Saturday, February 17, 2024

Post # 36 The Doctrine of God - God's Divine Simplicity and the Christian's prayer-life


    In the last post I introduced the reader to the doctrine of Divine simplicity here To say God is Divinely simple is to say He has no parts. When we talk of God's attributes, being, and the Persons of the Trinity, its not like we have those three in three seperate piles, awaiting our assembling. 

    God is not some sort of "lego-man" deity, where I have a piece of God here and a piece of God there. Those who believe that the universe is some sort of deity would commit to such an error (known as "pantheism", or the belief that god is everything and everything is god".) The God of the Bible is omnipresent yet transcendent, not confined to our universe and responsible for its existence. 

    These opening observations are vitally important when it comes to prayer. When the Christian prays, how important is it to know we have God's undivided attention? Further, God is personal, not impersonal, as pantheism would lead us to believe. The Apostle John writes in 1 John 5:14-15 what I would argue links the relevance of Divine simplicity to our prayer-life,

"This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."

    I would argue that Divine simplicity is vital for God to be the prayer-hearing God of the Bible. How so? Five attributes of God come to mind with respect to how I would show the relevance of Divine simplicity to our prayer-life: Divine spirituality, Divine immutability, Divine omniscience, Divine omnipotence, and Divine wisdom. 

    If God's underlying unity of being and attributes is not what the Bible says, then all bets are off when it comes to affirming that God is a God who can equally hear, respond to, and thus include prayer in how He executes His will. Let's trace this out, since the last thing I want for the reader to have is only a theoretical understanding of Divine simplicity, unrelated to prayer. 

Divine simplicity the the spirituality of God in our prayer-life

    Since the doctrine of Divine simplicity asserts that God is without parts, and that everything in God is God, the spirituality of God is a good attribute to start in seeing how Divine simplicity is relevant to prayer. J.P. Boice in his "Abstract of Theology", page 62 notes,

"But when we ascribe spirituality to God, we do not intend to simply assert that He possess a spiritual nature, but that His nature is exclusively spiritual. By this we mean that He has no material organization, that He has neither body nor members (parts) of the body such as we have, neither shape or form, neither passions (the trait that causes change in a being when acted upon by something outside of itself), nor limitations, but only a spiritual nature."

    It was Jesus who gave the clearest summary of this perfection of Divine spirituality in the context of prayer in John 4:24 "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." The Apostle Paul affirms a similar idea about God not being confined to temples, since God is by nature spiritual, thus "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:25-28). 

    To know that God is Divinely simple in His spirituality is to assert that this is what God is, and as such, God's whole activity in hearing and answering prayer is not limited by time, space, or circumstance. As Dr. Steven J. Lawson comments in his own work on the attribute of Divine spirituality, God is "infinite, without limitations in regards to any attribute, His being, and thus His character." 

Divine simplicity and Divine immutability for our prayer-life.

    Whenever we talk about Divine simplicity, what we're saying is that God in His being is His attributes. Put another way, whatever attribute I'm talking about, I am talking about the God who is by nature what that attribute conveys.  The attributes of God are whole expressions of the Divine nature, since everything that is in God is God. 

    God's Divine unchangeability or immutability is affirmed in the Bible as not just something that God has, but rather what He is by nature (see Number 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). When it comes to anchoring our confidence in prayer, God's immutability entails Divine simplicity, since an unchanging God, by nature, is required for prayer's answers to allign with His unwavering character. 

    One of the clearest examples of how we connect Divine simplicity, Divine immutability, and prayer relate is in James 1:3-17. James 1:5-8 states,

"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

    It is later that James writes in James 1:17 "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

    Here we see that God is a God without parts, whereby in Him there is no variation, no change, no element of changeability that characterizes everything else that is created and thus not God. We live in a world that is prone to change, variation, and thus is composed of parts. God and God alone can be our Divine reference point whenever we need an anchor for our prayer-life. 

Divine simplicity and Divine omniscience in our prayer-life

    Divine simplicity asserts that God is, by nature, all His attributes, since those perfections are each a whole expression of His Divine being. Omniscience is vitally important to consider when we pray to God. Note David's words in Psalm 139:1-6

"O Lord, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. 3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. 5 You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it."

    The doctrine of Divine simplicity, as it relates to Divine omniscience, assures me that God's knowledge cannot have any division, weakening, nor improvement, since Divine Simplicity asserts that God was never composed by anything outside of Himself and thus cannot get better or worse. 

    You and I can forget, or demonstrate limits to our knowledge. We are comprised of parts, meaning we have memories, impressions of thoughts, recollections - in other words, different activities of our intellects. For God, He simply "knows". William Ames, a 17th century writer, states in his "Marrow of Divinity", "The attributes of God set forth What God is, and Who he is."

