September 2008 Issue
All Powerful, Knowing, Loving, and Wise
by Malcolm B. Yarnell III
Do you not know? Have you not
heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole
earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His
understanding. He gives strength to the weary and strengthens
the powerless. - Isaiah 40:28-29
In the Baptist Faith and Message (Article II.A.), Southern
Baptists confess that God is all of these things: "all powerful,
all knowing, all loving, and all wise." We believe these
attributes properly describe the character of God, because that
is how the inspired Bible presents Him. Unfortunately, some people
have downplayed or denied one or more of these attributes of God.
They have difficulty reconciling the Bible's presentation of God
with their own limited and uninspired observations.
For instance, some evangelicals, known as Open Theists, find
it difficult to believe that God knows the future perfectly. They
believe that the free will exercised by human beings is somehow
inconsistent with the all-encompassing nature of divine knowledge.1 On the other hand, some philosophers express
doubt about either God's power or God's love. These philosophers
cannot conceive how God can be simultaneously all loving and all
powerful, yet allow human beings to suffer.2
For others, perhaps related to these previous reasons, it is difficult
to believe that God is wise. Such doubts are especially prominent
when nations suffer the vicissitudes of human history.3
It is necessary to review the biblical evidence for these four
affirmations about the character of God;
the answers to the problems that taunt and haunt a humanity careening
towards eternal disaster can only be found in the Bible. But before
we look there, we should recognize that there are both benefits
and difficulties in various ways of speaking of the divine "attributes."
The necessary benefit of knowing the divine attributes is that
we can better know who God is and how we relate to Him.
But the difficulties in outlining the divine attributes are
numerous. First, when we use the terminology of attribution, we
must be careful not to consider God as somehow dissectible. We
cannot divide Him like a specimen into various isolated pieces
called attributes. God is not a series of loosely connected categories.
Neither are His attributes in conflict with one another. Rather,
God is a living, unified, and holistic Being.
Second, when we consider the witness of Scripture as to God's
character, we must remember that at the center of the Divine Being
there is a great mystery. We can know God only because He has
graciously manifested Himself to us. In other words, our knowledge
of God is a gift and we must not assume crassly that our knowledge
of Him is perfect. He is perfect, and His revelation is perfect,
but human beings and their reflections are not perfect.
Third, as we consider the divine attributes, we must be careful
to distinguish divine revelation from human speculation. The Baptist
Faith and Message wisely limits itself as it confesses the
nature of God, confining itself to how God has personally revealed
Himself to us in Scripture. Likewise, we should avoid abstract
philosophical definitions that have little to do with divine revelation.
When people follow their own efforts to know God, they distort
or obfuscate the divine reality.
With these warnings in mind, let us turn to a consideration
of the divine attributes made clear in this passage. According
to Isaiah, God is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all
God is All Powerful
Isaiah proclaimed, Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator
of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary (Isaiah
40:28b). From the creation of all things to their consummation
at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, Scripture consistently exalts
the power of God. For example, in the Old Testament, God is 'abir,
"the mighty one" (Genesis 49:24c; Psalm 132:2, 5). And,
in the New Testament, He is Pantokrator, "the all-powerful
One" (Revelation 1:8; 4:8).4
When we examine the origin, use, and end of power, we find
that all power comes from God. God created out of nothing everything
that exists. Unfortunately, the powers that He gave to angels
and man were subsequently misused. But He promised He would hold
all these beings accountable. Thus, after raising His Son from
the dead, the Father granted all authority to the Son, who also
commissioned His church to proclaim the Gospel with power (Matthew
28:18-20). The Bible tells us that the Son will one day reclaim
all authorities and powers, judge them, and submit them back to
the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).
In other words, all power has come from the Father and will
soon be returned to the Father. In preparation for that day, He
has assigned all power and authority to the rule of His Son, Jesus
Christ, who has been, is now, and will finally restore all authorities
and powers to their proper place and use. With Moses, we must
cry out, The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords,
the great, the mighty, and the awesome God (Deuteronomy 10:17)!
God is All Knowing
Isaiah said there is no limit to His understanding (Isaiah
40:28c). A few years ago, evangelical theologian Millard Erickson,
pithily asked, "What does God know and when does He know
it?" Erickson was responding to the controversy over Open
Theism in the Evangelical Theological Society.5
Among the arguments brought forward by the Open Theists, who doubt
God knows the future perfectly, was their objection that an all-knowing
God diminishes human dignity. Timothy George rightly responded,
"We need not bring [God] down to size in order to lift up
the true humanity of men and women made in his image."6
The prophet Isaiah would agree, for chapter 40 is an extended
effort to show not only that God has all power, but also that
God lacks nothing in knowledge. The immediate context of the above
verses began with a human proverb all too common amongst the Israelites:
My way is hidden from the Lord, and my claim is ignored by
my God (40:27b). Some may have been driven to doubt God's
foreknowledge because they could not reconcile His knowing yet
allowing their suffering. However, man must humble himself before
God. God knows everything. And He knows what is best for His people.
It may not always appear to us that He knows what happens,
but He certainly does. We must trust that God understands better
than we do. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and
your ways are not My ways." [This is] the Lord's declaration.
"For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher
than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah
55:8-9). Therefore, in 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention added
to its confession, declaring that God's knowledge is "perfect"
and "extends to all things, past, present, and future, including
the future decisions of his free creatures" (Article II).
God is All Loving
Isaiah proclaimed, He gives strength to the weary and strengthens
the powerless (Isaiah 40:29). Our God gives to those who lack.
