Infinity: A Reformed Perspective

Introduction to the issue

When we consider the complex nature of the theological task of defining the being of God, that is, His attributes or characteristics, we must consider the possible affect on our understanding and its impact upon the interrelationship of other doctrines in the theological spectrum as well. No greater danger is foisted upon the being of God than when theological imprecision becomes the conduit for the slightest misunderstanding of the Divine Being. If imprecision is permitted to proceed towards its logical consequence, it will ultimately lead to conflict, confusion, and ambiguity in our theological system. Robert Reymond has rightly pointed out that we must be most careful in defining the attributes of God as they are derived from Scripture which distinguish Him from all other entities. He writes:

“By the term nature [of God] I refer to the complex of attributes or characteristics that belongs to or inheres in any given entity and makes it to be what it is in distinction from everything else. … the attributes of God are essential to the nature of God. They comprise the characteristics of God which distinguish Him as God. It is precisely in the sum total of His attributes that His essence as God finds expression. With them, He is distinguished as God form all other entities. Without them, either collectively or singly, he would simply cease to be God. … [I]t is important to underscore the truth that when we speak of God’s … being, etc., we are speaking of those attributes that comprise what the Scriptures intend when they speak of God’s glory. That is to say, God’s glory is the sum total of all his attributes as well as any one of his attributes. For the creature to deny to him any one of his attributes is to attack the very glory of God and to deny him that without which he would no longer be God. Or to ascribe to him any attribute which he himself does not expressly claim to have, which ascription can only cancel out some attributes which he does claim to have, is again to represent him as something less than he is an thus to attack his glory. For this reason it is imperative to listen carefully to God’s description of himself in Scripture.” [1]

Theological imprecision essentially denies the perfection of God’s being as a self-existent, self-sufficient, autonomous Being. Such irrational thought (by logical necessity), define God in terms of temporal or finite limitations wherein God reflects the image of finite man. This is of course, the road of unorthodox theologico-philosophies. Unorthodox systems develop finite predications about God that are antithetical to historic Theism’s dogma concerning the Divine perfection of God’s nature. Historic orthodoxy in opposition to unorthodox systems, maintain that the being of God must be free from any and all limitations in terms of His nature. This is the theological collision that results between the orthodox and unorthodox formulations about God. As Reymond has shown us, the outcome is the glory and honor that is due the God of Scripture. We cannot forget that both Creation and Redemption will be affected either positively or negatively pending the definitive nature of God’s being as they are expressed from the Holy Writ.

In our particular study of the attribute of infinity, careful contemplation will be set forth properly and relationally to our understanding of the whole nature of Divine Being within a Reformed theological context.

Infinity Defined

The term infinity is derived from the Latin in finis which translates “without boundary or end.” Donald K. McKim defines infinity as, “The limitlessness of the divine essence so that God (Creator) is superior in all ways to all things (created).”[2] This means that infinity is used in theology to contrast the being of God from His creation, especially man. In Job 11:7-10 we are told how the infinity of God in contrast to man as a finite being places God beyond the realm of full comprehension by man:

Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven — what can you do? Deeper than Sheol — what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. “If He passes by, imprisons, and gathers to judgment, then who can hinder Him?”

W. L. Reese states that the etymological definition of the term infinity must be understood in contrast to the question of numerical “series” (a Greek concept as it relates to finite man), over against its meaning as used in the context of “being.” [3] Reese states that:

“…the term [infinity] is gained by negation of the term “finite.” There are those, however, who would claim that the conception of the infinite is prior to that of the finite. The conception of the infinite has been associated from the start with series of number, magnitudes, times, and spaces. The endlessness of such series provides one conception of infinity, and some hold this to be the basic meaning of the term. If one applies the predicates “finite” and “infinite” to being rather than to series of various sorts, the conception changes; if finite being is limited in extent, properties, etc., infinite being would be unlimited, or perhaps absolute, in all of these respects. This history of the conception contains speculations both over infinite series and infinite being.” [4]

The term infinity may denote various meanings pending its usage in any particular context. This necessarily being the case, a more precise definition of the term can be properly understood. As Reese points out, when infinity is used in the context of “being,” the meaning of the term must not be defined in terms of “conceptual infinity” as it relates to the finite, rather, it is to be understood as “unlimited perfection.” As H. P. Owen has noted, there are countless categories wherein infinity could be defined, but none more important than its predominate use in theistic debate:

“It would be profitless (even if it were possible) to catalogues every nuance that the word “infinity” possesses in minor, as well as major, thinkers. Fortunately the dominant strands are clear. Among these the theistic one is the most important both historically and in terms of contemporary debate.” [5]

