Omniscient GodOctober 14, 2016
What do you like best about God? Author and speaker Jen Wilkin tells why God's omnipresence is her favorite attribute of God. God is so much bigger than we can imagine, but we can learn about His character by studying His Word.
What do you like best about God? Author and speaker Jen Wilkin tells why God's omnipresence is her favorite attribute of God. God is so much bigger than we can imagine, but we can learn about His character by studying His Word.
Bob: We know that God is both loving and all-powerful. The question arises: “If that’s true, how come there is suffering in our lives and in our world?” Here’s how Jen Wilkin tackles that.
Jen: Usually, that question is not asked lightly / someone has had a terrible thing happen—so, to be able to look back on that terrible thing and say: “What if I’m not able to make sense of it in the time the Lord gives me? But what if it makes sense in the life of my great-grandchild or the life of my great-great-grandchild? Would that be enough for me? Could I trust that God?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There may be things about God that are hard for us to understand, but there’s a lot that we can and should know about who God is. We’ll spend time talking about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to talk about some of the “omnis” of God today. You know the “omnis?”
Dennis: I do.
Bob: Omnipresent, omniscient [pronounced it “omni-see-ant”]. [Laughter]
Dennis: Omniscient [pronounced ämˈniSHənt]—omniscient?
Bob: I like to call it “omni-see-ant,” just so I can remember the “omnis.”
Dennis: Just making sure.
Bob: Omniscient [omni-see-ant], omnipotent [pronounced it “omni-pōtent”). That’s the other way you can say it! See, it’s “omni-pōtent”; right?
Dennis: Yes; but I just want to ask our guest, because she wrote the book that’s about the attributes of God / the character of God. Jen Wilkin joins us again on FamilyLife Today. The book is None Like Him.
Of all the attributes of God, do you have a favorite? Do you have one that you go, “For whatever reason, I’m attracted to God because of this attribute”?
Jen: I like His omnipresence. I think His omnipresence is the one that I like the most, because I feel like it is the one that helps me both feel comfort and also the right sense of tension; because I like knowing that He sees everything. Out of that flows the idea that He can be the just judge, because He’s the ultimate eyewitness; right?
He’s never going to judge wrongly any case, because He has all the evidence.
It matters to me that He sees, both because of the comfort of knowing, “I can’t be misdiagnosed, or misunderstood, or misjudged”—but also—that He sees reminds me that there’s no such thing as a secret from Him and that there’s no secret sin and no secret thoughts. That helps me to strive for holiness.
Dennis: Bob, what about you? Do you have a favorite?
Bob: I hadn’t even stopped to think about which of the attributes of God—
Dennis: Well, since you don’t have one yet, I’ll do one—
Dennis: —because I want to pick the one that you’d likely have picked—
Bob: You know, I was just going to [Laughter] zero in on the sovereignty of God!
Dennis: I mean / you know, if you look at who God is—and you know He’s in charge and He has all authority—He not only knows what’s going on / sees what’s going on
—but He is ruling in righteous, just, loving, merciful ways that we do not understand.
Bob: I’m just sitting here thinking: “We’ve been talking about these attributes of God this week because we think it’s an important subject for all of us—moms, dads, husbands, wives—all of us to understand who it is that we worship.”
You [Dennis] heard messages about the attributes of God. This was one of the favorite themes of one of your mentors; wasn’t it?
Dennis: Yes; Bill Bright used to talk about who God is. He constantly talked about understanding who God is. If you do, you’re going to be able to find yourself yielding to Him, following Him, loving Him, and getting your life from Him; whereas, if you don’t know who God is, frankly, you don’t have a good evaluation of who you are. That’s really the basis of your book; is it not, Jen?
Jen: That’s right. There is no true self-knowledge apart from true God-knowledge.
