Divine Simplicity

In the About the Bloggers section of this blog, I say that “God is supremely simple.” When I put this into my section, Nathan suggested that I take a post and explain what I meant by this, as not everyone will know quite what it means. So, let’s dig in.

Before attempting to explain what divine simplicity is, let’s talk about the complexity of humanity. This may seem backwards (“God is simple and I’m complex?”), but after a look into what these terms mean in this particular sense, we will have a better understanding of the truth of this doctrine of divine simplicity.

Let us suppose that someone asks you to attend a concert of your favorite band. They have the tickets, and are ready to go. The concert starts in an hour, and it takes about an hour to get to the venue. If you are going to attend, you must decide right now. If you hesitate more than a minute or two, you will lose this opportunity. We’ll make it more interesting and say that this concert is the band’s farewell show.

In contrast to this invitation, however, you have already promised your brother that you would hang out with him in about an hour. He is busy until then, so you cannot contact him to let him know about the change in plans, and you have not seen him for awhile.

Your decision, then, may be difficult. On the one hand, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a concert that you would really like to see. And you could always buy your brother a t-shirt or a cd or something. But on the other hand, you haven’t seen your brother in a long time, and you know he will be hurt if you go to the concert.

So what do you do?

The answer isn’t important. In this case, it is that tension that is important.  That dualism of desires is what I mean when I say that humans are complex.  We are torn in two different directions by our desires.  Our emotions force us to seek the better of our two options, because what is better is not clear to us.

Fortunately, this is not what God is like.  God is simple.

God’s simpleness means that whatever God has, he is.  What that means is that when we say God has all knowledge (He has omniscience), God has that knowledge because he is omniscient.  God is not omnipresent because he has omnipresence, but rather is omnipresent at His core.  God is merciful as much as God is just.  He does not possess these qualities as if they are outside of himself, but rather He is merciful and He is just, with no tension between the two.

We possess a certain amount of justice or mercy, and that lies outside of ourselves.  This is where our internal conflicts can arise:  our possession of two qualities that are not us, but rather qualities we want to make part of us.  And it is precisely this “part of us” language that is different between humans and God.  I am made up of different parts.  There is more grace in me than legalism, just like there is more conservativism than liberalism.  God does not have parts, as he is completely unified in being.  Much like Jesus Christ was all God and all man, so God is all justice, all mercy, all love, all wrath, all knowing, all present, and all good.  He is not a percentage of each of these things, but rather one hundred percent of all of them.

Divine simplicity is a difficult concept to wrap our heads around, but that is in part due to our finite nature.  God appears to be infinitely complex because he is infinitely simple, and viewed through our finite lenses.

  1. Divine simplicity understood. Internal cohesion.

  1. November 30th, 2010

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