Theosis in Genesis Part 2

The Trap of Moralism

Adam and Eve Icon by Betsy PorterWe were not created to have an external, moral relationship with our Creator, but rather a personal union with God.  While the “personal relationship with God” line is largely taught in American Christianity, we often find we are still unfulfilled.  Usually it boils down to: read your Bible, pray, and don’t do bad things.  While all three of those are good suggestions, they fall short of our true calling: a complete union with God through our own deification.

The Western model of Christianity tends toward moralism as our final goal.  Either we try to do good enough that God doesn’t smite us here on earth or we try to reform the earth through strict laws and/or social justice to try to pull God’s Kingdom down to earth. (More on that can be found in my blog Moral Progress at the Cost of Human Regress)

Even Eve Wondered about Greener Grass on the Other Side

Adam and Eve desired theosis.  They were created in paradise but they obviously did not feel they had everything they could ever want.  Otherwise, there would have been no desire to “become like God” by eating the fruit of the tree.  I believe that while it was paradise, it was still not absolutely perfect.

The thought that Christ’s work was simply to turn back the clock and restore paradise is, I believe, a misunderstanding regarding Christ’s incarnation.  Western Christianity can sometimes leave us with the thought that God was struck with a nostalgic moment, sent his Son to pay the legal debt of our sin, and is eagerly awaiting the moment to turn the clock back to the days of Eden.

Adam and Eve wanted to be like God and, despite being made in His image, knew they were still missing something.  It seemed that perhaps there was greener grass elsewhere.

The Pattern Continues

creation iconHere’s the problem though: Adam and Eve went about it the wrong way – instead of cooperating with God they tried to fill the void on their own.  Some Orthodox teach that the Incarnation of Christ would have happened regardless of whether or not humanity sinned.  That God wanted to experience complete union with us through theosis was His purpose from the beginning.  Our sin did not change His plan.

However, we must do this God’s way.  The sin in the Garden of Eden began egotism or an anthropocentric view of life and the world.  In this distorted perspective, man is the center of the universe rather than God..

This self-reliant system takes many forms.  But one religious form I have fallen into myself is creating a “cafeteria-style” Christianity.  I also call it “religion a la carte.”  I pick out things that sound appealing from different theologians and religious systems and leave out the stuff that would truly challenge me and force me to reconsider my perspective.

For this reason, embracing Eastern Orthodoxy was so difficult for me at first.  I was met with a Church that was bold enough to say, “If you don’t like something we believe, it is you that needs to change.  Not us.”  I was faced with the choice of aligning myself with what the Church taught for thousands of years or continuing to create my unique version of Christianity that was frankly leaving me spiritually unsatisfied.

Finding the Emptiness

We have this emptiness inside of us.  I’m currently reading through Peter Rollin’s Idolatry of God with a discussion group.  It is an excellent read because it states what we don’t want to admit: we have a void that we are all trying to fill and even Christianity seems to lack the ability to help us.  The “noise” of this life often times keeps us distracted from the pain, whether our “noise” is religion, music, podcasts, or the latest self-help books.  It can even include trying to create a better world around you.

All of these things are a prison in which we hide our emptiness.  While many of them may be good things, unless our goal is theosis, we will feel a constant nagging that something isn’t quite right.  You can read more on the empty pursuit of moralism in my blog here.  The point is not to abandon doing good things, but rather allow those good things to be an overflow of our true purpose: theosis.

statueAs Archimandrite George says, “Since man was created to become a god, as long as he does not find himself on the path of deification/theosis he feels an emptiness within himself; that something is not going right… He may numb himself, create a fancy world, [and] at the same time…cage and imprison himself inside it.”1

Now, I do not write these things in order that we Christians may escape the brokenness of this world.  While I am sort of saying that I have found the solution, I am not saying that it will erase all of the pain of this life.  Rather I write that we may embrace it; that we may feel it more deeply than we ever have before.  But in doing so, we will also experience healing and fullness.  When we move toward theosis, our hearts break for all of the wrongs we have committed.  And when we move deeper into it, we shed tears, not just for our own brokenness, but for the entire world.

I am not writing about theosis to help us escape the pains of life; I am writing about it because I want us to learn what it means to be fully human: to love fully, to feel pain fully, and to find healing more fully.

1 Theosis by Archimandrite George

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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.

