Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Deified Creation

Now don’t let that heading make you think I’m a pantheist. Actually, the very use of the term “creation” should make that clear, since creation implies a Creator. But I think we have to realize that God is very much involved with his creation. God has not simply made things; He gives the things He has made the capacity to reflect his glory, speak of his presence, and even to communicate his grace, as in the elements used for the sacraments.

But his greatest project is man. You see, man isn’t some thing, like a rock or a tree or a spider. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we hear God say: “Let us make trees in our image.” Man is some one, a rational, spiritual/material being whom Scripture does say was created in the image of God. Therefore, of all that God has created, man has the greatest capacity for growth and transformation, for the perfection of the image in which he was created—in a word, for deification.

The Eastern Fathers understand deification, or theosis, as the goal of human life and being. They make a distinction between the “image” and “likeness” of God. They say that we are created in God’s image, something that cannot be changed or destroyed, but we can (and must) grow in his likeness, by grace and virtue. This growth in divine likeness is the process of theosis, which is aided by the sacraments, prayer, and self-renunciation for the sake of the Kingdom. The image of God within us was not destroyed by the Fall of Man or even by our own personal sins, but it has been obscured or disfigured. The grace of God works an actual transformation within us, not merely a forensic acquittal that does not affect our very being. If we persevere in sin, however, the divine image can be eternally obscured, and in hell the inner image of God irrevocably stamped into our immortal souls will be our torment, not our joy, for we will forever be unable to escape the fact that we have rejected that which was most precious and holy within us.

We see in a dramatic and profound way what God can do with what He has made when we reflect upon the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. That is deified creation in its fullest realization. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and when that bit of Deified Creation unites with our souls and bodies, the work of theosis is happening in us in the depths of our being. Atheist materialists have coined the phrase, “you are what you eat,” in order to deny the reality of the Supernatural, but we can use the same phrase to affirm it, because we are, as Scripture says, the Body of Christ. When we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood, as He commanded us to do, He abides in us and we in Him, the mystical union for which Jesus prayed to his Father before his Passion.

We ought to be aware that God is making out of the universe an immense tabernacle, in which dwell the members of the Body of Christ: transformed, deified, made “partakers of the divine nature” (2Peter 1:4). Christ is not merely gathering his disciples to Himself as a loose collection of individuals. He is fashioning his Body out of many members, for the Church is his Body—not something extraneous to Him, but rather “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).