Classic Theism: Is God Simple or Complex?

Does simplicity make any difference at all? It does indeed, and here are a few implications of this doctrine.

Simplicity safeguards our understanding of  God. The Trinity is not three Gods (tritheism). Neither is God comprised of 1/3 Father, 1/3 Son, and 1/3 Holy Spirit (partialism). We confess One God in Three Persons. Simplicity is also the foundation of God’s independence and immutability. Complex beings are dependent on their parts and their maker, but as a simple being, God is dependent upon nothing. He will never change because then he would cease to be himself. Change also implies a lack of perfection as though he needed any improvement.

 

My Sunday school teacher posed this question during class a few years ago. The question surprised me because the answer seemed obvious. If God is so far beyond my comprehension, how could he be simple? Therefore, he must be complex, right? Wrong. The teacher was not referring to whether God was easily understood but rather to the doctrine of divine simplicity.

Simply stated, this doctrine teaches that there “is nothing in God that is not God.” [1] Nothing comprises God. Neither is there anything that lies behind or alongside him that provides the basis for his existence.[2] This is affirmed in the Westminster Confession 2.1 which states that God is “without body, parts, or passions.” The London Baptist Confession (LBC) 2.3 also adds “one God, who is not to be divided by nature or being.”

As a counter example, we learn in biology that all living things are composed of cells, which are made of several components. But in chemistry, we learn that those cellular components are made up of molecules, which in turn are made up of atoms of different elements. For years scientists believed that atoms were the building blocks of matter, but the search is not over. Physicists today are detecting particles smaller than a proton. Thus, we still don’t know what is the fundamental basis of matter. The physical universe also requires something outside of these necessary parts to put them together. But God is not like this. He cannot be subdivided or broken down into his essential building blocks. If that was the case, those parts would account for his being God and take the credit for his God-ness. He would also be dependent upon a maker apart from himself to combine those parts into “God,” but all that is in God is God. He just is.[3]

This may sound rather esoteric and only fit for the seminary classroom, but what about the average believer in the pew? Does simplicity make any difference at all? It does indeed, and here are a few implications of this doctrine.

– Simplicity safeguards our understanding of  God. The Trinity is not three Gods (tritheism). Neither is God comprised of 1/3 Father, 1/3 Son, and 1/3 Holy Spirit (partialism). We confess One God in Three Persons. Simplicity is also the foundation of God’s independence and immutability. Complex beings are dependent on their parts and their maker, but as a simple being, God is dependent upon nothing. He will never change because then he would cease to be himself. Change also implies a lack of perfection as though he needed any improvement.[4]

– A simple God is completely trustworthy.

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