Owen continues to note that the major distinction in defining “infinite” as it relates to the ontological nature of God is represented by two theological schools of thought, Pantheism and Transcendent Theism.[6] We are not concerned at this time with the Pantheistic argument, but rather, what does the term infinitemean as it relates to the nature of God within Transcendent Theism. Owen states:

“Theists … hold that all perfections pre-exist in God eminently. But they also hold that the mode of this existence is determined by the infinity which God does not share with any creature. God’s infinity means that he is “not-finite.” He is free from the limitations which affect every other being. There are two fundamental limitations. First, every other being is a mode of existence (or existing). A man exists in one way, a dog in another. But God is existence simpliciter. He does not suffer from the determinations which are reflected in genera and species. We can express this by saying that he is his own genus. Second, if God is existence “in itself,” he must be self existence in the sense that he does not derive his being form any other source. Every other being is dependent or derived. It does not contain within itself the cause of its existence. It depends continuously on the creative act of God who alone exists a se, that is, by his own intrinsic power. Both these aspects of God’s infinity are affirmed by the scholastic dictum that in him essence and existence are identical. The finitude of any being consists in the lack of this identity at both the points mentioned above. Its essence limits its existential act (or pattern of activity), and this limitation follows from its dependent character. It exists as “this” or “that” by its derivation from a being who is existence in a necessary and perfect form.”[7]

The point that Owen is making is simply that when we speak of “infinity” in a theological context, we are dealing with the term in its ‘ontological sense’ that is, the “qualitative” difference between the “being” of God, (Creator), and the “being” of man (creature) and creation. The emphasis being that the nature of God as Creator is juxtaposed as it relates to man the creature. It is in this sense that “infinite” is being considered in contrast to “finite.” That which is finite is not capable of “absolute perfection” in itself, but is always in a “dependent” context. Where as, the infinitude of God is an expression of His absolute perfection of the Divine essence. Robert Shaw wrote:

“To be infinite, according to the literal signification of the word, is to be unbounded, – unlimited. As applied to the other attributes of God, this term denotes their absolute perfection. He is infinite in His wisdom, power, and holiness, etc. As there perfections must be considered afterwards, we only notice, at present, that God is infinite in his being or essence. From this results His incomprehensibility, or that supereminent perfection which can be comprehended by none but Himself. A perfect knowledge of God is competent to none but Himself, whose understanding is infinite. … His infinity as applied to His being, also includes His immensity and His omnipresence. Betwixt these a distinction may be drawn. His omnipresence has a relation to creatures actually existing, with everyone of which He is intimately present; but His immensity extends infinitely beyond the boundaries of all created substance.” [8]

Carefully consider Shaw’s statement, “To be infinite, according to the literal signification of the word, is to be unbounded, – unlimited. As applied to the other attributes of God, this term denotes their absolute perfection.”Infinity as it relates to the attributes of God denotes the absolute perfection of God’s nature. This perfection extends to the totality of His being. This implies that God has a comprehensive knowledge of Himself. Shaw states: “From this results His incomprehensibility, or that supereminent perfection which can be comprehended by none but Himself. A perfect knowledge of God is competent to none but Himself, whose understanding is infinite.” God’s understanding of His being is fully known to Himself and that is the context of which we speak of God’s infinity. This is the qualitative difference between God and man.

If this Reformed understanding of “infinity” is kept in mind the student of theology can understand the biblical nature of this attribute and its implication in between God and man in ontological context.

Infinity in Theological Context

The Perfection of God

The historic Reformed[9] understanding of “infinity” in theological context deals with perfection of God’s being. As Louis Berkhof noted:

“The infinity of God is that perfection of God by which He is free from all limitations. In ascribing it to God we deny that there are or can be any limitations to the divine Being or attributes. It implies that He is in no way limited by the universe, by this time-space world, or confined to the universe. It does not involve His identity with the sum-total of existing things, nor does it exclude the co-existence of derived and finite things, to which He bears relation. The infinity of God must be conceived as intensive rather than extensive, and should not be confused with boundless extension, as if God were spread out through the entire universe, one part being here and another there, for God has no body and therefore no extension. … It is a reality in God fully comprehended only by Him.”[10]

Infinity is addressing the perfection of God in the totality of His Being, for “He is that He is in all the infinite and constant fullness of His being.”[11] Hoeksema goes on to state that this concept of infinity as the perfection of God means:

“He does not grow older, does not increase or decrease in Being or power, is from eternity to eternity the same in essence and in all His virtues, in His mind and will, His love and life, the absolute fullness of Self-sufficient God.”[12]

Thus the infinitude of God is the “perfection” of God’s Being in that there are no limitations or flaws in His essence. Stephen Charnock writes of God’s perfection as the eternal Being.

