The Divine Essence and Energies of God

In my post, “Everything is relational” I made the point that there’s no such thing as separation. Everything is connected to everything else. Theologically speaking. Christ holds everything together and there is nothing outside of Christ. But this doesn’t mean that everything is Christ. That would be pantheism, which is not a Christian view.

I will attempt to explain how we are connected to God by using the ancient Christian distinction referred to as the “divine essence and energies of God.” This is an unusual term in Western Christianity so I will need to explain that in a moment. This post will also need to get a little theologically technical, but I believe it’s worth the effort in order to get this concept.

As I mentioned in “Everything is relational,” science is beginning to throw off the Enlightenment “clockwork” compartmentalized view of the universe. This dualist view gave us Christian deism, where God and creation are completely separate, thus swinging the pendulum to the extreme other end from pantheism. Of course, dualistic deism suits Enlightenment theists because they are naturalists who don’t believe in miracles or that God interferes in the affairs of humankind. This stoic paradigm is deeply embedded in Western culture, be it secular or sacred.

What are the “essence” and “energies” of God?

Simply put, God’s “essence” is His being in union as the three divine Persons within the Trinity, which is completely distinct from and transcendent to His creation. For instance, while God is self-existent, eternal, immutable, and perfect, we are finite, fallible and contingent. His “energies” are “God in action.” It’s how God interacts with us and how we “live and move and have our being in Him” (Acts 17:28). While we are literally in union with God in Christ via His energies, He is distinct from us in His essence.

This ancient concept has been misunderstood and lost in Western Christian thought but, in my view, is vital for a better understanding of how we interact with God (and avoid pantheism or Christian deism).

Today, we must turn to Eastern Orthodoxy to even hear about these ancient terms. I alluded to them in my series, “Are anger and wrath attributes of God?” In that series, I explained how the writers used phenomenological language and anthropopathisms to describe their interactions with God’s energies, but not his essence.

As Eastern Orthodox scholar, Vladimir Lossky, says:

“The distinction between the essences and the energies, which is fundamental for the Orthodox doctrine of grace, makes it possible to preserve the real meaning of St. Peter’s words ‘partakers of the divine nature’ [2 Pet.1:4]. The union to which we are called is neither hypostatic–as in the case of the human nature of Christ–nor substantial, as in that of the three divine Persons: it is union with God in His energies, or union by grace making us participate in the divine nature, without our essence becoming thereby the essence of God. (Full article here).

This distinction is important to understand because while we are “in Christ” we are not Christ Himself. We are “partakers in the divine nature” but we are not ourselves divine.

Christianity and Palamite (Weak) Panentheism 

I’m including a short video clip that will further explain the concept and another the author introduces called “Palamite (Weak) Panentheism.” In case you don’t watch the video (you really should), this view is not the same thing as pantheism (even my spell-checker didn’t know the difference). This view is consistent with Christian Trinitarian theology and helps us avoid falling into the theological ditches of either dualist theism or pantheism.

Here’s what Christopher Layton said in his paper, “The Promise of Trinitarian Panentheism“:

“What is the Trinitarian Panentheism good for? In the West, in particular, God’s transcendence has been over-emphasized [and]…has resulted in precisely the spirit-material dualism that Irenaeus struggled against with the Gnostics.”

These terms are often misunderstood so please watch to get a fuller understanding of what I’m saying (and what I’m not saying).

 

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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11 Responses to The Divine Essence and Energies of God

  1. A great post and explained in simple terms; terms every Christian should understand. Fantastic Wild and I believe you should expand on this in the future for the church is so bad about providing this info.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks. I will do so appropriate to the theme of my posts. My next theme will be on the Trinity. It is true that if Christians understood what these early church fathers already wrestled with, they would avoid succumbing to wrong ideas about God from bad teaching on the subject.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That was pretty amazing. 🙂 Love the video and the light to the sun analogy. I could stick my hand in sun rays and ask “Is this the sun?” and the answer is actually yes and no. If I mean “Is this FROM the sun?” you could say yes but, if I meant “Is this literally the sun?” the answer would be obviously not.

  3. This is interesting stuff, Mel. One of my favorite doctrines is actually panism. That’s the theological belief that it’s all going to pan out in the end and God knows what he’s doing. 🙂

    I really like the idea of the energies of God. Energy is tangible and real, it can be felt. I often try to capture this idea in “just close your eyes and feel the music” or “be a sweet fragrance unto Him.” We have to feel Him, or perhaps innately intuit Him. Well not everyone does I suppose, but I really have to.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I like the term “energies,” too. And the “feel the music” is a good way of describing it. It’s not just emotionalism. There’s something real there to respond to. Everything in creation is in motion, as if in a cosmic dance, as Del Re and other cosmologists have put it. We just “sway” with the divine music! And I agree. We need to let go of our stoic inhibitions and just enjoy God’s embrace. It’s good for our soul.

      I also really like how “energies” describes the tangibility of how God’s attributes are clearly seen in nature (Rom.1:20).

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  5. Fascinating video and post. Although I am familiar with the words God’s energies and essence, I didn’t completely understand what that meant, even though I’ve been a practicing Greek Orthodox (Eastern Orthodox) for the past twenty-two years (and baptized at one years old in the Greek Orthodox Church). Thank you. 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      You’re welcome. The Western churches understand this even less, even though church fathers like Augustine and others talked about it. Unfortunately, the Enlightenment made us more like practicing Deists than fully-orbed Theists. We can learn a lot about aspect of God from the Eastern Orthodox church.

  6. Pingback: Christ, the Cosmic Mind, and Consciousness | In My Father's House

  7. kevan hubbard says:

    Very interesting and there are quite a few pans; panpsychicism, panentheism, pantheism and pandeism.id say strong panentheism is closer to weak pantheism than weak panentheism as it holds up the oneness of God and the universe so God is both the universe and outside it but with little or no ontological distinction in God.whilst in weak panentheism there’s a clear distinction between God and God’s energies.

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