Although we’ve just read from 1 John 4 about God’s love, we’re not thinking about God’s love this evening. We’re thinking instead about his simplicity. God, the theologians say, is simple. That might strike you as an odd thing to say, because we believe that God is great and glorious and he’s beyond our understanding so that cannot fathom the depths of his being. But when we say that God is simple, we don’t mean that it’s easy for us to understand him. We mean that he is without parts.
Think, for instance, of a cake. It’s made up of different parts, because the base might be made of sponge and then there’s a layer of butter cream and a layer of jam and a layer of icing on the top. And so, we have a cake. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It could be made with fruit cake and marzipan and icing. And then you’d have a Christmas cake. So, cakes are made up of lots of different parts and the parts can vary depending on what you’re making. Or take a human being. We’re all made up of different parts or attributes. For instance, we’re all made up of body and soul. But then, as well as that, one person happens to be tall, dark and handsome, whereas another person happens to be short, fair and not so handsome. And the person who is dark will eventually become grey or perhaps even bald. We’re made up of different parts and those parts can change and they vary from person to person. We’re made up of different parts.
God is Simple
But God is different, because God is not made up of parts. So, in our church’s Confession of Faith, we say that God is a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts or passions. So, whereas humans are composed of body and soul, God does not have a body, but is pure spirit. Furthermore, we confess that he is without parts. So, he’s not made up of this or that, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It’s not as if we could analyse God and divide him into composite parts, the way we can take apart a clock and lay out all its parts on the table. God can’t be divided like that, because if he were composed of different parts, then that would imply that he was composed of parts which existed before he did. Think of a clock again. In order to make a clock, you start with a clock face and a minute hand and an hour hand and a clock movement comprising springs and so on. And all of those things existed before you made the clock; and you have to combine them together to make the clock. Well, if God were composed of parts, then those parts would have to exist before he did. And then you take them and combine them together in the right quantities to make God. But God has always existed. He’s without beginning and without end; and there is nothing that existed before him.
Furthermore, if God were composed of parts, then that would imply that there was a composer: that there was someone else who combined all these different parts together to form God. But as we were thinking about last time, God is from himself. He does not rely on anything or anyone outside of himself for his existence or for anything else. He is uncreated.
You’ll not find a Bible verse which teaches us that God is simple. But that’s okay, because you’ll not find a Bible verse which teaches us that God is one God in three persons. However, when we study what the Bible says about God the Father and about God the Son and about God the Holy Spirit, then we’re able to work out the doctrine of the Trinity. And it’s the same with God’s simplicity. When you study what the Bible says about God, then we’re able to work out the doctrine of God’s simplicity.
So, Genesis 1 tells us that in the beginning, before there was anything else, there was God and only God. There wasn’t another being who created him. And he wasn’t created by combining other pre-existing things together. Before there was anything else, there was God.
Deuteronomy 6:4 says: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ And so, the Israelites were taught to confess that there is only one God. And the one God they worshipped is one. So, he’s not made up of many parts. He’s not a mixture of things. He’s one.
And then there was the reading we began with from 1 John 4 where we read that ‘God is love’. It doesn’t say he is loving or he possesses love or he has love. It says he is love. That is, he is wholly love. He is completely love. He is 100% love. It’s not that he has love, but that his very nature is love. Love is not part of him, but it’s all of him.
And we can say the same about any of the other attributes we commonly ascribe to God. So, we confess in our Shorter Catechism that God is wise and powerful and holy and just and good and true. It’s not that he has wisdom and power and holiness and so on, but that he is wholly wise and he’s wholly powerful and he’s wholly holy and he’s wholly just and he’s wholly good and he’s wholly true. This is what he is by nature and these are not parts of God, because this is what God is.
And since this is what God is by nature, then that means his wisdom is a powerful wisdom and it’s a holy wisdom and it’s a just wisdom and it’s a good wisdom and it’s a true wisdom. And his power is a wise power and a holy power and a just power and a good power and a true power. And so on. We can think of people who have power, but they don’t have goodness. And so, they use their power for evil purposes. But God is not like that, because by nature he is wholly powerful and wholly good. So, his power is a good power; and his goodness is a powerful goodness. He directs his power for good, and not for evil; and his goodness powerfully overcomes all obstacles.
Since this is what God is by nature, we therefore say that there is no difference between God’s nature and his attributes. What he is (his divine nature) and the way he is (his attributes) are one and the same. Let me explain by contrasting that with me. A few weeks ago my hair was quite long, but now it’s shorter, because I visited the barber. So, I happened to have long hair a few weeks ago and now I happen to have short hair. And the length of my hair, or the colour of my hair, or whether I have hair or not is not essential to what I am as a human being. Today I happen to be a human being with fairly short hair. So, what I am (my human nature) and the way I am (the length of my hair) are not one and the same.
But there’s no difference between God’s nature and his attributes. What he is (his divine nature) and the way he is (wisdom, power, holiness etc) are one and the same.
And it’s perhaps here that we can see how this doctrine helps us. The Bible teaches us that God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting. How can we be sure of that? How can we be sure that his love for us will not run out? It’s because God is love. That’s what he is by nature. So, the only way his love could cease is for God to cease to exist.
Or how can we be sure that his goodness will not run out? It’s because God is good. That’s what he is by nature. So, the only way his goodness could cease is for God to cease to exist.
We can say the same about each one of his attributes, because God is completely what he is by nature and he will never cease to be completely what he is by nature. For instance, God revealed himself as holy in the Old Testament when he sent fire from heaven to consume the wicked. Is he any less holy now? No, he cannot be any less holy now, because God is holy by nature. That’s what he is. The only way for his holiness to cease is for God to cease to exist.
Some of you might be wondering about the Trinity. How does the Trinity fit with God’s simplicity? Don’t we confess that God is the Father, the Son and the Spirit? Therefore, surely he’s not simple, because he’s composed of three persons?
But do you remember what we said about the three persons of the Trinity? All three persons of the Trinity possess the one divine essence and each is wholly God. So, it’s not as if the Father is one third of God; and the Son is one third of God; and the Spirit is one third of God; and you add them all together to get God. No, the Father is wholly God. The Son is wholly God. The Spirit is wholly God. God’s essence is not divided into three, because all three persons are wholly and equally God.
The doctrine of God’s simplicity reinforces the idea of God’s aseity or independence. If he were made of parts, then he would depend on those parts for his existence. But God is not made of parts and he relies on nothing outside of himself for his existence. He alone is the creator who was before all things and who made all things. And therefore he is worthy of our praise.
And the doctrine of God’s simplicity also reminds us that God is not like us. What we are (our human nature) and the way we are (our attributes) are not the same. And so, we change: sometimes for the better, but often for the worse. We change physically, of course. But what we do and how we live also changes and we behave one way one day and another way another day. But God is not like us, because he is one and not made up of parts and what he is (his divine nature) and the way he is (his attributes) are one and the same. And therefore he is always the same. He is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably wise and powerful and holy and just and good and true. He doesn’t happen to be these things. This is what he is by nature.
And so, when we come to him in prayer, we’ll find that he’s always the same. Since he’s wise by nature, then he knows how best to answer us. Since he’s powerful by nature, then he can do all that we ask and more besides. Since he’s holy and just by nature, then the way he answers us will always be right. Since he’s good by nature, then we’re encouraged to ask him for what we need. Since he’s true by nature, we know we can always trust in his promises to us.