Deeper Study Box 1: Implications of Believing that God Sees and Knows All Things

No Secret Sins

Job knew this, and therefore, he commented, it was impossible that, e.g.,  he would lust after a woman, if he really believed (as he claimed he did) that God was omniscient. "Why then should I think upon a maid [as the friends implied he had done]?...doth not he [God] see my ways, and count all my steps?" (Job 31:4). Likewise God had to remind Israel: “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jer. 23:24). The context is appealing to the people to quit their sins.  We should labour to enter the Kingdom, because God knows absolutely every thought and action of ours and will ultimately judge them (Heb. 4:11-13). The Sermon on the Mount is really based around translating the knowledge that God sees and knows all things into practice. Our thoughts are equivalent to our actions; and yet often we think that the fact we are clever enough not to express them in action is somehow a lesser failure. And yet God sees our thought afar off. Realizing this will help us avoid the greatest danger in the religious life: to have an outward form of spirituality, when within we are dead.  Fred Barling commented: “What God loves is the man who is genuine through and through; in whom the “without” and the “within” are really one; whose dominant persuasion is, “Thou God seest me””. Note how the Lord Jesus begins each of His letters to the ecclesias with the rubric: “I know…”; His omniscience of His people ought to motivate to appropriate behaviour. His criticisms of those ecclesias imply that they didn’t appreciate the fact that He knew them and their ways. Hannah had reflected upon God’s omniscience; and on this basis she tells Peninah not to be proud and not to use hard words against her, exactly because of this: “Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not hardness [AVmg.] come out of your mouth: for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed” here and now, because He sees and knows all things (1 Sam. 2:3).

The Hebrew language reflects certain realities about the nature of God’s ways. The common Hebrew word for ‘to see’, especially when used about God’s ‘seeing’, means also ‘to provide’. Abraham comforted Isaac that “God will see for himself [AV ‘provide’] the lamb” (Gen. 22:8 RVmg.); and thus the RVmg. interprets ‘Jehovah Jireh’ as meaning ‘the Lord will see, or provide’ (Gen. 22:14). The same word is used when Saul asks his servants to “provide” him a man (1 Sam. 16:17). When Hagar said “Thou God seest me” (Gen. 16:13) she was expressing her gratitude for His provision for her. What this means in practice is that the fact God sees and knows all things means that He can and will therefore and thereby provide for us in the circumstances of life; for He sees and knows all things.

Openness With God

The fact God sees and knows all means that we might as well open our lives up before Him in prayer and meditation. Jeremiah "revealed my cause" before the Lord because he knew that God "triest the reins and the heart" (Jer. 11:20). This may be why men like Jeremiah were somewhat 'rough' with God; whatever they felt about God, they told Him. They so knew that God knew their thoughts....there was and is no point in saying fine words to God in prayer, whilst feeling harder about Him in ones heart. the Psalmists talk to God in a far ‘rougher’ way than we do. They pour out their feelings, their anger and frustration with their enemies, their inability to understand how God is working…and they let it all hang down. They seem to have no reserve with God; they talk to Him as if He is their friend and acquaintance. David pleads with God to ‘avenge my cause’ (Ps. 35:23), he protests how he is in the right and how he longs for God to judge him. And so do the prophets, in the interjections they sometimes make in commentary on the prophecy they have just uttered. The emotion which David often seems to have felt was “Damn these people!”, but he pours this out to God and asks Him to damn them. When we like David feel our enemies are unjust, we can:

  1. Seek revenge. But this isn’t a response we can make, Biblically.
  2. Deny the feelings of hurt and anger. And yet, they surface somehow. And we join the ranks of the millions of hurt people in this world, who ‘take it out’ in some way on others.
  3. Or we can do as David seems to have done. Take these feelings, absolutely as they are, with no rough edges smoothed off them…to God Himself. Pour them all out in prayer and leave Him to resolve the matter. In passing, this fits in with the conclusions of modern psychiatry- that we can’t eliminate our feelings, so we must express them in an appropriate way.

This latter option is how I understand the imprecatory Psalms. Those outpourings of human emotion were read by God as prayers. The writer of Psalm 137, sitting angry and frustrated by a Babylonian riverside, with his harp hanging on a willow branch, being jeered (“tormented” Ps. 137:3 RVmg.)  by the victorious Babylonian soldiers who had led him away captive…he felt so angry with them. Especially when they tried to make him sing one of the temple songs (“sing us one of the songs of Zion”). And, as a bitter man does, his mind went from one hurt to another. He remembered how when Babylon had invaded, the Edomites hadn’t helped their Hebrew brethren (Obadiah 11,12). They had egged on the Babylonian soldiers in ripping down the temple, saying “Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation”. And so in anger and bitterness this Jew prays with tears, as he remembered Zion, “O daughter of Babylon…happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock” (:8,9 RV). God read those angry words as a prayer, and in some sense they will have their fulfilment.  For these words are picked up in Rev. 18:8,21 and applied to what will finally happen to Babylon. Her spiritual children will be dashed against the rock of Christ, the stone of Daniel 2:44, at His return. He will dash in pieces the Babylon-led people that oppose Him.

This makes these Psalms a challenge to us, in that they show how our earlier brethren poured out their souls, their anger, their doubts and fears, their joy and exuberance too…to the God who hears prayer, to the God who feels passionately for us, who feels for our feelings, who sees and knows all things in the human heart, even more so through our Lord Jesus Christ. And we must ask whether our prayers are of this quality, or whether we have slipped into the mire of mediocrity, the same standard phrases, the same old words and themes… and even worse, could it be that we perceive that God only sees and hears the words we say to Him in formal prayer, and disregards our other feelings and thoughts? Seeing He sees and knows all things, let us therefore pour out all that is within us before Him. And we will find it wonderfully therapeutic when struggling against anger and hurt.

Our Words

Paul twice assures his readers that he speaks the truth because he is speaking in the sight / presence of God (2 Cor. 2:17; 12:19). The fact God is everywhere present through His Spirit, that He exists, should lead us at the very least to be truthful. In the day of judgment, a condemned Israel will know that God heard their every word; but if we accept that fact now then we will be influenced in our words now. And by our words we will be justified (Ez. 35:12). Reflection upon the omniscience of God leads us to marvel at His sensitivity to human behaviour. He noticed even the body language of the women in Is. 3:16- and condemned them for the way they walked. This is how closely He observes human behaviour. Hannah tells Peninah not to talk so proudly because “the Lord is a God of knowledge, though actions be not weighed”, i.e. they are not judged immediately, but, they surely will be (1 Sam. 2:3 RVmg.).

Because God sees and knows absolutely all, we must recognize that He realizes the unspoken implications of our words. Job’s words of repentance of Job 40:5 are seen by God as Job effectively condemning God, because presumably they were said merely as a mask over Job’s inner feelings that God had been unjust with him (Job 40:8). But when Job uses effectively the same words in Job 42:6, God accepts them. God’s ability to see to the core should therefore not only affect our words but elicit in us an honesty of heart behind the words which we use.

Mindful of God

There is perhaps a purposeful ambiguity in the Hebrew text of Is. 44:21: “O Israel thou shalt not be forgotten of me” is rendered in the RVmg: “thou shouldest not forget me”. The fact God never forgets us should be inspiration to not forget Him in the daily round of life. To act as if God doesn’t see all our ways is to effectively deny His existence. Babylon acted as she did because she reasoned that “None seeth me...I am, and there is none else beside me” (Is. 47:10 RV). They appropriated the language of God to themselves, they played God in that they thought their ways were unseen by any higher power. And we all have a terrible, frightening tendency to do this.

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