The Demands of Justice and Truth
“The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (vv. 16–17).- Genesis 2:15–17
One of the core tenets of theology proper — the doctrine of God — is divine simplicity. Based on texts such as Deuteronomy 6:4, the doctrine of divine simplicity emphasizes the unity of the being of God. It tells us that our Creator cannot be divided into parts, that we cannot subtract one of His attributes and have the same being. All of His attributes are inherent to who He is, and although we distinguish between His attributes, we can never separate them. In other words, in exercising any one of His attributes, He also exercises all of His other attributes. For example, consider the attributes of love and wrath. God’s pouring out of His wrath on the impenitent may not seem very loving to many people, but it is actually His love — love for His holiness, justice, and glory — that motivates His wrath.
Divine simplicity helps us see why the Lord saved us the way He did. Question and answer 40 of the Heidelberg Catechism tell us Christ had “to go all the way to death” because “God’s justice and truth demand it.” The catechism uses Genesis 2:15–17 to prove this statement. Our Creator promised a just punishment for the transgression of Adam and all of those in Him. This punishment, the rest of Scripture explains more clearly, is infinite wrath (Dan. 12:1–2; 1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 20:11–15). Justice and truth are aspects of God’s character and cannot be separated from His being or ignored because of the unity of His nature. He is simple and not composed of parts. Thus, the Lord cannot overlook His justice and the truth that He punishes sin by not giving sinners what they deserve. He is incapable of compromising His holiness. If He could violate His character, He would not be God.
In judging impenitent sinners, God shows love for His holiness, truth, and justice. But in loving His people unto salvation, He also chose to display His holy wrath. Once the Lord decided to redeem us, He had to do so through the death of His Son to remain who He is — one indivisible, perfect being. Through Christ’s death alone, our God shows both unfathomable, salvific love and the righteousness of His wrath. While we yet were sinners, God loved us and chose to impute our sin and guilt to His Son, thereby ensuring that His love for us and His holiness, as well as the truth of His promised wrath, would co-exist harmoniously (Rom. 5:6–11; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).
Without a robust doctrine of divine simplicity, we have a God at odds with Himself and One who cannot be trusted. The “gods” of other religions are not as just as they claim to be because they do not pour out infinite wrath on sin. A view of God that exalts and misunderstands His love to such a degree that there is no room for His wrath cannot explain the teaching of Scripture or give us a Lord in whom we can trust unreservedly. Theology matters.
Passages for Further Study