Bob: And I think my understanding of who God is came about at a time when I was confronted with a different understanding of who I was. I had a guy who pulled me aside after a Bible study—this was my junior year in college—and he said: “Could I meet with you? I’ve got some questions for you.” In my pride and arrogance, I thought, “I wonder what he needs me to explain to him?” [Laughter] Now, why are you laughing at that?! It was a completely rational conclusion! [Laughter] Okay! So I went over to his house, and we sat down. He said, “The reason I asked you over is because I don’t think you get it.” He opened the Bible to Romans, Chapter 3. He said, “I want you to read there at about verse 9 or 10.” And I remember looking at it. He said, “Read it out loud.” “There is none righteous; no, not one. Nobody seeks after God.”
Bob: It’s a long description of the depraved nature of man.
Now, my understanding of myself up until that moment in time [Laughter]:
“I’m a good guy. I’m glad that the few things I’ve done that need some kind of payment for—I’m glad Jesus paid for that, but I’m a good guy! I’m a franchise player on the team!”
Jen: Yes! You’ve got it!
Bob: And when you think that way about yourself—that influences how you think about God. God is much “less than” if you think you’re “all that.”
Jen: Well, and I think that’s the mistake we make. We hold, in one hand, sort of a rudimentary understanding of what it means that God is—for example, your favorite—sovereign; right?
Jen: We think: “Yes, I get it. God’s in control. That’s great!” But then, in our operating mode, what we’re really doing is making ourselves sovereign—so I think that: “If I pray a certain way, I can get God to do what I want,” or I think: “If I live a certain way, I can get God to do what I want.” You know, in your case, Bob, you’re like, “Well, I’m righteous enough.”
We can believe that about ourselves until we understand the infinite righteousness that is God’s and the perfect righteousness that would be required of us to be in His presence. I think that we sort of sometimes nod our heads toward the attributes, but we don’t meditate on them to the point that we see our own idolatry play out as we’ve tried to take them on in ways that are not okay.
Bob: Well, I have to tell you—I left that guy’s apartment that day, not only with a better understanding with the reality of the depth of my own rebellion / my own sin, but what the Bible said about me was all of a sudden more true than what I believed about myself. But I also left that day with an understanding that God is much bigger than I had imagined God to be. That was the paradigm shift / the spiritual paradigm shift in my life that put me on a whole new path.
Dennis: Right. And I think, as parents, we forget that our assignment is to teach our kids these lessons before they leave our homes.
We have a responsibility to introduce them to who God is and who they are not—they’re not the center of the universe.
How did you pass on, for instance, the sovereignty of God, to your children? How did you introduce them to a God, who is ruling with absolute authority?
Jen: I think that the tendency for parents to do is to think, “I can just be sovereign in my child’s life.” Think about how many parents devote a lot of time to creating the myth of their omniscience with their children. [Laughter] You know: “I have eyes in the back of my head! I see everything that you do!”
Bob: “I will know! If you mess up, I will know!”
Jen: Yes. How about: “I’m omnipotent. Whatever you do wrong, there will be—
Jen: —“consequences,” and all of that. It’s the nature—and so then, of course, the whole thing with sovereignty is: “I totally control your destiny.” I mean, that’s what a lot of parents bring to the table as well. So, again, I think that, as children grow, they begin to see the gaps in that and in how you respond to that.
Now there is, certainly, a place for a parent to exercise a great deal of omniscience around a toddler; right? You’re trying to keep them alive through the day. But, as they get older, the natural process of parenting is that you are withdrawing physical control over your children and trying to build into them an internal control / not an external control.
We tried to just start talking to our children, as they were getting older—and saying—sort of placing responsibility for their actions back on them: “It’s not my job to keep you from sinning. You have the Holy Spirit in you,”—you know, speaking to a believing child—“I know the Holy Spirit is operating in conjunction with your conscience. What is your conscience telling you?” Getting them to verbally acknowledge what it is that is going on inside of them, and to own their behaviors.
The idea of God’s sovereignty is hard to understand, because it’s an abstract concept that’s hard for an adult to understand. I think the best way to get to it is to sort of show them what you are not:
“I am not sovereign over you. You are self-governing as far as you are aware, but there is a God to whom you owe your obedience. The reason you obey me is because I am praying that the Holy Spirit will draw your heart into a place where you obey God. All obedience to me is ultimately obedience to God.”
