Know Your Limits: Omniscience (Pt. 2 of 4)

There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"


In this series we're looking into three doctrines that are completely mysterious and simultaneously carry immediate practical implications. 

Omniscience: Know-it-All

The easiest way to define the doctrine of "omniscience" is to "know it all.” The Bible is unmistakably clear that God is the only one who quite literally exhaustively knows all there is to know about everything in the past, present, and future.* God never “learns” anything. There has never been a point where God has not been at his fullest potential. God is perfect in all that he is and does. 

How is any of this relevant or practical to us right here and right now? Well, for one, sometimes we cross the line and presume in our pride to know it all. 


Know-it-Alls Are Really Annoying

There's hardly anything more annoying than being around a know-it-all. The annoyance is acutely intensified when the know-it-all is under the impression/delusion that in their infinite knowledge, they possess an air-tight, well-nuanced, exhaustive answer about every single subject under the sun. 

Christian know-it-alls believe they have the ability to take the subjects that so clearly belong to the realm of mystery and faith and explain them away with utter simplicity. 

The frustration with the know-it-alls goes through the roof in times of real crisis such as when someone loses a child, for example. My dear friend Elliot Grudem visited us recently and said, "You know, Alex, the oldest book in the Bible is Job and the book reaches its pinnacle of frustration when Job's friends succumb to the  temptation to place a WHY on his suffering; they try to make sense out of the utter chaos. They were doing well when they weren't saying anything at all." 

The Remedy for the Know-it-All

The remedy for the know-it-all is not to swing to the other end of the pendulum and know nothing. The answer lies in the humility to express gratitude for what is known and yet simultaneously acknowledging the reality that there is so much that is still beyond the grasp of even the brightest of minds. There really is "a crack in everything."

If you're a know-it-all and I stepped on your toes a little bit, here's three words that will easily let you off the hook the next time you're tempted to put your omniscience on display: I....Don't....Know. 

It is not a sin to acknowledge that you don't know everything. In fact, it is actually a righteous thing to go ahead and let God be God (Deut. 29:29). Besides, it is exhausting to know everything. 

Two Positives for Giving the "I Don't Know" Answer

First, people stop feeling patronized when you say "I don't know." The uninformed, slap-together answer doesn't help. In fact, it is often patronizing. Rather than irritating people with sloppy answers take the time to enter into the question with them, see it from their point of view, and even be stumped with them. Besides, your friend may not really want your answer. More often, they just want presence.

Second, saying "I don't know" buys you time to go do some digging and keep the dialogue going. You'll do some growing and your friend will respect you for it.

Don't fall into the temptation to be lazy and take a short cut. Feel free to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge, grappling with mystery, and do the work that it takes to arrive at real "understanding." After all, Solomon was big on getting wisdom. 

"The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding" (Prov. 4:7).



* 1 Sa 23:10-13; 2 Kings 13:19; Ps. 139:1-6; Isa. 40:12-14; 42:9; Jer. 1:4; 38:17-20; Ezek. 3:6; Mt. 11:21.