God knows all things. The fancy word for this is “omniscience.” It’s one of God’s incommunicable attributes, and it’s the attribute of God we discuss in more depth during this conversation. Author and speaker Jen Wilkin joins us to talk about her book None Like Him, specifically looking at God’s all-knowingness.
Who’s Our Guest?
Jen Wilkin is a speaker, writer, and teacher of women’s Bible studies. During her seventeen years of teaching, she has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Jen and her family are members of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
Check out Jen’s book, None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different from Us (And Why That’s a Good Thing).
Also, check out Jen’s blog at jenwilkin.net.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.
With me today is author and speaker, Jen Wilkin. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today, Jen.
Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
First thing is, who are you? How did you meet Jesus? What does your day-to-day life look like right now?
I’m a wife and a mom. I have four kids, three who are in college and one who is a senior in high school. So I’m almost an empty nester. I have been a believer since I was a child. I’m a terrible Southern Baptist because I can’t point to a specific date when I was saved, but they have allowed me to stay anyway.
I am an author and a Bible teacher. I write Bible studies that are used predominantly by women. Historically I have written them for a community Bible study that I led in the community, and now I am on staff at my church. And so we are resourcing the people in the local church.
Very very cool. So is that like your day-to-day job? Like, today you’ll be working on that kind of endeavour?
Yes, I’m actually editing a curriculum on the second half of Matthew as soon as I get off of our interview.
Oh man, that’s awesome. All right, so let’s just jump in here. Last year you wrote None Like Him, which really did seem to be kind of highly appreciated across the board which is great. In a simple and straightforward way, what is this book about? And also, why did you write it?
It’s a book about the incommunicable attributes of God, the things that are true of God that are only true of Him and cannot be true of humans. So we know that we’re created in the image of God, and there’s a lot of discussion about what it means to be an image bearer, but much of what it means is that there are things that are true about God which can be reflected in us, things like that
He is gracious and that He is long suffering and that He is merciful.
But this book is actually taking a look at the attributes that are only true of Him, that He is infinite, that He is self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, et cetera.
So it’s focusing on that first half. You will not be surprised to learn that I actually just submitted a manuscript for the communicable attributes to do as a followup.
But I felt like it was important to start with the incommunicable ones because I think they’re the ones that we, most of us, have the least developed vocabulary around, have spent probably the least amount of time meditating on. And so I wanted to draw our attention to those first and foremost because
they are what render up for us a transcendent vision of God, something that inspires us to worship.
Right, yeah. That’s really good. Now in your book you did say you’re writing this primarily for women, but for those listening who are men… Men can read this obviously and gain from it. I just want to make that clear, definitely clear. We have talked with Tim Challies before, and he wrote a review of it, so there you go. There’s a man reading and gaining from it.
Yes. I was pleasantly surprised by the reading that I received from men, especially because the cover is so feminine that you, I don’t know, it’s like it looks like it’s painted with estrogen basically. So it takes a certain man to be able to go, “You know what? I’m going to get past the cover and read this book.” But it’s true. The attributes are certainly not of benefit to only one gender.
As I started to read, you mentioned Psalm 111:10, which I have here. Just going to read it out so listeners can get the context of it. It says,
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”
So it references this fear of God, and really this is kind of a foreign concept which is strange because the phrase, the fear of God or the fear of the Lord, is all throughout the Bible everywhere. It’s just fear the Lord, fear the Lord, fear the Lord. And so many people have this like, “I don’t really know what that means” and especially young adults, but really it goes across the whole spectrum.
So could you explain what the fear of God is?
Yeah. It’s a concept that I think has sort of fallen out of favour in just everyday Christian discussion because you hear people say so often, “Well, my God is the God of love.” Placing His love is somehow an antidote.
Oh, and people will always say, “Perfect love casts out fear, so why are we even talking about fear?” And it does cast out a certain kind of fear. It casts out the fear that judgment will be meted out on us because we know that it has been meted out on Christ in our stead.
