About 50 people gathered Sunday mornings at King of Glory Lutheran Church, Dallas, for a “story-based” survey of the Old Testament. The goal of the class, held earlier this year, was to give participants a sense of the major events, characters, themes and chronological flow of Hebrew Scripture. The first 20 minutes were devoted to the telling of the week’s story, with the remaining time filled with questions and reflection on the ways in which we saw how the “God story” intersected with our own stories.
During our discussion of the calling of Saul as Israel’s first king, someone asked, “Why would God not want a king, but then turn around and tell Samuel to go ahead and anoint a king?” It was a good question. Several possible answers were offered.
Finally one man said, “Well, it must have been God’s plan all along.” For him, that settled things. Others nodded in agreement.
“But what if it wasn’t part of a plan?” I asked.
“Meaning what?” he asked.
“Meaning,” I replied, “what if God was improvising? What if God was saying, ‘All right, have your king. I’ll figure out how to work with it.’ ”
“Impossible!” he said. “God’s omniscient. God knows everything, even before it happens.”
For a number of people in the class, throwing down the gauntlet of God’s omniscience was enough to settle things. But others weren’t so certain. So we went back and forth a bit: “God does know”—“God doesn’t know!” “Yes, God does! No, God doesn’t!”
To help get us unstuck, I asked, “What if God’s omniscience is about something else entirely?”
There was a curious silence. “Early on in Genesis we’re told that ‘the man Adam knew his wife Eve,’ ” I said. “What does that mean?”
There were a few smiles, and then one woman said, “Well, in addition to the obvious, it means that Adam had a relationship with Eve.”
“Right,” I said. “So what if God’s omniscience—God’s being all knowing—is more about God’s heart than God’s head? Maybe God’s omniscience doesn’t mean that everything’s already scripted and God has all the present and future details locked up in the divine mind. Maybe it means that God is completely and intimately in relationship with all of creation.”
At King of Glory, exploring the possibility of God’s relational omniscience has deepened and enriched our understanding of God and our sense of what God is doing in creation. It also has caused us to take a new look at Scripture.
We gather each Wednesday at noon, for example, to study Paul’s letters, and our study of 1 Corinthians coincided with the Sunday Old Testament class. I remember the day when we got to the penultimate verse of the “wedding reading.” Paul wrote: “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Two of the participants were also in the Old Testament class. Their eyes lit up as they explained to the others that being “fully known” is about more than God knowing the facts, the details about us.
“Being known,” one said, “isn’t about accuracy. It’s about relationship. Paul is looking forward to the time when he will have the same relationship with God that God has with him.” Then both launched into an explanation that omniscience is about God being fully in relationship with all of creation—and not about God having everything rigged ahead of time. It was fun to watch their excitement, and equally fun to listen to the other participants’ questions.
A few weeks later we studied Philippians, and there it was again: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). We talked about the difference between knowing Christ and knowing about Christ. We talked about how God’s relational omniscience makes us look at ourselves and others differently, that it changes how we look at the Earth itself.
Everything—all that is, seen and unseen—is God’s partner in intimate relationship, always getting to know God, always getting to be known by God. Like Paul, we look forward to the time when we will know fully, but it’s enough now that we are held in God’s relational omniscience.
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