Does God Know What It Is Like To Be Me?

Unknown-3In the information age, knowledge has fallen on hard times. Google, spell-checking software, and public schools that “teach toward the test” have lulled us to sleep. Why learn when we can passively watch another video on Netflix? Why read a book when I can scroll through my Instagram feed? We don’t want knowledge. And we don’t want God to have it either.

It’s no surprise then, that the traditional attribute of omniscience—the idea that God knows everything there is to know—has fallen on hard times. Open Theists deny that God knows the future. Atheists deny that the concept of omniscience is coherent. Many ignore this troubling attribute; after all, if God knew everything, he’d know our thoughts and the state of our ruined souls. But wait. Could God really know my thoughts? Does he prowl around my mental life examining my beliefs, my thoughts, my loves and longings? In short, does he know what it’s like to be me?

Many think that God just doesn’t have that kind of knowledge. His omniscience is restricted to knowledge of all true propositions. God doesn’t know my own conscious experiences. He might know all objective portions of reality, but not the subjective experiences of creatures.

However, if we deny God access to the subjective cognitive lives of creatures, then it seems he is not cognitively perfect. There is a limit to his mental life. Something is missing. He doesn’t know what it is like to have conscious experiences of certain kinds—such as seeing the color red, drinking a root beer, or feeling fear. But if God doesn’t know these things about me, then he doesn’t know everything there is to know. But then either God is not omniscient after all, or omniscience is restricted to other (objective) kinds of knowledge only in which case God is not maximally cognitively perfect.

It seems that a more exalted view of God would include, in addition to God’s knowledge of objective reality, the subjective states of conscious creatures. Is there a way to uphold God’s knowledge of our own subjective mental states? The philosopher Linda Zagzebski thinks there is. Zagzebski argues that God has the property of “omnisubjectivity:”

“I propose that omnisubjectivity is direct acquaintance with the conscious states of creatures . . . . God has total perfect empathy with all conscious beings who have ever lived or ever will live.”[1]

And:

“What I call perfect total empathy is a complete and accurate copy of all of a person’s conscious states.”[2]

So,

“God lives through the conscious experiences of each being who possesses consciousness. He knows everything you know or understand from living your life, and similarly for every other conscious being.” [3]

If God possesses the property of omnisubjectivity, then he does know what it’s like to be me. He is fully present (as an omnipresent being) with me at every moment. He fully empathizes with me and knows what every experience I go through is like. While some might find that a bit troubling, a moments reflection reveals a God of grace: he knows the evil thoughts and bad motivations and confused passions of my heart yet still loves, cares, and pursues me. Even more, he knows all the bad things I will think, do, and say over the course of my life, yet he graciously accepts and calls me one of his own.

The same goes for you. God understands you. He knows your struggles, fears, hopes, and failures yet pursues you and invites you to find peace in him. As Mark Galli insightfully notes, “omniscience then is . . . a revelation of God’s mercy. It will indeed inspire fear when we first start reflecting on it. Just ask the Psalmist. But the fear of the Lord is also the beginning of wisdom and grace.”[4]

May you find rest in the God who knows you like no other and loves and pursues you even as you run.

 

[1] Linda Zagzebski, Omnisubjectivity: A Defense of a Divine Attribute (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2013), 29.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 33.

[4] Mark Galli, A Great and Terrible Love (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), 53.

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