Tuesday, July 20

God's Simplicity

I think it was last week, or maybe the week before, that I wrote that I planned to do a piece on God's justice. I'm still planning to do that, but it's been put on the back burner. As part of my study on that subject I got hung up on the simplicity of God.

Most discussions of God's attributes start out with some sort of mention of God's simplicity, although they may call it unity or not label it at all. It sounds like an easy enough idea, doesn't it? The term simple sure makes it sound like it ought to be simple to grasp. Well, it hasn't been a piece of cake for me to understand, and by the way it's laid out in the descriptions of it, it doesn't seem like its all that simple of an idea for anyone.

So here I am writing about it, hoping that as I put the idea of God's simplicity into my own words, I'll understand it a little better. I'm also hoping that you'll read it, and pick at it a bit, and that'll help me out, too.

What does it mean that God is simple? Well, for one thing (Hmmph! Can there be more than one thing in simplicity?), it means God is an indivisible being. There is no composition of parts within Him.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is that God existing as Trinity seems to contradict this. It doesn't really though, because the persons of the Trinity exist as a unity. They are distinct, but not separate. They are not different parts of God, but are all the same essence. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that each of the Persons of the Trinity holds the whole essence of God. We may contemplate them separately, but they are never separate.

The same sort of unity would hold true for God's attributes. There is unity in them. They are not separate, even though they are distinct and so can be considered separately. The are a unified whole, and they are the essence or nature (or very being) of God. The are not just what God does, but what He is as a unified (or perhaps integrated is better) and complete being.

Then, too, all of God's attributes exist completely within Him. He is completely (and perfectly) loving, just, holy, merciful, jealous, wise, etc. And because they all exist together as a unified whole, each one of God's attributes is qualified by every other attribute. He doesn't lay side one of his attributes to express another one, but when any attribute is expressed, it is expressed in a way that is not contradictory to, but rather is qualified by, all of His other attributes.

We have an example of this idea in scripture. When God is merciful toward sinners, he must be merciful in a way that is consistent with His righteousness. He cannot be merciful in a way that overlooks, or contradicts, His attribute of justice. So when Romans 3:25 and 26 tell us that Christ died in order for God to be able to justly pass over sin, it is pointing out this simplicity of God. God acted mercifully in passing over sin, but that merciful act had to be in accordance with every other attribute of God, including His righteousness, which required a just way for sin to be overlooked. God couldn't act only out of mercy without that mercy being conditioned by His justice.

In the same way, I suppose, God couldn't be just without that justice being conditioned by His mercy. When God expresses His retributive justice, that act of retribution exists upon the backdrop of God's mercy. There has always been a merciful way for sinners to avoid God's retribution through the justice of the cross.

Every activity of God is conditioned by all of his attributes simultaneously, so that even though a particular act may emphasize one of the attributes more than others, it is always done in a way that is consistent with every one of His attributes. This also means that it is not right to single out one attribute as more important than the others.

God's simplicity means, too, that God's attributes are not additions to His real essence, as if God existed and then decided that He would be righteous, good, truth, etc.. God attributes are expressed in His will, but the are not merely what He has willed that He be, but what He is, and always has been, and always will be. This seems to be the idea expressed in that phrase from Genesis, "Shall not the Judge of all earth do right?" Abraham appealed to what God was--the righteous Judge--as the basis for suggesting to God how He must decide to act. This is also suggested in the statement from Hebrews that tells us that it is impossible for God to lie. God didn't just decide to be truthful. He cannot act other than truthfully, because truthfulness is His essence.

That's where I am, and that's pretty much what I understand about the simplicity of God. Have you got anything to add? Any bones to pick? Any clarifications to make?