The Trinity: Divine Simplicity, A Protective Doctrine

In recent years, the doctrine of the simplicity of God has fallen on hard times and faced various misunderstandings. It does not impinge on God’s infinite nature and his majestic glory that is beyond us. Rather, the simplicity of God means that God is not composed of parts. He is not a complex being built upon a complicated combination of more original parts. God is spirit and cannot be broken down into something more basic. He is the great “I am who I am”. The doctrine of simplicity helps us to think of God in three key ways:

            (1) The simplicity of God protects the supremacy of God. The supremacy of God means that God is high and majestic over all things. It also means that all things depend upon God. All creation is sustained by the Word of His power. What sustains God? Nothing. If God is composed of parts, He would be in some way dependent upon these parts for His existence.

            If God is composed of parts, there would be something more basic than God and his eternal nature. If God is made of parts, there would be something outside of God upon which he would ground his existence. Rather, God is the one who is self-existent. Thus, God in his infinite nature as an eternal existent one relies on nothing outside of himself. The Scriptures say: “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (Jn. 5:26). God is the living God who exists by his own power, authority, and self-determination.

            (2) The doctrine of the simplicity of God guards how we think of the attributes, character traits, and even the names of God. Michael Horton writes, “God’s simplicity in no way limits the diversity in his works, but stipulates that in all of God’s activity he is self-consistent. In every act, God is the being he is and will ever be.”[1] We should quickly point out that clearly in Biblical language and orthodox thinking, God can be described by His attributes. These are real attributes that manifest themselves in God’s self-revelation often in distinct ways or at distinct moments of time. Rather, what we are saying is we do not look at these attributes independently and project them back into God as compositions that “make God who He is”. The attributes flow from His being in its infinite perfection. As we read Scripture, God has many wondrous attributes. Yet, we are not to think of His attributes as like ingredients of a cake: put them all together and that is how God is composed. The attributes flow from His essence. They describe who He is but they are not “parts” of Him like gears in an engine. For example, God’s love and holiness are not composite parts of Him but rather He has these attributes in infinite perfection.

            This is the error of Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion. He assumes that if God is supreme and powerful then he must be complex and complicated.  He must be like an airplane or computer is powerful but complicatedly composed of increasingly more complicated and complex parts. The more powerful the entity the more complex it/he must be—or so the thinking goes. This is because Dawkins operates in a world where there is only the material. But God is not a material being. His infinite nature does not necessitate complexity of composition. Just the opposite is true. He is infinite and simple—not simplistic in the sense of inferior. The Christian church today must learn to guard this important doctrine. We confess both God’s infinity, his independence from the created material, and his simplicity as a spirit.

            (3) God is fundamentally unlike us. The simplicity of God shows us how superior God is to us. It is in God that we “live and move and has our being” (Acts 17:28). God does not live and move and exist based on anything in creation. When this doctrine is contemplated, the Christian must sit back and worship God. The heart of idolatry is an attempt to make ourselves God or make God like us. God’s simplicity means that we cannot make God like us. Some today make God into a needed being who draws emotional gratification from us—he needs us and is incomplete without experiencing our love in a relationship. This false psychology of God impinges upon the simplicity of God. It uses human psychology and projects it back on God.

            When things in creation are simple, they lack majesty and are easy to understand. It is far easier to understand the working of a basic lever (a ‘simple machine’) than the complex working of something like a car engine. But it is at this point that God is unlike anything in creation. We must remember in His nature and in His works: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). The simplicity of God does not mean that God is easy to comprehend. Just the opposite: the simplicity of God shows us the greatness of His majesty and glory. Therefore, we are led to praise God who is infinite, eternal, and simple.

Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.

[1] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2011) 228-9.


Tim Bertolet