Objections to Theosis

Biblical Support

frescoes
Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Butte, Montana

So, in previous entries I have discussed how the purpose of life is theosis: that is our deification.  When I first heard about this, it rubbed me the wrong way.  Many people are likely to think, why should we even desire to be deified, to be gods?  That doesn’t even sound Christian.

Second Peter states that we are “partakers of the divine nature;” Paul writes, “I am crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me.”  In 1John 3 we are told, “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him…”  We cannot be unified to God, partake of His divine nature, and be like Him without being changed.  Either He pulls us up to deification, or we pull His nature down to mere mortality.  If the two natures are being united, as the Bible states, then something is going to change.

Clarification: Energies and Essence

This does not mean that we all become equal to God.  We partake in the divine nature, but the God-head remains separate.  To help understand this, the Orthodox teach that God has Divine Essence and Divine Energies.  The Essence is what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share.  It is what makes them distinctly God.  This is a self-existing and self-sustaining Essence.

God in His love wishes to pour Himself out onto others; He does that through His Energies.  They include love, grace, mercy, creativity, justice, life, compassion, etc.  The Divine Energies are uncreated, which is important.  The Roman Catholics teach that His Energies, such as Grace, are created.  However, if they were created, they would be something outside of God; something other than God Himself.  To unite with the Energies would not result in divinization if they were created and outside of God.  We would simply be uniting to yet another created thing.  That would leave us in a place that is not much different than where we are now.

Why Energies and Essence

Also, if the Energies were created, things like love, grace, and compassion would not be part of God’s nature.  That would mean the Bible is false in saying that “God is love.”  It could say “God has love,” or “God has created love for us,” but it couldn’t state that “God is love.”

So why complicate things with this whole “Energies and Essence” thing?  Because we unite to God through His love and grace.  Therefore, there must be something that still keeps the Holy Trinity distinct from us.  That is why, through experience in theosis and encounters with God, the Orthodox have come to understand that God is both Essence and Energies.  Otherwise, when we unite to God and his love and grace, we would be uniting with the Essence of God Himself and there would cease to be any God at all because all things would become God.

That is what some of the Eastern religions teach; and while it contains seeds of truth (that we will be deified) it lacks the fuller understanding of what that means.

Wrapping up soon

This is a deep topic.  I’m just an infant in the Orthodox Church and I therefore feel uncomfortable about going much more deeply into it.  I have one more post planned in which I discuss some practical steps that have helped me and are necessary to begin this beautiful journey.

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Jeremiah

Growing up in non-denominational churches, I became weary of many practices in the church. I decided it was time to find a church that enabled me to grow in my faith and talents, but that was also theologically deep. I was drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church for several reasons. Check out my blog which details my journey into this ancient faith.

8 thoughts on “Objections to Theosis”

  1. Whew! Thanks for clearing that up a bit. Like you, I couldn’t handle the pressure of what I misinterpreted as being a god making us equal to God, upon becoming a god. After all, we all know far too many who think they are already so superior to others, they are self-defining themselves as ‘gods’. In that behavior there is danger, especially without considering the source of the likeness to god that makes us a god. For the most part then, we can be very happy not to be quite so elevated, thank you. Am I sarcastic? Yes, a bit. And honest? More often than I care to admit. Then again, I work with many people who can dim the lights simply by walking into a room. Some call them lawyers, others call them clients. I know them as my opposition.

    We must be and remain distinct from the Trinity so long as we inhabit this whirling orb, yet we strive to live with God living through us, making us part of God. It is at times difficult to appreciate the height of this aspiration as we endeavor to achieve life with God, and with God within us. Ultimately, God cannot exist in the same entity as sin, and so we are unable to be a full-time god while human, as sin appears to be so frequent in human life. Knowing our faults and foibles, I submit we are correct to be afraid of being a god, just as we are afraid not to attain being a god. At the same time, we are assured we will never be on a level with the members of the Trinity.