    As for our prayers, God knows what we are going to pray, how He will use our prayers, and the answers He will give - all in one Divine intellectual act. For God - past, present, and future are equally known, seen, and fully apprehended. 

Divine simplicity, Divine omnipotence, and our prayer-life

    So far we've seen how Divine simplicity undergirds God's spirituality, immutability, and omniscience in our prayer-life. But what about God's Divine omnipotence? For God to execute all the other prior perfections, it necessarily follows He would be omnipotent, since infinite power is befitting to His charcter as God. 

    God as a Divinely simple being tells me that the Divine nature cannot be divided, which means that God's power cannot wax and wane as everything else apart from Him does. Prayer in our Christian experience can of course wax and wane. We get tired. Our devotion to God fluctuates. Yet our omnipotent God never waxes and wanes in His power (Isaiah 40:28). 

    An example of what I'm talking about with respect to Divine simplicity, omnipotence, and our prayer-life is in the contrast the psalmist presents between the idols of the nations and the omnipotent God in Psalm 115:3-9,

"But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. 4 Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. 5 They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see;6 They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; 7 They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat.8 Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them."

    The deities worshipped by the nations are "complex deities", that is, they are composed, made of parts by the hands of men, and conceived of in the sinful human imagination. God, on the otherhand, doesn't "have" this or that attribute, He just simply "is" His perfections. Furthermore, God is omnipotent, executing His Sovereign purpose "as He pleases". For prayer to work, we need an omnipotent God who is Divinely simple in His essence. 

Divine simplicity, Divine wisdom, and our prayer-life

       God's wisdom is that perfection whereby He guides and executes His intended means and goals according to His good pleasure. Divine wisdom requires the Divine will to be unified, without division. The doctrine of Divine simplicity ensures that God is indeed "God only wise" (1 Timothy 1:17, KJV, NKJV). We read in Proverbs 2:6 

"For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding." 

    The doctrine of Divine simplicity tells us that God does not merely have wisdom to give, rather He is only wise, and thus when He communicates wisdom, nothing is subtracted from Him. James 1:5 reminds us of God's wisdom as it pertains to our prayer-life, 

"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him." 

    As I've been stating throughout this post, whenever I am focused upon any one of God's attributes, I have all of God in that attribute, since the doctrine of Divine simplicity states God is His attributes. Put more concretely, I literally have God's undivided attention, whether I'm seeking Him as He is as God only wise, God omnipotent, God omniscient, God unchanging, or God that is entire spirituality by nature.

Closing thoughts for today:

    In this post I've attempted to relate the doctrine of Divine simplicity to the Christian's prayerlife. We've done so by observing how Divine simplicity operates in our prayerlife by our interractions wirh God in His spirituality, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, and wisdom. I'd like to close out with a prayer that seeks God as the Divinely simply God. 

O great God, you are without parts. There is no variation nor shifting of shadow within you. You are eternal, and nothing, anyone, or anything was responsible for why you are God. You are God, and there is no other. You are alone wise, you never forget me nor do you love me for what you would see me do or neglect to perform. You are alone loving, love without beginning, without ending, lovingly sending the Son to die and raise for my sins, choosing me in love, without beginning, only because you love. 

    You alone are holy, too pure to look upon sin and too transcendent to be reached by any creature. You, great God, God without parts, are self-sufficient, nothing in you is missing. 

    You are the one who is, who was, who ever will be. Your Divine Godhead, without division, wholly resides in who you are as Father, Son, and Spirit. To you Father I do come, you are without origin, wholly Divine, without parts as truly God, who chose me, loves me, and is all-compassionate, all-holy, hollowed be your name. 

    To you Father I come through the Son, equal in all respects to you, sharing in the simplicity of nature, begotten from you from eternity. Lord Jesus Christ, you are, by your deity, God without parts, without passions, ever loving me, became man to suffer for my sake, and rise as man, ascending as man, all for my sake. 

    To the Father and through the Son I come by the Spirit, who with the Father and Son is to be worshipped and glorified. Thank you Lord Jesus for having the Father send the Spirit in your name. He who proceeds from the Father through you gives me access to the undivided God. 

    Oh great LORD, you who are without parts, constant in every perfection, I know that through the Son I have your undivided attention. Your mercy is unceasing only because of the merit won for me by the Son dying and rising in His humanity. He in His deity, one with you and the Spirit, is my Mediator, perfect, complete in-and-of Himself. To you God I trust this prayer is heard. Whatever you deem best, may your will be done in my life this day, amen.  

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