2 Nephi 9:20 — LeGrand Baker — ‘He knoweth all things’
2 Nephi 9:20
20 O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.
The question of whether God really does know everything has a fun history in LDS theology. Orson Pratt, who apart from the Prophet Joseph was my first hero in the church, wrote an essay in which he said God is perfect and that his perfection included a total knowledge of all things from eternity to eternity. His argument was that if God were still learning he wouldn’t really be God.
Brigham Young didn’t like the essay or its reasoning. He wrote an open letter, which was published in the Millennial Star which said the principle of eternal progression is an eternal principle. His God, he said, was and would always be progressing. If that were not true, if God ever became static in his progression his existence would become meaningless. (In those days the scripture which now reads, “This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” then read, “This is my work to my glory to the immortality and eternal life of man.” There are some interesting differences between them. The later version can be incorporated in the earlier, but it doesn’t work quite as easily the other way around.)
Brigham Young’s open letter said Orson Pratt was wrong, and that if anyone else made such statements as that he would loose his priesthood. There is only one way I know by which one can loose his priesthood. That is by excommunication. President Young’s threat was polite, but only very thinly veiled. Elder Pratt’s response was also polite. In an open letter, also published in the Star, he said he was very sorry President Young had been offended. He did not recant or say he was wrong, only that he was sorry for the offence.
Some years later Elder McConkie gave a speech at BYU in which he identified the most dangerous heresies in the church. One which he mentioned was the idea which Brigham Young had defended so vigorously.
One cannot help but wonder what Brigham Young would have thought about Elder McConkie’s speech. I suspect he might have approved, given the environment in which Elder McConkie spoke. Let me try to explain the environmental contexts in which each of those ideas were expressed.
Orson Pratt was a self taught logician and mathematician, historian and theologian. His was certainly one of the most brilliant minds in the church. His statement that God knows everything was simply a reasonable deduction based on scriptural premises and reinforced by Greek logic. In Elder Pratt’s mind, either God knew everything or he did not. In Orson’s world of perfect logic and order there was no room for a supreme God who was fumbling about still trying to learn stuff. Orson could find no academic tolerance for the notion that God might encounter a situation where he could make a mistake. Such an idea was simply outside the limits of the possible.
Brigham Young’s world was equally pragmatic. In his day, the most advanced scientific theory about the nature of man and society was “social Darwinism.” Its major tenant was that all living things progress nearer and nearer toward both physical and mental perfection. The theory simply held that the most capable people rose to the top of their economic and cultural ladders. In that system of logic, there was no place for progression to stop unless one assumed the conclusion was a static perfection. The idea that God and his creations would become static and without progression seemed both irrational and wrong.
Elder McConkie’s world was different from either of those. At the time he gave his speech the social and religious worlds of America and Europe were all astir. ERA and women’s rights challenged every facet of our culture. One of the arguments introduced by this challenge was the idea that the Saviour was that because the Saviour was only a man, he could not understand women things like female emotion, pain or love. The logic end of that argument was that women ought to pray to a mother god. It was in the environment of that debate that Elder McConkie stated that the idea that God does not know everything is one of the most dangerous heresies in the church. Given the connotations of the argument, Brigham Young would probably not have carried out his threat and excommunicated Elder McConkie for giving that speech.
It seems to me that all three of these brethren are correct in their reasoning, but that ultimately the understanding of that correctness is to be had outside the realms of contemporary doctrinal feuds, and of logical, and sociological theory. I would love to be able to do that, but don’t know how. I suspect, though, that the place where one must go to discover the answerer will probably be within the context of an understanding of Christ’s role as Creator and Saviour, and consequently, of his relationship with space and time.
I believe the scriptures are true which describes the Saviour as “The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men. The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him. (D&C 93:9-10)” “That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God. (D&C 76:24)” I believe that in those scriptures the words “by,” “through,” and “of,” denote all which the full power of their meanings can express.
As I understand the atonement, it is the fulfilling and final expression of power which culminates the process which began with the creation. That is, the resurrection, exaltation, and eternal life of all things, are the conclusion of the sequence of events which began with their creation. I believe that throughout that sequence of events, the role of the Saviour has been the eternal and infinitely constant.
To me it seems a bit silly to suggest that the creator and finisher of all things does not know all truth about all those things. Whether that truth is to be actualized in different times or in a different space, seems to me to be beside the point. The scripture addresses that question in the simplest possible way. It defines truth as a knowledge of reality, and says that Christ has all truth. It reads, “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; … The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth; (D&C 93:24-26)”
All that seems to me to be simple and straight forward enough to prove Orson Pratt’s point. I suspect even Brigham Young would accept it. Then why did Brigham object? I believe that it was because he and Orson Pratt were talking about different things. As I understand it, our universe, and its spirit counterpart, and the intelligences from which it and we are organized, constitute a finite “system” which was created and will be exalted “in” “through” and “of” the Saviour. My capacity to wonder about things does not even begin to comprehend that “system” — never mind to imagine what beyond that, might be the realm of the Father. My belief is that within of this “system,” its Creator and Saviour moves without restraint in both time and space, and that he knows all things. I also believe that beyond that system, Brigham Young knew a lot more about what he was talking about that I know.