Thursday, May 8, 2014

Applied divine omniscience

Sometimes we may have the conviction that engaging in theology is too abstract and theoretical, too removed from everyday life to be of any spiritual use. It is true that some discussions can get exceedingly arcane and technical. At the same time, however, theology can be eminently fruitful for the spiritual life, as well.

Consider the episode between David and Jonathan, when Saul was trying to kill David. They made an agreement that David would hide out instead of going to a meal with the king, in order to see Saul's reaction to David's absence. If Saul reacts badly, that he means he wants David to die; but if he doesn't, then he harbors no ill will.

Now in making a pact about the matter, it is clear that Jonathan and David both consider God to be present and conscious of their discussion, even though they are hidden away somewhere from the sight of others. For instance, Jonathan says: But if my father intends to do you harm, the LORD do so to Jonathan, and more also, if I do not disclose it to you, and send you away, so that you may go in safety (1 Sam 20.13). Jonathan's language here presupposes a strong doctrine of divine knowledge: God knows even the particularities of their discussion, and he can keep track of the details in order to pay back Jonathan should things not go as agreed.

Likewise at the end of the discussion: As for the matter about which you and I have spoken, the LORD is witness between you and me forever (v. 23). Here again there is an appeal to the presence and knowledge of the LORD even in far-off regions, and more than that, a kind of willingness to enforce justice and pacts if they are made.

This kind of omnipresence and omniscience may be disturbing for some: no thought is safe, no word is privately uttered. It means that one's entire life is lived coram deo, before the presence of God who stands as judge of everyone. At the same time, however, we might think this is good thing. No private moments means no one can commit a crime and get away with it; every murder committed in the dark, in the uninhabited and abandon regions goes unnoticed by God. Everyone will be called to give a response for what they've done, and to get what they deserve, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5.10).

For me I think it would be very useful to try to live my life in light of God's omniscience in a more conscious and intentional way. It's easy to think that God is immediately present and aware in moments of suffering when you cry out to him; in fact this seems to be a natural instinct of humans as such. But when things are going okay, and you perhaps feel an attraction towards something you ought not do, then God's presence is not as obvious. We should try to live every day before the presence of God, knowing that God is witness to all things.