Yesterday my family and I considered the unity of God in our after breakfast Bible reading time guided by Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). One of my other systematic theologies, L. Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1939) distinguishes between unitas singularitatis, God’s oneness and uniqueness, and unitas simplicitatis, God’s not been divided into parts. Grudem considers under the attributes of God just unitas simplicitatis, explaining that because it could be confusing to speak of two different kinds of unity in God he would consider unitas singularitatis in another place in his book. In our family reading we followed Grudem’s example, but here I’ll include a section on each of the two kinds of unity.
Bible passages asserting God’s oneness include:
– “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other” (1 Kings 8:60, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
– “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
– “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Bible passages asserting God’s uniqueness include:
– “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).
– “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
The Bible assumes that each of God’s attributes is completely true of Him and true of all of His character. Thus John says “God is light” and later says “God is love” (1 John 1:5; 2:8). This means that we shouldn’t think that part of God is light and part of Him is love or that He is partly light and partly love. Nor should we think that He is more light than love or more love than light. Instead it is God Himself who is light and God Himself who is love.
This indicates that we shouldn’t think of God as a collection of attributes added together or of His attributes as something added to His character. Instead each attribute is just a way of describing an aspect of His being and character. He Himself is a unity, a completely unified being who is wholly perfect in each of the attributes. Grudem explains this with a series of diagrams, which I (and I hope my family) found helpful. For those with access to His book, they are found on pages 178 – 180.
Grudem claims that this means that we shouldn’t think of God as a God of justice in the Old Testament and as a God of love in the New Testament. Rather He is and always has been infinitely just and infinitely loving and everything that He did in the Old Testament and in the New Testament is completely consistent with each of those attributes. I must admit that I am one of those who have thought of God as a God of justice in the Old Testament and a God of love in the New Testament. Thus if Grudem is correct, I need to start reading the Bible with a different pair of glasses on.
Grudem concedes that some actions of God show some of His attributes more than other actions do. He illustrates by observing that creation showed His power and wisdom, the atonement shows His justice and love, and Heaven will show His glory and beauty. However he goes on to note that each of those actions also shows His other attributes in one way or another because God is a unity and everything that He does is an act of His whole being.
Grudem closes His consideration of the unity of God by warning against trying to single out any one attribute of God as more important than the others. As I mentioned to my family, I’ve seen this done in Facebook discussions that I’ve participated in or at least observed. Grudem says that such attempts seem to view God as a combination of parts with certain parts being larger or more influential than others. Instead all of the attributes are just aspects of God’s total character. It is He Himself in His whole being, not any one of His attributes, that is important.