Does God have two minds toward us? (divine simplicity)

This post continues the series exploring the book Forsaken (The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters) by  Tom McCall. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1234578.

Last time we looked at the doctrine of divine impassibility. This time we look at the doctrine of divine simplicity. Regarding this doctrine, McCall notes this:
While it is appropriate to refer to the various divine attributes, and while it is fine to predicate different perfections of God, the doctrine of divine simplicity reminds us that such talk should not mislead us into thinking that God is literally made up of or composed out of various attributes or divine parts.... God, as ultimate Spirit is not a compounded or composite being (p75).
Why does this matter? For many reasons, but chiefly because this doctrine reassures us that God's being is never divided and thus his divine attributes are never in conflict one against another. These attributes are distinct, but not separable. And thus the acts of God that flow from them are never in conflict. Consider God's love and wrath. These two attributes are often wrongly thought of as in conflict. However, the doctrine of divine simplicity tells us that this is not the case. These attributes are not separable; they both are expressions of the one, undivided ("simple") being and act of God.

On a related note, McCall points out that some of God's attributes are essential, while others are contingent. Consider God's attribute of mercy: God is merciful in his own being, but this attribute exists only in the presence of sinful creatures (no sinful creatures; no mercy needed). Thus God's mercy is a contingent attribute. Like all contingent attributes, it is grounded in and expressive of God's essential attributes - in this case God's goodness. God is essentially good; and when sin appears, his goodness is expressed contingently as mercy toward sinners.
In similar fashion, we understand God's wrath to be a contingent attribute, which is grounded in and expressive of his essential attribute of love. Because God is love, he has wrath toward the sin and evil that harms his creation. Thus, we understand divine wrath to be...
...the contingent expression of the holy love shared between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit... the natural expression of God's righteous and holy character toward all that stands opposed to him and his good purposes for his creatures. But it is a contingent expression nonetheless; it is not as though wrath is necessary or essential to God; if it were essential to him, he could not exist without it. We should not conclude that God somehow needs wrath - and thus sin - to be God (p80).
God's wrath is an expression of the undivided unity of his triune being, which is love. There is not one divine person who is for us (i.e. the loving Son who is a friend of sinners) and one who is against us (i.e. the angry, wrathful Father who can't stand to be around sinners). No, the one undivided God, who is three persons, has one mind - one will - one essence (homoousios), which is love.

God has no competing attributes. Thus it is wrong to say (as is popular these days), that...
...God's holiness and justice demanded to see me damned but - thankfully - God's love and mercy wanted me to be saved, resulting in the death of Jesus so that God could get this tension [within himself] resolved (p81).
What God sent Jesus to resolve was not a tension within himself, but a problem within us (sin). Out of his love, God expressed wrath toward our sin. In making this vital point, McCall quotes Thomas.F. Torrance:
God's wrath]...is the wrath of the lamb, the wrath of redeeming love. As such the very wrath of God is a sign of hope, not of utter destruction.... Judgment and wrath mean that far from casting us off, God comes within the existence and relation between the creator and the creature, and negates the contradiction we have introduced into it by and in our sin. God's wrath means that God declares in no uncertain terms that what he has made he still affirms as his own good handiwork and will not cast it off into nothingness. Wrath means that God asserts himself against us as holy and loving Creator in the midst of our sin and perversity and alienation. God's wrath is God's judgment of sin, but it is a judgment in which God asserts that he is the God of the sinner and the sinner is God's creature: it is a wrath which asserts God's ownership of the creature and asserts the binding of the creature to the holy and loving God.... It must take the form of judgment over against sin, but a reaffirmation that the creature belongs to God and that he refuses to cease to be its God and therefore refuses to let it go. God's very wrath tell us that we are children of God. It is the rejection of evil, of our evil by the very love that God himself eternally is (pp83-84, quoting Torrance in Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, pp249-250).

Comments

  1. Great review of this portion of this book, Ted. It seems that this dichotomy between God's holiness and his love arises out of a mistaken concept of "hell." (Or, just goes along with it?) If it is seen as the place where sinners are punished forever, this generates a notion of God's holiness as his stainless steel moral perfection that cannot countenance even one blemish or even one blemisher in his presence. Those I have spoken to who have this view see God's "love" as something we've never experienced as love: perfect love requires eternal punishment of those beings God actively and permanently despises.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Jerome. I think that the problem folks often get into is in trying to understand God's attributes outside of and thus apart from his triune relationality, which is fundamentally love.
    To think of hell (and the related topic of God's wrath) in some sort of judicial, non-relational sense leads one down an entirely wrong path and "paints a face" on God that is entirely unjustified. To view God in this wrong way is a hell of the worst sort.

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