Classic Theism: Is God Simple or Complex?
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.”  Nothing comprises God. Neither is there anything that lies behind or alongside him that provides the basis for his existence. 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.
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.
- A simple God is completely trustworthy. A complex system is only as strong as its weakest component. It takes only one gene mutation in one cell to release a potentially deadly disease. It took one failed o-ring to cause the Challenger disaster. But we will never find a weak link in God. When the world seems to be falling apart, “God is not going fall apart because he is not made up of parts... The reason you can rely upon God and depend upon God, the reason he can be your all-sufficiency is because he is his own all-sufficiency.”
- God's will cannot be thwarted because God's will is inseparable from himself. The LBC 3.1 states “God hath decreed in Himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass.” Every single promise and every step in God's redemptive plan is rock solid because “he eternally wills and possesses his end perfectly.” And the end of this will is his own glory and goodness.
- Simplicity leads to worship. God is so other that words fail to describe him adequately. He is fully complete in himself with need of nothing. While some may think this magnifies God's remoteness from his creation, I would respectfully disagree. This magnifies the gospel. God was under no obligation to create the universe. He was under no obligation to create man, and he was certainly under no obligation to redeem his creatures when they rebelled against their creator. “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4 NASB). This only makes the Christ's condescension and his saving grace that much more wonderful.
I share these implications of divine simplicity as one average believer in the pew to another. I hope this will encourage you to learn more about the doctrine of God. I feel like I have only scratched the surface myself, but I am thankful we will have all of eternity to know and adore our God.
Persis Lorenti is a member of Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA where she serves as bookkeeper and deacon of library/resources. She blogs at triedbyfire.blogspot.com and out-of-theordinary.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @triedwfire.
1. God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God's Absoluteness, James E. Dolezal, 2011, Pickwick Publications, pg. 2.
2. Ibid. pg. 1.
3. Divine Simplicity: The Theological Grammar of Orthodoxy, James P. Dolezal, 2015 Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastor's Conference.
4. God Without Parts, pgs. 67-68; 82-83.
5. Divine Simplicity: The Theological Grammar of Orthodoxy.
6. God Without Parts, pgs. 177, 183.