Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Simplicity of God

One of my favorite Christian apologists has an interesting line he says from time to time:

"Theology matters."

What does that mean?

Well, what we believe about God, what we believe about Scripture, what we believe about the Church, what we believe, period, affects our lives in a very pragmatic way. If, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, there is no Resurrection, then let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die. What we truly believe affects how we really live. There should not be--and I don't think there ever is, actually--a disconnect between our actual beliefs and our actions in life. They are interrelated.

That being said, the topic for today is the Simplicity of God.

Two thoughts probably spring from this phrase for many people, somewhat opposed to each other. The first one is a sentimental one, perhaps along the lines of "God is love! It's so simple, don't you see? He loves you!" While that statement is true, and is connected with the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity, it is far more complicated than that.

The second thought would be more along the lines of, "What? I thought God wasn't simple. I thought God was really difficult to even comprehend." Yes, this is true as well, but not the entirety of the story. The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity, ironically, is somewhat complicated.

The idea is this: God is not made up of parts or pieces. There is no division in God. This is not only true concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity (The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is One Being, not three gods, nor is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost three parts of One God), but true concerning what we ascribe to God in action and even in will. God's Love and God's Wrath are not opposing attributes of God; they do not go against each other (more on that). In fact, they are ultimately the same thing. As A.W. Tozer said, "All that God is does all that God does." This doctrine is largely agreed upon throughout the history of the Church.

While this Doctrine can be explored in a myriad of ways, I want to focus this doctrine on one particular point that is rarely talked about: that of the Will of God. If Divine Simplicity is true, then God cannot have contradictory wills.

First, let's back up a bit and mull over some thoughts touched on earlier. God's Love and God's Wrath: are they opposed to one another? With the Passion of Jesus Christ, was God trying to "work out" some internal struggle where part of Him really loves us, but part of Him really wants to destroy us for our sin? No, not according to Divine Simplicity. God's Love and God's Wrath are both essentially the same thing. God is a consuming fire. When gold goes through the fire, it is refined. When wood goes through the fire, it is burnt up. God's Love/Wrath is that Divine Fire, and it affects people differently, just like the wood and the gold are affected differently. It is important to remember that God's Wrath, just like God's Love, is not like ours. As implied before, this is not a controversial understanding of God; in fact, this is largely considered the orthodox position.

How does this work with the Divine Will? As well, there cannot be contradictory wills in God. God can't genuinely desire that it rain and not rain in the same place and moment. Yet what does Scripture say?

"As I live, declares the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live," Ezekiel 33:11

God takes absolutely no pleasure whatsoever in the death of the wicked; in fact, God wants them to turn from their wickedness. Yet, unless one is a universalist, there are people who are wicked who will die apart from God, people who do not turn away from their wickedness.

The Ezekiel 33:11 passage alone presents a major problem for many Christians. There is a famous Reformed Baptist pastor who has a well-known article dealing with this and similar passages, and reconciling his understanding of sovereignty, predestination, election, and regeneration with what is clearly explained in Scripture as God's genuine desire for all to be redeemed. The way he answers it is such: God has two wills for humanity. God genuinely desires each person turn from their wicked ways, but God also genuinely desires to be fully glorified, and God can only be fully glorified by "passing over" some and electing them to damnation. With this understanding, you have, well, two competing wills in God: the one that wants you to be redeemed, and (if you were foreordained by God, without foreknowledge of your actions, to be damned for eternity) the one that wants to be glorified in your damnation. This cannot be reconciled with Divine Simplicity.

So what is the will of God towards humanity and its redemption? Does part of God desire or will to save us, even as an individual, while another part desire and will to destroy us? Don't those Christians who aren't Reformed monergists have the same problem, since people are damned in their scheme as well? In short, no: in many other non-Reformed monergist understandings, God's desire is still that they genuinely and freely repent and turn to Him. That cannot be forced; it's logically impossible to force someone to freely do something. But that's perhaps another topic for another day.

But back to that whole "theology matters" bit at the beginning: it does matter what you believe. If Divine Simplicity is not true, and people like that Reformed Baptist pastor are correct, then God could genuinely "will" that you be damned, and genuinely "will" that you genuinely act and talk like and even believe that you are one of the elect. You would never know it. God is, in this scheme, no longer trustworthy; it's actually demonstrated in the fact that, from His Scriptures, He tells us that He desires--genuinely desires--for all of the wicked to repent. Yet the wicked do not repent, even though, in this scheme, the wicked can be made to repent irresistibly. This is, sadly, the case for countless people, if in fact this scheme is true. At best it's double-talk, word games, and deceptive. And aren't we supposed to emulate the character of God?

Just something to think about.

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