Is God Taken By Surprise? Omniscience

Sharon Sampson

Some people love a good surprise. They delight to see what others have planned for a special birthday or anniversary. The unknown makes it all the more exciting. What will it be? A special dinner? A new outfit? An exotic trip? Half the fun is the anticipation of the gift.

When it comes to the serious things of life, however, few of us like surprises. In fact, many prefer total control to wondering what might be lurking around the next corner. The planners like to have all their ducks in a row. The fearful want assurance about the future, so they won’t be afraid. Those investing money aim for a sure return. We want to know the new job across the country is with a solid company, not one that might close before we even finish unpacking. We don’t want to invest in the stock that loses half its value the week after we buy it and then takes years to recover. We don’t want a fearful diagnosis with an unknown future. We don’t want our well-organized plans to change.

In the really important things of life, we don’t want to be taken by surprise. Whether I get a surprise party, a surprise dinner, or a surprise trip for my birthday is ultimately of little consequence. But jobs, health, money? These are really big things, and we want control. We want certainty. We want to know.

Our wonderful heavenly Father, however, is never taken by surprise. This is because he is omniscient. Or put simply, “He knows everything” (1 John 3:20b). There are no surprises for someone who knows all things.

The problem for us is that we would rather put omniscience in the category of God’s communicable attributes – those God shares with us to some degree, like love or kindness. But omniscience belongs to the incommunicable attributes – those God doesn’t share with us. Whether we want to admit it or not, we will never have the certainty we seek when we desire to know what cannot be known. Yet, we can have absolute certainty, if we seek it in the right place.

Often, when people are fearful about the future, Christians run to the “don’t be anxious” verses of Scripture. This is not bad, but it’s not far enough. Yes, if I’m fearful, I need to not be anxious. But why? I don’t need to be anxious because my heavenly Father knows. I’m fearful, because I don’t know, yet I can rest, because my Father does know. I don’t just need to stop being anxious. I need to start remembering that the God who is not taken by surprise has everything in order. My not knowing is not evidence of His not knowing. I can rest when I remember that He knows. As I fix my eyes on Him, and remember His omniscience, I can rest and give up my desire to be omniscient. When we strive to be all-knowing, we will always come up short. This is not an attribute which God shares with us. He alone is all-knowing.

We can be certain, not about what we know, but certain about the One who does know. The Westminster Confession of Faith (2:2) reminds us, “In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent, or uncertain.” We can be certain that nothing is uncertain to our all-knowing God!

Matthew 6:31-32 is interesting, in that it sets God’s knowledge against our fear: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (italics added).

Yes, your heavenly Father knows. He knows everything. He knows you. He knows what you need. He knows what you don’t need. He knows what is best for your good and His glory. Rather than a desire to know what you cannot know, you should seek to know the One who knows and gives you rest.

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”  Psalm 9:10

Sharon L. Sampson holds an MTS with a biblical counseling concentration from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. She is a certified biblical counselor and is an active member of the Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. She has been married to her wonderful husband, Mark, since 1985, and they have one married daughter.

Sharon Sampson