The Son of God was made man so that we might be made God
Athanasius, On the Incarnation §54
When I first heard this astounding quote I was repulsed and revolted by the idea that man might become God. Christianity is, after all, not polytheistic. We are at our core monotheistic and the very idea what we might be made God hearkens to a sort of pantheism that is just not what Christianity is. And yet, I have, over time, kept coming back to this quote and as I contemplate the cross more and more I find myself agreeing more and more with this quote, not because I want it to be true, but because that is what I have found in scripture and also, as evidenced by this quote, how the church has also viewed the purpose of the incarnation, of Christ’s role himself. The Christian life, the life of discipleship, is about sharing in the life of God.
The first and foremost objection to this idea is “God is holy, we can never be God.” However, take the inverse “Man is dirty, God could never be man,” and yet that is exactly what we find in Jesus Christ. We see this in Philippians where Jesus Christ
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
The highest and most separate of things became human so that some might later emerge clean. This is the core of this idea of theosis, of divinization. Indeed, as part of the body we find that we must suffer with Christ in order that we might be glorified with Christ. Christ was humbled so that we too might be raised with him in glory, the glory of the name of God. However, though we are raised, we cannot become as God, to share in the omnipotence of God, to share in his substance. Though we can, however, share in his nature, indeed Peter says that we become partakers of the divine nature.
How, then, can we start to understand the nature of this divinization? The answer must be through how we view the trinity. When I wrote previously, I wrote about how Jonathan Edwards contemplated the trinity in a typical Augustinian manner. He wrote
We may learn by the Word of God that the Godhead or the Divine nature and essence does subsist in love. (I John 4:8) “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” In the context of which place I think it is plainly intimated to us that the Holy Spirit is that Love.
By this we can understand what Calvin meant when he wrote in Book III of his Institutes, “the whole comes to this that the Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually binds us to himself.” We partake of the divine nature when we are united with Christ and express that love which must originate from God himself, from the nature of God. This is why God must be love, because in love we truly become partakers of the divine nature, we, as Athanasius says controversially, become God because we share in the bond that Unites the Father and the Son who is the Holy Spirit. This is what Calvin termed the “unio mystica” the mystical union of the believer to Christ. This is also what Wesleyans call “Entire Sanctification” for Weasly
We must be divinized because we are made in the image of God. The image in the mirror can only make sense in light of its origin and much as Christ gains his substance from the Father as the eternally begotten son, so too can humanity only be made sense of in light of God who is the original image because we too are images of an invisible God. When we are brought again into Christ we regain a true humanity, a humanity which is closer to God than Adam and Eve. We must have, as Wesley said, entire sanctification:
Entire sanctification, or Christian perfection, is neither more nor less than pure love; love expelling sin, and governing both the heart and life of a child of God. The Refiner’s fire purges out all that is contrary to love, and that many times by a pleasing smart. Leave all this to Him that does all things well, and that loves you better than you do yourself.
When we partake of the divine nature, we don’t as Pantheists would like, lose ourselves in the God that is all. Much rather we stay human, and more than that we become more human than we could ever be without Christ. In our union with him we gain a fully realized humanity, a humanity that no longer gropes in the darkness but is rather knows itself because it is a humanity that knows God, the light that is the source of our image. For now we remember that “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”