Mar

25

2010

Kevin DeYoung|6:03 am CT

The Simplicity of God

“We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths,” says the Belgic Confession (1561), “that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God” (Article 1).

God is simple.

This is an important truth few Christians have thought about. By “simple” I don’t mean God is dim-witted. Nor do I mean that God is easy to understand. Simple, as a divine attribute, is the opposite of composite. The simplicity of God means God is not made up of goodness, mercy, justice, and power. He is goodness, mercy, justice, and power. Every attribute of God is identical with his essence.

So you cannot say love is more central to God than sovereignty, or vice-versa. Christians make this mistake all the time. You’ll hear people say, “God may have justice or wrath, but he is love.” The implication: love is more central to the nature of God. But God is a simple being, not a composite being. So he is righteousness in the same way he is love.

Herman Bavinck explains:

The simplicity is of great importance, nevertheless, for our understanding of God. It is not only taught in Scripture (where God is called “light,” “life,” and “love”) but also automatically follows from the idea of God and is necessarily implied in other attributes. Simplicity here is the antonym of “compounded.” If God is composed of parts, like a body, or composed of genus (class) and differentiae (attributes of different species belonging to the same genus), substance and accidents, matter and form, potentiality and actuality, essence and existence, then his perfection, oneness, independence, and immutability cannot be maintained. Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, 176.

In other words, the simplicity of God not only prevents us from ranking certain attributes higher than others, it allows God to have “a distinct and infinite life of his own within himself” (177). He is not an abstract Absolute Idea who happens to have love, wisdom, and holiness, as if we first conceive of a being called God and then relate qualities to him. Rather, God in his very essence, within himself and by himself, is love, wisdom, and holiness. God is whatever he has, for he has nothing that he is not.

So remember, “God is simple.” His attributes do not stick to him; he is what they are.

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