What are some challenges with the concept of divine simplicity?
Oddly, divine simplicity is a bit complicated to explain. The idea is that God is unified, transcendent, and without physical representation. He does not exist in parts, cannot be defined by attributes, and does not possess any form. Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas believed and taught divine simplicity.
Divine simplicity posits that God's existence is the same as His essence. He is the focus and is any attribute that is divine or that we can give Him. For example, God does not have omniscience, He is omniscience. God does not have existence, He is existence. God doesn't have a loving character, He defines the whole idea of love—establishes and is the greatest thought or idea of love.
One bit of Scripture that shows divine simplicity is 1 John 4:16: "So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."
Going further, one cornerstone of divine simplicity is that God is unified. Therefore He is not loving, merciful, and knowledgeable, but His love, mercy, and knowledge are indivisible and indistinguishable from Him, and therefore also from each other. For example, if God is existence and is omniscience, then existence is omniscience. If A=B and B=C, then A=C.
Those who believe that a God or gods exist (theists) and those who believe God became an observer, in essence, after the creation (Deists) would not have many objections to divine simplicity. However, biblically speaking, there are some important problems with it.
Dr. William Lane Craig, a philosopher and Christian apologist from Talbot School of Theology and Houston Baptist University has studied the four cornerstones of divine simplicity. Here's a summary of what he found:
First, God is His nature: Craig concludes this as true. All heavenly beings are without a sin nature, so can be found whole, so to speak.
Second, God's unity prohibits His characteristics and properties from being distinct from one another: Craig concludes this is false. Because God is a Person, though Spirit, He may indeed display different characteristics at different times and in different situations. God is not wholly everything that He is at all times. We don't see God's provision of a column of fire at all times as He did with the released children of Israel near the Red Sea. By confining Him to exhibit all that He is at all times is to restrict God and God has no restriction. Also, His attributes are not identical to one another. God's omniscience is not the same as existence—there are things that exist that are not all-knowing, so those attributes are not one and the same thing.
Third, God's nature is not distinct from His existence: Craig concludes this is false. God is not defined by existence, though He does indeed exist. He does not merely exist—this would, again, restrict Him. Craig called this idea "unintelligible."
Lastly, the idea that God has no properties apart from His nature: Craig says this is false. It seems to indicate that God's qualities and His choices exist unrelated to anything outside of God. But this makes no sense. God is not bound by His will to have His Son killed if, hypothetically, He did not create the world. Divine simplicity would argue that Jesus must die because that is part of God's unchanging nature, no matter what else would have changed. This is not consistent with what we know of God revealed in the Bible.
Generally, divine simplicity could mean that God, His ways, and His desire to be in relationship with people, are elementary enough that a child can understand Him and His ways (Luke 18:17). This is true. However, as we mature in our faith, we see that God is complex and multi-faceted. We cannot grasp Him completely, yet we can be in an intimate relationship with Him.
God is not an idea. He is a Person who presented Himself on earth as a human, Jesus, and uses human terms and ideas to describe Himself. For example, God is Father (2 Corinthians 6:18). He describes Himself using comparisons to things we understand (Luke 13:24; Hosea 1:2), and we can see emotion and responses He shows in certain situations (2 Kings 22:17; Zephaniah 3:17). God came to earth, not as an idea, but as a baby. Jesus showed us what God is like; we have faith in Him and take Him at His word (John 10:30, 14:9–11).
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