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God's Simplicity

In the first chapter of Jeremiah’s prophecy, we experience Jeremiah’s powerful call to be a prophet of God. Among the many fascinating aspects of Jeremiah’s call, a central feature of it is God’s own revelation of himself through it. As he calls Jeremiah to preach his word, God reveals his wisdom and eternity, power and constancy, justice and righteousness, presence and goodness. Throughout this prophetic call, God’s revelation of his greatness is calculated to strengthen not only his prophet but also his people in the knowledge that the God whom they serve is great and greatly to be praised.

But it also needs to be pointed out that this revelation of the greatness of God’s attributes is accommodated to our ability to wrap our minds and hearts around who God is. Whenever God reveals himself to us, his revelation is made sensible to us according to our limitations in comprehending him. With respect to the revelation of God’s greatness in the call of Jeremiah, we must remember that each aspect of God’s character that is revealed as a source of strength and encouragement for the prophet is always true of God. This is what theologians call God’s simplicity, and it can be defined briefly like this: “He has no parts, and his attributes and essence are all one in him.”[1] Robert Letham helpfully expands on this idea:

[God] is not composed of distinct and independent elements. He is not 50 percent good and 50 percent just but 100 percent good and 100 percent just. He is not partly love, partly good, partly just. He is exhaustively good, righteous, loving, and so on. There can be nothing in God that is less than himself, less than the whole of who he is; neither can there be anything in him that is removable or adventitious. By the same token, the attributes are not only indivisible but also identical; the distinctions between them are for our benefit. As Bavinck comments, “If God is in any sense composite, then it is impossible to maintain the perfection of his oneness, independence, and immutability.”[2]

Reflecting on the idea that there is nothing in God that is removable, Bavinck reinforces his idea when he writes, “God is everything he possesses. He is his own wisdom, his own life; being and living coincide in him.”[3] Thus, when he reveals himself to us, we see his simplicity as manifold but also complementary and “mutually defining” in the attributes that we can ascribe to him. So, Letham, “From our angle it appears that they are mutually defining: his justice is loving justice, his goodness is omnipotent, righteous, and just; and so on. From this it follows that his love is almighty, righteous, good, and holy love. His wrath is his settled holy and righteous antagonism toward sin.”[4] Capturing the majesty of our attempts at wrapping our minds around who God is, Bavinck writes, “God is so abundantly rich that we can gain some idea of his richness only by the availability of many names. Every name refers to the same full divine being, but each time from a particular angle, the angle from which it reveals itself to us in his works.”[5]

Practically speaking, the doctrine of God’s simplicity helps us to maintain an orthodox confession of God’s triunity over against modalism or tritheism. Letham lays out the connection like this:

The one God is simple, not divisible. It is impossible to cut off and detach part of God, as can be done with any created being. That is why each of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit comprises all of God both severally and together. It follows that none of the three is less than all three together. This is so because there is but one divine essence or being. Nor is the divine being a fourth entity; it is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, being simple, God is not divisible into parts less than the whole of who he is.[6]

It is for this reason that we can confidently claim that Jesus is able to reveal the Father to us. We know God because God, all of God, has tabernacled with us in Christ and brought us to new life through the Spirit. May we, then, give all the glory to our great God.

[1] Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 1:625.

[2] Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 157.

[3] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2003), 2:174.

[4] Letham, Systematic Theology, 157.

[5] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:177.

[6] Letham, Systematic Theology, 106.

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