Bob: Years ago, we had Larry Crabb as a guest on FamilyLife Today. He talked about the home he grew up in and the death of his grandfather. I’ve never forgotten this story. He said he was a little child when his grandfather was dying in their home. I think he was six or seven, and he went into the room where his grandfather was dying, and where people were standing around. He was tugging on a sleeve and was trying to ask—I think his own dad—a question. His dad looked at him and said [soft voice]: “Larry, shh. God is at work.”
Now, here they were in the moment of the passing of a grandfather, and in that moment, what Larry’s dad communicated to him is: “This is not a moment when God has left the throne / where God has turned the other way and we’re about to lose your grandfather because God’s not here. In the midst of what is a tragedy for all of us, God’s here / He is at work—He’s sovereign; He’s in control; He’s at work in this moment.”
That’s a powerful statement, especially to a child, I think, to recognize—in those times when the sun is out and those times when the rain is pouring—“God’s there. He’s at work, and He knows what He’s doing.”
Bob: We’re talking to Jen Wilkin, who has written a book about the attributes of God called None Like Him. I mentioned that we were going to talk about these “omnis” of God---“omni” meaning He’s all—all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present.
In fact, you reference Psalm 139 as you write about this, where the psalmist says, “Where can I go from Your presence?” At one level, there’s comfort in that; but there’s another level, where knowing that God is omni-present, can strike fear in your heart; can’t it?
Jen: Absolutely! I think, particularly—you know, for those who have not dealt with their guilt and shame / who have not run to the cross for forgiveness—that’s a pretty terrifying thought—that God is everywhere / fully present—
Jen: —because what the unbeliever wants more than anything else is to be away from the presence of God. To hear that God is everywhere / fully present is terrifying. It sounds—to the unbeliever, who doesn’t have an enlightened heart—sounds like a creepy, stalkerish-kind of God. But to you and me, who know the joy and comfort of that, we understand it as the greatest comfort we could have—to know that He is near.
You know, I was thinking of, Dennis, what you were saying about our children watching us and wanting to train them in these things.
When we’re in a crisis / when something goes terribly, our feelings are going to lie to us. They’re going to tell us that God is far. That’s why it’s important, in those moments, particularly in front of our children, to bear witness to: “Even though I don’t feel this right now, my faith is not grounded in feeling. It’s grounded in the fact of who the Bible says God is, and it says that God is near. So even though I feel like He is far, we can know that He is fully present in the midst of this.”
Children draw a lot of comfort from those kinds of things, as they should. I think one of the ways we can talk to them about the attributes is the way that Jesus spoke to us about our heavenly Father, with a “how much more” kind of an argument, you know? So: “This is what it’s like for me, as your parent, to keep watch over you while you’re asleep at night. How much more our heavenly Father, who is everywhere and fully present? I can’t be with you all the time. Wouldn’t you like that?”
I mean, of course, a five-year-old thinks that would be awesome. A fourteen-year-old is like, “Please go away!” [Laughter]
Jen: But when our children are small, and they—you know, they relish and take comfort in our nearness—to talk about the nearness of a heavenly Father, who is infinitely more capable of being near to us, even when we’re not aware of it.
Dennis: I just want to go back, briefly, to what you said about demonstrating faith in front of your kids when you don’t feel like it. I just want to clarify something you said: “Go ahead and admit it to your kids. Tell them that your feelings are denying that God is near, that God does know what He’s doing, and that God is sovereign. Let them in on some of those voices that are crying out to you to not believe, because they’re going to hear them!”
Bob: You’re struggling—let them know you’re struggling.
Dennis: And let them know that is the normal Christian life.
It is how we defeat unbelief, and how we ultimately move from not believing in doubt to moving in faith, and embracing God, and saying: “Okay; God, I’m going to trust You. I don’t know how this is going to work out.”