But you still read even in the New Testament that our God is a consuming fire. You still have all of these references to a right fear of the Lord. And it’s not just an Old Testament concept of God. It endures because when Christians speak about fearing God, what they mean is that we have a right reverence for Him, that we understand Him. So the way I talk about it is not just as our Father as the Lord’s prayer begins but also as the one who is in Heaven.
He is both a God who is near and a God who sits in throne between the cherubim.
And we need to live in the tension between both of those ideas of God or else if you err too far towards our Father, He becomes your “abba daddy God” whose lap you snuggle in, which is … I mean, in women’s circles, that stuff is everywhere.
And if you go too far the other direction and only view Him as God seated in throne between the cherubim, then you will fear Him in the wrong way. You will see Him only as unapproachable and thundering instead of as truly your Father.
Right. That’s really good. As you say that, I’m thinking about Ezekiel and the apostle John, and when they see Christ or see God, they fall down.
And sometimes I see that. Okay, that’s like the fear of God. They’re not falling back like when the betrayers came with Judas and then Jesus spoke and they all kind of fell back. They’re falling forward out of this place of like, “You’re so big that I can’t handle you, but I’m just going to bow down towards you.” Is that sort of like the fear of God as well?
Well, I think it’s definitely the response that we tend to still have even now. I mean, you think about Peter in the boat with Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish. Right? And so when he hauls the fish in and suddenly realizes that he’s not just in the boat with a man, he’s in a boat with God, his response is very similar. It says that he falls to his knees and he says, “Away from me, I’m a sinful man.”
So this is the whole of the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. Right?
We see God for who He really is, and then we understand ourselves differently and we cry out in repentance.
And I think that’s a piece that sometimes we can miss.
We wonder why we remain unchanged, why we remain untransformed, and yet we spend all this time staring at ourselves, saying, “Oh, why can’t I make me better?” But it’s not a vision of ourselves that causes transformation. It’s a vision of God and then seeing who we truly are that pulls us toward repentance and a turning away from sin.
That’s good. And I guess what you just said, the last part there, that is why we need the fear of God, like a proper fear of God to be transformed to actually enter in. Okay, so if the fear of God is something that we need as children of God, why is looking and meditating and beholding the incommunicable attributes of God help that?
Well, because until we can understand how God is unlike us, I don’t think we can appreciate the fact that He condescended to us at all the way that we should. And so I talk about it in the book, how we love to measure and to quantify everything. We love to check the ingredients of what we’re eating and we like to weigh ourselves and we wear the Fitbit to tell us how many steps we took in a given day and we like to see what our mileage is in the car.
And it’s because anything that we measure, we can, to some degree, control.
So then when we encounter a God who is immeasurable, He’s a God who is outside of human control. And our response to that … your response to that … The unbeliever responds by raging against that. Right? But the believer responds to that with right reverence and awe.
Right, no that’s good. Now Jen, you’ve obviously been working in the ministry, writing these books, all that kind of stuff for a little while now. So when you look at the general landscape of North American Christianity, which attribute or attributes of God seem most neglected and/or overlooked?
Boy. Arguably you could say all of them from the standpoint that,
at least in North America, we have been in the habit of reading the Bible as if it were about us.
And that’s one of the main reasons that I wanted to start writing on the attributes was because I think one of the reasons that we read the Bible that way is because no one has lifted our eyes to this higher vision by giving us some vocabulary around it so that when we do read, we’re reading saying, “Oh my gosh, I just saw His omniscience there. Oh I just saw His omnipotence there.”
So my premise in the book is not so much that we neglect these attributes but that we try to ascribe them to ourselves.
And I think the one probably that is most compelling right now is omniscience because we all have a smartphone or we all have access to the internet.
You know, as long as you can reach Google, you’re omniscient and you can see.
No one needs me to write a book to convince them on all of the fallout from this. Those books are everywhere, that this grasping for more knowledge than a limited mind is suited to hold and the instant gratification nature of it is sabotaging learning as we know it for most people. I mean, I can feel even in myself how
the more time I spend looking at 30-second bits and pieces of things, the harder it is for me to even sit and read a full-length article.
