Saturday, April 6, 2019

Praying by way of God's attributes - prayer and Divine simplicity

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Romans 11:33-36 "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."


It wasn't to long ago that I found myself having one of those days that left me anxious about a whole host of areas in life. As I prayed, I asked God to help me arrive at a point of peace about the situations in question (Philippians 4:6-7). As I continued to pray and wrestle with the thoughts going through my mind, a sudden idea occurred: "why not select an attribute of God and pray about the situations through that attribute?" I don't doubt that at that very moment, the Holy Spirit was illuminating me to an insight. So, I focused on God's attribute of "Divine Impassibility", which refers to the way in which His emotional life, unlike my own, is not subject to sudden shifts due to the response to life's circumstances. Within that word "impassible" is the root-word "passion" which speaks of the particular way in which human emotions function out of response to things. The Apostle Paul had to remind his listeners in Acts 14:15 

"and saying, 'Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them."

Paul is saying in this passage that he and his fellow laborers were no different from them in the realm of possessing "like-passions". Paul urged this point upon his audience to stave off unsolicited worship of him as one of their deities. Paul's words about himself and his ministry partners contrast with the true and living God that doesn't have "up-and-down emotions" (i.e. an impassible God). 

God's emotional life is consistent, always in operation and unimpeded. The classical doctrine of Divine impassibility teaches us that God, in terms of His emotional-life, cannot be any worse or any better, since He is always at His best and thus, never varying. If for anything, this teaching shows us that God is far more emotional than we as human beings could ever hope to be!

So I sought the Lord at that moment as a God that I knew was always loving, always merciful, always opposed to sin, always happy with Himself, unchanging in His love for me and always loyal in knowing about my circumstance. Do you know that the instant I prayed that prayer, an enormous peace came over me! Since that day, I have pondered on what it would be like to base one's prayer-life on the attributes of God.  Thus, today's post on God’s attributes as a way of strengthening the Christian’s prayer-life. 

What are God's attributes?

An attribute is a quality or characteristic of God that describes Him. To be more exact, an attribute of God is a perfection that is an expression of His essence as God. To take but one example, we read in 1 John 4:8 that "God is love". For God, love is not just an attribute that God possesses as a feature, but rather, love is God's very essence expressing itself as the perfection of love. In other words - "God is love", incapable of being less or more in how that expression could ever be express from the standpoint of what He is as God. Another example is found in Psalm 99:5, were we read: "holy is He". God doesn't merely "have" holiness", He is Holy". Holiness is a perfection that is an expression of His very essence.  

As we think about God and His attributes, all of His attributes are rooted in His very essence. No one single attribute is better than the other. All of them, without exception, capture and grant to us all of who God is (as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and what God is (the One, undivided God). Concerning that latter statement of "what God is", we come to find that God is indeed the "undivided God" or what theologians refer to as "Divine simplicity". Thus, in the above examples, God is "lovingly-holy" and "holy-loving".

Divine simplicity and the believer's prayer-life

Divine simplicity means God is not composed of parts, whether we speak of attempting to separate God's attributes from His Divine being or presupposing some cause that brought about God. Put another way, Divine simplicity means every attribute equally grants us God, His eternal perfections and identity.  When we bring Divine simplicity down to the most practical level of prayer, we refer to how God is never at odds with Himself, and thus undivided when we come to Him in prayer. One writer has noted that due to God not being composed of parts, that means that when I'm falling apart, God can hold me together by virtue of His Divine simplicity.

Divine simplicity may very well be an attribute which is hardly discussed today, yet, it can help us in gaining confidence in God in prayer. How is it that we can pray to God according to His Divine simplicity?

1. Praying through Divine simplicity affirms we have God’s undivided attention. Romans 11:33-35

Sometimes Debi, my wife, will ask: "are you here?"; because my mind is thinking in different directions. We all have “divided-attention”. We all, like every other created thing, can never be all nor give all of ourselves to everything. God alone can because He is "Divinely-simple”. Wherever you see Biblical phrases like “God is” or “is He” or God acting out an attribute, that 
points us to God’s divine simplicity. Consider the following passages: 

1. Psalm 99:5 “Holy is He”. 

2. Malachi 3:6 “I the Lord do not change”. 
3. James 1:17 “…with whom there is no variation or shifting of shadow.” 

4. 1 John 4:8 “….God is love”.   

The Apostle Paul in Romans 11:33-36 indicates how God is undivided with respect to His abilities to give attention. Paul references God's Wisdom, Knowledge and ways as undivided and thus - unfading. My favorite passage in all the New Testament hints at God's Divine simplicity, namely Romans 11:36 - "for from Him, and to Him and through Him are all things". 

Therefore, no matter what I am praying for, I realize that to God, past, present and future are one-big eternal now with respect to His omniscience, and that particular attribute grants me access to all His other attributes which He steadily applies in bringing about His will in my life. God's Divinely simple nature as "the undivided God" means I have His undivided attention. But notice also how this attribute strengthens our faith in prayer...

2. Praying through Divine simplicity affirms we have God’s undivided ability at hand. Romans 11:36 

No one is good at everything. Even in our universe, we see varying levels of stars, things wearing out, things changing. God’s ability alone never diminishes. His attributes, or perfections, never fade. Such thoughts grant confidence in prayer. How?   Practically, as mentioned above, God won’t ever fall-apart because He has "no parts" as defined by the doctrine of Divine simplicity. In other words, God's essence or "what He is" and existence or "that He is" are not divided and are not separated from His perfections. 

As Divinely simple, God is incapable of improvement and without need of anything. When it comes to prayer, God is our all sufficiency in prayer because    He needs nothing to make Him better. We on the other hand need God, since without Him and His perfection of omnipotent, I can never have that endless source of strength needed to get through everyday life.

Again, certain passages imply to us God's Divine simplicity by the way they mention other attributes. For example, God's immutability or His inability to change, as stated in Numbers 23:19 

“God is not a man, that He should     lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? 

Or again, the prophet Malachi writes in Malachi 3:6 

“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."

One more example in the New Testament, James 1:17 

“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."

Since God's Divine simplicity grants me access to every attribute that He is as God, this means that at any given point, I have all of God's unending ability to bear on the things I pray about in everyday life. Put another way, Divine simplicity teaches that since every attribute equally grants us God, we have perfections and Personal identity involved with us every step of the way.

Closing thoughts

Today we emphasized praying by way of God's attributes. We focused upon God's Divine simplicity, which refers to God being "undivided", whether in terms of His attributes, being or existence. Such a God grants us all the confidence we need in prayer. As Divinely simple, God grants to us His undivided attention and undivided power by how we have accesses to all that He is and who He is in prayer.  

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