If God knows everything, why do we have passages in the Bible that say things like, “God tested so and so in order to know all that was in his heart”?
Today’s question is a great one because we have passages in the Bible that talk about God testing people in order to find out what was in their hearts. One example that stands out early in the Bible is when God tested Abraham and it actually says God tested Abraham. He told him to go sacrifice his son, Isaac, up on a certain designated mountain. When Abraham lifted his arm to slay his son, the Lord stopped him of course and said, “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12).
So what’s going on here? If God knows everything, why is He testing people? And why is He saying things like “now I know”? Well, the truth is that God does know everything that there is to know, but if there’s no outcome in some kind of incident involving free moral agents, if there is no choice ever made, how could God know that? It’s not something that can be known because it never happens.
Let me put it this way. Say you ask God “What will be the final score in the game today between the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Penguins?” Well, God would say, “I don’t know,” because there is no game today between those two teams. So, it’s an unknowable thing. There’s not going to be any outcome in the future so there’s nothing for God to know.
So foreknowledge is not quite all that it’s cracked up to be. Let me give you another example. This sometimes helps people to understand this concept. Let us say that you had an amazing ability to predict the outcome of every football game played this football season. And before every single game you announced, “The final score will be,” and lo and behold you were right every single time the entire football season.
That would be amazing and maybe, just maybe, they would say the next season, “Why should we even play these games and risk the injuries and so forth and go through all of the trouble it takes to play these games? Let’s just gather everybody in the stadiums. We’ll gather the two opposing teams and then we’ll bring you out onto the middle of the field and we’ll ask you who would have won this game today? Because you’ve hit it 100 times out of 100 in the last season and you have this ability to foreknow the future, tell us now. Who would have won the game today and what will you say?” Well, you have to say, “I don’t know because the game isn’t going to be played. And so there is no final score to know and so there’s no final score to foreknow.” You got it?
Okay, great. So when God says, “Now I know,” we can safely assume that He knew, foreknew, long before but the knowledge of the outcome became available to be known and to be foreknown at the outcome. Now, when I’ve explained this, I’ve found that a certain percentage of people can get it and a certain percentage just can’t get it no matter what I say.
But think about what would have happened if God would not have tested Abraham with what is obviously a very serious test. “Go sacrifice your son.” This is a huge test. And the New Testament says that Abraham actually believed God was going to raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). But nevertheless, this is still a huge, huge test. If God had stopped Abraham as he was loading up the donkey with firewood, getting ready to start on the journey, He wouldn’t know for certain whether Abraham would have changed his mind en route to the place of sacrifice, because there’s that possibility, you see?
God could have said “now I know that you certainly are looking like you intend to do this.” But Abraham could understandably change his mind between now and the time when he lifted up his knife to actually slay his son. And so God left him alone all the way to the last minute and then He stopped him and said, “Now I know. There’s no debate as to what’s in your heart.”
And another interesting point revolving around all of this: people think that God knows what’s in our hearts by looking with some kind of X-ray glasses, that He can look down in our hearts and say, “Yes, that person loves me”. Well, maybe God could do that and can do that, but the way that God finds out what’s in our hearts is by looking at what we do. By our actions. That reveals what’s really in our hearts. We sometimes say things like, “Well, we don’t know what’s in their hearts,” this person who just did this horrible dastardly deed, “we don’t know everything that’s in their hearts”. But Jesus said, out of the heart arise all these evil things. Adulteries and murder and fornication and so forth (See Matthew 15:19).
So we know what’s in the heart of the murderer. Murder. We know what’s in the heart of the adulterer. Adultery. And guess what, so does God because He watched him. And this is just the edge of the subject that really is fascinating when you begin to study Scripture. I wrote a book on it that covers a lot of the ramifications of it called “God’s Tests”. You can read it for free here.
Why does God allow some of these things? Well, part of the reason, no doubt, is because He’s testing people and He has to test them to know what’s in their hearts, because God has a plan one day to have a kingdom. That kingdom is only going to be full of people whose hearts are His. The most important thing is to make sure that your life reveals that you love God with all of your heart.
Thanks so much for joining me. Hope to see you next time.