I listened to a BYU devotional talk by Cecilia Peek from several years ago and I was really impressed by the story she told from her mission to Germany. It’s a story that testifies of our premortal existence and of how our Heavenly Father knows each of us personally. I think that one of the great messages of the Restoration is indeed that God knows us individually. The first word spoken by God in the Sacred Grove was “Joseph”—a witness that He knew Joseph by name. Many of the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants also testify of God’s knowledge of us. One example is in the Lord’s revelation to Oliver Cowdery when He declared, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things” (D&C 6:22). This was a reminder from God to Oliver about the personal spiritual witness he had had and which Joseph knew nothing about. On another occasion, William McLellin sought answers to five questions from the Lord that Joseph did not know, and D&C 66 was given in response. We don’t know the questions, but Brother McLellin said they were answered to his “full and entire satisfaction” which he didn’t deny even after he fell away. The Lord knew him personally and showed this as He answered his specific questions. Many other revelations testify of God’s knowledge of each of His children as we see Him address many specific individuals by name and give them custom counsel for their lives and situation.
I think that the story of Zacchaeus also teaches this principle. Zacchaeus was a rich publican in Jericho, and when Jesus passed through “he sought to see Jesus who he was.” It appears that he had never met Jesus before, and he “climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him.” Jesus passed by, looked up at him, and said, “Zacchæus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house” (Luck 19:1-5). Now I guess it’s possible that Jesus knew him because he was a prominent man in the city, but it seems more likely to me that Jesus knew him because as God he knows all of us. His first word to the man in Jericho was his name, and that must have come as a surprise to Zacchaeus that Jesus knew his name. Many other scriptures witness this knowledge that the Savior has of each of us. For example, in the Old Testament Moses testified that the Lord said “I know thee by name,” and in the New Testament the Savior testified, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (Exodus 33:12, John 10:14). Jesus knows us individually, and one of our purposes in life is to come to know Him and be like Him. I love the way that Elder Maxwell put it at the end of his final conference talk: “I testify to you that God has known you individually, brethren, for a long, long time (see D&C 93:23). He has loved you for a long, long time. He not only knows the names of all the stars (see Ps. 147:4; Isa. 40:26); He knows your names and all your heartaches and your joys! By the way, you have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals—imperfect but who are, nevertheless, ‘trying to be like Jesus!’”