    We are I think, often fixated on the power aspects of a god, just as we are also afraid of being a god for the simple reason we have seen what a mess humans can make of being a human. Such power is frightening to anyone who appreciates the very sources of, uses of, and powers involved. A real problem is that few appreciate the source of the power of a god is critical. Fearing misuse of power, that corrupting absolute power of humans, can make us shy away from the good source of being a god, because we are fearful of the other sources of power available to our human nature. Failings inherent in being a human can then limit, or even cause us to self-limit the possibility of instances where grace, love, compassion and forgiveness can impart a small snippet of the very characteristics of God in us — silencing the evident operation of the very essence and energy of God within us.

    I hope this makes sense. You also made me think long and hard about the difference between created Energies and Essence versus the self-evident fact that God has always had these. He could not have created them even in Himself as an unchanging and unchangeable God. It took a bit. Thanks.

    1. It took me a while to understand any of this as well, Joyce…even longer to try to write it out. I apologize for being so slow to respond. As you can see, I have not been on the blog for a while. I’ve been reading a good bit as well as writing material outside of this blog. There are a few simpler topics I have bouncing around in my head. Theosis is a bit deeper than I like to go since I’m still an infant in this journey, but thank you for your kind comments along the way.

  2. Not to worry about time taken to post anything as far as I’m concerned. Your posts made me dive in with both feet, and with much study and study, and prayer, and study, Did I mention study? I hope to understand even one tenth of it in the next decade or so. I do love the Church Fathers, and deeply regret leaving too many books at my sister’s house, yet remain thankful for free books on my Kindle.

    Interesting things recently have come to my attention though. My media viewing and conversations on the street have suddenly been peppered with folks coming around and proclaiming we are “god,” in one form or another. At least one thing becomes clear with this sort of occurrence, which is becoming God is not my goal in any way, shape or form. I do not want to rule the Universe. Theosis is another matter entirely, and perhaps with much effort on my own and with the help of others who are much better at this than I, and with the grace of God, I’ll achieve some measure of Theosis.

    While being the Ruler of the Universe may appeal to some, such is not the stuff, at least as far as I can see, of what we are striving toward. In the meantime, I look forward to your further discussions. Thanks also for putting me to work on this and other issues.

    1. I’d have to wonder about you, Joyce, if you did want to rule the universe. 🙂 “Ruler of the Universe” is a Judeo-Christian perspective of God. However, when people claim to be a god it is often with a much different mentality of what that means. There are many theistic religions in the world, very few have the perspective of God that came to us through the Hebrew people. But I digress.

      I am glad your studies are going well. Studying theosis is a good start, but ultimately it is something we do and someone we become. A great start for me was reading The Way of a Pilgrim and beginning to learn contemplative prayer.

  3. Interesting post. I’m still trying to sort myself out there because since hte Bible says he holds and sustains, I wonder how that’s possible if God is a completely separate being.

    1. A very good point, Lana. As I mentioned above, there is God’s Essence and His Energies. His Essence is what keeps him apart from us.

      This may not be a very good example, but I’ll give it a try:
      You and I share an essence called humanity. We can, to a very small degree, share our “energies” of love and affection with non-humans, such as pets. However, we cannot share our essence with those pets.

      In a not-so-similar manner, God interacts with us and holds all of creation together through His Energies of love, life, grace, etc. We can partake of these Energies, but we will never be one with his essence.

      Hopefully that doesn’t leave you even more confused.

  4. I am stumped. The photo with this post is bugging me in that I know I’ve seen it before but cannot for the life of me remember where. Senior moment? Possibly.

    Could you pass along a hint of where the pic was taken? Thanks.

    1. An excellent question, Joyce. I had to do a little research to figure out where I got it. It is from Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church in Butte, Montana. Their website is http://www.holytrinitybutte.org/ Montana is a bit of a haul from North Carolina, otherwise I’d love to visit it some day.

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