“That which had no beginning of duration can never have an end, or any interruption in it. Since God never depended upon any, what should make him cause to be what eternally he hath been, or put a stop to the continuance of his perfections? He cannot will his own destruction; that is against the universal nature in all things to cease from being, if they can preserve themselves. He cannot desert his own being, because he cannot but love himself as the best and chiefest good. The reason that anything decays is either it shown native weakness, or a superior power of something contrary to it. There is no weakness in the nature of God that can introduce any corruption, because he is infinitely simple without any mixture; nor can he be overpowered by anything else; a weaker cannot hurt him, and a stronger than he there cannot be; nor can he be outwitted or circumvented, because of his infinite wisdom. As he received his being from none, so he cannot be deprived of it by any; as he doth necessarily exist, so he doth necessarily always exist. This, indeed, is the property of God; nothing so proper to him as always to be.”[13]

There is nothing to compare to God because all comparison is incapable of expressing the infinite by finite human understanding the fullness of His nature. God alone is capable of full comprehension and we are to accept the testimony of His revelation in disclosing that truth by revelation. As Charnock demonstrates, infinity deals with God’s absolute perfection. Louis Berkhof states concerning infinity: “It should not be understood in a quantitative, but a qualitative sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of God. Infinite power is not an absolute quantum, but an exhaustless potency of power; and infinite holiness is not a boundless quantum of holiness, but a holiness which is, qualitatively free form all limitations or defect. The same may be said of infinite knowledge and wisdom, and of infinite love and righteousness.”[14]Absolute perfection requires us to return to the concept of understanding the distinction of God’s infinity in light of “qualitative” verses “quantitative” sense. The distinction is fairly evident in understanding the meaning of infinite within the context of finite being.

Creature-Creator Distinction

Infinity as it is defined in relation to God’s nature is contrasted to created reality which, by its very nature is considered “finite” due to its limitations and dependence upon God for its existence. This distinction between ‘Creator-creature’ is important in our understanding of the infinitude of God which placed Him beyond temporal reality and its limitations. John Frame states:

“As Lord, he has distinct characteristics. He even has limits in one sense, as we saw in our discussion of omnipotence in the preceding chapter. There we saw that God cannot simply do anything in the way the nominalists imagined. He can do only what is consistent with his other attributes: what is wise, loving, righteous, and so on. Any positive attribute is a delimitation in one sense, for it excludes what is contrary to that attribute; it excludes some divine modes of being that would otherwise would be possible. But God is limited only by his own nature, only by himself, not by anything in creation. No creature may determine what God is, or keep him from doing what he wants to do. If we choose to use the term infinity, we should use it primarily in that way, simply to indicate that no creature can place any limits on God. Infinite, then, will simply be the opposite of finite – another way of expressing the biblical Creator-creature distinction.” [15]

Reformed theology maintains that God’s existence is absolutely different from our existence. This ‘creator-creature’ distinction is a fundamental guardian of Christianity concerning the “qualitative” difference between the Divine being (infinite) and His creation, which as noted, is “finite” in nature. All things created by God are dependent and must be maintained by Him. There is nothing that exists that is not created except God Himself. In contradistinction to the finite, God does not depend on anything other than Himself for His own existence. This we call Self-existence. This is different from the way that Greek philosophers approach the subject.[16] One must always consider the correct usage of the term infinity is in its proper context in order to understand what is being predicated about the nature of God. Herman Bavinck explicates this necessity of proper use of infinity in proper theological usage, He writes:

