Can God be simple and triune? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
When talking about simplicity, I have said that God has no parts. This means that you cannot put A and B and C together and get God. There isn’t anything you can take away from God. We could say that what God is, He is that one something.
As Christians, we certainly don’t want to deny the Trinity. I think the evidence for that is overwhelming. However, while many of us, especially in the Protestant tradition, are good at making the Scriptural case for the Trinity, we sadly don’t often seem to go beyond that to the theology of the Trinity and how that would work with doctrines like simplicity. (Never mind your average churchgoer has never even heard of it.)
Something that we also have to avoid is tri-theism. When we talk about the three persons in God sharing one nature, we don’t mean it like having three different humans together and all those humans share human nature. That is true, but they also don’t exist in a relationship such that they’re bound up with one another. Even if you took a family of three persons, the family can still be separated.
In the Trinity, all the persons subsist within one another. They only differ by their relationship. The Father is the one who begets, the Son the one who is begotten, and the Spirit the one who proceeds. (I know Catholic and Orthodox both disagree on whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son, but all agree He proceeds)
Because of this, we can say one of the aspects of God’s very nature is Trinity. However, the three persons of the Trinity are not three parts put together. If somehow the Son was gone, would we say we only have 66.6% of God left and He has to make up for the lack somehow? Such would imply that each person has their own exist apart from the other and when we get to that, we have tri-theism going on.
The difficulty for us here is that we can’t think of anything else in existence like this, but this should not be a shock. If God is real, why should we expect Him to be like us in this way? Too often, the view of God in modern dialogue is often God who is a superhero.
What do I mean by a superhero God? God is not a being who is not radically different from us, but He is like us except a lot more powerful, smarter, bigger, etc. Take a human and power him up enough and eventually you get to God, which is ironically what the Mormons have. God is also an agent who plays by our rules. God is a being who has to live by the same moral principles we do, as if God were subject to morality.
On that point, let’s be clear that what God does is good, but we cannot say it is moral as if God has an obligation to do something for us. God by virtue of being God and the ground of all being can do things that we cannot. Hence, one of the first questions I ask an atheist in this kind of dialogue is “Who does God owe life to?” The only obligations God has to us are those He has promised to us.”
God is not a superhero. God is someone different from us radically. We have lost often in the church this kind of deep theology. Many of us are ready to get the Trinity off of the bookshelves when it comes time to debate Jehovah’s Witnesses, but then we don’t really think about the doctrine outside of that.
So why do I hold to simplicity and the Trinity? Because the other options lower God and I just prefer to say God has existence (Or rather is existence as that is His nature) in a way greater than I realize and that way is triune. The other options are heretical in some way such as tri-theism, unitarianism, or modalism.
I plan to from here on look at other attributes of God and why they matter.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)