By Travis Campbell
Bilbo Baggins once said, “But today, of all days, it is brought home to me, it is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.”1 It’s not bad at all. And when it comes to God’s simplicity, it’s all good for us. In part one, we described the doctrine of simplicity and offered a biblical argument in its favor. Here in part two we will offer two more arguments for simplicity and then show why the doctrine is practical.
Theological Argument for Simplicity
Theologically speaking, a denial of divine simplicity would seem to mitigate, if not altogether destroy, divine sovereignty. Imagine that goodness is something God has rather than something God is. If that were the case, then goodness would be an independently existing abstract property that God (a) has no real control over, and (b) must conform himself to if he is to manifest the property. Indeed, if all the properties of God were separable from his essence (to which he must conform his life), then God himself would be swimming in a sea of abstractions over which he has no control. And this, of course, destroys divine sovereignty.
As the Nicene Creed states, God is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible. This means that God created everything that is not himself, whether it be a visible entity (like a planet) or an invisible one (like an angelic spirit). If goodness is created, then God himself is not necessarily good, but is simply the cause of good. This has disturbing consequences. For example, it would mean that God may be (or choose to be) evil, which is obviously antibiblical (cf. Psalm 89:14; 1 John 1:5). Also, if God created all of his properties, then it would mean humans could never know him, only his creation. That position is also antibiblical, since Scripture says we can know God himself (John 17:3; 2 Corinthians 10:5). Furthermore, this view is incoherent; for if God created all of his properties, then he would have possessed the power to make things before making the property of power!
If goodness is uncreated, then it must inhere in the essence of God, since the Nicene Creed says that whatever is not God is created. Goodness cannot inhere in the divine essence in such a way that it can be abstracted from God’s nature. Rather, God is his own goodness. And this just is the essence of the doctrine of simplicity.
Philosophical Argument for Simplicity
Philosophically speaking, the following argument establishes both God’s being and his simplicity:
- Whatever admits of composition is caused by another.
- The universe, and all that is in it, admits of composition.
- Therefore, the universe is caused by another.
Premise (a) is established through experience; in fact, anything humans encounter that admits of composition is caused by another. A pile of rocks in the middle of the woods, for example, admits of composition. There must be a cause, or series of causes, to explain the current existence of this pile. Maybe a construction company put the rocks there because someone wants to develop the area. Maybe the forces of nature, over eons of time, slowly but surely moved each rock into its place. Something or someone (or some combination of both) brought about this state of affairs. Anything in human experience is the same. A composition of some sort—a table, a tree, a car, a human body—must have a cause(s) to explain it.
Premise (b) is also vindicated via experience and observation; for clearly the universe is made up of many different things—comets, planets, stars, galaxies, etc. Hence, it admits of composition. But since whatever is composed is caused, the universe must be caused.
Most people at this point will concede that there must be a God who causes the world to be. But others raise another question; namely, “What causes God to be?” The answer, of course, is that nothing causes God to be since he is uncomposed. He is not a composition of arms and legs (like us humans), since he is pure Spirit. He is not a composition of actuality and potentiality, since he is pure act. He is not a composition of essence and existence, since he is his own act of existing (i.e., his essence is to exist). God is not an effect, since he is uncaused. If God had his power, he could lose it via the force of some cause. But he doesn’t have power; he is power. The same can be said of the divine knowledge, eternity, presence, etc. God is what he “has,” and so he is “simple” in every way.
God’s Simplicity and Our Comfort
As a balm of comfort to the soul, believers can appreciate the fact that there is no security without simplicity. Indeed, it is precisely because God is life that he can never lose it. And since he is eternal life, his children are eternally secure in him (John 10:25–30). To put it another way, we know that God will never lose us since he is the one who gives us eternal life (John 10:10; 11:25,). If God were not his own act of living, then life would be something he could lose and, thus, the promise of eternal life would be uncertain. How can Christians firmly trust a God who receives life from another? They can’t! Hence, if you or I feel secure in Christ it is only because deep down, we know that God is simple!
God is not merely comforting; his essence serves as the paradigm of life. This means believers should model their lives after the divine attributes. Obviously we cannot be like God, since he is infinitely removed from us metaphysically. However, God does allow us to share in his nature in a limited way. For example, we are to be morally pure, just as he is (cf. Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48; 2 Peter 1:4).
None of this is to say, of course, that humans can be simple in the same way God is—for again, he is infinite and we are finite. That said, as creatures who bear the divine image, we should still model our lives after God’s simplicity.
How long shall we complicate our lives with drama, debt, and diversions? The divine life is rich and beautiful; and God is beautiful precisely because he is simple. The challenge to each of us is to reflect on this doctrine and then begin to rid ourselves of the clutter that keeps us from enjoying fellowship with him and with those we love.2