Monday, July 24, 2017

Simplicity of God

A good friend has a post on this topic. I don't disagree with her reasoning (at least not in any substantive way)--but there is just something, well, je ne sais quoi about this topic. I somehow miss the importance of the God-is-Simple doctrine.

I’m fine agreeing (because I have no reason to disagree) that God is simple in that he is not composite—although I don’t see the necessity—it doesn’t change my view of God nor does scripture seem to indicate that it is important.

Of course, simplicity is always tied to immutability.

I’m also fine saying God is immutable in that he is eternal, he doesn’t change his mind (even as a result of our prayers!), his promises are trustworthy, and that his sovereignty is complete. I just don’t see the need to posit a detailed picture of the properties of God in the form of, what have always appeared to me, “just-so” arguments or requirements or explanations of his immutability.

Do we really have to be so careful? Is the refrain from the beloved hymn And Can It Be,

Amazing love! How can it be, 
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? 

unorthodox? For surely God dying is the ultimate affront to immutability.

The chain from simplicity to immutability has a link to another divine property: impassibility.

I don’t think the impassibility of God means he is passionless. I think it means his passions never take control of his actions or cause his will to be thwarted. I understand that the language indicating that he is pleased, or angered, or long suffering, that he loves or hates, and that his disposition toward a person or persons can change, is anthropomorphic—but I believe the particular anthropomorphisms were inspired because they mean something--in fact, the doctrine of divine inspiration causes me to believe that the scriptures appearing to attribute emotions to God are as good as they could possibly be and come as close as they could possibly come in order to convey to our finite minds the divine reality. Rather than anthropomorphisms (inaccurately) hinting strongly at a God with something akin to emotions, could not The Holy Spirit have inspired language that was at least closer to representing a God without passions?

As simple as can be, but not simpler

The ultimate simple God is Aristotle’s “Unmoved mover.” I don’t believe God is that simple (and therefore he is not as simple as he could be). I believe He is a God of action, A God who moves, interacts, and responds. I believe his intellect, whatever that means—but it surely includes creative ability and the ability to covenant with himself and with us and to institute a plan of redemption—is complex and intricate.

I get a little nervous when we try to nail down these attributes of God. On the one hand we say that we can’t fully understand God, which is why he has to speak to us anthropomorphically. And yet we try to turn about and use our finite language to give precise, orthodox specifications of his simplicity, immutability, passions (or lack thereof), etc.

The Scottish saying: “your jaiket's on a shoogly nail” comes to mind.


  1. Thanks for interacting with my post. If it gets people to think and want to learn more about the doctrine of God, that's a good thing even if there's disagreement. Iron sharpens iron and can help lead to greater clarity.

    1. It is quite possible that some day a light will go on and I'll say: "Oh, I get it now, I see why some many people I respect take this doctrine so seriously." I need to study more.