Indeed, we lack everything; anything we have is strictly because
God gave it to us. Why does God give life, liberty, and happiness
to us? God gives because love is fundamental to His character.
Whether it is in the realm of our creation or in the realm of
our redemption, everything that we have is due to divine grace,
and divine grace is motivated by divine love. The apostle Paul
queried, What do you have that you didn't receive? (1 Corinthians
4:7b). The answer, of course, is, "Nothing."7
In other words, everything that we have is God's gift to us, which
is grace motivated by His love.
The apostle John went so far as to use the language of identity
in His ascription of love to God: God is love (1 John 4:8b).
He is the source of all love, and He is the end of all love. Thus,
if anyone is able to exercise love, it is because they have received
that love first from God. John demonstrated the origin and end
of love in this way: We love Him because He first loved us
(4:19). In other words, God loves us, first. Only then, as
a result of His prior love, can we love Him. The same is true
with regard to our love for other human beings. John again said,
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from
God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God
(4:7). If you know God, you know God's love, and God's love
will come through you to other people. To put it in a negative
way, John said, The one who does not love does not know God,
because God is love (4:8). God is all loving, and God's people,
as a result, are able to love and ought to love.
God is All Wise
Let us return to that statement by Isaiah: there is no limit
to His understanding (Isaiah 40:28c). There are two steps
to biblical knowing: knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge presumes
the cognizance of facts; wisdom entails the proper utilization
of those facts. For instance, one can know that God created the
world. However, if one does not seek to worship the Creator, this
is unwise. Knowledge is recognizing that there is a Creator; wisdom
is worshiping that Creator. The world is currently filled with
people that know there is somebody out there whom we call God.
They have knowledge, but because they refuse to act properly on
that knowledge, they lack wisdom. And there are some who are so
foolish that they refuse to recognize there is a God. Those who
think they are wise have become fools, because they have been
separated from God.
From where, then, does wisdom derive? Again, true wisdom comes
only from God. When the apostle Paul proclaimed God's Word to
the skeptical and the superstitious in the Roman Empire, he noted
their ignorance. However, among the mature we do speak a wisdom,
but not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who
are coming to nothing (1 Corinthians 2:6). Paul evaluated the
Jews, who relied on experience, and noticed they lacked wisdom.
Paul evaluated the Greeks, who relied on speculation, and noticed
they also lacked wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:21-22).
Where, then, is wisdom to be found? Perhaps it should not surprise
us that wisdom has the same source as power, knowledge, and love.
Wisdom is entirely rooted in God's character. Moreover, God has
demonstrated His character supremely in the death and resurrection
of His only begotten Son. But we preach Christ crucified, a
stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet
to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God's
power and God's wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). Jesus Christ
is the wisdom of God!
How Can They Know God?
The prophet Isaiah asked the Israelites, who should have known
better, Do you not know? Have you not heard? In the Old
Testament, God made priests and prophets responsible for speaking
God's Word to Israel. If the people lacked knowledge, it was laid
at the feet of those given responsibility for proclaiming God's
Word (Ezekiel 33:6-8). In the New Testament, God gave the church
the responsibility for proclaiming His Word. If the lost are to
be redeemed, they must first know who God is.
And God has made His character known supremely in the revelation
of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ on the cross is the wisdom
of God's salvation on display to the world. Jesus Christ on the
cross is the love of God for sinful man on display to the world.
Jesus Christ arisen from the death of the cross is the power of
God on display to the world. God made His character known in His
Son, as recorded in Scripture, and He has given this Word to His
Like the apostle Paul, we must only declare Jesus Christ
and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), for therein people
will know of God. As Christians, it is our responsibility to take
this knowledge to the world by externally preaching it. But it
is the Spirit who illumines that Word so that lost men, women,
and children might respond internally. God has chosen to display
His character of power, knowledge, love, and wisdom in the cross
of His Son, Jesus Christ. What a great privilege we have to proclaim
who God is and what He has done for us in Christ.
1 The Open Theist position is promoted in The
Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding
of God, ed. Clark Pinnock et al (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
Press, 1994). A summary evaluation by orthodox evangelicals may
be found in Whatever Happened to the Reformation?, ed.
Gary L.W. Johnson and R. Fowler White (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R
2 Frederick Sontag perceives a darkness in God, while Harold Kushner
perceives a weakness in God. Frederick Sontag, What Can God
Do? (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979); Harold Kushner, When Bad
Things Happen to Good People (New York: Avon Books, 1981),
pp. 42-44. Cf. Fisher Humphreys, The Nature of God, Layman's
Library of Christian Doctrine 4 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1985),
3 Sir Herbert Butterfield, speaking to a nation just emerging
from the horrors of World War II, demonstrates persuasively how
God exercises providence even through historical trials and tribulations.
Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History (New York:
4 James Leo Garrett, Jr., Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical,
and Evangelical, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (North Richland Hills, TX:
BIBAL Press, 2000-2001), 1: 257-58.
5 Millard Erickson, What Does God Know and When Does He Know
It? The Current Controversy over Divine Foreknowledge (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).
6 Timothy George, "The Nature of God: Being, Attributes,
and Acts," in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel
L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), p. 233.
7 "Oh! Tell it the wide world over. Tell it in time and eternity,
free grace hath done it. Free grace hath done it from the
first to the last. ... Praise ye his name. Grace has done it.
Grace has done it all" [his italics]. Charles Haddon Spurgeon,
"Distinguishing Grace," in Spurgeon's Sermons,
10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 6: 87.
Malcolm B. Yarnell III is a member of Birchman
Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and is the Director of the
Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
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