Saturday, February 24, 2024

Post #37 The Doctrine of God - Praying through God's Attributes and How Divine Simplicity Grounds The Prayer-life


    In this blog series, we've navigated through the being and attributes of God. I wanted to devote a couple posts to the important truth of Divine simplicity, and its particular application to our prayer life. My hope is these current posts are causing us to seek God at a deeper level. Eventually, we will devote future posts to what I will call "part two" of our study of the doctrine of God or "Theology Proper" - the doctrine of the Trinity. 
    For now, I want to take today to show the reader the benefit of praying through God's attributes, what that looks like, and conclude with why the doctrine of Divine simplicity is the basis for our prayer life. 

    It wasn't to long ago that I found myself having one of those days that left me anxious about a whole host of life's areas. 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 in connection with the Scripture (compare 1 Corinthians 2:10-13). So, I sought the Lord at that moment as God that is 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. In praying that way, I dwelled respectively on His love, mercy, holiness, blessedness, immutability, and omniscience. 

    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. Let me assure the reader that this notion is not novel. Millennia attest to the scores of Christian writers who have expounded at length on using the perfections of God as a means of prayer.  

What are God's attributes?

    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 perfectly as love. In other words - "God is love", incapable of being less or more in how that expression could ever be expressed 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 last statement of "what God is", we come to find that God is indeed the "undivided God" or what theologians refer to as "Divinely simple". 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 about, 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 creature is good at everything. Even in our universe, we see varying levels of stars, things wearing out, things changing (see Psalm 102). 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. This led us to focus 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.