Sure, yeah, because you’re conditioning your mind I guess, just to have that instant quick thing.
So for those that are a little bit unfamiliar with omniscience … This is a big kind of doctrinal word. What does it mean?
Yeah. So God holds all knowledge. He holds every single piece of knowledge. He holds every potentiality in His head, if you can speak of Him as having a head. He knows all things past, present, and future. And He knows them all simultaneously, perfectly, and the really mind-blowing part for us as humans is that He learned none of these things. God is incapable of learning. The reason that He knows them all is because He is the origin of all of them.
So that’s a wholly different idea of a knowledge base than we have, and His knowledge is unlimited. So He knows everything. He knows everything macro. He knows everything that can be seen through the strongest Hubble telescope, and He knows everything that that telescope can’t see. And He knows everything micro that can be seen in the strongest electron microscope and everything that is smaller than that.
So it’s a level of knowledge; you can’t even properly call it a level of knowledge because it is knowledge unbound. And that’s what we want. That’s what we think that we can access through our phones or through the internet, and we actually think we can handle it.
Right, yeah, and we cannot. So here, let’s take just a young 20-year-old guy who is just filling himself with this sort of instant knowledge from his smartphone, all that kind of stuff, but he does go to church. He’s given his life to the Lord. How does beholding God’s omniscience actually change the way that this young man can actually live better in Christ?
Right. So everybody at some point in their life is going to encounter a difficult circumstance or confusing circumstance, and they are going to want to ask,
“How can this make any sense? How can this possibly be for my good?”
And when we ask those questions, those are very valid human questions to ask. I never want to shame the asker for asking. But recognizing that we hold limited knowledge and God holds unlimited knowledge is knowledge changes the way that we reflect on our ability to trust Him because I always say if I were to draw a circle that was three feet in diameter and it represented the sum total of God’s knowledge. So it’s a limited picture anyway because obviously His knowledge is unlimited. But let’s just say that we could draw it in that circle. And then if I were to ask you, Isaac, to circle in that circle how much of that knowledge you possess, you’d be like, “I might put a little tiny dot in there if I were super arrogant.” Right? And so we’re sitting here holding our tiny little dot of knowledge saying, “I don’t see any way that this can make sense.”
And most of us at some point have heard one side of a story told to us and been like, “Well that’s terrible. I can’t believe someone would do that to you.” And then we hear the other side of the story, and you’re like, “Oh, see, I was missing some of the facts.”
So when you think about that three-foot in diameter circle, you have to ask yourself in the midst of your trial, isn’t it entirely possible that somewhere outside of my tiny dot of information that I can process and hold onto, that there is a fact or two facts or 45 facts that I am not aware of and may never be aware of this side of Heaven that would make absolute sense of what I’m going through right now?
I can’t help but think of the favourite verse, Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.”
So, say this young guy is in a situation where it just seems like his family is breaking apart and losing his job and all these kind of maybe external things and it’s causing these internal struggles that’s going on. I guess in a sense you’re saying that because of God’s omniscience, because maybe this guy doesn’t have all of the knowledge, that these things are working for his good.
Sure. I mean not only that but that nothing that’s happened to him can take God by surprise. Right? We’re like, “Well, does God really know what’s going on here because surely He would step in.” It starts to remove all of the anxieties of why is God not intervening on my time table according to my set of facts because we begin to … and I never mean to imply that this is something you just instantly get to because you understand that God is omniscient.
But I do think that in meditating on His omniscience, and I would even say meditating on His omniscience when you aren’t in crisis, helps to prepare you for the times when you are because when you are in crisis, that’s not really a time to start developing your theology around a set practice.
You’re just white-knuckling it. Right? So it’s good to invest in those things other times.
