Resting in the God Who Knows

Psalm 139:1-6

As children enter their toddler years, they add a new word to their vocabulary and use it a lot – why. As their brain and thought processes develop and mature, they experience an increasing interest and urge to know why things happen the way they do, are the way they are, and so on.

At first, a parent may feel excited by this new curiosity, committing to answer every ‘why’ in great depth and detail. But this excitement soon moves to feeling exhausted as ‘why’ questions continue incessantly day after day. This may cause a parent to stop giving thoughtful answers and switch to more efficient and evasive answers instead.

For instance, if a child asks, “Why does the sun shine each day?,” you may first feel compelled to give an intricate, thoughtful answer. But later on, you might simply say, “Because that’s just how things are,” or, “Because it wants to give the moon a break.”

No matter how you answer this question, you know what a toddler will say, right? He or she will answer with yet another, “But why?” For this reason, we can easily arrive at a place where we stop answering these questions altogether and just say, “You know what, I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Today I’d like to help us answer our own difficult ‘why’ questions since, though most of us are no longer toddlers, we still ask ‘why,’ especially about the more complex, difficult questions of life, like why do we suffer, why do people make bad choices, why do bad things happen to good people, and why do unexpected challenges and problems arise?

Though numerous Christian intelligent apologists, theologians, and philosophers offer various answers of an abstract, complex, and profound nature, some of which can be helpful if you have time to think about things deeply, I would like to offer a simpler answer which can give great comfort, confidence, and peace in times of trouble. To do this, we’ll take a look at Psa 139:1-6 and also Job 42:1-6.

This Psalm looks closely at three of the great attributes of God, his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Omniscience means God knows everything. Omnipresence means God is everywhere. Omnipotence means God is all powerful.

There are two things you should know about these attributes. First, they are comprehensive attributes, meaning that they are exceptional because they have no exceptions. In other words, they are complete and encompass everything, as in God knows everything without exception, is everywhere without exception, and has all power without exception. As a result, there is no one or anything else like God.

This leads to a second thing you should know about these attributes: they are incommunicable. This means that unlike various other attributes such as holiness, love, justice, kindness, etc., which we may also posses and experience to a limited degree as human beings made in God’s likeness, we are not able to possess or experience these attributes. No one but God knows all things, is in all places, and has all power.

So, when we read this psalm, we are reading things about God which are only true of God and knowing that these things are true of God should encourage us trust in God to a complete degree, in a way that we can trust in no one else – not even ourselves.

Now, this psalm doesn’t explore these attributes in a merely academic way, leading to intellectual fascination. It explores them in a personal way that encourages adoration and worship. Pastor James Montgomery Boice says has this to say about this psalm:

“Psalm 139 has both head and heart. It is strongly theological, dealing with such important doctrines as God’s omniscience (it is probably the weightiest part of the Bible for discussing God’s omniscience), omnipresence, and omnipotence; but it is also wonderfully personal, because it speaks of these attributes of God in ways that impact the psalmist and ourselves.”

We will focus on the first six verses and consider how God’s omniscience enables us to respond well to the difficult and painful experiences and questions of life. Because God knows everything about everyone, we can rest completely in him.

God knows people completely.
O Yahweh, you have searched me and known me. you know my sitting down and my rising up; you understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Yahweh, you know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.

According to these first five verses, the psalm writer acknowledges that though he doesn’t know many things – not even about himself – God knows everything about him. God’s knowledge of all people and any person is always unlimited. About God’s all-knowing omniscience, theologian Arthur Pink explains:

“God … knows everything; everything possible, everything actual; all events, all creatures, of the past, the present, and the future. He is perfectly acquainted with every detail in the life of every being in heaven, in earth, and in hell … Nothing escapes his notice, nothing can be hidden from him, nothing is forgotten by him … He never errs, never changes, never overlooks anything.”

According to v. 1, God doesn’t just know people in a factual, historical way (such as how you know about George Washington or Amelia Earhart. He knows people in an individual, relational, and personal way. He doesn’t just know about you – he knows you and he is interested and intentional about knowing you closely and completely. He pays personal attention to you with real, personal interest.

