Divine Simplicity

[Taken from “Calvary: The Story Behind God’s Gift of Himself”]

The story goes that little Johnny wrote his ex girlfriend from camp: “Sussie, I hate you.” And then signed it: “love, Johnny.” Some see this as ambivalence [mixed feelings]. God hated Esau, so said the prophet Malachi and Paul, the Apostle (Malachi 1:3; Romans 9:13), while at the same time according to the Apostle John: God is love (1 John 4:8). How can this be? The bigger question is: How can there be punishment for sin with God if He is forgiving?

Is this the boulder an omnipotent God created too heavy to lift? The phrase “cognitive dissonance” [inconsistent attitudes as regard behavior] comes to mind. It characterizes anyone claiming to live by one principle but doing things outside their professed character. And this is not God!

Only deceivers are complicated. “Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive,” Sir Walter Scott wrote. Genuineness and spontaneous responses—established of love, gentleness, and mercy—are simple, and that is why we say God shows simplicity. There is a sense in which He judges mercifully, He administers justice for the sake of His creation whom He loves.

There is a well-known verse that profiles God, “God is not a liar like some men might be; He does not deceive; He is transparently honest; He is not a human being dealing with regret over mistakes and bad choices. What He promises, He does; do you think otherwise!? When does He speak and it doesn’t happen just as He said? ” (Numbers 23:19).

The doctrine of simplicity, teaches, then, that

  1. God is unlike any other being; “The Lord’s mercy and love exceed far beyond our expectations.” (Psalm 145:3) and that
  2. God is perfect, that is, God’s actions do not share in the limitations of human actions. God’s intentions, what He purposes to do, He does. “My word that comes from my mouth will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (Isaiah 55:11). There is no difference between what God intends to do and what He accomplishes. We , however, see these two ideas as distinct.

Understanding God, though, is another matter. Our knowledge of God is on a pre-heaven level. It will be important later to dive into some terms used to describe God because they explain His simplicity. Irenaeus [Haer 2.13.3] calls God an “uncompounded Being, without diverse members, and altogether like, and equal to himself, since he is wholly understanding, … spirit, …thought, ….intelligence, …reason, and wholly hearing, …seeing and light and the whole source of all that is good.” In simple language: “It is an utter impossibility for God not to be all He is: both merciful and just.”

Looking at God through a single lens (of divine love) , interpreting all His actions in terms of His love for us, not only inspires our understanding of God’s Word but it explains everything about our relationship with Him as believers. “I indeed know exactly what I will for you,” the Lord shares His thoughts, “plans for your peace and spiritual prosperity, not misfortune or ruin, but ultimately what you have longed for all along.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

It is our limited reasoning, limited by how we experience life and what we have learned about our own humanity that we endlessly compare our reasoning with God’s and ask so many questions about Calvary that may be above out current comprehension.

Simplicity shows how God could be merciful and at the same time exact a penalty for sin, how His justice could be both retributive and restorative. The doctrine of a divine simplicity for God attempts to show that when God is exercising one attribute of His nature, He is exercising all attributes of His nature. His justice is always merciful. When He displays His anger, He is fierce, but it is a feature of His jealous love for His people. “The LORD is jealous….” (Nahum 1:2; Joel 2:18)

Simplicity teaches that He does all things as an expression of His love. “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the LORD’s unfailing love”(Ps. 33:5; 89:14). All this can be said in one sentence: A study of Calvary is really a study about the love of God, that is, a study of the nature of God.

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