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).