“When [infinity] applied to time, God’s immutability is called eternity; when applied to space, it is called omnipresence. From time to time the two have been included under the umbrella term of “divinity infinity.” As such the term “infinity,” however, is ambiguous. In the first place, it can be used negatively in the sense of “endless.” A thing is called endless when in fact it has no end though conceivably it could have. In philosophy the term has often been applied to God in that sense. Neoplatonism, for example, viewed God in that sense as being without boundary and form, totally indeterminate, boundless, an overflowing fullness from which the universe emanated. Similarly, the Kabbalah spoke of God as the boundless one, without limit and form, who in the ten sephiroth created intermediate forms between the infinite and the finite. Later, Spinoza’s philosophy won acceptance for this concept of God’s infinity. Spinoza’s “substance,” that is, God, is not a being distinct from the world; rather, it is that which constitutes the basic stuff in creatures and hence is automatically infinite, absolutely undetermined being. All determination, accordingly, is negation, deprivation, a lack of existence. God, however, transcends all limitation and definition. He is nondetermined substance. Extension is one of his attributes. In Hegel this concept of infinity again acquires another meaning because he conceives of Spinoza’s substance, not as eternal and immutable being, but as absolute becoming. Hence, God was called infinite because he could become anything and everything, somewhat like “the infinite” in Anaximander’s system, which, though itself indeterminate, could produce all sorts of things. … The error of this view is that it takes the lowest common denominator the intellect can obtain from finite things by abstraction and equates this abstraction with the infinite. It was precisely the goal of the philosophy of identity to derive the particular from the general, the specific from the nonspecific, the finite from the infinite, by process thinking. God as such is infinite potentiality; he then becomes finite, personal, conscious, determinate in the creatures which are his self-manifestation. But this view is untenable. Infinity is not a negative but a positive concept; it means, not that God has no distinct being of his own, but that he is not limited by anything finite and creaturely. Of course, such a denial of creaturely limitation can be variously construed. If one means that God cannot be confined by time, his infinity coincides with his eternity. If one means that God cannot be confined by space, then his infinity coincides with his omnipresence. This in fact is how God’s infinity is often defined. But infinity can also be construed in the sense that God is unlimited in his virtues, that in him every virtue is present in an absolute degree. In that case infinity amounts to perfection. But then even this attribute of divine infinity has to be properly understood. This divine infinity is mot an infinity of magnitude – in the sense in which people sometimes speak of the infinite or boundless dimensions of the spatial universe – for God is incorporeal and has no extension. Neither is it an infinity of number – as in mathematics we speak of something as being infinitesimally small or infinitely large – for this would conflict with God’s oneness and simplicity. But it is an“infinity of essence.” God is infinite in his characteristic essence, absolutely perfect, infinite in an intensive, qualitative, and positive sense. So understood, however, God’s infinity is synonymous with perfection and does not have to be treated separately.”[17]

Historic Reformed theology has maintained that God’s infinitude, in relation to creation, consists of both His ‘immensity’ and ‘ominpresence.’ Immensity deals with the nature of God’s own being from eternity (eternally existent), and omnipresence relates to His presents to creation. The term ‘infinity’ in this theological usage is properly developed in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which defines ‘infinite’ as: “1. Without limits; unbounded; boundless; not circumscribed; applied to time, space and qualities.” This concept of infinity says Webster is juxtaposed to the context of ‘time,’ ‘space,’ and ‘quality.’ Webster continues: “God is infinite in duration, having neither beginning nor end of existence. He is also infinite in presence, or omnipresent, and his perfections are infinite.” Herein is God’s infinitude rightfully understood, as to His ‘immensity,’ that is, God is without beginning or end. Berkhof notes: “The infinity of God in relationship to time is called His eternity. The form in which the Bible represents God’s eternity is simply that of duration through endless ages.”[18]

As to His relationship to the creation, God is transcendent and omnipresent, that is, He is infinite in relationship to the finite and limited nature of time and space which are His creation, they are present before Him at all time. Further, all things were created and have their “being” or “existence” in God, in that God is existence (not an ontological mixture as in pantheism wherein God’s nature is vested in creation). Rather, we are the eternal thoughts of God that were spoken into a temporal existence created by an “Infinite Being.” St. Paul writes in Colossians 1:16-17: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” It is worth noting that ‘all things’ whether in the ‘spirit realm’ (heaven) or the ‘material realm’ (temporal creation) are known to God. For in Christ all things that have their existence, whether perceived or not by finite man, visible and invisible, dominions, principalities, or powers, have their origin in Him and were created by Him and for Him. This would include even those things which have extension in the created order, because the teleological implications are clearly stated: “…in Him all things consist.” Webster also notes that the term “infinite is used loosely and hyperbolically for indefinitely large, immense, of great size or extent.” This definition is dealing with the created matter or the material substance of creation. Because man is finite, things appear to him as “indefinitely large, immense, of great size or extent.” However, such extension cannot be ascribed to the nature of God from eternity as in His immensity. That would, by definition, cause the essence of God’s being to be extended and developing, thereby changing the meaning or definition of His ‘nature.’ Such a declaration would predicate that the eternal essence or nature of God is in a constant state of flux. It is understood from such a teaching that the attributes cannot by necessity remain the same. Extension of this nature, understood by a finite being, when ascribed to a infinite being would change the ‘simplicity’ of His being as ‘pure spirit’ and God would not be capable of definition because His nature would ever be in a ‘state of becoming.’ This has historically has been argued and from unorthodox systems. The evidential demonstration offered is that the God of the Old Testament, an angry God, is not the same God of the New Testament who brings peace and tranquility to mankind in the form of Jesus Christ. God, they maintain is literally in a ‘state of becoming’ and has yet arrived as to the final nature of His being. But even then, can such a God who is evolving become perfection when He is imperfection already? Are we not arguing that a flawed being is capable of perfection? Further, how does the state of flux become absolutely fixed when the essence is just the opposite? Such a view directly contradicts the Scripture. We are told in Psalms 90:2: “Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” Psalms 102:27: “But You are the same, And Your years will have no end.” Malachi 3:6: “For I am the Lord, I do not change…”. Hebrews 1:12: “Like a cloak You will fold them up, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not fail.” James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”Further, to imply that there is variation with God since He is changing, growing, thus becoming more knowledgeable, logically necessitates insidious consequences.

