Results tagged “aseity” from Reformation21 Blog

Is it Really That Simple?


Many of us talk about simplifying our lives. When we stop to think about how many choices that we make in one day, it's exhausting. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who lives in Dubai. She was joking around about all the choices Americans have even in the marshmallow isle. You've got your big marshmallows, your mega-sized marshmallows, your little bitty ones, multi-colored, pre-flattened, chocolate-drizzled, toasted coconut, etc. My friend was saying that it's a lot less stressful to buy marshmallows in Dubai. There's one choice: Buy this particular bag of marshmallows or you don't get any.

How many marshmallow choices do we really need?

It's the things like the marshmallow isle that make us realize that it wouldn't hurt to scale down a bit. Understandably, there are many in the church today advocating a discipline of simplicity. I pulled up an article written by Richard Foster, who is known for his work on the spiritual disciplines and simplicity in particular. He states that, "The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle... Both the inward and the outward aspects of simplicity are essential." I wondered, what is this inward reality? Foster continues, "Simplicity begins in inward focus and unity.... Experiencing the inward reality liberates us outwardly. Speech becomes truthful and honest. The lust for status and position is gone because we no longer need status and position. We cease from showy extravagance not on the grounds of being unable to afford it, but on the grounds of principle."

Still, I'm not sure what this inward reality is. Does inner searching lead to simplicity and unity? Foster discusses the fruit of simplicity, which I wholeheartedly desire. I do want to have contentment whether in riches or want. I agree that this virtue leads to a greater generosity. He talks about our "yes" being "yes" and our "no" being "no." And Foster highlights pure obedience to God, quoting Soren Kierkegaard:

"If thou art absolutely obedient to God, then there is no ambiguity in thee and ... thou art mere simplicity before God ... One thing there is which all Satan's cunning and all the snares of temptation cannot take by surprise, and that is simplicity."

In all these descriptions of simplicity, I see a theme of independence. The discipline seems to center around not needing what the market tells us we need, and not needing the approval or goods of others because we experience "inward focus and unity." But I can't say that I will ever attain this kind of simplicity. These virtues must be the fruit of something else.

I'm currently reading through K. Scott Oliphint's book, God With Us. In discussing God's name, "I am," Oliphint explains how, unlike us, the Lord is "essentially a se" (53). That is, he is completely independent. Oliphint discusses how God's essential properties are distinguished from his covenantal properties. "Essential properties, therefore, are properties that relate to God as God, or to God's 'Godness.' They are properties that help us see who he is quite apart from his relationship to anything outside of him" (62).

One of these essential properties Oliphint introduces is God's simplicity. "God's being is a unity; it is 'simple'" (63). Since God is the only One who is truly independent, he is the only One with essential attributes that really are who he is. "The doctrine of God's simplicity says that the characteristics of God are not parts of God that come together to make him what he is, but rather identical to his essence, and thus with him" (63).

Simplicity isn't a discipline; it is an essential characteristic of God.

And so Oliphint explains that when we say that God is good, it isn't that there's some sort of universal goodness that God participates alongside of, but rather that "he simply is good, and that goodness that he is just ishimself."

Not only so, but when we think of the simplicity of God, we are also committed to the notion that God's attribute of goodness and all of his other essential attributes themselves are, since they are Gods, attributed to him essentially and thus are his essence. God's truth is a good truth, and his goodness is true goodness, just because (in God) the one is included and identical with the other.  (64)

Sure, simplifying can be a very good thing. But when we are talking about our spiritual life, goodness, obedience, and truth, I think that it is important to recognize that these are not virtues that come from within ourselves. This discipline of simplicity that Foster teaches is ambiguous at best. At worst, it is suggesting that we can emulate this essential character of God. He is the One who is generous, and we need to look outside of ourselves to Jesus Christ who has lavished his grace on his people abundantly, praise God! We are in fact very dependent creatures. We are dependent on God for our salvation, for any goodness, honesty, and truth, and we are even dependent on one another to thrive in this world. That is the economy God has placed us in.

