We entered into an interesting discussion last week in my History of Exegesis course. The prof pointed out an error made by many Evangelicals, myself included. When we speak of God, we speak of the transcendent with terms that are immanent. Suppose someone asks you to tell them who God is. How would you respond? You would likely say something like, “God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good…”
Open any systematic theology book and find the section that is concerned with the doctrine of God. What you will likely find (not always) is the author carefully portrays God as omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, loving, gracious, etc… But what has the author done in this situation? He has taken God and described Him as being the sum of His attributes, a compound (or composite) being.
God is not
a compound mesh of
Don’t get me wrong His being is identical with His attributes, meaning his attributes are completely in line with who He is. I am a guitar player, a basketball player, a student, a husband, a son, but I am not the sum of those things. I am a person, which speaks of my being. So, God does not at one moment possess justice and another moment possess grace. He IS just and He IS gracious simultaneously. This is known as the doctrine of Divine simplicity, which is the belief that God is entirely present wherever He is present. That means wherever God is present, He is good and loving, but he is also sovereign and just.
Let’s say you get in a terrible car accident and it was so bad that there is no reason you should be alive. You might say, “God was gracious.” True, but He was not only gracious, He was also just. It is impossible to separate out the divine attributes from God’s being because when you do, you make God a composite being, a sum of his attributes.
So how should we describe God when someone asks us the question, “Who is God?” I think this answer is two fold. 1) God is one. 2) God is Triune. I think this is our starting point.
You might read this and think, “duh” but I encourage you to examine the way you seek to describe God. Do you reduce Him to the sum of his attributes?