Does God think about everything all the time?

  • Question 182, from Ben J.

    Is God omni-conscious (actively thinking about all things at all times)?

    The traditional Christian definition of God which borrows more form Greek philosophy than from Biblical revelation is that ‘God’ is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. In other words, God is all-powerful, all-knowing and exists everywhere.

    While there are good philosophical reasons for reaching these conclusions about God, there are a number of issues with them. The problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of such a being leads to either denying God’s goodness, or finding a way to explain why an omniscient being would not exercise their power and eradicate evil.

    Within the classical definition of God, it would naturally follow that God has all things in mind at all times. Everything exists in both reality and in the mind of God. However, even within a classical framework, some clarification of the terms is helpful. Dietrich Ritschl, for example, refers to omnipresence in a different way – defining it instead as “all meaning rests solely in God”, concluding “the tendencies to use spatial categories in talking about God…get in the way” [1]

    In Ritschl’s view ‘omnipresence’ is not about God being everywhere, but about everywhere being made meaningful by its relationship to God. This would make sense then of Biblical passages where people hide from God, or where God is located in a particular place, most notably in the Incarnation. It could also explain Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross, and the ‘absence’ of God at that point (see Matthew chapter 27, verse 46).

    It’s worth noting, as well, that ‘omnipotent’ is not a Biblical word. The phrase ‘all-powerful’ refers to God’s sovereignty and that everything else depends on God for existence. Several philosophical and theological debates have been had over what ‘omnipotence’ actually means – with certain restrictions in place. It is generally held that God cannot contradict God’s own nature, nor can God make a being that is uncontrollable by God. So, ‘omnipotence’ is necessarily self-limiting.

    Within Christianity, there is also the sense that an omnipotent God can impose limits on God’s own nature. Again, the Incarnation, as the central doctrine in Christianity, illustrates the divine self-emptying (kenosis) and self-limitation chosen by God to be confined within history as a human being. Certainly, Jesus, as depicted in the gospels, asked questions in the search for knowledge, and presumably did not know certain things, which gives an indication of how self-limitation hampers God’s omni-consciousness.

    Kenotic theology extrapolates the Incarnation to the eternal Godhead, who self-limits in order to allow humans to exercise free will and choose to live in relationship with God of their own volition. This also explains the existence of moral evil, as perpetrated by humans. Within a kenotic theology, God does not think of all things at all times. Humans are free to think their own thoughts, for good, or for evil.


    [1] Dietrich Ritschl. The Logic of Theology. SCM, 1986 pp155-156

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    1. Ben J Dec 8

      How then does this link in with man being made in the image of God? Is it possible to say that, because we as people aren’t actively thinking about stuff that we know, then that characteristic may be true of God?

    2. Jon the freelance theologian Dec 12

      It’s important with the image of God idea to realise that it refers to humans having some of the characteristics of God, not God having human characteristics. Taking human characteristics and applying them to God is questionable, theologically. In more traditional theological systems where the doctrine of the Fall of Man is emphasised, there is a recognition that the image of God in human beings is marred by sin, making it even less approporate to ascribe observed human characteristics to God.

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