Incorporeality and Omniscience

Closure on God’s Incorporeality

To recall the big picture, we’ve been looking at the attributes of God. We’ve discussed the infinite attributes of God, and then we began to discuss the personal attributes of God. The first of those that we’ve been looking at most recently is God’s incorporeality, that is to say, God’s being a spiritual, immaterial being rather than a physical, extended being. We argued that God 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.


I want to close this section by drawing out three applications from God’s incorporeality.

  1. 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 God’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 God’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 points 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 neighbor as ourselves. These two great commandments capture what is of ultimate value in the universe – namely, persons.
  2. 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. We ought to not be hording up material things for ourselves; we ought to be thinking about how we can use our wealth and our material goods for the benefit of others and for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in this world.

  3. 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 wreath, 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

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    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 important application of this attribute of God’s incorporeality because it shows us that the ultimate things in life, the most important things in life, are spiritual and not material.

God’s Personhood

As spirit, as self-conscious mind, God possesses all of the attributes of personhood to an infinite degree. He possesses intellectual attributes, volitional attributes, and emotional attributes. So we want to turn now to a discussion of those.

God’s Intellectual Attribute – Divine Omniscience

Scriptural Data

First, God’s intellectual attributes can be described under the heading of his omniscience. Omniscience, from the Latin, means literally all-knowledge. Omni-science – all-knowledge. Let’s look at the scriptural data with respect to God’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 God.

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 extolls God for his infinite knowledge of all things and especially God’s intimate knowledge of the psalmist himself. In fact, when we look more closely at what the Scripture has to teach about God’s omniscience, we find that God does indeed know all things.

  1. First of all, the Scriptures indicate that God knows everything that happens. He knows everything that is going on in the universe. Let’s look at some Scriptures together.
    Job 28:24,
    “For He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” Here God is described as looking down from heaven and seeing everything that transpires upon the face of the Earth. 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. God knows every step that Job might take. He 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 shadowWhere 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 God 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.”Question: And there is a query here: The bible says in Habakkuk that the eyes of the Lord cannot behold iniquity. Yet, we see here in Psalms that God’s eyes is watching the evil and the Good. How would you clear this seemingly contradition?

    Answer: You have to read Habakkuk in context. You have to know what the prophet here is actually saying. In the next verse, he is asking a question that why is God tolerating the evil of people. So here, it is pointing out that “God’s eyes seeing” has to do with his “tolerance” and not with the actuality that he actually “knows-about” (not to be confused with knows) evil.

    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 God knows even the very hairs of our head and that even the little sparrow that falls to the ground does not do so without God’s knowledge. So literally everything that happens in the universe is known by God.

  2. Secondly, not only does God see and know everything that happens in the world, but he also knows the secret thoughts of each individual. In other words, God 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.God searches all hearts and understands the intent of every thought. The heart in Hebrew terminology was conceived to be the center 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.”

    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 God knows the heart of every person and reads his 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 God. He not only knows what is happening in the universe but he knows the very secret thoughts of every individual.

  3. Thirdly, even more startling still, the Scriptures affirm that God knows the future. He 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 he 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 writtenThe 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, God 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 God 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.

    Isaiah also has a strong emphasis upon God’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 neighbors 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 true God. And he says they are nothing – those who choose these idols are an abomination, idols can tell us nothing about the future. This is why I don’t believe in astrology.

    Also Isaiah 46:10, Isaiah says God, 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 neighbors, Yahweh the true God was known by his foreknowledge of the future. So God knows the future.

  4. Finally, number four, the Scripture also affirms that God cannot learn anything – he already knows everything and therefore it is impossible for God to learn anything.

    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 God anything. There is no one who is his counselor for God knows all things.

    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 God knowledge. Indeed in Job 37:16 God 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. God’s understanding is infinite. He is infinite; he is perfect in knowledge.


Systematic Summary

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, God knows and believes that proposition. He does not believe any false proposition. In other words, God knows only and all true propositions. By knowing only and all true propositions, God thereby knows the past, the present, and the future completely. Even before the creation of the world God foreknew the motion of every single electron in the history of the universe. He knew your very thoughts even before you think them. And specifically he even knows our free choices before we make them. So God’s omniscience entails that God 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 God’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 hiking in the Kent woods this week and a ferocious deer chases me up a tree. Suppose I yell to a friend, “Go tell Alice that I’ve been treed by a deer!” Now, what does my friend go and repeat to Alice? Does he run breathlessly up to Alice and say, “Help, I’ve been treed by a deer?” No! He runs up and says, “Help, Ernest has been treed by a deer!” In other words, we use different words to express the same proposition. When I express that proposition I say “Tell her I’ve been treed by a deer.” But when my friend says it, he says, “Ernest has been treed by a deer.” 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 deer then my reaction to that knowledge will be to hang on for dear life. But my friend in response to his knowledge that Ernest has been treed by a deer 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 has been treed by a deer, 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 is hungry in order for me to be motivated to go get something to eat. For suppose that I have been in an car 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 is hungry” well that knowledge wouldn’t do anything to motivate me to eat because I don’t know that I am Ernest. What I need in addition to the knowledge that Ernest 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 God is more than omniscient. He not only possesses all propositional knowledge but he also possesses his appropriate self-knowledge. He 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,” and so forth.

But even still, Praise be to my God! The excellence of God’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 God, since he doesn’t have to learn anything from anyone but simply knows all truth innately, chai! must be maximally excellent intellectually.

This, I find, to be an absolutely stunning conclusion. Usually people think of God’s omniscience as one of the superlative attributes of God. But what our analysis discloses is that God’s intellectual capacities and his greatness actually even outstrips omniscience. This is how great your loving Father God is.

  • He has not only all propositional knowledge,
  • he has appropriate self-knowledge, and
  • he never acquires this knowledge by learning it from anyone else but simply knows innately only and all true facts about existence.

This is the greatness of God’s intellectual capacity.

I think that with that we will close our lesson. Next time we meet together I want to talk about two problems which are posed by God’s complete and infinite knowledge; namely,

  1. how is God’s knowledge of our free choices compatible with our freedom. If God knows everything that you are going to do in advance, and God cannot be mistaken, he cannot err, then how is it that when the time arrives, are you really free to do anything other than what God foreknows? How is God’s foreknowledge compatible with human freedom?
  2. Secondly, I want to discuss God’s hypothetical knowledge. Does God know what would have happened if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election?  Or what would have happened if we never left the EU in Brexit? Does he know what would have happened if you were to have married John Doe instead of your husband or if you had married Susan instead of your wife? Does God have this kind of hypothetical knowledge
  3. and if so what are the implications of that kind of knowledge for God’s providence. These are some of the problems that we will look at next time.

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