Legos are great. With the right bricks and a little imagination, anything is possible. You can build a car, a bridge, a castle, or a superhero. Those nearly indestructible bricks can build anything. What is God made of? If we put the right ingredients together, could we make God?
If God is composed of different things or attributes, then we would be right to ask who made God and we would also be justified in our search for the things that could make God. But if God made up of different things or if someone made God, then God isn’t really God. If God is composed of parts then there is something more fundamental than God. That thing or those things would be, in a sense, superior to God. This is why we should understood that God is uncomposed or simple. God is not composed. The divine essence is just the simple divine essence.
Divine simplicity is taught in Scripture in a few different ways. First, the doctrine is taught when we learn that God is spirit (Jn. 4:24, Lk. 24:39). God does not have a physical body. God does not have different elements that compose a spirit—that simply isn’t what a spirit is. People are composed of body and soul. Our personalities are composed of different emotions, needs, and desires. God, on the other hand, isn’t composed at all.
Divine simplicity helps us to understand God’s attributes. The Bible says God is both “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:20) and that “God is love” (1 Jn. 1:5). How can the unchanging (Js. 1:17) God be both a consuming fire and love? God is not composed of parts or emotions, instead, these experiences of God depend upon how the individual relates to God. If we relate to him as a sinner, we will find our God to be a consuming fire. If we relate to him as a Christian, we will find him to be Love itself. In God, everything is one. All his attributes are identical to his essence.
God is experienced in different ways: wrath, justice, mercy, long-suffering, faithfulness, and power, but God isn’t composed of wrath, mercy, long-suffering, faithfulness, and power. Instead, all of God is all God. There are no parts. God is one (Deut. 6:4).. The complexity of machines increases with the number of parts the machine has. The fewer parts a machine has the simpler we say that it is. God has no parts whatsoever, so God is rightly described as simple. If God were composed of parts, we should worship the one who composed God and value the things composed so great a being. Since God is not composed, we understand that he is the most fundamental being possible, God is not dependent upon anything or anyone else, and God alone is worthy of worship.
The God Who Is One
Divine simplicity is seen in the oneness of God. The Bible repeatedly affirms the oneness of God in passages like Deuteronomy 6:4, “the Lord is one.” Neither Jews nor Christians should be polytheists (1 Cor. 8:4-5). However, the one God exists as three persons and each of those persons is true God. The Holy Spirit is described as God (Acts 5:3, 4, 9; Rom. 8:9-11). The Son is described as God. The Son is God just like the Father (Jn. 1:1). The Son is the exact representation of the Father’s nature (Heb. 1:3 NASB 2020). Even though there is one God, the Father, Son, and Spirit are true God. This is possible because the three divine persons share the same simple essence. Without the doctrine of simplicity, Christians turn into polytheists.
The ontology of the divine nature is described in different ways. God is light (1 Jn. 1:5). God is truth and life (Jn. 14:6). God is wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30). God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). How can God be any of those things and all those things? God is not part light and part truth. He is not part wisdom and part love. Instead, God’s simple indescribable nature is all those things. Just as light is refracted through a prism, God’s simple nature is experienced in a manifold of ways through the prism of creation. This experience of creatures does not demand composure in God. The compound nature of creatures experiences the same divine essence in a multitude of different ways. Coffee is experienced as a smell, a taste, and a warm comfort because each human attribute is able to experience the coffee in its own way. God is simple, but this infinite simple nature is experienced by each of our attributes in the way in which that attribute can experience it. This creaturely reality leads to the illusion of composition in God.
Creatures are in constant change because the creaturely “parts” are forevermore interacting with each other. God, on the other hand, is immutable. God cannot repent (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29). God cannot change (Mal. 3:6). God has no shadow of turning (Js. 1:17). One reason God cannot change is that there aren’t parts of God to interact in God. Creaturely reality is far different from the divine reality. Humans are composed of spiritual desires, physical attributes, emotions, instinct, and intellect. These parts interact constantly. These parts can work against each other, or they can work together. God’s nature is simple. There can be no conflict or change in God. This truth points us to the unchangeable nature of God’s purpose. God’s ways are perfect (Ps. 18;30). God’s purposes cannot be thwarted (Is. 14:27; Job 42:2).
Of particular importance is the relation of divine simplicity with the traditional doctrine of the Trinity. If God is one undivided essence, then how can there be three persons of God? On the other hand, if the divine essence is not simple, then how can we continue to say that Christianity is a monotheist rather than polytheist? Historically, the doctrine of divine simplicity was utilized to safeguard monotheism over polytheism.
To begin this discussion, we can ask why God identifies himself as “I AM” rather than “WE ARE” (Ex. 3:14-15). If the three persons of God are three differentiated centers of consciousness, then “WE ARE” would be more appropriate than “I AM.” God did not reveal himself as “WE ARE.” Since the divine nature is without composition, the three distinct persons are identical apart from their eternal relation of origin (Father, Son, and Spirit). The three persons exist eternally and without hierarchy because the nature is the same. The shared divine essence results in there being one God who is one (Deut. 6:4). Apart from the simple divine essence, polytheism becomes nearly inescapable. Furthermore, the “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel (4:26, 6:20, 8:28, 58, 18:5, 6, 8) seem to equivocate the incarnate Son with the eternal God.
In Isaiah 43:11 God proclaimed his simplicity even as he promised his people the coming of the eternal Son to be the Savior. God said, “I—I am the LORD. Beside me there is no Savior” (CSB). How can God be the Father who sent and the Son who was sent? Either there are two deities or the two persons share the same essence. The modalistic framework has been rejected biblically, confessionally, and historically as heresy.
Christians are also promised to “share in the divine nature” (“γένησθε θείας κοινωνοὶ φύσεως” 2 Pet. 1:4). If God’s nature is simple, then Christians are promised to, by grace, share fully in the divine life. If God’s nature is compound, then the questions of which divine person and which attributes of God remain. The doctrine of divine simplicity helps to explain how every Christian can enjoy all of the triune God.
Why Simplicity Matters
God’s simplicity is also important for our understanding of his omnipresence. If God was composed of parts, then we would expect to be in different parts of God as we traveled to different places like a squirrel traveling over different parts of the tree. This isn’t what we find in Scripture or expect in life. Instead, wherever we go, God is fully there (Ps. 139:8).
Finally, the importance of this doctrine cannot be overstated. Divine simplicity is essential to understand a proper view of God without overemphasizing his love or wrath. The doctrine of divine simplicity is also important to help us understand God is the greatest friend to his creation. Since everything about God is fully infinite, God is infinite love and loves infinitely. People can only love you partially, but God is infinite love and loves you infinitely.