God's Omnipotence: Part 3, The Problem of Causality

We continue our series looking at Katherine Sonderegger's treatment of omnipotence in her Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God.

Beyond theodicy and our concerns regarding the moral implications of absolute power, there's a third problem associated with divine omnipotence:


The problem shows up in a lot of different debates. For example, some extreme Calvinist positions claim that every cause and effect in the universe is the product of God's sovereign will and plan. According to this view, not a single atom can deviate from God's will. Omnipotence manifests here as "omnicausality," God being the sovereign cause of every effect in the cosmos, down to the last atom.

Obviously, "omnicausality" kicks up a host of issues, free will and theodicy the biggest ones. Are we truly free, and worthy of moral blame, if God is the Omnicause of all my thoughts and actions? And if God is the Omnicause of child abuse, rape, and genocide, then how can we call God loving and good?

All that to say, when omnipotence is associated with omnicausality we have a host of snarly theological problems. Stepping into this debate, Sonderegger's makes a bold claim by stating that God's omnipotence "must be removed from the category cause altogether."

That's the line, when I encountered it in book reviews, that drew me to Sonderegger's book. That idea, that God's power must be removed from the category of cause altogether, resonated with me. Because it does seem that when God gets implicated in causality we run into all these problems. So if God can be removed from causality, might we find a way past these troubling controversies?

And yet, as we noted in the last post, Sonderegger isn't going to address the issue of causality through a hyperkenotic approach, evacuating God of all power, making God's power so weak God can't be the cause of anything.

So we see the challenge Sonderegger has set for herself: seeking a robust vision of God's power (contra the hyperkenoticist and process theology folks), while removing that power from the category of cause altogether. That's a fascinating project, and if Sonderegger is proven to be successful in it, I think it would be a big theological breakthrough.

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