.
That is the scriptural data concerning divine omniscience. What we want to do now is begin a systematic summary of this attribute to try to understand this scriptural data.
Omniscience is usually understood in terms of truth. For any true statement or proposition, Elohim knows and believes that proposition. THEY does not believe any false proposition. In other words, Elohim knows only and all true propositions. By knowing only and all true propositions, Elohim thereby knows the past, the present, and the future completely. Even before the creation of the world, Elohim foreknew the motion of every single electron in the history of the universe. THEY knew your very thoughts even before you think them. And specifically, THEY even knows our free choices before we make them. So Elohim’s omniscience entails that Elohim knows only and all truths and believes no falsehoods.
This is remarkable as it is. It would already require an infinite mind to be omniscient in that way. But even omniscience does not exhaust the scope and excellence of Elohim’s knowledge. For philosophers have noted that in addition to propositional knowledge (that is to say, knowledge of true propositions), there also seems to be a sort of non-propositional knowledge. Proposition knowledge is knowledge of all true propositions. But there is a sort of non-propositional knowledge as well in addition to propositional knowledge. Let me illustrate. Suppose I am out exploring in the jungle this week and a ferocious animal chases me up and I hide from it in a tree. Suppose I yell to a friend, “Go tell my family that I’ve been treed by a ferocious animal!” Now, what does my friend go and repeat to my family? Does he run breathlessly up to my family and say, “Help, I’ve been treed by a ferocious animal?” No! He runs up and says, “Help, Ernest Adewoyin has been treed by a ferocious animal!” In other words, we use different words to express the same proposition. When I express that proposition I say “Tell my family I’ve been treed by a ferocious animal.” But when my friend says it, he says, “Ernest Adewoyin has been treed by a ferocious animal.” We have the same propositional knowledge and yet expressed in a different way. He uses different words to express the same proposition that I do. Yet the knowledge that we have is not the same. For if I believe I’ve been treed by a ferocious animal then my reaction to that knowledge will be to hang on for dear life. But my friend in response to his knowledge that Ernest Adewoyin has been treed by a ferocious animal doesn’t react in that way. He doesn’t hang on for dear life. Rather he runs for help. So although we have the same propositional knowledge here, namely that Ernest Adewoyin has been treed by a ferocious animal, we have a different sort of non-propositional or self-knowledge in this case.
This self-knowledge is essential to timely action. For example, it is not enough for me to believe that Ernest Adewoyin is hungry in order for me to be motivated to go get something to eat. For suppose that I have been in an automobile accident and lying in the hospital suffering from temporary amnesia and I don’t know who I am. If somebody came up to me and said, “Ernest Adewoyin is hungry” well that knowledge wouldn’t do anything to motivate me to eat because I don’t know that I am Ernest Adewoyin. What I need in addition to the knowledge that Ernest Adewoyin is hungry is the self-knowledge “I am hungry.” Thus, even if somebody or even something (say, some great super-computer) had all the propositional knowledge in the universe but lacked this self-knowledge it could still never decide to take any timely action. It would never know when it should act. So what that means is that Elohim, your Father, is more than omniscient. THEY not only possesses all propositional knowledge but THEY also possesses THEIR appropriate self-knowledge. THEY knows “I am the creator of the universe,” “I have sent my Son into the world,” “I am the second person of the Trinity incarnate in the flesh for the salvation of mankind,” “I am the Holy Spirit come here to help and comfort you” and so forth.
But even still, the excellence of Elohim’s knowledge is not yet exhausted. For what is also important here is not just the content of one’s knowledge even if one has all propositional knowledge and appropriate self-knowledge as well, what is also important here is the way in which one acquires one’s knowledge. Suppose that there were two beings who each had the appropriate self-knowledge as well as all of the propositional knowledge in the universe. But suppose that the second being only acquired his knowledge because the first being told him everything that the first being just knew innately. Clearly I think we would agree the second being who needed to be instructed and told everything is not as intellectually excellent or as great as the first being. So Elohim as one being, even if there was another omniscient being who knows like Elohim knows everything – and yet had to be taught everything, since Elohim doesn’t have to learn anything from anyone but simply knows all truth innately, must be maximally excellent intellectually.
1 Corinthians 13:12 – says that we shall be omniscient one day. In fact, it is Jesus prayer that Eternal life is an odyssey for us to get to know God completely (John 17:3). But because we had to be taught our omniscience does not mean that we are greater or equal to Elohim. Elohim’s greatness is without competition or rivalry.
This, I find, to be an absolutely stunning conclusion. Usually, people think of Elohim’s omniscience as one of the superlative attributes of Elohim. But what our logical analysis discloses is that Elohim’s intellectual capacities and THEIR greatness actually even outstrips omniscience. This is how great Elohim is. THEY has not only all propositional knowledge, THEY has appropriate self-knowledge, and THEY never acquires this knowledge by learning it from anyone else but simply knows innately only and all true facts about the world. This is the greatness of Elohim’s intellectual capacity. And trust me, many Atheists and sinners and some baby Christians are very afraid of this. We grown up Christians should rejoice. Why?
I think that with that we will close our lesson so far. Next time we meet together I want to timely talk about two problems which are posed by Elohim’s complete and infinite knowledge; namely, how is Elohim’s knowledge of our free choices compatible with our freedom. If Elohim knows everything that you are going to do in advance, and Elohim cannot be mistaken, THEY cannot err, then how is it that when the time arrives you are really free to do anything other than what Elohim foreknows? How is Elohim’s foreknowledge compatible with human freedom? Secondly, I want to discuss Elohim’s hypothetical knowledge. Does God know what would have happened if the Nazi won the war? Does THEY know what would have happened if you were to have married someone else instead of your spouse or if you had chosen never to marry? Does Elohim have this kind of hypothetical knowledge and if so what are the implications of that kind of knowledge for Elohim’s providence. These are some of the problems that we will look at next time. It will also open our eyes to the hidden angry logical and rational questions such as “If Elohim knew Adam and Eve would sin or that some people would be going to hell, then why doesn’t THEY do something about it to stop it?” These are tough-tough questions that we, as intellectual Christians, we are not shying away from it. We will face it boldly and truthfully.
More Grace to us as we continue to learn by the help of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ Name. Amen
A Complete Development from Dr William Lane Craig.