What Difference Does Divine Simplicity Make?


Derek Rishmawy has another helpful post exploring divine simplicity, interacting particularly with Jay Wesley Richards’ The Untamed God. I’ve been continuing to think about this doctrine since posting a primer on it last fall, and I thought I would address one more commonly asked question about it.

What Practical Difference Does Divine Simplicity Make?

There are a number of ways that divine simplicity orders, illumines, and/or insulates our thinking about God. Perhaps most emphatically, divine simplicity highlights God’s uniqueness and transcendence: God is utterly different from anything in creation, and there is nothing beyond or behind God that explains Him. Rationality, differentiation, and even existence itself are determined by, rather than determinative of, God. Divine simplicity may thus fuel a holy trembling in our prayers and worship, stretching our thoughts up to God as the Uppermost, the Highest, the One who simply is. After struggling with divine simplicity, one may resonate with C.S. Lewis’ depiction of God in Till We Have Faces as “the most dreadful, the most beautiful, the only dread and beauty there is.” In affirming divine simplicity, one may say with special feeling, “the Lord is God; there is no other besides him” (Deuteronomy 4:35).

A more specific contribution of divine simplicity in current theological discourse is that it forbids us from setting God’s different attributes against one another. Many contemporary Western people like the Christian idea that “God is love” (I John 4:8) but feel uncomfortable about the (equally biblical) notion that God has wrath. A well-meaning Christian might conceivably say, “I can worship God for his love, but not for his wrath.” But divine simplicity reminds us that God’s love and wrath are not two different “parts” of God—as though sometimes God felt benevolent, and other times He feels angry. Rather, God’s love and wrath are ultimately two different manifestations of who God simply is, as He relates to a composite, ever-changing creation. One who affirms divine simplicity need feel no hesitation in surveying all that the Scripture reveals about God’s character, and affirming throughout, “the Lord is righteous in all his ways” (Psalm 145:17).

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