According to v. 2, God knows every time you sit down and every time you stand up. Now, by “sitting” and “standing,” the psalmist means more than just those two specific actions. This is a Hebrew poetry technique called inclusio, which is like a pair of bookends or brackets that includes “everything in between.” So, by “sitting” and “standing,” the psalmist refers to everything you do, to all of your actions in daily life.

Now, God knows more than just the external, observable facts of when, how, or where you do things. He knows “your though afar off.” So, he also knows your internal, unobservable motives and reasons for doing things and he knows these things from any distance, no matter where you are.

According to v. 3, God knows everything about your travels and about your sleep. This is another inclusio to emphasize that God knows everything about you, whether you are out doing things in public places (observable behavior) or at home in the privacy of your sleep (unobservable behavior). He concludes by making his point most bluntly – he is familiar with “all of my ways.”

According to w. 4, God knows more than your actions and motives, he knows every word you speak. And again, he not only knows what you say, but why you said it, what you meant when you spoke. “He knows it altogether,” meaning that he understands the motives and intended meanings of everything you say. This is remarkable because not even we can fully understand the thoughts and motives of our own words and actions.

Do you agree with the following quote from Mark Twain?

“A woman's intuition is better than a man's. Nobody knows anything, really, you know, and a woman can guess a good deal nearer than a man.”

While anyone can certainly know the truth about life, the truth about God, etc., can anyone know everything about the people in their life? Can anyone even know themselves perfectly? To this, the answer is ‘no.’

 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer 17:9)

Not even you can understand yourself as well or as accurately as possible. Only God can know you this way. And for God, his knowledge is more than some sort heightened, imperfect intuition. His knowledge is comprehensive, correct, and complete.

The psalm writer continues by pointing out that God not only knows everything about you, even more than you know yourself, he interacts and intervenes in your life based upon his comprehensive knowledge of you. According to the psalmist, it is as though God places his omnipotent hands around you and above you, personally and sovereignly guiding the flow and direction of your life, and he does this in perfect harmony with what he knows and how he knows you to be – with who you are and why.

When our family moved from Queens, NYC to Moorhead, MN, we had to find new pediatricians for our children. In doing so, we had to request all of our children’s medical records from their NYC pediatrician so that their new Moorhead pediatricians would now everything about them, their previous care, conditions, vaccinations, etc. Without such knowledge, our children would receive less than ideal care.

We all experience the same thing when we complete surveys for school applications, job applications, insurance applications, etc. Such surveys ensure that potential schools, employers, and insurance providers know what kind of people we are, whether or not we are a good fit for the degree or position, and what our needs or risks may be. All of this depends, of course, on whether we know ourselves accurately or represent ourselves honestly, which may or may not be the case.

For God, however, no questionnaires or surveys are required because he has already searched our thoughts and examined our actions. He already knows everything about us. So, everything he does or allows to happen takes into account all that he knows about each one of us. Isn’t that incredible?

We are unable to comprehend such knowledge.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.

What would it be like to have knowledge like this? What would it be like to know people this way, this well, this completely? Would that be enjoyable and helpful? Or would that be difficult and confusing? Would that be freeing or burdensome. Do you really think that knowing the answers – the ‘whys’ – to all of life’s unanswered, painful, and confusing circumstances would help you and make sense of things?  

The psalmist answers that question. He says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.”

So, he concludes two things about having this kind of comprehensive knowledge:

  • First, he says that it is too wonderful for him to possess. This means that having this degree of knowledge is impossible to comprehend or make sense of. It is impossible to have this sort of knowledge. If we did have this sort of knowledge, we would be even more confused and unable to know what to do with it or how to respond. Such knowledge would not make our choices easier to make but harder.
  • Second, he says it is high. This means it is not only impossible to comprehend if granted, but that it is not possible to experience in the first place. Our minds are not able to possess of process such knowledge. High means “inaccessible” and “unattainable.” So, we are not only unable to comprehend such knowledge, we are unable to access such knowledge.