The first implication would be that the Scripture is not the final authority on any issue of life, faith, and practice. This would be true because a being in the state of becoming could never predicate revelation in as a fixed truth. Also, since Scripture was written over a 1500 year period of time and God’s nature was changing and in the “progress of becoming” necessitates changes in His perception, desires, and outcomes of Divine intellect and will. This would affect the unity and absolute infallibility of His revelation both of Himself and all other things.

Second, all promises in Scripture have to be subject to the changes within the Divine Being. God of necessity must change His thoughts and desires as He progresses from the past to the present into the future. His promises are contingent upon a change of thinking resulting from the unknown becoming known by the accumulation of knowledge that is mediated rather than “immediate” to His own being.

Third, Scripture is relegated to ‘modeling’ both the changes in the nature of God and the responses by man. They are a good guide at best, especially as witnessed to by Christ, but are not propositional ‘truth’ in that truth is based on existential interpretation of the continually developing data in the progression of Creator from interaction with creation and progressive investigation, or “self-actualization”. Truth therefore is relative to each generation and subject to continual revision as God’s knowledge and actions are growing and man is to be responsive to such developments, especially of non-definitive spiritual dynamics.

Fourth, no dogma could be settled. Therefore, the teaching of doctrine is impossible since that which is, is in a state of becoming and therefore what is, is not what will be, and what will be can never be, since what will be must function within the parameters of what is becoming or constant change. Ultimately, God becomes an unknown being.

However, the Scripture is clear about this issue. St. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:11: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” If God works all things (inclusive of every thing that He has decreed before the foundation of the World) it clearly means that nothing can be new with God. There is no unknown or potentiality with Him. We know that is true because the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 2:10: “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” The Spirit knows the “deep things of God” and knows “the things of God.” This requires us to consider the meaning of infinite knowledge, or what infinity means as it applies to the knowledge of God.

Infinite Knowledge

The scripture attests to God’s “omniscience” in that such knowledge is archetypal (God knows the universe in all its totality as it exists whether seen or unseen); it is absolute perfection in that it is immediate to His being and does not result from the process of reasoning, for all things known to God are one absolute comprehensive thought implying that it is simultaneous in its totality. Hebrews 4:13: And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” In 1 Samuel 2:3 we read: “Talk no more so very proudly; Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the Lord is the God of knowledge; And by Him actions are weighed.” Job 12:13 states: “With Him are wisdom and strength, He has counsel and understanding.” Again in Job 36:4: “For truly my words are not false; One who is perfect in knowledge is with you.” Job 37:16: “Do you know how the clouds are balanced, those wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge?” What does it mean that God is “perfect” in knowledge except that he knows everything and there is no potential of the unknown. The Psalmist wrote in 139:1-4: “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.” There is nothing that man can think that God does not know. We again ponder the definitive statement in Psalm 147:5: “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.” The term “infinite” when used in this context means that God is free from all limitation, but not in violation of His being as perfection. “Qualitative” infinity deals with perfection and completeness in form, intellect, and power, while “quantitative” infinity deals with continuous expansion in form, intellect and power again placing God in a ‘state of becoming.’ Thus, the “qualitative” is proper context for predication as it relates to infinity and the perfection of God’s nature. Again, let us consider the statement quoted earlier by Louis Berkhof on this issue:

“The infinity of God is that perfection of God by which He is free from all limitations. In ascribing it to God we deny that there are or can be any limitations to the divine Being or attributes. It implies that He is in no way limited by the Universe, by this time-space world, or confined to the universe. It does not involve His identity with the sum-total of existing things, nor does it exclude the co-existence of derived and finite things, to which He bears relation. The infinity of God must be conceived as intensive rather than extensive, and should not be confused with boundless extension, as if God were spread out through the entire universe, on part being here and another there, for God has not body and therefore no extension. Neither should it be regarded as a merely negative concept, though it is perfectly true that we cannot form a positive idea of it. It is a reality in God fully comprehended only by Him. … This is the infinity of the Divine Being consider in itself. It should not be understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of God. … In this sense of the word the infinity of God is simply identical with the perfection of His Divine Being.” [19]

Infinity can only be viewed as the “qualitative” distinction between the creator and creature. God’s infinitude must be seen in relation to that which is created and dependent, in other words, all created form and matter. Nothing is beyond God or co-existent with God, because ‘beyond’ or ‘co-existent’ means equality of being and there is no matter or form that exists independent of God. We are told in Psalms 86:8: “Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord; Nor are there any works like Your works.” In Isaiah 46:9 God declares His uniqueness: “Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me.” The prophet Jeremiah declares in 10:6-7: “Inasmuch as there is none like You, O Lord (You are great, and Your name is great in might), Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is Your rightful due. For among all the wise men of the nations, And in all their kingdoms, There is none like You.”

