Theosis in Genesis Part 1

“In the beginning…”

4th day of creation (by Betsy Porter)The Bible begins with a beautiful poem from the Hebrew culture.  In it, we see that God is the Creator of the world.  We are not the result of an epic battle between two gods as some of the ancient creation narratives from Near-Eastern cultures claim.  Instead, our God is an artist who created and then said over and over, “this is good.”

In the second chapter of Genesis we discover that we were created in God’s image.  While I have heard a number of interpretations for this – everything from “that means God won’t look like a six-legged, eight-eye bug when we get to heaven” to something a little closer to Orthodoxy, which is any gift that God gave us that differentiates us from the other animals.  These gifts include  a rational mind, conscience, free-will, creativity, a yearning for the absolute and for God, and personal self-awareness1.

Image vs Likeness

creation of adamWhile we are “in His image,” we are not necessarily “in His likeness.”  Our Creator, who is God by nature, calls humanity to be gods by His Grace.  Being conformed to His likeness, more than anything else, requires His Grace.  However, it does take effort on our part as well.  A runner may have been gifted by God with strong legs and good health, but she still must train if she wishes to compete in a marathon.

  • This idea of personal effort meets opposition for three reasons:
    • There is this mentality in Christianity (due to the influence of the Reformation) that it is all about faith and/or grace.  There is nothing else we can do but believe.  However, Orthodoxy teaches the idea of synergy: God reaches to us through Grace, but we must also make an effort to work with God.
    • Spiritual laziness acts as a stumbling block as well.  Theosis is not an easy road.  It requires much intentional prayer and fasting.  It is a call to be “crucified with Christ” and to live in Him.  We are human beings, which means that we are not spirits trapped in a body, but rather the beautiful combination of body, mind, and spirit.  The spirit is willing, but the body needs training.  Asceticism is part of the means by which we train our body and even our mind to cooperate with our spirit in attaining to God.  Our bodies learn to obey the mind and spirit rather than pulling the rest of our being along with its wants and desires.  The mind must also be trained to rest and be still…to learn to experience the presence of God in stillness and be changed through communion with God.
    • TigerWoods2004RyderCup1Major professional athletes have a coach; even solo-sport stars such as Tiger Woods keep an experienced coach nearby to ensure their game is top-notch.  When it comes to spirituality though, our independent Western minds don’t like training, authority, or accountability.  However, if we cannot even succeed in sports without a coach, how much more do we need an experienced spiritual mentor to guide us and gently correct us along the way (and no, reading books by your favorite authors doesn’t count).

All of the above is to say that while the journey toward theosis requires God’s gift of Grace, it also necessitates effort (asceticism and prayer) and humility (finding a spiritual guide) on our part.

(Part 2 of this will be posted tomorrow)

1 This list was largely provided by Archimandrite George in his book Theosis (which you can get for free by going to my Theosis Resources page)

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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.

2 thoughts on “Theosis in Genesis Part 1”

  1. I grew up in a Presbyterian home, and always wondered how it was that just one moment of belief that guarantee a spot in Heaven, no matter what transpired before or after. I was often criticized for questioning this traditional bit of doctrine. I couldn’t reconcile that single moment as total guarantee of salvation system with so much of the New Testament. Later, Protestant modifications in search of modernity got me out of those pews for good. I was searching, but if there wasn’t a church on the planet where I could worship God as I’d known Him, in a manner consistent with what I knew to be true in the Bible, I’d have to swallow hard, and accept the best of the least bad. Before deciding on a new church home, I had to deal with my reaction to losing the denomination where I’d grown up. I needed enough wisdom to make a calm, informed decision. So, while I set off on my search for a church home, I did a wee experiment. I thought I’d try that ancient practice of observing the ‘offices,’ praying at many points of every day, and see what happened.

    Daily, the alarm goes off anyway, and I read whatever the suggested reading of the day might be, using those free devotional guides from churches I visited. I also set the mobile phone alarm for every three hours or so throughout the day. These small interruptions got me praying regularly and reading the Bible closely.

    A funny thing happened after several weeks of this. I had fewer doubts, more happiness, and a huge boost in confidence regarding my own faith. Every time that alarm sounded, there I was looking forward to prayer. There are many other changes too, all too numerous to recount.

    1. That’s beautiful, Joyce. Thank you for sharing. It is also a good suggestion. While I don’t keep the Hours, I too have seen my entire emotional and spiritual life change over the past several months due to prayer. Up until last year, prayer time was a few minutes I’d set aside every once in a while to petition God for things I wanted or needed, say thanks for a few things, and then find my mind wandering the rest of the time.

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