Dennis: Let them enter into those moments with you. You may say: “Gosh! This is pretty—this is a gamble I’m taking here. The kids are going to be watching!” Yes! That’s the idea of what it means today, in this culture, to be living out a faith based on the Bible. You’re going to be faced with some issues where you’re going to have to listen to the right voice today.
Bob: So I want to ask you about—and it’s a big theological term—called the theodicy. You know that term. It’s the whole issue of, “If the ‘omnis’ about God are true—if He is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful—why does bad stuff happen?” So we hear a story about—
Dennis: Our guest is smiling, Bob! She’s thinking, “I knew it was just a matter of time!”
Bob: She’s saying, “You threw this ball my way?”
Jen: I’m thinking about whacking you with my shoe! [Laughter]
Dennis: Bob! You [Jen] came back—you’ve been on our show before
Jen: Oh, my gosh!
Bob: This is the real life stuff that—if these attributes—
Jen: You made me cry, and now you’re going to beat me up? Is that what this is? [Laughter]
Bob: If God is all-loving, He’s all-knowing, He’s all-powerful, He could have prevented a tragedy that we look at—a family dies in a car wreck / we hear a story about a teenaged-girl, who is abused by her father or raped and left for dead—and we think to ourselves, “How could an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God, who is ever-present, allow that to happen?” Where do you go when those kinds of realities hit, and you’ve got to make some sense of them?
Jen: I think first and foremost, I want to firmly acknowledge the depth and the pervasiveness of human brokenness. It is on a scale and of a magnitude that is so hard for us to process. The hurts that we feel are real, and deep, and devastating.
I think, when we’re faced with that question of, “He could have stopped it, and He didn’t,” we have to, again—and it’s one of the reasons I like learning about who He is—because we have to turn again and recognize that I am limited in my ability to understand. God holds all of the facts. I mean, if I were to draw a circle on this table and say: “These are all of the facts. Now, make a mark that represents how many of the facts you contain in your head right now, Bob Lepine,” you would probably be hesitant to even put a little dot on there—
Jen: —because there’s so much—
Dennis: No, no!
Jen: And that’s not even a dig at you—although at this point, I’d like to make one.
Bob: Dennis is thinking I’d put—
Dennis: You’d be astounded how much—
Bob: —the arrogance! [Laughter]
Dennis: —not arrogance—you just have a big chunk!
Jen: Let’s shoot high. Let’s say that I draw a circle that is 12 inches wide, and ask you to circle how much you know within that circle. Let’s say you draw a circle that’s six inches wide. Within the remaining area that’s there, there could very easily be other reasons/facts that would make sense of what is going on right now.
We’re limited in what we know and because we’re not eternal; right? We have an alpha and an omega that we live in between. What does Ecclesiastes say? It says, “God has placed eternity in the hearts of man, but man is not able to fathom or measure what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We’re not even able to process—
Jen: —or make sense of what happens during the 70 or 80 years that we are given. I think some of it, for us, is that we live in a culture where we have a lot of neatly tied ribbons around TV episodes or radio segments—whatever it is. We want closure within our lifetime. We understand, maybe, that God is going to make sense of it all; but we would like for Him to do that while we’re watching. To say that we trust Him, whatever the tragedy—usually that question is not asked lightly / someone has had a terrible thing happen.
So to be able to look back on that terrible thing and say: “What if I’m not able to make sense of it in the time the Lord gives me? But what if it makes sense in the life of my great-grandchild or my great-great-grandchild? Would that be enough for me? Could I trust that God?”
I think a lot of our fears around this—you know, question of theodicy—have to do with our limited ability to comprehend the infinite.
Bob: I have a friend, who used to say it this way—and it was helpful for me—he said, “If we could see everything God can see, and if we knew everything God knows, we would do what God does.” But the fact that we look at things God does and we go, “I wouldn’t do that.” Of course, you wouldn’t; because you don’t know everything God knows.
