Divinization

Heaven Now

Divinization
Monday, April 29, 2019

If we could glimpse the panoramic view of the biblical revelation and the Big Picture of which we’re a part, we’d see how God is forever evolving human consciousness, making us collectively ever more ready for God. The Hebrew prophets and many Catholic and Sufi mystics used words like espousal or marriage to describe this divine-human love affair. That’s what the prophet Isaiah (61:10; 62:5), many of the Psalms, the school of Paul (Ephesians 5:25-32), and the Book of Revelation (19:7-8; 21:2) mean by “preparing a bride to be ready for her husband.”

The human soul is being gradually readied so that actual intimacy and partnership with the Divine are the result. It’s all moving toward a final marriage between God and creation. Note that such salvation is a social and cosmic concept, not just about isolated individuals “going to heaven.” The Church was meant to bring this corporate salvation to conscious and visible possibility.

But how could divine espousal really be God’s plan? Isn’t this just poetic exaggeration? If this is the agenda, why were most of us presented with an angry deity who needed to be placated and controlled? Why would God even want to “marry” God’s creation? If you think I am stretching it here, look for all the times Jesus uses a wedding banquet as his image for eternity, and both he and John the Baptist call Jesus “the bridegroom” (Mark 2:19-20; John 3:29). Think how strange that is! Jesus is not marrying anyone, is he? The very daring, seemingly impossible idea of union with God is still something we’re so afraid of that most of us won’t allow ourselves to think of an actual intimate relationship with God. Only God in you, “the Holy Spirit planted in your heart,” can imagine such a possibility (Romans 8:11 and throughout Paul’s letters).

The Eastern Fathers of the Church were much less afraid of this realization; they called it the real process of human “divinization” (theosis). In fact, they saw it as the whole point of the Incarnation and the very meaning of salvation. The much more practical and rational church in the West seldom used the word, despite Peter’s teaching (1 Peter 1:4-5 and 2 Peter 1:4). John also was quite clear about divine union being the final goal in much of his Gospel: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21). It is important not to confuse divine union with human perfection. The choice for union is always from God’s side; our response is always and forever partial and feeble.

Jesus came to give us the courage to trust and allow our inherent union with God, and he modeled it for us in this world. Union is not a place we go to later—if we are good; union is the place from which we come, the place from which we’re called to live now. We wasted centuries confusing union with personal perfection. Union is God’s choice for us in our very imperfect world. Divine Love has no trouble loving imperfect things! That is just our human problem. If God could only love perfect things, God would have nothing to do.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 251-252.

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr
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