Wednesday December 6, 2017
News Flash! Jesus calls us to be God.
(This is abbreviated from Why Jesus?, chapter four: “Jesus is Fullness of Life.” Available in the bookstore at www.ImmersedinChrist.org) or download for free here. )
Before Jesus is even born, Matthew tells us he is and he isn’t the Messiah the Jews expected. He was
born a human, but he was not conceived in a human way. His mother was a virgin. The purpose of that was to make it clear Jesus had no human father. This was so we would know his Father is God.
His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph. But before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit (1:18).
In Luke’s Gospel the angel makes the title explicit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (1:35).
Although Matthew doesn’t explain it yet, this fact raises Jesus’s whole mission to an entirely different level. He isn’t just a human Messiah sent to show us how to live a better human life on earth. He is God as well as man, and his mission is to empower us to live the life of God, divine life, life on the level of God himself.
Jesus came to make us his body. He lives in us and we live in him. We share his divine life. Therefore we are called to live a life that is not just human but divine.
St. Athanasius wrote that "God became man so that men might become gods."
St. Augustine said that to be a Christian is to “become Christ.”
Michael Casey, a Trappist monk of Tarrawarra in Australia, wrote in his book Fully Human, Fully Divine, “According to the teaching of many Church Fathers, particularly those of the East, Christian life consists not so much in being good as in becoming God.”
That the divinization of human beings is a neglected doctrine powerfully reveals the impoverishment of Christian faith that we have allowed to occur. There is always the danger that theological and moral rectitude (orthodoxy and orthopraxy) loom so large on our religious horizon that relationship with God recedes into the background. In this age, more than in any other, we need the divine boldness to affirm that Christianity is not a matter of being good but of becoming God (pp 9-10).
Obviously, the only way to live the Christian life authentically is to live the life of God; to think, speak, and act on the level of God himself. The Ten Commandments aren’t good enough. Christian life begins where the Ten Commandments leave off.
So what is “salvation”? Is it just being forgiven? Reformed and restored to ordinary human goodness? Getting to heaven when we die?
Jesus came that we might “have life and have into the full” (John 10:10). Full by what measure? Life within human limits? Or the unlimited Life of God?
The truth is, Jesus came so that we might live lives that are “fully human and fully divine.” The measure he gives us is “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We can only do this by living the life of God.
Which we do: we all say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
We can only live the life of God by sharing in God’s own act of living. God’s life is infinite; it cannot be reproduced. The “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” is not something created; an “additional infinite life” would it be a contradiction in terms.
So what we call “Grace” is the favor of sharing in the divine Life of the Father, Son, and Spirit—as they are living it. By the divine gift of Faith we share in God’s own act of knowing. By the gift of divine Love we share in God’s own act of loving.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God [the Father], and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2Corinthians 13:14).
Christian life is “both-and,” not “either-or.” We don’t become more divine by being less human, or more spiritual by being less physical. We don’t live our faith by neglecting reason.
Obviously, then, any denial of human values is a distortion of Christianity. In the measure that we reject anything that is good in human life we reject some measure of salvation. Christians are not anti-intellectual, opposed to progress, suspicious of pleasure, uptight about sex, afraid of spontaneity, or ashamed to enjoy life. Even when it is necessary to impose controls on the body and on bodily desires (see 1Corinthians 9:27), the aim of this Christian asceticism is not suppression of the physical, but to make the physical the expression of the soul. When we as persons are so integrated that our bodies and all our bodily actions are the perfect expression of our authentic, graced selves, then we can rejoice that Jesus has made us whole (Why Jesus, chapter 4).
As we live “in Christ,” our human activities—imagining, thinking, desiring, choosing—are reformed in the same way they were deformed: by a multiplicity of individual human experiences. Repeatedly, our perceptions, judgments and choices ae lifted to a higher level by grace. Faith enlightens us to see through the darkness of cultural assumptions. Hope frees us to “hope against hope” (Romans 4:18), and to “dream the impossible dream” when everything seems to be going to hell in handbasket. Love empowers us to love our neighbors, not as ourselves, but as Jesus loves us—and to embrace as neighbors, even as brothers and sisters, every member of the human race.
This transformation takes place, not instantly, by a presto change-o of God, but in a human way, by repeated human acts, until new attitudes, new desires, new habits are formed. We receive divine life instantly in Baptism when we are reborn. But we grow into the use of that divine life over a long period of time, through multiple acts of surrender. The end product is due to God’s action and ours. He gives grace, and the grace to respond to grace, but our free will plays a necessary part. Salvation itself is fully human and fully divine.
Jesus calls us to be God. But it involves a human process, as it did when God called the Virgin Mary to give birth to the Son of God.
Question: Am I trying to live as a good human being, or as a divine son or daughter of God?