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Christianity’s Shocking, Obscured Claim

Christian fundamentalists are fond of knocking the claims of “New Age” spirituality.  Perhaps chief among these claims is that humankind is (are?) God, or gods.  Fundamentalists stress man’s imperfection and sinfulness, insisting that we lost our godlike natures when “we,” through Adam and Eve, sinned in Eden’s garden.  Since then, we are tarnished beings, acceptable to God only because of his incarnation in Jesus and his perfect substitutionary sacrifice on the cross.  We heeded Satan’s great lie, namely, that to eat the forbidden fruit would make us like unto God, with knowledge of good and evil.  Since then we can at best only claim “sonship” by adoption, not nature.  But Satan was not lying, as Genesis records:  Adam and Eve did eat of the tree and did indeed became knowers of good and evil.  They lost their ignorance-based divinity but also paradoxically shared in God’s capacity for knowledge of good and evil.  From that time, claim fundamentalists, any system – New Age, Hindu, Buddhist, cultic, guru-based, etc.) that offers godhood to human beings is “Satanic” because it (falsely) promises to thwart our real sinful condition and replace it with divinity.  However, far from being a New Age claim or “Satan’s ancient lie,” humanity’s own divinity is an occasional New Testament theme.

It is almost as if some of the biblical authors imagined God attempting to re-breathe the divine life back into our nostrils as first happened in the Genesis account.  The recovery of the divine Breath or the Pneuma/Ruach ha Kodesh/Holy Spirit is an implicit theme that appears at places in the New Testament.

Perhaps the strongest statement comes in 2 Peter 1: 1-4, where the author wishes grace and peace to his readers, through “the knowledge of God and Jesus” – that has given us “all things pertaining to life and godliness,” by virtue of such blessings “are given to us exceedingly great and precious promises:  that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature…”

Note that the author is not saying that we will be like God, or adopted as sons and daughters, or permitted participation in a saving grace, or granted some kind of  juridical reprieve, or a solemn,  special dispensation.  All these other modes of relating to the Divine are ignored in favor of the key mode:  not relationship, but being.  Not adoption, but participation.  And not just participation, but participation in the divine nature itself.  Regardless of other extant metaphors for divine love and acceptance of human beings, 2 Peter is claiming divine union and more than divine union:  namely, participation in the very nature of God.  This, of course, is a huge claim.  Why hasn’t Christianity made it a – or the – central claim of its message?  Most have never heard of it, least of all Christians.  But though obscured, it does exist, and it even has a technical nomenclature.

In Eastern Christianity, it is called theosis.  In the Latin West, it is called deificatio.  It is the making into, the growing into God by human beings:  “becoming God” in the scriptural, not the New Age, sense.  As Isaac of Nineveh said, an “infinite pity” resides in the hearts of “those becoming united with God.”  But this divine union is more than a dualistic “I-Thou” relationship.  Something much deeper is occurring, the loss of self (Matthew 16: 24-26; Luke 9: 23-25) in the divine Self.  An old Christian phrase of Silesius expresses it like this:

God, whose love and joy are present everywhere, can’t come to visit you –  unless you aren’t there.

It would seem that participation in the divine nature requires a death to self and a resurrection into a transformed way of being.  In this, Buddhism and mystical traditions generally seem to agree that in deificatiotheosis we enter absolute Self through a dissipation of the relative self.