Posted On August 4, 2021

The Beauty of Divine Simplicity in Cultural Complexity

by | Aug 4, 2021 | Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

While “it’s complicated” may sum up your relational status, it also sums up your cultural moment. The current waves of cultural conflict come from every direction: health pandemics and systemic racism, and political unrest and calls for social reform and space exploration. The issues are legion. And complex.

Indeed these issues are more than complex; they are compounded, one part building on and impacting the others. The global health pandemic raises issues such as which government reports we trust and dismiss, what health precautions are wise, and where we are blindly following bad leadership. Conversations about systemic racism quickly evolve into discussions of chattel slavery and reparations and heritage and history. Each issue is a combination of numerous other issues. Like strands on a spider web, when we pluck one, they all shake.

The doctrine of divine simplicity cuts through our tumultuous times. In refreshing contrast to the difficult density of current issues, divine simplicity reminds us that the Lord is one (Deut. 6:4). Unlike the intricate issues that fill our news feeds today and are tangled in complexities, God is an uncompounded Being, singular and simple, whole and holy. This is divine simplicity.

The Lord is One

As Moses spoke to the people of Israel, he uttered what has become known as a central confession of the Israelite faith, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4). These words no doubt pierced the hearts of their original listeners and continue to pierce hearts today.

J.A. Thompson explains this as “the heart of Israel’s confession, namely that Yahweh was not a pantheon of gods, but One. He was, therefore, to be the sole object of Israel’s faith and obedience. Nor was she to forget Yahweh or attempt to share her allegiance with other gods in days of prosperity. Moreover, she was to ensure continuity of this allegiance and this covenant faith by diligently teaching her children.” (TOTC, 121).

In light of God’s uniqueness and his simplicity, Israel owed him all their worship. They were not to worship Baal or any other created gods. They were not to search for salvation, meaning, peace, or security from anything in all creation but from the Creator himself. Yes, this LORD was—and is—one. Unparalleled.

Peter Craigie writes, “As one God […] when he spoke there was no other to contradict; when he promised, there was no other to revoke that promise; when he warned, there was no other to provide refuge from that warning. (NICOT, 169, Craigie).

Finding Comfort in Divine Simplicity

Good theology provides more than well-articulated doctrines; it provides comfort to the soul. So it is with divine simplicity. Christians ought not to be merely knowledgeable; they ought to be comforted.

Divine simplicity is a comfort because it means that God cannot change. As culture changes and each day brings a new wave that crashes against the previous waves, Christians do well to remember that God cannot change. His character, promises, and purposes for the world will not change despite our circumstances.

Matthew Barrett writes, “it is appropriate to conclude that simplicity is not merely a negative statement—God is without parts—but a positive one as well: God is identical with all that he is in and of himself. In the purest sense, God is one; he is singular perfection.”

Without the comfort of divine simplicity, each breaking headline threatens our faith. Has God changed? Has God given up on his promises? Has God abandoned his purposes? Because of divine simplicity, we can always answer, “no.”

Divine simplicity is a comfort because all that is in God is God and God is good. He is not dualistic, good and evil—but simply good, and so he intends to take these bad events and turn them to good for those who belong to Him.

It is not surprising that secular news sources fail to recognize the goodness of God. I have yet to read the headline in the local newspaper or major news outlet which attributes an event to the goodness of our Creator. Yet how many of those headlines question the goodness of God? But divine simplicity reminds us of the unwavering goodness of God.

Divine simplicity is the unseen bedrock beneath Cowper’s famous hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill,

He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread,

Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;

 Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain;

God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

Finally, divine simplicity is a comfort because the very foundation of the universe is not a ceaseless process of change (evolution) but a stable God who is bringing all the changing circumstances of our lives to a stable and perfect end.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen 1:1). Those words are only helpful as far as the reader knows the God of whom the author writes. Which God? And what is he like? Can we know him?

Scripture gladly reveals God to us. We can know him through his revealed Word. We can delight in him. In the midst of great cultural change and revolution, let us find refuge in God, who changes not.

Let us say with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

[34] “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

[35] “Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

[36] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)

As complex as they are, our current issues pale in comparison to the complexity of God, eternal and inexhaustible. Omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience scratch the surface of his intricacy. And yet, his attributes are never at war with one another. He, and he alone, is perfectly unified. He is simple.

When you are overwhelmed by the complexity of the world and the compounding nature of current affairs, may you turn your eyes in faith to God, who is infinitely more complex than the most complicated of issues but is refreshingly simple. Yes, the Lord is One.

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