God Not Divided: Simplicity

Tony Arsenal

The world is, at its very core, divided. There are divisions between races, between nations, between political parties, and on and on it goes.

Even within our own selves we are divided. We desire to do good, but our flesh drives us to do evil.

God is not like this. God is not divided.

The doctrine of divine simplicity is an often misunderstood and overlooked doctrine. For those who have heard of the doctrine it may seem arcane and speculative. Driven by our own composite nature, we find it more comfortable to create a God who is composite like we are.

While a full defense, or even articulation, of this doctrine is beyond the scope of this brief article, allow me to offer a summary definition of this doctrine.

Divine simplicity is the doctrine which states: God is what God is, simply. God is not composed of parts. God’s essence is not parceled out piece by piece. God’s existence is not distributed through space or time. God simply is God, and all that is in God is in fact God.[1]

God’s Will is Not Divided

There are various formulations of the doctrine of divine simplicity, yet all orthodox variations agree that God is not related to his attributes, will, or knowledge the way creatures are. For creatures, knowledge is something we possess. For God, his knowledge is eternally related to his essence in a way that defies our understanding. God simply is his knowledge. While this is difficult to articulate, I think we understand it in an intuitive sense when we consider the more readily apprehended attribute of omniscience. It is is fundamental to the very existence of God to know all things,[2] and this should signal us to recognize that God’s knowledge is in fact one with God’s essence.

We can reason similarly from God’s omnipotence to an understanding of the singularity of his will and essence. God can infallibly accomplish his will because he is God and God cannot be thwarted. Whatever the Lord decrees according to the counsel of his will necessarily comes to pass in time.

This is a great source of comfort for the Christian. Our God cannot be overcome, and thus his plans for us cannot be overcome. The reason that nothing can separate us from the love of God is because God’s will for us in Jesus Christ is and always has been that Christ might be the first among many called, justified, and glorified brothers.

That is God’s will for his elect, that we be not separated from God. God’s will is as eternal, unchanging, omnipotent, and actual as God himself is.

The Trinity is Not Divided

Christians often think of salvation as the loving Son convincing the wrathful Father not to cast out sinners. This conception sets the person of the Trinity at odds with each other, and fundamentally nullifies the doctrine of the Trinity.

Rather, the Father, Son, and Spirit are unified in the singularity and indivisibility of the divine nature. Although they are distinct persons, they share a numerically singular nature and thus a numerically singular will.

“In each hypostasis the whole divine nature is understood, with this qualification—that to each belongs his own peculiar quality. The Father is wholly in the Son, the Son wholly in the Father.”[3]

It is true that the Son is for the elect. But the fact that the Son is for the elect also means that the Father and Spirit are too. The will of the Father simply is the will of the Son and the Spirit. Those whom the Father has set his love upon, the Son will certainly redeem, and the Spirit will certainly indwell.

God is One and Undivided

These two facets of the doctrine of divine simplicity should give us great comfort. The Father, the Son and Spirit are one with each other and with the eternal and unchanging will which they each share. Because God is one and undivided, we can rest secure that since God is for us, no one can be against us.

Tony Arsenal Tony Arsenal is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he obtained Master of Arts degrees in Church History and Systematic Theology. Tony is the co-host of the Reformed Brotherhood Podcast and one of the founders of the Society of Reformed Podcasters. He worships at New Hope Community Church in rural New Hampshire where he serves as Deacon and occasional pulpit supply. He is also the treasurer of the Northeast Region of the Evangelical Theological Society where he has presented multiple papers on the topics of Theology Proper, Christology, and Patristic Theology. 

[1] The doctrine of divine simplicity is one of many important theological doctrines collectively known as Theology Proper, which are experiencing a retrieval in modern theological scholarship. While there are many resources available, in this writer’s opinion the best offering is All that is in God by Particular Baptist theologian James Dolezal.

[2] See Westminster Confession of Faith/London Baptist Confession of Faith 3.2, Belgic Confession 1

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.xiii.19


Tony Arsenal