“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This statement from Deuteronomy 6:4 carries two theological implications: (1) the unity and (2) uniqueness of God. In this article, we will be looking at God’s unity, which is referred to in theology as the simplicity of God.
When we say that God is simple, we are not saying that God is easy to understand. Instead, we are referring to his essence as being simple (one part) versus compound (many parts). Humans are compound beings, in that we are made up of various parts, and these parts can be divided. For example, wisdom is a quality which humans can possess. However, not all humans have wisdom. God, however, is simple. Meaning he is not made up of various parts. He is neither composed nor divided.
Although we may speak of God’s many attributes, his attributes are not parts of him, instead, they are identical with his essence, along with everything that all his attributes reveal.1 For example, Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “No one is good–except God alone.” God in his essence is good, and when God created all things it was good. God is good, and this attribute reveals that all good things come from God. In his persons, in his decrees, in his covenant, in all that he does, he is good.2
In the incarnation, the Son did not give up his divinity, rather, he took to himself a true body and a reasonable soul. As he walked among the people of Israel, there the fullness of God was, in all his glory and all his attributes. Therefore, just as God is light (1 John 1:5), Christ is able to declare, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life (John 8:12).”
However, by taking upon himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, he was made like us in every respect. Unlike his divinity, his humanity is composed of a human will, flesh, bones, and blood. He experienced hunger and thirst. In Gethsemane, he anguished in prayer. What a comfort for us that Christ is like us, our federal head who is without sin, mediating between us and God.
Furthermore, at the cross of Christ, the simplicity of God is revealed in the Son, who glorifies all the attributes of God. At the cross, God’s just wrath is poured out upon his Son, and yet forgiveness is poured out to all who look upon him. At the cross, Christ reveals a God who is both just and merciful. Justice and mercy are identical to God’s essence, and so are not opposed to one another, instead, they simultaneously work together to bring about God’s redemptive plan.3
How can we apply the doctrine of divine simplicity? For one, to affirm God’s simplicity is to glorify God. By doing so, we recognize that there is a creator creature distinction. Since God is not made of parts, he is the creator of all things. Additionally, we recognize our limited knowledge of God. We do not know God in his essence as Basil states but by his works.4
Lastly, when we call upon God, we do not receive an attribute of God, but rather the fullness of him—God in his essence, with all his attributes simultaneously present.4 Since God is not made of parts, he is not conflicted like us. He does not change his mind nor is he swayed by emotions or caught off guard. This is why we can run to God as a refuge and a stronghold when we are afflicted, and swayed by circumstances and emotions. When we lack wisdom, we turn to God who is infinite wisdom, love, good, powerful, and just. To think of God being present in his fullness is certainly a daunting thought. Should we not be more cautious in invoking his name? How can we ever expect God to sympathize with us? Take comfort, for at his right hand sits Christ, who is our advocate. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. He is veiled in a body of flesh so that we are not destroyed. Even more, Christ who is the fullness of God is eternally faithful, securing us by his eternal power (Romans 8:38-39).
1 Michael Scott. Horton, “God: The Incommunicable Attributes,” in The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), pp. 227.
2 Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, “God’s Simplicity” in Reformed Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), p. 625.
3 Ibid, pp. 628.
4 Horton, “God: The Incommunicable Attributes,” in The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), pp. 227.
5 Beeke and Smalley, “God’s Simplicity” in Reformed Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), p. 634.