Bob: You don’t see everything God sees. So, with your limited sight / your limited knowledge, you’d make a different choice. But if you knew the whole story, you’d go, “Well, that makes perfect sense.” Maybe, one day we’ll know more of the story than we know today; and we’ll say, “Well, of course, God!!”
And we’ll bow in worship, because we understand better what we didn’t understand in this life.
Dennis: When the attack occurred in New York City and they took down the Twin Towers, I remember watching the television reports and being struck with absolute sheer terror. There was a lot of fear in America. In the midst of all of that, on the marquis of fast food restaurants / out in front of service stations, there was a statement of: “Pray,” “Ask God for help,” “Ask God for protection.”
These attributes that we’re talking about here are not mere intellectual exercises or just filling our minds with truth about God. They really do come down to shoe leather and how we live out our lives when we do face tough news, or we’re watching something in our country that doesn’t make sense, or some evil that’s occurring in a foreign place.
I went to a movie the other night, and I saw something happen in that movie that just made me mad and angry at evil guys / evil terrorists, who are taking the lives of children and their parents. They’re destroying human lives. It’s like, if I did not have the Bible to fall back on and to know the rest of the story—that there is the God—the Almighty God, the One who is all-powerful, the One who is sovereign-ly ruling—I don’t know how I’d be able to go to sleep at night. I think you’d have to move to some form of denial.
Ultimately, the God of the Bible is the One who shows up in our lives; and He demands our absolute trust and belief. He’s the One who can rescue us when we have uncertain news in our lives or our nation does! There’s a lot of fear in America right now around a lot of different issues. We need to go back to the Bible and to trust the God of the Bible. I think we also need to dig into books, like what Jen has written here, Bob, and perhaps rediscover or, as we’ve talked about this week, discover who God is and how His attributes apply to your life.
Bob: This is a great book—for couples to go through, for small groups to use, for a women’s group, or even a youth group to go through— and explore the attributes of God. It’s called None Like Him: Ten Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing). We have copies in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329, and the book is called None Like Him by Jen Wilkin.
Now, a shout-out today to a couple living in Demarest, New Jersey, who are celebrating their seventh anniversary—Erich and Ammylou—“Happy anniversary!” to you guys as you celebrate seven years together. I know Erich has hosted one of our Stepping Up® groups for men, and they’ve attended the Weekend to Remember®.
“Happy seventh anniversary to you guys!”
We think anniversaries matter! We think they’re a big deal—we hope you celebrate well. In fact, we hope you have many more anniversaries to come. Our goal, here at FamilyLife, is to provide for you the kind of practical biblical help and hope you need so that your marriage will thrive, because we want to effectively develop godly marriages and families—the kind of marriages and families who change the world one home at a time.
And let me say a word to those of you who make this ministry possible—those of you who provide the financial support so that FamilyLife Today—our resources, our events, our website / all of that—is available to couples like Erich and Ammylou. When you make a donation to support FamilyLife Today—that’s whom you’re really supporting—it’s the couples and the families that benefit from this ministry.
If you can help us with a donation today, we’d love to send you, as a thank-you gift, a resource that Barbara Rainey has recently created. It’s a banner that declares that your home is an embassy of the kingdom of heaven and that your allegiance belongs, first and foremost, to your King. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to make an online donation, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over the phone. You can request the banner when you make that donation; or mail your request for the banner, along with your donation, to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Now, this weekend, there are no Weekend to Remember getaways happening. Next weekend, we’ve got getaways taking place in Parsippany, New Jersey, and in Jacksonville, Florida. Of course, throughout the rest of this fall, getaways are happening in cities all across the country. If you’ve never been to a Weekend to Remember, we’d love to have you join us for an upcoming weekend getaway. Find our more at FamilyLifeToday.com; and remember to pray for the folks in Parsippany and Jacksonville, as they get ready for their weekend getaway next weekend.
And we hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend in your local church. I hope you can join us back on Monday when Barbara Rainey will be here to talk about how we find strength and stability when, all around us, it feels like things are disintegrating. We’ll talk about our source of stability coming up on Monday. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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