3 thoughts on “Theosis in Genesis Part 2”

  1. I know I don’t understand theosis fully. I have read Archimandrite George’s booklet, and for what it’s worth, I find it has that clarion ring signalling truth in almost all of it. Yet, the concept of becoming a god discomfiting. I can accept it, and I know it’s important to being Orthodox, but until I comprehend it more fully, I also know I’m nowhere near that at present

    I find the phrase “becoming a god” fraught with danger, especially in light of so many in modern life espousing the concept that we are all gods, or worse, we are all God. Our contemporaries outside most churches, and obviously outside Orthodoxy, come up with odd things like that. Some claim we need no separate Being, no Creator, no awe inspiring, overwhelming, all loving, all powerful, all-knowing, ages to ages, Alpha to Omega, God They say we are happily all ‘gods’ in our own right. We are allegedly so superior that deification is that last hurdle to fulfillment. This being a god is not exactly what these modernists claim, but it is close to the blade for me. Being a god without having a proper foundation holding up that particular construct seems to invite troubles. It compares to the effect Satan’s triumphant lie, convincing so many that he doesn’t exist, which easily destroys those believing that particular lie.

    That said, many in the Bible and the Church are obviously imbued with God’s spirit within them. There is Paul’s statement that it is no longer Paul who lives, but Christ that lives through Paul. Paul didn’t claim status as “god” but claimed the indwelling Holy Spirit that enabled his honest claim that his self had died and Christ alone lived in him. In that sense, being indwelt necessarily means that God was in Paul. As such, Paul was part of God, and since God cannot coexist within a human without that human also being god…well — Bob’s your uncle, perhaps there it is. Now I am not even within a mile’s reach of Paul’s condition. My hope is that the gap will shrink over time. My hope is for this day, to be acceptable to God, with repentance, with change, with work, with improvement, with study, with prayer, with all my sorrows and joys, and with God’s help. That is a daunting task, yet thankfully there’s lots of assistance along the way. Become a god? Gods sit on pedestals. I know I do poorly with heights. 😉

    1. I am nowhere close to understanding theosis, either. I would say that I am simply standing on the shoulders of giants (the fathers of Orthodoxy), but even that doesn’t seem right. Perhaps it is more that I am hanging on to the shoulders of these giants. Every once in a while, I peak my head up and see something mind-blowingly-beautiful. I get excited and want to tell others about this amazing, fraction of a glimpse that I just had. So I write a blog such as this one.

      I love your reply though, Joyce. The thought of “being a god” makes me a bit squeamish too. I plan to do a follow up post that will be bit more of a biblical narrative that will hopefully clear up a few questions and objections that some have (and rightly so with their understanding of who God is).

      You pretty much summed up what I’ll be saying though. Second Peter states we are “partakers of the divine nature.” St Paul states, “I am crucified with Christ and it is not I who live but Christ in me.” As you concluded, we cannot be completely united with God and not become divine in nature. One nature is going to change the other in the unity: either we become divine or God loses his divinity (and I don’t think it’ll be the latter). This is also where the teachings on God’s “essence” and his “energies” will help us not fall into error.

      1. You’re right, it’s a real search for a needle in a stack of needles. Forget haystacks yielding needles, it’s far more difficult.

        I do think our modern squeamishness at being a god emanates from our own societal notion that so many speak of Us being god as a given, without actually understanding what being truly divine entails. It’s modern, conceited poppycock. At the same time, we run from the appearance of such impropriety. And we run hard. Rightly so.

        My deepest desire is to be like Paul, with Christ alone living in me, and not me alone living in me. Since God cannot exist in a body that is not fully divine, my own sinful nature excludes that from happening except for perhaps a moment here and there when I’ve repented all, and haven’t committed new sins atop the old.

        There’s also the fear that I’ve not and never will repent of all, because every time I pray, some new recollection burbles up, and some new memory of long ago sin pops to the forefront. Oh, when will I ever repent of all of these? The answer from the Fathers is likely never in this life. Accept it and go on they seem to say, reveling in those fleeting moments of being filled with grace.

        John of Kronstadt, an amazing writer, says it all so much better in My Life In Christ. I’m on a third go at it. He doesn’t seem to fully understand Theosis either, because you have to do it, have it, live it, to know it. But you apparently cannot ever describe it so that those without it can understand it. Perhaps the musicians I know said it best — Fake it Til You Make It. The more you do, the more often you might get a glimpse of reality there, just as faking a phrase enough times can result in real music, not just notes, coming out of the violin, cello, or what have you. It is evanescent, almost magical — in a good sense unconnected to magic. But it’s never always there just the same music filled way. And the search never ends, which is also a good thing. If the search were to end, the reason for much of our prayer would evaporate, and that would make us all very poor indeed.

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