God's Omnipotence: Part 8, Divine Power as Energy

Following up on yesterday's post, Katherine Sonderegger suggests in her Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God that we compare God's power to energy.

Again, from the last post, two of the guiding ideas here are to seek an analogy of God's power that 1) extracts God's power from notions of causality, and yet 2) sees God's power as the Source that gives rise to creaturely causality. Concerning these twin issues, Sonderegger writes:
God's Causality is likened [by Thomas Aquinas] to the Platonic sun: it is the cause of all that grows under its mighty rays, but without likeness to any. Just so, God gives rise to the entire cosmos, in its rich plurality and order, yet is unlike any of the creatures He has made...

We must say that Omnipotence cannot be a species or form of causality because the most general definition of cause--to bring something about--entangles Divine Being, in its very Power, with creation, or per impossibile, with other gods...God is His own relation to the world; there is no other.
This is the only way to keep God's power from being viewed as Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet, as the Great Power sitting at the top of a great hierarchy of powers that we bow before to make petitions. Sonderegger wants us to shift our imagination away from seeing God's power as a top-down chain of causality than as the Life and Energy that gives rise to and sustains creation. God is omnipotent not as Thanos, as the Greatest Power, but as the Source of power.

Seeking an analogy for this notion, Sonderegger suggests thinking of God's power as divine energy. Now, remember the rules in talking about God! Don't get too literal with this. God's power-as-energy is an analogy. The analogy isn't to be taken as true, but simply used a tool to nudge us away from a Marvel-like, Thanos imagination. The power-as-energy analogy only "works" by accomplishing this imaginative change.

Let me state that again.

Let's be clear, the power-as-energy analogy is going to break down. It has its problems. But all of our discussions about God's power break down! So the point isn't to treat this analogy as if its some solution to a logical puzzle. Because there is no "solution" like that in talking about God, no point where the perfect analogy captures God in a linguistic, conceptual box. And so, if power-as-energy seems a bit fuzzy around the edges, well, that's exactly what all words feel like when applied to God, a bit fuzzy around in the edges. God isn't literally a father, neither is God literally like energy, so pointing out the dissimilarities isn't the point. The point is if the analogy gets our imaginations moving in a more worshipful direction. To lay my cards on the table, I find it hard to praise God's Power-as-Thanos. I find Sonderegger's God's Power-as-Energy much more fitting for praise and worship. And at the end of the day, that is the entire point of theology. Theology is a tool to facilitate worship and praise.

So, here's how Sonderegger makes the power-as-energy analogy. She starts with the Biblical vision of God's power:
God's very Being is alive, vital. It is not inert, nor static, not material nor stable. God is not thinglike in that sense, not an object, or, better, never a mere object. Holy Scripture sets aside a term for this living Vitality: the Lord God is Dunamis, forceful, powerful Life. We can never exhaust our praise for this holy Dynamism. To stand in its Presence is to be swept over and swept away by its mighty wind, its Spirit that broods and blows where it will, lashed by tongues of fire, quickened by its relentless life, superabundantly pouring forth from its infinite caverns, calling forth life out of death, reality out of nothing. In prayer, in times of testing and trial, in the haunting melancholy and passion of this life, we simply know this Vitality; more we encounter its mighty Power that crushes death and sin, an encounter registered in our whole being, organic and total, body and soul, that is the claim of this Life upon ours...

It is the most fundamental metaphysical claim of all that Dynamic Life exists, the primal fire burns...The Force that is God's very Being radiates outward, expands and explodes, never ceases or wearies, does not stand in reserve but is always, everywhere, Alive...
This is the Power that Job encounters in the whirlwind. The Power that Moses stands before on the mountain. The Power that flashes forth in Jesus's transfiguration.

Imaginatively, this Power isn't like a great King lording over his subjects. The Bible doesn't display God's Power as Odin or Zeus. This isn't power-as-cause. This Power is something, well, something different, something more dynamic, vital, and live. Something that isn't a cause, but makes causality possible. Like the sun, it gives birth to things unlike itself. And so, what might this Power be like?

Sonderegger suggests that energy might be a good analogy for the dynamic, vitality of God's Power. At a minimum, energy is a better analogy than cause. Why? Because, says Sonderegger, we understand energy to be "the primal reality or matter of creaturely objects." Again, to be clear, says Sonderegger, "We are treating energy, now, as an analogy, or better, as a 'thing that has become a sign'...So we turn to created energy to listen to its voice, to hear it speak as a sign, a homespun recipe for a feast beyond telling."

So what does energy suggest by way of analogy, by way of being a "sign"?

Many things.

First, energy gives rise to matter, but also exists, like a connective tissue, between all material objects: "So perhaps we might consider the universality of energy--a kind of modern prime matter-- and its constitution of ordinary objects..." God's power is everywhere like that, invisible and visible.

There's also the interplay of subjectivity and objectivity in energy, between Mind and Matter. Somehow the energies of the physical brain are associated with conscious thought. Mind and Matter seem non-reductively related and compatible in that regard. Further, quantum phenomena appear to be "entwined" and "indeterminate" until a consciousness observes or measures them. Somehow Matter depends upon Mind.

There is also an analogy of oneness and unity. Material objects appear different, but they all are, in the end, made of the same energy. Thus, the analogy of energy points to a Oneness pervading all of creation, a shared Source.

All this, suggests Sonderegger, bring us back to the the sign of Moses and the burning bush.

When facing God's power Moses doesn't doesn't encounter Odin, or Zeus, or Thanos--an "all powerful" god.

No, Moses encounters something different, something more alive, vital, and dynamic, a Source that's less like a god and more like energy.

What Moses encounters is Fire.

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