(CC) Jason Byassee–How Katherine Sonderegger finds delight in a humble God

[Katherine] Sonderegger’s key theological commitment is to what she calls divine “compatibilism.” God and creatures do not compete over shared space. God can be present fully without displacing material creation. God can work in history without overriding human freedom. The key example for her is the burning bush of Horeb. Divine fire does not annihilate or destroy. It is modest, lowly, hidden to most eyes, appearing in a mere desert shrub. God is humble enough to be unseen.

Divine compatibilism is a common theme in other theologians, such as Coakley and Kathryn Tanner. It declares a noncompetitive relation between a genuinely transcendent God and creatures. The new note I detect in Sonderegger is the emphasis on God’s joy in all this. The One God is pleased to be hidden, this is his “particular and glorious epiphany—to be the Unseen, Utterly Unique, Invisible One, hidden in the midst of his people.”

Omnipotence would seem a harder divine attribute to sell. Theopassionism, the notion that God suffers, is “almost modern day dogma,” she notes, acknowledging the influence of German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, best known for his book The Crucified God. But Moltmann must be wrong, Sonde­regger argues—Christology cannot be the sole measure of divine omnipotence.

Sonderegger prefers the vision of onetime archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, who pictures divine self-emptying on the cross not as an abdication of power but as a different version of power, a “condescension inconceivably tender.” Sonderegger is blistering in her rejection of modernist objections to divine intervention in the world: there must be some divine agency at work in defeating Pharaoh and in Jesus on the cross, she says, or else there is nothing for human beings to bow down to.

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Posted in Books, Theology