An Attribute of God Simply Too Serious to Ignore

An Attribute of God Simply Too Serious to Ignore

Back during my seminary days, our family lived in Louisville, Ky. One of the advantages of living in Louisville was the occasional trip to Homemade Pie and Ice Cream, which had the most scrumptious pies in town. Each year, people from all over the country, even the world, travel to Louisville for the famous Kentucky Derby. Before the race, the festivities are marked not only by flamboyant hats and mint juleps but also by most bakeries’ selling out of their Derby pie.

I enjoy a classic Derby pie, but there is one pie I enjoy even more: Homemade Pie and Ice Cream’s award-winning Dutch apple caramel pie. Truth be told, the caramel on the pie is so thick that you need a butcher’s knife to cut through it. But let’s say you’ve found your knife and you begin dividing up the pie—a fairly large piece for me, thank you, and perhaps smaller pieces for everyone else.

It kills me to admit this, because a theologian is always looking for an insightful illustration wherever he can find one, but Dutch apple caramel pie is a poor illustration for what God is like. That’s right, a really bad one. And yet it’s how many people think about God’s attributes. In fact, it’s what makes me nervous about writing on the different attributes of God, as if we’re slicing up the pie called “God.”

The perfections of God are not like a pie, as if we sliced up the pie into different pieces, love being 10 percent, holiness 15 percent, omnipotence 7 percent, and so on. Unfortunately, this is how many Christians talk about God today, as if love, holiness, and omnipotence are all different parts of God, God being evenly divided among His various attributes. Some even go further, believing some attributes to be more important than others. This happens most with divine love, which some say is the most important attribute, what they might call the biggest piece of the pie.

But such an approach is deeply problematic, as it turns God into a collection of attributes. It even sounds as if God were one thing and His attributes another, something added to Him, attached to who He is. Not only does this approach divide up the essence of God, but it potentially risks setting one part of God against another. (For example, might His love ever oppose His justice?) Sometimes this error is understandable; it unintentionally slips into our God talk. We might say, “God has love” or “God possesses all power.” We all understand what is being communicated, but the language can be misleading. It would be far better to say, “God is love” or “God is all-powerful.” By tweaking our language, we are protecting the unity of God’s essence. To do so is to guard the simplicity of God.

Simplicity and the Wisdom of the A-Team

Simplicity may be a concept that is new to your theological vocabulary, but it is one that has been affirmed by the majority of our Christian forebears over the past two thousand years of church history, even by some of the earliest church fathers. And for good reason, too. Let’s consult Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, and Thomas Aquinas.

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