Hence, when we speak of infinity as it relates to God’s knowledge, from the perspective of His being, it is a ‘perfected knowledge.’ God’s knowledge is immeasurable (as it relates to finite beings). In Psalms 147:5 we are told: “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.” The term ‘infinite’ here is אֵין מִסְפָּר ‎(mispaar ’ayin). The term ’ayin is a negative substantive that has no single meaning apart from the context in which it is used. It is a particle negation modifying mispaar meaning number or numbered either definite or indefinite. In the negative it gives the connotation that God’s knowledge reaches beyond the understanding of man in a full comprehensive manner. That is the contextual meaning of verse 5. God’s knowledge or understanding is beyond our ability to exhaust His knowledge. We therefore say that if man is to know anything about God it must be “revelational” in nature, whether general or special. All revelation is propositional in nature, be it “innate” or “rational created order,” or particularly revealed as in “special revelation.” Thus the knowledge that God possess is “absolute perfection.” Robert Reymond states:

“Thus the all-wise God is at every moment cognizant of everything that ever was, now is, or ever shall be. And it has never been otherwise. He necessarily knows himself exhaustively, and he necessarily knows his creation exhaustively – and both instantaneously, simultaneously, and everlastingly. His knowledge of himself and of all other things is absolutely comprehensive and eternally “instituted,” that is, he has never learned anything because he has always known everything. He “never receives from some other source or from his own inventive genius and idea he never previously had” (Clark). God’s knowledge is coextensive with all that is. All created things fall within the compass of God’s knowledge, indeed, are what they are by virtue of God’s prior knowledge (his prescience) and determinate counsel (his eternal plan). Every fact in the universe has meaning (may I say interpretation?) by virtue of its place in the knowledge and plan of God. There is no such thing as a “brute,” that is, uninterpreted, entity upon which man by his wisdom and knowledge places meaning for the first time. Since man’s knowledge is then “receptively reconstructive and never creatively constructive: (Van Til), it follows that if a man learns a fact to any degree, his knowledge of that fact must accord with God’s prior knowledge of it. And God has said something about everything in his inspired Word. God’s knowledge, revealed in the Holy Scripture, is then the criterion of validity for all human predication. It is only in God’s light that we see light (Ps. 36:9).”[20]

Such knowledge is always expressed in Scripture “qualitatively” in relationship to His creation. It is never expressed as “quantitative” as to His own being. This is demonstrated in 2 Peter 3:8: “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This verse is originally found in Psalms 90:4: “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night.” Neither verse is expressing a way God calculates time! That would be an absurd concept! Why would it be absurd? First, God’s thoughts are timeless since He is an omniscience being and does not think in terms of process which requires time, thus, his thinking is timeless because it is all comprehensive. Second, God created time for man, thus time is calculated in the current time-space understanding as it is related in Scripture text in the concept of morning and evening equals ‘day,’ a 24 hour period. We consider the ‘day’ concept of 24 hours within other contexts of Scripture calibrating family lines and linage relating to Christ and others, both confirmed though out history. Second, time is the creation of God, God is by nature beyond time, therefore God has no need for time except as He has ordered it for mankind in temporal history. This text in 2 Peter 3:8 and Psalms 90:4 is speaking of that “qualitative” nature of infinity as it relates to God’s knowledge being above time and space. Third, it cannot be a calculation of time as such because the nature of the argument would always proceed that time is meaningless before God and man and all time texts in all variations have no significance what so ever. For example: If one says “I will never drink again for the rest of my life.” But reasons that his life duration is not more than 1000 years, and with God 1000 years is a legitimate means of calculating time, then he could conclude that since 1 day is as a 1000 years, my vow is up in just 24 hours as far as God is concerned. Therefore, there is no legitimate application of 2 Peter 3:8 or Psalm 90:4 as a means of “calculating time” since God is beyond time and time is always before Him as one comprehensive thought, that can rightfully be used theologically in determining set boundaries of time according to this text. Rather, this text is the expression of the “qualitative” difference between God and man as it relates to time. Keil and Delitzsch write of this verse in Psalm 90:

“‎The night-time is the time for sleep; a watch in the night is one that is slept away, or at any rate passed in a sort of half-sleep. A day that is past, as we stand on the end of it, still produces upon us the impression of a course of time by reason of the events which we can recall; but a night passed in sleep, and now even a fragment of the night, is devoid of all trace to us, and is therefore as it were timeless. Thus is it to God with a thousand years: they do not last long to Him; they do not affect Him; at the close of them, as at the beginning, He is the Absolute One. Time is as nothing to Him, the Eternal One. The changes of time are to Him no barrier restraining the realization of His counsel – a truth which has a terrible and a consolatory side. The poet dwells upon the fear which it produces.” [21]

