Monday, October 20, 2008

Divine Union with God

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that they world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given to them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:20-23)
This is a prayer Jesus prayed for His disciples and, by extension, all who believe in Him through their witness. It is a prayer for union with God, that we may be one with Jesus and each other, just as Jesus is one with the Father. If Jesus is in union with the Father, and we are in union with Jesus — well, you do the math.

We were created for union with God from the very beginning, when God created man in His image and according to His likeness. No other creature, not even the angels of heaven, are said to be created this way. This likeness gives us the capacity to enjoy union with God. Like joins to like.

Of course we know that Adam rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden and lost vital connection with God. In Jesus Christ, that connection is restored for all who believe. We are reconciled through Him to enjoy fellowship with the Father once again.

When mankind fell into the bondage of sin, Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The reason He could do this was because man was created in the image and likeness of God. He did not become an angel when satan and his angels rebelled against God; they were not created in the likeness of God, as man was.

Man is unique among all God’s creatures, and uniquely fitted for union with Him. Second Peter speaks about this union in terms of divine nature. 
His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
We are “partakers” of the divine nature. The Greek word is koinonia, which can also be translated as “fellowship,” “partners,” “companions,” and “communion.” It speaks of union. Here it is used of our participation in the divine nature.The early Church Fathers recognized this reality and spoke of it in ways that are quite breathtaking. Here are a few examples:

  • Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist martyred at Rome:
Let the interpretation of the Psalm [81:1-7] be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and of having power to become sons of the Highest. (ANF Vol. 1, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 124)
  • Irenaeus (120-202), a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of the apostle John:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself. (Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface)
  • Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), early Christian theologian and head of the catechetical school in Alexandria:
And now the Word Himself clearly speaks to thee, shaming thy unbelief; yea, I say, the Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God. Is it not then monstrous, my friends, that while God is ceaselessly exhorting us to virtue, we should spurn His kindness and reject salvation? (ANF Vol. 2, Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter 1)
But that man with whom the Word dwells does not alter himself, does not get himself up: he has the form which is of the Word; he is made like to God; he is beautiful; he does not ornament himself: his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills. (ANF Vol. 2, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
  • Athanasius (296-373), bishop of Alexandria, called a “Doctor of the Church” and “Father of Orthodoxy”:
For He was made man that we might be made God. (On the Incarnation, chapter 54)

Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us. (Against the Arians, Discourse 1, Chapter 11)

For He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself, and He has been born of a woman, and begotten of a Virgin, in order to transfer to Himself our erring generation, and that we may become henceforth a holy race, and “partakers of the Divine Nature,” as blessed Peter wrote. (NPNF Vol. 2, Personal Letter 60:4)
We were created in the image and likeness of God to enjoy divine union with Him.We enter into this union through faith in Jesus Christ, God who became man.