Saturday, July 21, 2018

Part One - Introducing The Doctrine Of Divine Simplicity

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John 4:24 "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Introduction: My childhood fascination with model cars 

Today's post will introduce the reader to an important doctrine of the Christian faith that helps describe and defend the Biblical understanding of God - namely "The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity". The attempt will be made to discuss this subject with minimal technical jargon so as to provide a useful resource for beginning to approach this particular teaching. To aid myself and the reader alike, I will underline certain terms in the first part of this posting that will come in handy as we move forward.  

My Boyhood Fascination With Model Cars

When I was a boy, I came to enjoy the hobby of building model cars. Whenever my parents and I would go to the store, they would allow me to purchase a model kit - along with assorted paints and glue. I can recall sitting up until the "wee-hours" of the morning assembling the kit from the parts. The box included the "parts" for the car. 

The nature or "essence" of such cars were certain materials such as plastic (molded clear and colored parts) along with rubber tires, metal axles and my favorite - the decals. Once I began the project of assembling and painting the model, although I had the parts, paint and glue, one could legitimately say that until completion, the given model car did not yet exist. The assembling of the model represented a certain "potential" for it becoming what was pictured on the box. Once I completed a given model car, I would proudly bring it to my father for him to inspect and approve. The car as assembled, officially "existed" in the sense that all of its parts were fitted together to complete the "form" recognized on the box. 

Model cars, universes, humans and angels are "complex" and thus created things

The opening illustration does serve a purpose besides that of a charming memory. As we build on some of the terms used in the story, we can begin to understand what is meant by "complexity" with respect to what classifies all created things. Model cars represent a feature common to all created objects and beings - including human beings - a feature deemed "complexity" by theologians and philosophers. Words change usage and meaning with time - with terms such as "complex" and its opposite, "simple",  being no different. 

Whenever anything is described by the term "complex", we're not referring to that object or person as "too difficult to be truly known". Instead, the word "complex", as used in describing a given object or being, refers to how it is composed of parts and how such parts relate to the whole of its being. The opposite concept that is the focal point of today's post and the next is the term "simplicity". Simplicity describes how something is "not composed of parts" and whose whole being and attributes have existed from all eternity (more on this later). It will be argued that God alone occupies, in the most purest sense, what is meant when we say He is Divinely simple. By describing first what defines "complex" objects and beings, we are presenting a contrast that will aid us in beginning to understand what we mean when we that God, by essence and existence, is not composed of parts.   

So, back to model cars and such. The model car illustration entails an object that has parts. The "parts" represent the various features that require assembly by an assembler (which, in the case of the above illustration, would involve a model-car builder). Complex entities also involve their essence (that is, "what" makes an object or being what it is") as coming before their existence (that is, "how" an object or being carries forth what it is upon the completion of its creation). 

Model cars, people and universes have, at some point in their past, had potential to become what they were. All created things had a beginning and at some point neither had "essence" nor "existence". The model car did not even have its parts formed at some point in its past. However, a designer and a factory produced the parts - making kits that contained "potential" model-cars. Only when the car was constructed did it go from a "potential" to an "actual car". 

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Our universe, at sometime in the finite past, did not exist. The Old and New Testament scriptures (i.e. Genesis 1:1; Psalm 33:6; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6) tell us that God created all things by the word of His mouth. Moreover, current findings by astronomers have corroborated models of the universe that give strong evidence to the universe having a beginning. The universe was "assembled" from nothing to become "something" - containing all sorts of "parts" (i.e. atoms, forces, planets, galaxies, ourselves). The universe is the biggest example of a "complex" object.

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Then we come to beings such as ourselves. Human beings are "composite" or "complex". Scripture indicates that, at bare minimum, human beings are non-physical minds or souls endowed with freedom of the will and moral intuitions (see Genesis 1:26; 2:7; Numbers 16:22; 27:16). Human beings are immaterial persons dwelling in and interacting with a physical body composed of a brain with trillions of neurons connected to a body of bone, muscles and blood (Genesis 1:26; 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). Further distinctions show human beings are special above their animal counterparts in how they are made in God's image. The image of God refers to how humans are created with the potential for interaction with God (Genesis 1:26; 9:6; Psalm 8:1-4; Hebrews 11:1,6). 

Human beings fit the category of "complexity" or "composite" as described above. In other words, there was a point when each human being's essence was nothing more than 23 chromosomes from each parent. Once conception took place, the immaterial aspect of personality or soul (i.e. "life") initiated the existence of that person in embryonic form (since they had not ever pre-existed). Those physical and non-physical elements, which represented a "potential but not-yet person", came together in the womb to become an "actual" person in the fullest sense (Psalm 139:7; Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15). The "essence" or "stuff of existence" comes before the final composition or "existence" of the above examples. Such qualities describe such things as "complex" and thus created things.

So, what about the angels? Even angels, which are described as "ministering spirits" (Hebrews 1:14) and "flames of fire" (Psalm 104:4), are "complex", since there was a point that they didn't exist and God's formation of their immaterial "essence" or "whatness" came before they were completed as His servants that do His bidding (Job 38:7; Psalm 104:4; Revelation 19:10).

God is not "complex" or composed of parts, but rather, is what is referred to as Divinely simple

As noted earlier, words can change their meanings or add additional senses over time. Whenever we come to God and describing what sets Him apart from all creation, the term "simple" is employed by some theologians and philosophers. By the term "simple", we're not at all saying God is easy to figure out or that we can comprehend Him in all His entirety. Instead, the term "simple", as used millennia ago by Christian thinkers in the ancient church such as Irenaeus of Lyons (180 A.D.) and middle ages (Anselm of Canterbury 1078 A.D. and Thomas Aquinas, 1270's) refers to how God is not composed of parts. Furthermore, in contrast to "complex" created beings and things whose "essence" proceeds their "existence" (that is, the stuff they're made of, including various traits, require composition by a composer to bring them from a state of "potentially being something" to "actually being something" or existence), a simple being like God is eternally complete. All of God's traits and attributes by way of His "existence" (i.e. "how God is God") and His eternal, immaterial nature by manner of His "essence" (i.e. "what God is as God) have eternally and simultaneously continued as one, living, uncreated reality. 

These thoughts, hopefully, direct our minds toward contemplating what kind of God God is and why He is worthy of our worship. For now, we will end today's post and continue on in the next. 

More next time.....

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