Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 10 – Theosis or Deification

If our basic problem is that we don’t want God and are not able to live within him and in union with him, what’s the solution? This question points to the deeper meaning and accomplishment of the work of the mystery of the Incarnation. It’s why Christians traditionally believed and taught that Christ would have become one of us even if mankind had not “fallen.” He would not have had to die in that instance, but without the Incarnation we have no means for true union with God.

As I’ve discussed on posts regarding what it means that God is holy, he is the wholly other uncreated one. We are mere creatures and have no capacity on our own for communion with God. In the Incarnation, Jesus of Nazareth joined the divine nature with our human nature. By assuming our nature, he not only defeated death and provided the means for our healing, he bridged that divide. As St. Athanasius wrote, “For He was made man that we might be made God.

God has accomplished all that is needed for our union with him, which is our true salvation. It’s a done work. The potential for that union through Christ lies within every single human being. Truly, everything God planned to do was accomplished or finished by Christ. The question before us is not what God wants or desires or has done. Rather, the question we must answer is a much more difficult one. Do we want God?

That’s not an idle question. Answering it is a matter of a life lived. I know in my own life there are times when I have grown, at least a little, in communion in God. And there are times when I have not wanted God at all. God is constant. We are inconstant. But if we will turn what little of our will we can toward God, he is there with all the grace (which is to say himself) that we need to move toward union with him. Baby steps are often all we can manage. The question is less about how much or how little we are able to do and more about whether or not we choose to become the sort of person who wants God.

Salvation, then, is becoming one with the three Persons of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and one with each other in the same way that Jesus and the Father are one. We maintain our distinctive personhood even in perfect union. Hell is what we do to ourselves and to others when we don’t want God and when we hate our fellow human being. There is no standing still in this process. We are either moving toward union with God and embracing life or we are seeking a non-existence we are helpless to achieve as we turn from God.

Do I want God? It’s a haunting question. I believe that much of the time I want to want God. At least I now know that this particular God who was made fully known to us in Jesus of Nazareth loves and wants me. For much of my life, I did not recognize and understand that truth. I find he is a God worth wanting.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted July 7, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    i’m enjoying the Heaven & Earth (and Hell) series…haven’t had much of a chance to comment.. And the St. Athanasius quote is rather succinct. It reminds me of a conversation along those lines..

    Christ also shows us what it means to be fully human–fully redeemed, restored, connected to each other and to God Himself. And only God Himself could do that.

    It takes God to be human.

    …good thoughts here. I appreciate you sharing them!

  2. Posted July 7, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I swear, the excuses some people use. Just because you’re traveling and doing summer things with your family, dealing with sick kids, being sick yourself, and trying to do two jobs at once you can’t find time to comment? Bah! 😉

    “It takes God to be human.”

    I really like that thought. Assuming, of course, that being truly human involves what the Christian narrative claims, then that’s so deeply true. The two-fold image of the human being as eikon reflecting God into all creation and priest offering creation as a thanksgiving to God is the image that comes to mind. And in both those senses, we see humanity narrowed to the true and faithful man, Jesus of Nazareth.

    I’ve thought about writing this series for a while now, but was always hesitant. There are so many assumptions of different sorts that people have that I knew it would be hard to write anything without being misunderstood. I decided I should add my thoughts to those wandering around out there because this seems to be a question that keep coming up in different ways.

    People often ask the question, “Do you believe in hell?” It’s a hard question to answer because the word is used to mean so many different things and many of those things I don’t believe at all. I’ve heard many different people (N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Fr. Thomas Hopko, and others) express a sentiment in various surprisingly similar ways that I thoroughly understand. When they hear people say they don’t believe in God, they treat that as the start of a conversation. “Describe to me the God in whom you don’t believe, because I probably don’t believe in that God either.”

    In the same way, it’s almost impossible to answer the question about whether or not you believe in “hell” without asking what the person means by “hell”. As I’ve explored to a limited extent in this series, there are a lot of versions of “hell” in which I don’t believe at all, just as there are a lot of gods (or even versions of, loosely speaking, the “Christian” God) in which I don’t believe.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. Thanks for your comment!

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