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Father Richard Kunst: God’s omniscience is a comfort — and a warning

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel is one of the most widely known parts of the Gospels, containing the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and many teachings that have become commonplace in the Christian psyche.

It is also long; it is found in Matthew chapters five through seven. Towards the end of the sermon he gives a warning to those who hear him but do not put his teaching into practice. I will tell you his warning a little later in this column, but first, to appreciate it better let’s look at certain traits of God.

Father Richard Kunst

God is completely and totally unfathomable to our finite brains, yet we can still attempt to define him with words, not to contain him but to make him more accessible to our intellectual limitations.

One of the words we use to define God is that he is omnipotent, or almighty. When we say that God is omnipotent, we are making a statement that he can do anything, that there is no limits to his power and greatness. Although the full meaning of this eludes us, it is still something that many of us can grasp onto. After all, God made everything, and since he made everything, it makes sense that he has power over everything.

Besides being almighty and all powerful, another trait of God is that he is omnipresent, meaning he is everywhere. This, too, is somewhat easy to grasp, because God is a spirit. He is not physical. In fact, it is completely accurate to say that God is nothing, because he is “no thing”; he transcends things in his nature as a non-physical being. Since he is nonphysical, he is not limited in or by the physical universe. God, then, can be everywhere all at the same time. The universe cannot contain God.

The trait of God that I have always found to be the most bewildering is the fact that he is omniscient. He knows everything. And that means everything! He knows every thought you have ever had, he has known every thought of every person and animal that has ever lived or ever will live. God is fully conscious of every blade of grass, every snowflake and every grain of sand. If he wasn’t, then it would cease to exist. There are billions of atoms in a thimble full of air. It boggles the mind how many atoms are in a ton of lead, or in the entire universe, and yet God is fully aware, fully conscious and knows every individual atom that exists.

This should be a point of comfort, though for some people it might be unnerving. It’s comforting because this speaks to the God who loves us so much that he is aware and conscious of every aspect of our being, from our every thought to every component that makes us into a biological entity.

With God’s traits of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence in mind, let’s go back to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. After preaching and teaching for three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives a warning to those who hear his teaching but do not put it into practice: “Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Out of my site, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:23).

If we do not follow Christ and his teaching he will claim to have never known us. That sounds cold, but let’s consider this a bit. God is all merciful. We are reminded of this more than ever as we continue through the Holy Year of Mercy. In fact, Pope Francis has said that God’s name is mercy. Yet that doesn’t mean that Christian discipleship is not costly, because it is very costly.

Many people who are afraid of a costly Christian discipleship like to portray Jesus as a warm and fuzzy sort of savior; he is nothing of the sort. Christ is demanding. Just go back and look at the Sermon on the Mount and the other parts of Christ’s public ministry. He is demanding to the point that he expects us to follow his teaching, and if we don’t follow his teaching, then he will claim not to have known us, despite his absolute omniscient nature!

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen and is administrator of St. Michael in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected]