Theology Lessons from Brandi Huerta
The second chapters of both the Westminster and the London Baptist confessions of faith say that God is “without body, parts, or passions.” (I talked about God’s being without passions here.) In much the same way that the doctrine of impassibility is a struggle for modern minds to grasp, so is the doctrine of divine simplicity, which is what the statement about God not having parts refers to. It’s difficult for many to resist noting that, for a doctrine called simplicity, understanding it is notoriously challenging.
Many folks understandably want to lump “parts” into the previous word in the confessions: body. If God doesn’t have a body, then, of course, He doesn’t have body parts, right? It seems simple (pun intended) enough. But the comma between body and parts is significant because the two words communicate different truths. “Body” is relatively straightforward; God is spirit and without material form. The word “parts” does partially refer to physical parts, to be sure, but it refers to several types of immaterial parts as well.
Whatever is in God simply is God. He is the sufficient explanation for His own existence. As I discussed here, love (for instance) is not something distinct from God that makes Him be what He is. In contrast, a tire is not identical to a bicycle, but a tire helps give being to the bicycle. The bicycle is dependent upon the tire and other components, as well as the bicycle maker, to be what it is. Nothing but God makes Him to be what He is.
If you remember my discussion about aseity, you may be thinking how closely related it is to simplicity, and you would be absolutely right. You can’t have one without the other. God is of or from Himself (aseity), which means He is not of or from or composed of anything else. I mentioned before that to remove one of God’s perfections from our consideration would be to unravel the whole sweater, as it were, of His being. This example is merely one. Let’s move on to a few more.
God’s existence (that He is) and His essence (what He is) are identical with Himself, exactly as love is identical to Him. He doesn’t get His existence from something else, and He isn’t one example of a god within a larger class or genus of deity. He is “Godness” itself. You, as a creature, are (existence), and if you’re reading this, you’re probably human (essence). Still, neither of those things are identical to you, nor are they identical to one another in creation (everything that is not God). If you were annihilated, both humanity and being, in general, would still exist.
You receive both of those things as parts of you; further, you are dependent upon both them and the Giver of them to be what you are. These things cannot be said of God. He is what He is in virtue of Himself. And you are not just human, but you are that particular human—a human and a particular instantiation of humanity. Both of those things are also parts of you.
A pumpkin seed is not a pumpkin; it may or may not become one someday; it has the potential to be one under the right circumstances. You, however, don’t have the potential, or passive potency, to become a pumpkin. It’s not part of what you are. You have the potency to become more knowledgeable about God; perhaps I am the agent that is helping you actualize that potency right now—moving you from lesser to greater knowledge. Try as I may, I would never be able to teach the pumpkin doctrine of God because it does not have the potency to learn as one of its parts.
You are composed of what you actually are and what you could be. You may possess the actuality of being a banker, or a pastor, or a housewife, or a scientist, or a teacher, or any number of things, along with the passive potency to be any number of other things in addition. If you’re happy in actuality, you have the passive potency to be sad and vice versa. If you are sitting, you likely are in passive potency to receive the reality of standing.
If you do stand, you will not be the sufficient reason for your standing, even if you decide and make an effort to do so. Your strength depends upon, among other things, the food you have eaten. It supplies the actuality of your strength if you will; you are moved by it. But even the food is not the sufficient reason for its own existence, and neither, then, is it the sufficient reason for your strength to stand. The buck has to stop somewhere, as you might imagine.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being,” as even some of your own poets have said, ”For we are indeed his offspring” (Acts 17:24-28).
God Himself has no potential to be anything other than He already is. Theologians say that He is not, then, composed of act (what He is currently) and potency (what He may become), but is actus purus: pure act. This truth is at the very heart of what it means for Him to be without parts, and on it hangs the rest of His attributes. To be composed is to be dependent, so He couldn’t be a se (of or from Himself; not derivative or dependent upon anything) if He were. If He had in His being the potency to be, for example, sad, He wouldn’t be impassible or immutable. Having parts is an imperfection. Only creatures have parts. God Himself is moved to new actuality by nothing, and He moves literally everything else that exists.
As with the other attributes we have discussed so far, we understand that any scriptural language about God having parts is anthropomorphic; it is truth about God communicated in a way that is accommodated to the understanding of us composite beings. Even the statement “God is simple” has three parts: subject, verb, and predicate. We necessarily think in multi-part thoughts because we are composed of parts, and no one human word captures what God is like. Only He can fully comprehend what all of this means, but we want to be careful not to think and speak inaccurately of God. He is worthy of your rigorous thought and adoration.
If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand? (Job 35:6-7).
Like I said before, knowing, loving, and worshipping God is the summum bonum, the greatest good in and of itself, apart from any benefit it has for you. But if you endeavor to love God with everything you are, you will become what you behold, meaning that you will be transformed into the image of God. You will be whole and stable, and you will love others rightly in addition. You will be doing what God made you to do, and because of this, you will be in the enviable position of divine favor.
If you have any other goal than this one, you will be spiritually malformed. I encourage you to print these articles out and pour over them until the truths they contain consume you, and you can teach others about the majesty of God. If you want to talk about what you’ve read, or if you want recommendations for further reading, please let us know. We’ve only scratched the surface here; I pray these lessons will be a gateway for you into an ever-growing fascination with your Creator.
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