So when Foster says, "Simplicity is the only thing that sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us," I want to say that it isn't our discipline of simplicity, rather, it is the essential characteristic of an independent God who has graciously condescended in creating and covenanting with us. God reorients our lives. It is all because of his work, not my own, that I can be confident he is transforming me not into some vague discipline of simplicity, but to the likeness of Jesus Christ through his promised means of grace. In Christ, God has communicated to us that which we will image.

There are many varieties of spirituality out there on the isle of evangelicalism. Some teachings are colorful, some are mega-sized, some are pre-flattened, and some are decorated with all kinds of messages on how we can ascend to a higher level. Don't miss the actual bag of marshmallows.

Results tagged “aseity” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 7.1, Part One

i. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

What the Confession asserts in section one of Chapter 7 has massive and profound implications, first, for theology proper, then for our understanding of God's activity in history, and the order of these two is crucial. This first section deserves the meditative attention of every serious Christian, and it seems, for the most part, not to have gotten the attention it deserves.

There are three things worth noting in this majestic entree to the Covenant:

Point 1. In a chapter devoted to a summary of God's covenant with man, the first thing that the divines determined to express was the infinite distance between God and man. But just what is this distance? Surely the notion of "distance" must be a metaphor, since, in reality, there never was nor will there ever be a spatial distance between God and man. God is repletively present; he is present, fully and completely, in all places at all times, and into eternity, both in the new heaven and new earth and in hell. So the distance cannot be a spatial distance.

What is it then? It is a distance that has its focus in the being of God in comparison to the being of his creatures. That is, it is an ontological distance. God is, as the Confession has already affirmed, "infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible..." As infinite in being, as immutable, immense and eternal, God is wholly other; he is beyond anything that mere creatures can think or experience. We cannot conceive of what God's infinity is; our minds cannot grasp or contain what God's eternity is. He is limited by nothing, not by space and not by time. So, there is a "distance," a separation of being between God and his creatures. God, and He alone, is independent (a se). Everything else is dependent on Him.

This is no philosophical idea or human speculation. It is rather a necessary implication of the first words of the Bible - "In the beginning, God..." These words affirm that at the beginning of creation (including of time), God was. Given that truth, we confess that God alone is independent; what could God have needed when there was nothing existing but Him alone? He existed before creation and nothing else did. His existence was not dependent on anyone or anything else; it could not be dependent. Before there was creation, there was only God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There was no time and there was no space; there was no "when" of God's existence, nor was there a "where." There was only the Triune God.

It is incumbent on the Christian to recognize this before, and in the context of, our thinking about God's covenantal relation to creation. This is why the Confession begins where it does. The problem with any theology that will not confess the absolute independence and sovereignty of God is that it does not begin to think about God's existence and independence prior to his act of creation and of covenant. A theology that begins with "God-in-relationship" is a theology that will inevitably veer from the truth of Scripture, and from a true confession of God's character, as well as His covenant with man

Chapter 2.2

ii. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made, not deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleaseth. In His sight all things are open and manifest; His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.

The doctrine of God's aseity states that God is self-existent. He does not have it in him (whether inclination or power) to stop existing. He exists necessarily. Who made God? a child may ask. The answer is that he had no need of being made; he is always there. Or, for gown ups, God is a se (of or from himself). It is sometimes stated negatively: God is uncaused (the notion of self-causation should be avoided since it requires God to exist to actualize himself); and sometimes positively: he is, in himself, fullness of being. The doctrine is intimately related to divine simplicity (Day 1 above).

Again, the Divines are mimicking Patristic and medieval theology. Thus Aquinas: "But, in no wise does the supreme Nature exist through another, nor is it later or less than itself or anything else. Therefore, the supreme Nature could be created neither by itself, nor by another; nor could itself or any other be the matter whence it should be created; nor did it assist itself in any way; nor did anything assist it to be what it was not before." (Monologium, 6). 

If pressed for Scriptural "proof", the Divines pointed to Jesus' statement: "the Father has life in himself" (John 5:26). As Calvin comments, "God is said to have life in himself, not only because he alone lives by his own inherent power, but because, containing in himself the fullness of life, he communicates life to all things." (Commentary, ad. loc.).