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Don't Worry, Be Praying

Freshman at college are clueless. I know because I was one only five years ago (I am a consummate late bloomer). My fellow freshmen and I arrived at school without the faintest idea where anything was or how to get to the right classroom (this was hugely complicated by the random arrangement of room numbers in the Sweeting building at Moody Bible Institute). However, being clueless is a worry only if no one has a clue. As long as one person knows enough, the rest don't have to. So the angst of a group of clueless freshmen is largely relieved by the presence of a singular (and honest) upperclassman.

For Christians wandering around the world (occasionally in a freshman-like clueless manner), God is the one who is present and who knows everything exhaustively (he even knows how to navigate the halls of the Sweeting building). And because God knows everything about everything human beings do not have to know everything. Of course there are lots of things we can know and should know, but many other things that will always elude us (like the internal construction of the Trinity and the reason people eat tofu). While the freshman will one day be an upperclassman, no human being ever makes it to omniscience. That particular quality is confined to the Godhead. So no matter how hard we work to know everything we will never be able to get even close to the infinite capacity of God to know things.

However, the fact that human beings can know anything at all is down to the fact that God does know everything and has made human beings able to know something. If God did not know everything then he would be unable to guarantee that human beings could know anything since something God does not know might be discovered that would make what we (and he) do know not known (something like the discovery of a law of logic that destroys all other laws of logic or the discovery that the scientific method is entirely unreliable).

Worry is not reasonable because, in principle, our worry is relieved by the presence of the all-knowing God of the Bible who is sovereign over every last molecule of the universe. Consequently one does not need to worry if one does not know everything. One would only need to worry if no one knew everything. If no one knew everything it would be reasonable to worry, but because God knows everything there is a good reason not to worry.

This is all very well in principle, but, in practice, things are rather different. In practice we remain committed worriers, fretting about what we do not know - what am I going to do now I have graduated? Will the euro collapse? Whom shall I marry? How am I going to pay this bill? In all these cases it appears clear that God alone knows the certain answer to all these questions and because he knows we are not obligated to know.

In facing practical anxiety and worry Paul tells us not to worry, but to pray: "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can comprehend. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). In prayer we implicitly trust God with our cares and worries. The peace we receive is beyond human comprehension, but it is not beyond God's. For God, there is no mystery about our futures; he is never worried or anxious. And it is because of God's comprehensive knowledge of every detail of the universe, including our futures, that we receive peace when we trust God in prayer. We don't receive peace because those needs are instantly met or because God lets us know what he knows. We might think before we pray that worry would end if we could just know if that job is the right one, if that person is whom we should marry, if the euro will survive, but that is not the point of praying. Instead peace comes because, in prayer, the principle of trust in the comprehensive knowledge of God is put into practice.

The above is an adaptation of an an argument found in: James Anderson, “If Knowledge Then God,” Calvin Theological Journal 40 (2005), 20.