God's Omnipotence: Part 7, The Burning Bush and the Sun

So, in Katherine Sonderegger's Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God she's looking for two things, among others, to understand God's power and omnipotence.

First, she's looking for a non-causal account of God's power. For Sonderegger, we need to maintain a "critical distinction between Power and Causality." The reasons for this have been explored over the first six posts of this series, how implicating God in creaturely causality creates all sorts of theological problems. So, instead of a causal account of God's power, Sonderegger is looking for what she calls a compatibilist account. That is to say, instead of God's power competing alongside creaturely powers, God's power is compatible with creaturely powers allowing Creation to stand "freely" with a material and causal integrity in and of itself.

Sonderegger's biblical image for this compatibilism is Moses's encounter with God in the burning bush. The bush burns with divine Fire, but the bush is not consumed. God's power doesn't displace, override, meddle, or interfere with the natural life and creaturely integrity of the bush. A botanist, as a botanist, wouldn't find anything strange going on with the bush as a plant. And yet, God's Power is Present in and flashes forth from the bush.

In as similar way, for Sonderegger, all of creation is like the burning bush. God's Power is everywhere present in creation, a power, like with the burning bush, that flashes out and becomes visible at times. God's power isn't like a Cosmic CEO who dips in and out of creation to interfere with the causal flux. God is, rather, that Hidden Presence and Fire that burns everywhere, yet doesn't consume or displace creation.  

So, think of all of creation as the burning bush and you're getting close to what Sonderegger praises as God omnipotence. To be sure, says Sonderegger, this relationship cannot be explained. The burning bush is just a signpost pointing to this compatible, non-causal relationship between God and Creation. And this signpost is about as close as our minds can approach. Again, we can say too much about God.

A second thing that Sonderegger is looking for in her theological account of omnipotence is an analogy for God's power that allows us to grasp God's power as power, yet keeps clear the differences between God's power and our power. Again, as discussed in the last few posts, Sonderegger thinks our imaginations of power are too anthropomorphic, power as Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet, so we need an analogy of God's power that will help police the differences between our power and God's.

To do this, Sonderegger borrows an analogy from Aquinas and the scholastic tradition. God's power is like the sun. Sonderegger writes,
The sun does not bring forth its likeness...The lush greenery of plants and trees do not resemble its cause, the sunlight. Birds bring forth birds; humans parent, human children; but the sun brings forth not its own kind, but another. That is its power as universal cause. Mutatis mutandis, the Lord God does not bring forth effects uniform to the Creator, the Divine Cause, nor can we see in the earthly effect a heavenly Cause that is direct, unhindered, and similar. We are in the land of unlikeness! 
Like the sun, God's power gives rise to all power and causality--God is omnipotent--but God's power is radically unlike the powers and causes it creates and sustains.

The idea here is that, like the sun--this is an analogy--God is the Source of all power and causality, but as the Source God's Power and Causality isn't like any of the powers or causes it gives rise to. And this Power and Fire, like we see in the burning bush, burns throughout all of creation, animating and sustaining all things.

These two images, the burning bush and the sun, give us the biblical sign and the human analogy we need to grasp God's power as energy.

That idea, Sonderegger's proposal to view God's power as energy, is what I'll unpack in the next post.

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