A Simple God
Let me begin by saying the title of this article may come across as being nearly sacrilegious. Such were my thoughts at the outset. Why would we ever label God as being simple? We do not mean that He is dimwitted or incapable in any sense, but rather that He is one. A definition of the word simple is a thing composed of a single element; not compound.
The very makeup of God is of one and not of parts, as he declared to Moses, “I Am who I AM” (Ex. 3:14). Moses himself proclaims to Israel, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one.” (Deut. 6:4).
We can trace the teaching of the oneness of God back to the earliest history of the church. It manifested itself in the doctrine of the Trinity: the three persons of the Godhead are one. It is firmly planted in Classical Theism, and in writings such as the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Catechism. It is also alluded to in the Anabaptist authored Elbing Catechism (p. 13 Q8).
What is the Simplicity of God?
Divine Simplicity believes God in His very essence, within Himself and by Himself, is love, wisdom, gentleness, goodness, justice, perfection, and holiness, etc. God is whatever He has, for He has nothing that He is not. John writes, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 emphasis mine).
This dispels the notion that God is composed of His attributes or His characteristics, for if this were so, there would have needed to be a composer to have put them all together. We must believe that in order for God to be God, He must be autonomous or self-existent. God is of Himself and by Himself absolute being. Not one of God’s attributes is more than the other, and not one of His characteristics is less than God Himself.
Why it Matters
What does a lofty teaching do for us today? This doctrine matters for life!
Typically, our understanding of relationships is that they must be reciprocal. If this is true, then both parties must change in order to develop the relationship. However, this is not the case when it comes to a relationship with God, for God does not change. “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). Christians have a reciprocal relationship with God, although His character is unaffected by it – unlike every other relationship we know. God is being, not becoming. God does not change. God is of Himself, His own First Cause; He has no beginning or ever began to be. We, on the other hand, “live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28), and He identifies with us! He understands all that we feel, every trial and every burden, every joy, and each blessing comes from Him in His time. We can rest in this truth!
This begs the question: why then does God allow seeming injustice in our world? How can God, “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17b), give great trials to one and to another seeming endless blessing?
Consider an optical prism: just as we see different colors of the spectrum refracted at different angles, it does not change the source: pure white light. This gives us a glimpse of how God, who is Light, can be seen in different life circumstances. Our knowledge of God has limits, and we must form our worldview with our finite minds. God’s essence (His very being) does not change in response to men, although He allows us in His time to see different facets of His being.
We desire with Moses: God show us your glory! By God’s grace, we have from time to time “seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b). Perhaps we have been humbled as Job: “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5). We have been assured that someday His children, “we shall see Him as He is!”