The doctrine of divine simplicity and immutability sometimes leads us to think that God cannot truly respond to what happens in the world. However, to say that God does respond to human action may suggest that God has become passive and undergoes change when he is acted upon by an external agent. John Frame notes although God’s eternal decree does not change, it does ordain change. God also responds to the unfolding events in human history that flows from the eternal decree. But God’s response does not imply passivity in God because he is bringing to fruition an interaction that he has himself ordained. He is actively bringing to fulfilment what he has eternally ordained, even in bringing about a world that can bring him grief. (Acts 2:23-24)
Divine Simplicity and Immutability of God With readings from Stephen Charnock van Mastricht and Herman Bavinck
Simplicity is the perfection of God that excludes any physical or metaphysical composition in the being of God. God is not made up of more basic parts for this would mean that God’s existence is contingent or dependent on something more basic than him. There is nothing in God that is not God. God is maximal perfection and goodness. God has no potentiality so that he can become something more than he is. The simplicity of God entails his immutability. Therefore, God is identical with his existence and essence.
The Reformed theologian Stephen Charnock explains simplicity in terms of God’s supreme existence:
God is the most simple being; for that which is first in nature, having nothing beyond it, cannot by any means be thought to be compounded; for whatsoever is so, depends upon the parts whereof it is compounded, and so is not the first being: now God being infinitely simple, hath nothing in himself which is not himself, and therefore cannot will any change in himself, he being his own essence and existence.[Stephen Charnock, Discourse on the Existence and Attributes of God (Baker, 1996, reprint of Carter & Brother, 1953 edition), p. 333]
“For as the Father has life in himself.” (John 5:26)
Aseity and Immutability of God
In classical theism, God is the eternal absolute being who is independent of anything outside of himself. God is independent in his existence because he depends on nothing and no one for His existence. God is independent in his activity because all that is actual, apart from himself, exists by his will alone. He has all life, glory, and blessedness, in and of himself. He is self-sufficient. Creation does not add anything to God.
The Self-Existence (Aseity) of God
God is self-existent, that is, He has the ground of His existence in Himself. This idea is sometimes expressed by saying that He is causa sui (His own cause), but this expression is hardly accurate, since God is the uncaused, who exists by the necessity of His own Being, and therefore necessarily…The idea of God’s self-existence was generally expressed by the term aseitas, meaning self-originated… As the self-existent God, He is not only independent in Himself, but also causes everything to depend on Him.[Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1938), p. 58.]
James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” [παρ’ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα, par hō ouk eni parallagē ē tropēs aposkiasma]
During my younger days, I used to dabble in linguistic philosophy (obviously in an amateurish way) and German historical criticism of the Bible. However, the forays into these avant garde trends left me with a sense of spiritual desiccation. It was in the midst of theological ennui that I stumbled on Abraham Heschel’s seminal work, The Prophets. I was swept by the spiritual and fervent vitality that flows through Heschel’s powerful and passionate prose.
However, Heschel’s exposition of the prophet’s teaching of the pathos of God both excited and troubled me. It is exhilarating to realize that God has a stake in the human situation. This is a stunning contrast to the god of the Greeks. For example, Aristotle taught that God is entirely self-centred. “It would be out of question for men to attempt personal intercourse with Him…those are wrong who think that there can be a friendship towards God. For (a) God could not return our love, and (b) we could not in any case be said to love God…He does not know this world and no Divine plan is fulfilled in this world. [Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy. Vol.1 pt.2 Greece and Rome (Double Day Image Book, 1962), pp. 59-61]
In contrast, the pathos of the God of the biblical prophet assures us that God intimately and passionately cares about human welfare. This assurance will certainly generate hope for believers who find themselves feeling hopeless as they are psychologically crushed in the midst of dire situations. Continue reading “The Immutable God Who Cares. Part 1”