“In the beginning…”
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
While 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.
- Major 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)