I’m just thinking about this since we’re kind of on this knowledge or God’s omniscience, talking about knowledge. How would you encourage a friend or family member who is in a place of crisis and they are a brother or sister in Christ, but they’re kind of freaking out. And maybe they start accusing God a little bit and maybe in indirect ways like, “Oh God does not want me to be here anymore, blah blah blah.” How would you then, without kind of being like, you just quote Romans 8:28 at them … How do you then sort of do that? Like point them towards God’s omniscience but in a very gentle affirming way.
Boy, I don’t know, Isaac. It would really depend on my relationship with the person and how well they knew me and I knew them and the trust level that we had because I mean, generally speaking, I got to say when someone’s in crisis, the best thing to do is say, “I’m sorry, and I’ll pray for you.”
And wait for them to open up a further dialogue.
Okay. That’s good. Well, you kept it pretty simple so that’s good. I’m glad you did that. I guess a question is, how does reflecting and beholding God’s omniscience kind of help our prayer life? The prayer life of many, I feel bad for many young adults, is very slim, which is sad. I think it’s probably amongst the whole board. But how does knowing God’s omniscience actually help us in our prayers?
Well, there’s that whole “If God already knows what I am going to ask before I ask for it, why does He want me to ask Him?” If you think about that for a second, it reveals a foundationally limited understanding of the purpose of prayer in the first place because it implies that we believe that the sole purpose or at least the primary purpose of prayer is to make our requests.
But prayer is for worship and it’s for praise and for thanksgiving and it’s for repentance.
I can’t remember who said it, but there’s a beautiful quote that says,
“If the sole purpose of our prayer was to offer God praise, that alone would be reason enough to pray without ceasing.”
One of the things that it can do for us is if we are continually coming back and saying, “Lord, you remember that sin I committed 25 years ago. I just need to confess it to you again. I just need to confess it to you again.” And it’s like the Lord knows, not only that, but He knows every sin you have yet to commit that you’re not even aware of. So we can come to Him I think in confidence that our salvation is secure knowing that He saved us with full and complete knowledge of every sin. Nothing is going to catch Him by surprise. Nothing is a deal breaker for Him.
I love it. And to throw one kind of curve ball at you, and if you don’t want to, that’s totally fine. But it’s just when you talk about God’s omniscience and the knowledge of all, then I mean the question that comes up is, well what about sin? What about the things that are evil? If God knows all and all of that knowledge comes from Him, then how does that work?
Why does He allow it? Yeah. Why does he allow evil? So I think it’s important to note, just when people classically talk about this, is,
evil is not a thing. Evil is an adjective. So God does not create evil. Now, He does allow for the possibility of evil being practiced.
You’re asking me the theodicy. You’re wanting me to explain to you why Genesis 3 happened.
And you know, this is not a 30-year radio program-so we’re going to have to cut our losses there, but I will say what we can say simply about that is two things. First of all, the problem of evil, the question of why we have that is not a question just for believers. That’s a question for people of any faith practice.
It’s a question for the atheist and the agnostic. Everyone has to answer that one. And we don’t know why. I mean, anyone, any Christian who tells you that they have a convincing answer to that is probably not a very good student of church history or … because we don’t know why, but we can say, as R.C. Sproul always says,
we can say that it must be good that there is the presence of evil or God would not have allowed it. And we mean ultimately good. Of course we never mean that we should rejoice in our sufferings in some masochistic way. That’s never the point of those passages.
Yeah. That’s really good. Thank you so much, Jen, for just taking the time to chat with us today. If you’re interested in Jen’s book, you just listened and you’re kind of interested, like, “Oh, I kind of want to know more about” … I mean, we kind of focused on one sort of incommunicable attribute, omniscience, and we barely scratched the surface. But if you want to look at nine more, kind of a little bit more in depth, you should check out Jen’s book, None Like Him. You can pick it up on Amazon. You can go to crossway.org and find it there or jenwilkin.net, and you can find her books there. There’s a blog and other resources and stuff like that.
Before we finish, is there anything else you wanted to say, Jen?
Yes. My hope would be that we would be better worshipers by having a fully developed vocabulary around the God that we worship, and that’s my hope for you guys.
Well that’s great. Thank you so much, Jen. I hope to have you back on the show again soon.