This is also demonstrated in 1 Corinthians 2 where the contrast between God’s knowledge is beyond man’s knowledge, in that, man’s knowledge is limited and dependent upon God revealing His truth to man. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:10-12: “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” God has an exhaustive knowledge of Himself and all things created (heaven and earth – time and space – history). God’s knowledge is perfected and all that exists is based on the perfected knowledge of the Creator/Redeemer God. In Isaiah 46:10 we are told: “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.” The term “declaring” comes from the Hebrew term מַגִּיד magidth which is a hip’il participial of nagad. The hip’ilin Hebrew conveys the basic idea of a causative action. This means according to Wheeler’s Hebrew Syntax that the term “declaring” is “represent[ing] the subject (God) as causing an object (all created reality) to participate indirectly as a second subject in the notion expressed by the verbal root.”[22] The ramification of this is that all of created reality is participating indirectly (secondary and tertiary causes) thus establishing God as the first efficient cause. This is the interaction by God in His created reality, in declaring and managing every aspect of creation according to his plan continuously. This expresses the teleological intent of God in his purpose of all things. The verse is itself expressing the decreeing act of a Sovereign God concerning all things temporal, from their creation to their consummation. Thus all that exists in the temporal realm is known by God, no matter how it appears to man’s limited knowledge. God’s knowledge is perfect knowledge in that everything has a beginning and end, even what is unknown to man. Stephen Charnock wrote:

“God knows all things from eternity, and, therefore, perpetually knows them; the reason is because the Divine knowledge is infinite, and therefore, comprehends all knowable truths at once. … He knows what angels know, what man knows, and infinitely more; he knows himself, his own operation, all his creatures, the notions and thoughts of them, he is understanding above understanding, mind above minds, the light of lights, … Thus God knows himself and all things that really were, are, or shall be in time.” [23]

As we noted earlier, those who press the “quantitative” concept of infinity on the nature of God, ‘God does not have an exhaustive knowledge of either himself or his creation because he cannot know the depth of His own being or of future events or series of numbers; they are forced to a different understanding of God from that of historic Reformed predication. This type of “god” is viewed with a “cognition” that is always contingent upon future events that are as yet ‘unknown’ to him. Such a “god” is normally portrayed as being, if not dependent upon, related to the empirical world of changing flux wherein “god” must reflect that same developing nature within His own being. This philosophical position was developed in the teaching of ‘process theology’ as explicated by Alfred Whitehead North, or in the ‘panentheism’ of Charles Hartshorne. Dr. S. T. Franklin, Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, states that according to Hartshorne’s view:

“… God, while including an element which may be described as simple, is a complex reality. God knows the world — a world in which change, process, and freedom are real elements. For this freedom and change to be real, and for God’s knowledge of this freedom and change to be perfect, Hartshorne reasons that God’s knowledge must itself grow and change. That is, as new facts come into being, God comes to know those new facts (some of which are the result of genuinely free will), and thus God’s knowledge grows. A perfect knower includes within himself the object which is known. Through perfectly knowing the world, God therefore includes the world (as it comes to be) within himself. As the world grows, God grows. God becomes. Through perfectly knowing and including the world, God is the supreme effect. That is, everything that happens affects God and changes God — e.g., God’s knowledge changes. Therefore, the concrete God, the complex God who is actual, is the God who knows, includes, and is changed by the world. This, according to Hartshorne, is the God who loves the world and who shares the joys and sorrows of each creature in the world.” [24]

What Hartshorne is arguing for, is what he perceives as a consistent view of the perfection of God that differs from Anselm’s ontological argument, a view continued to be advocated into the modern age by various Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians. In the analysis above, a perfect being must know the world as it changes and progresses into the future. Such a being in order to maintain a perfect knowledge of the created order of reality must therefore progress in knowledge of the reality in order to know the reality as it is in “processes” or “becomes.” A major problematic area in Hartshorne’s view is the nature of existence. Is God’s existence derived from logical necessity or existential necessity? As such, “existential existence” is grounded in the logical necessity as an ‘aprioristic’ foundation to existence and thought. In this way, Hartshorne says Anselm’s argument is more coherent in developing a definition of ‘perfection’ as it relates to God. However, it should be carefully noted that even with the advocating of aprioristic metaphysical principles, the fundamental ground work is an empirically based theory that is consistent with creation, as man “conceives” it or should we say “perceives” it. Alfred Whitehead’s theory is not much better. Both systems were designed to resolve what had been the complaint against historic Christianity’s understanding of the perfection of God being in all His predicatory attributes. Robert Shaw states:

