Have you gazed into the heavens on a cloudless night and wondered at the stars? Perhaps as many as 10,000 are viewable with the unaided eye, depending on conditions. But their actual number is much higher, estimated by some at 200 sextillion (that’s a two followed by twenty-three zeros: 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). According to that estimate, if you were to divide all Earth’s oceans into cups of water, then multiply that total times ten, you would have as many cups of water as there are stars in the universe.1 That’s a lot of stars.

But, more amazing than those numbers is this statement about God: “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:4-5, ESV). Whereas man can only guess at the number of stars out there (for all we know, 70 sextillion may just scratch the surface), God knows the precise figure. And, astonishingly, he has given every star its own name! As Creator, he has the right to do so. And, as God, his infinite mind can easily accomplish such a feat. If men had the brainpower and necessary equipment (which we don’t), the exact count of stars could be measured, since it is a finite number. In stark contrast to that, the Psalmist reminds us that God’s understanding is “beyond measure.” Man cannot measure the stars (which is a measurable number). Much less can we even begin to measure the omniscience of God.

“Omniscience” means that God knows everything knowable. If God were ignorant of a single truth, then his understanding would be deficient. If his understanding were deficient, then his knowledge would not be infinite. If God were not infinite in every attribute—including his knowledge—then he would not be God. Unlike us, God cannot forget a fact. Nor does he remember (at least not in the sense of recalling to mind something forgotten). God does not learn (for that would imply a time of knowledge deficiency). Rather, God’s infinite knowledge is ever-present in his omniscient mind. Existing outside the constraints of time, God possesses simultaneous knowledge of everything from past, present, and future. He is the one “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isa. 46:10). In short: every reality, and every unrealized potential reality, and every not-yet-realized future reality are already in the infinite mind of God.

And that explains certain verses that may at first appear chronologically puzzling to us. How can the names of the saved be “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 13:8; cf. 17:8)? The answer is that, prior to creation, God already knew who would choose to obey him and be saved. From God’s perspective, the names are known and the book of life is written. From our human perspective, we have free-will choices to make and life to live in such a way as to keep our names written in that book. God’s knowledge of the outcome does not nullify our free-will participation in the outcome.

A sobering thought, that the God who names 70 sextillion stars also knows every name in the book of life—a list of names that will eventually translate into heaven’s population. Is your name there? “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).

– Weylan Deaver, Tennessee Bible College Online Instructor

1https://astronomy.com/news/astro-for-kids/2021/09/astro-for-kids-how-many-stars-are-there-in-space (accessed 01/10/23).