God Is Simple

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May 10 2016
Author: Pastor Bill Henderson

Supplemental teaching for session Two of Wayne Grudem’s 20 Life Transforming Truths

God is a single and simple spiritual being. At first blush it may sound strange to our ears to hear that God is simple. But by simple I don’t mean that God is dimwitted or a little naïve about what makes us humans really tick. Nor do I mean that God is a breeze to understand. Simple, as a divine attribute, is the opposite of composite. A composite material, like concrete or plywood, is made by combining two or more materials together to form a resulting material that is better than the sum of its parts. But God’s essence is a unity (not a multiplicity) and older theologians have spoken of this in terms of God’s simplicity – an important truth often not thought about anymore.

For example, think about how the language of attributes can be used in the Bible to describe God: “God is love” (1 John 4:8), “God is spirit” (John 4:24), “God is light” (1 John 1:5), and God is “just” (Romans 3:26). Each of these biblical texts tells us what God really and truly is, not what he happens to be on some occasions. Therefore, God’s essential being can be described from these four different perspectives. But it would be wrong to say that God is part love, part spirit, part light, and part just, as though God was like a bundle of sticks tied together and each attribute represented a stick. And it would also be wrong to think of God like a pincushion with His various attributes stuck onto Him like pins. Attributes are not added to God’s essential nature; instead, these attributes are the essence of God. So each of these attributes, love, spirituality, light (truth), and justness describe the entirety of God’s essential being. God is what he has, for he has nothing that he is not. God is unitary, an indivisible being, and in this sense, God is simple.

But what practical difference does all this make? Here are two “take aways” from this primer on the doctrine of God’s simplicity.

1) The Depth of God’s Simplicity: When you bump into the attributes of God in the Bible, while different attributes of God are emphasized at different times, no one attribute is spelled out as the ultimate attribute or the controlling attribute or the one more important than the rest. Because God is a simple being, we can’t say that sovereignty is more central to God than mercy or that mercy is more central to God than sovereignty. We shouldn’t rank some attributes as higher than others. For instance, someone may say, “Sure, God has omniscience and justice, but God is love.” The implication here is that unlike other lesser attributes love is the chief attribute more true to God’s identity. But this is to imagine God as a composite being with some less essential attributes and one core attribute. But because God is profoundly simple His attributes are identical with His essential being so God is entirely omniscient (all-knowing) and entirely just and entirely love. In fact, every attribute of God qualifies every other attribute of God with the result that God’s attributes have attributes. God loves justly just as God is lovingly just. God is mercifully truthful just as He is truly merciful. God is eternally and infinitely holy in the wisdom of His sovereignty, and so forth. Little wonder that David could say, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).

2) The Authenticity of God’s Simplicity: Have you ever known someone for years but when you stop to think about it you’ve really only ever known that person on the surface? It’s true that some people can put on a good front but all of us have the potential to layer ourselves with protective coverings and ration out our own knowability. However, because God is simple, when we know the attributes of God we are truly knowing God Himself. It is not as if God is wearing a metaphysical mask and what God truly is in His essence is somehow mysteriously hidden behind the mask. God is not like a wizard of Oz who exists behind the curtain of what we thought was real. God’s word tells us God’s essence, His defining qualities. Can we exhaustively know God? No. But God is knowable insofar as He grants us responsive hearts and the amazing privilege to know the real Him (not a surface Him) and enter into a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ! “And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Last Sunday, in corporate worship, we sang and joyfully exulted in the magnificence of God because knowing his self-revealed attributes we really and truly know Him, and that makes all the difference in the world:

When darkness clouds the day, when we are afraid, You are there.

When trouble closes in it’s hard to trust again, You are there.

And we fix our eyes on You. Our hope is found in You.

You are Glorious, Almighty, Infinite and Holy, Gracious, full of mercy, love without an end.

Magnificent God. Magnificent God. 

Our hearts are full of wonder, captured by Your beauty, falling on our knees, we worship You alone.

Magnificent God, we bow before all You are.


Magnificent God by M. Weaver & S. Garrard

Prayer:

Eternal God and our heavenly Father, we bow before you because you are infinite and we are not. We cannot pretend to fully understand you because your greatness is unsearchable, your understanding is beyond measure, and your knowledge is too wonderful for us. But forgive us for being underwhelmed at how gracious you’ve been to reveal yourself to us in the holy Bible. We are reassured to know that we love and worship you as our unchanging God who will not evolve. You have no potential to grow into, nothing to learn, no maturity to gain. You are independent of all, immutable in your perfections, and ever faithful worthy of all our trust. “For all things are of you, and through you, and to you, to whom be the glory forever.” Amen.

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