“God … has a perfect knowledge of himself, and he knows himself perfectly. He knows all things besides himself, whether they be past, present, or to come, in our way of measuring them by time. He knows all creature, from the greatest to the least; he knows all the actions of his creatures, whether secret or open; all their words, thoughts, and intentions. Hence the Scripture declares, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” – Proverbs 15:3. “He is acquainted with all our ways, there is not a word in our tongues but he knoweth it all together, and he understands our thought afar off.” – Psalms 139:2-4. “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” – Acts 15:18. Yea, he knows the most contingent events: the actions of free agents, and all events concerned in them, were always known with certainty to Him; so that, though they be contingent in their own nature, or ever so uncertain to us, yet, in reality, nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. We cannot doubt this, when we consider the numerous prophecies, relating to things of this kind, that have received a most exact and circumstantial accomplishment, many ages after the prophecies were announced. It may be remarked, that God knows things, not by information, nor by reasoning and deduction, nor by succession of ideas, but by a single intuitive glance; and he knows them comprehensively, and infallibly.” [25]

Shaw has clearly defined the concept of omniscience, in that God’s knowledge is perfected in its fullest comprehensive nature. It is one complete (timeless) thought (immediate), not a succession of thoughts (except as revealed to man by revelation). In reality, God knows all things because all that was, is, and will be was decreed according to the counsel of his eternal knowledge. Therefore, there is nothing unknown by God. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:11: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” In Job 42:2 we are told: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” The Psalmist wrote in 33:11: “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.” In Psalms 115:3 we read: “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.” Proverbs 8:23: “I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth.” Proverbs 19:21: “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel — that will stand.” In Daniel 4:35 the prophet states: “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” And finally Paul again writes in Philippians 2:13: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” So what are the implications of the idea of infinite knowledge as it is considered in this context of God’s omniscience? James Oliver Buswell points out that:

“The Statement that God is infinite in His wisdom is intended to designate His omniscience. The statement that God is eternal in His wisdom is intended to teach that God’s omniscience has always been His and always will be His. The statement that God is unchangeable in His wisdom is intended to indicate that God’s wisdom can have no wisdom added to it or subtracted from it, and that what He knows, that is everything without exception,. He knows truly and immutably from eternity to eternity.” [26]

The testimony of Scripture is all that we can predicate our understanding of God’s infinity. Infinity as an attribute of God is important to both the nature of God and directly upon Christianity as a revealed religion. Anything detracting from the concept of God’s perfection is to be rejected as demeaning to His glory and honor, as well as, Christianity as defined in the Scripture as being the “truth” of all things, especially of God, Christ, man, salvation and creation.

[1]A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Robert Reymond, 1998, pg. 161, 165.

[2]Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Donald K. McKim, Westminter John Knox Press, 1996, pg. 116.

[3]Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, R. L. Reese, Humanities Press, 1980, pg. 255.

[4]Ibid, pg. 255. (Emphasis mine)

[5] The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Paul Edwards (Editor), Macmillan Publishing Co. 1967 pg. 190

[6] Ibid, pg. 191.

[7]Ibid, pg. 191-192.

[8] An Exposition of the Confession of Faith, Robert Shaw, Christian Focus Publications, 1845, pg. 27.

[9] I used the term ‘historic’ to modify Reformed because some individuals claiming to be “Reformed” have no concept of the theological system of Reformed Theology.

[10] Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof, Wm. B. Eerdmann’s Publishing, Copyright 1939, 1941, pgs. 59-60.

[11] Reformed Dogmatics, Rev. Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Free Publishing, Copyright 1966, pg. 76.

[12] Ibid, pg. 76

[13] Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Stephen Charnock, Baker Book House, 1979, pg. 283.

[14] Op.cit. pg. 60.

[15]The Doctrine of God, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, © 2002, pg, 543.

[16]Ibid, pg. 543

[17]Reformed Dogmatics, God and Creation Vol. 2, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, © 2004, pgs. 159-160

[18] Op. Cit. pg. 60.

[19]Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1939, pgs. 59-60. (Emphasis mine).

[20] Op. Cite. pg. 185-187.

[21]Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database, 1996, Hendrickson Publishers – electronic version.

[22]Wheeler’s Hebrew Syntax Notes, Copyright © 1988-2006 by Rev. Prof. Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D. – electronic version.

[23]Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Stephen Charnock, Baker Book House, 1979, pgs 406, 409, 410.

[24] Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Copyright 1984, Baker Books. 

[25]Op. Cite. pg. 30. 

[26] A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, James O. Buswell, Jr. Zondervon Publishing House, copyright 1962, pg. 57.


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