So, the conclusion is that such complete and comprehensive knowledge is too incomprehensible and inaccessible to all of us – only God is able to know so much, make sense of it all, and handle it in the best possible way. Of God’s complete and incomprehensible knowledge, Paul says this in the New Testament:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

To use modern day texting lingo, such comprehensive knowledge – as much as we may want to know it – is actually TMI (too much info). If God were to reveal such things to us, we would recognize that he had revealed too much. We can trust him with what he knows and with not knowing it all ourselves (Deut 29:29):

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

We can rest completely in God in response to difficult things.

For those who don’t follow Christ as God and Savior, in particular, to learn that God knows everything about them, hears their every word, observes their every action, and responds in kind sounds frightening and intrusive. It sounds more like the “Great Eye of Sauron” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s middle-earth stories or the “all-seeing-eye of Big Brother” in George Orwell’s 1984, a futuristic, anti-utopian novel. To these, God’s omniscience is a threat.

For those who follow Christ, however, and therefore know God as Father, we should find great comfort, hope, and peace in knowing that God knows everything about us and about everyone else, too, for that matter. Since is a holy, loving, caring, and just father, we know that he is capable and deserving of knowing all things and since we or no one else is so capable or deserving, we can rest and trust in his care, knowing that he knows all things. For us, God’s omniscience provides us with a refuge to hide in, a shelter to lie down in, and a fortress to stand upon in tumultuous times.

We live in a culture that values independence and self-reliance. We don’t like to feel dependent on other people who may have more experience, expertise, knowledge, or skill than we do. For instance, though we may get a doctor’s opinion and even a second opinion, we will question those professional opinions and rely on Google and self-help books to chart our way forward. We lean on YouTube to fix our cars and repair our houses, and we rely on popular investment schemes and techniques to buy and sell stocks.

While there is wisdom to being informed and to knowing things so that we’re not helpless, there is also great wisdom in finding a balance between knowing nothing at all and attempting to know everything. That’s why, for instance, our church has paid Kaizen Architectural Group, to prepare a master site plan for our future facilities and property plan, since none of our members have the kind of expertise to make comprehensive decisions about such planning.

In our attempts to know everything and be self-sufficient, what we fail to realize is that in our quest to know and understand everything for ourselves, we increase our anxiety and diminish our joy by taking so much responsibility upon ourselves.

That’s why there is great freedom and joy in learning to choose wise counselors and service providers who are experienced at what they do so that you can lean on and learn from their personal and professional expertise (Prov 11:14):

In the multitude of counselors there is safety.

Let good doctors guide you, let good financial advisors manage your portfolio, and let good tradespeople repair your vehicles and build your house. You don’t have to know everything because no one can.

In an even more profound and significant way, we must learn to trust God in those things which are too hard for us to understand. He knows everything and he is perfectly faithful, just, and good. He alone is able to know everything about everything and everything about everyone. He alone is able to understand and respond correctly to everything that he knows – so when there are things which we cannot know and cannot understand, we must choose to rest in his all-knowing care, knowing that he knows, and he has and will handle what he knows with only the best and perfect care. Such knowledge is too wonderful, to incomprehensible for you and me – but not for him.

In Job 42:1-6, we read of Job’s final conclusions about God. This is what he concluded after he had lost his property, family, and health to tragic circumstances. This is what he concluded after a long and extensive series of questions and statements by his so-called friends who did nothing more than observe his suffering without empathy but only criticism, no matter how well-intended.

Then Job answered the LORD and said: “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”

Through all of this, though Job never turned away from God, he himself gave answers and feedback which presumed to know better why things had happened to him. But in the end, he realized that he didn’t know as much as he thought he knew. He concluded, instead, by realizing that the one thing he needed to know and could know with certainty was that God knows, God cares, and God can be trusted.

God is the only one who knows everything about everything and everyone. So, rather than trying to figure out why things happen and why people do what they do or say what they say (or don’t say what they don’t say), we can turn instead to the God who does know all these things and can handle them exactly as they should be handled. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us – but we can rest in the God who knows. He will care for you perfectly, compassionately, and competently as you draw nearer to him.

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