Opinions on faith and life

You Shall Be Like God, Part 1

2008-03-01

One of the hallmarks of false teaching is specialized jargon known only to the insiders of a group, along with a theology which is often very complex and a redefining of many terms. We can think of many religious teachings that fit this description, but today I will focus on one which is very subtle and seems to be growing in influence within the Christian community: Eastern Orthodoxy. In order to be thorough it will take more than one post, so in this one I’ll just present information, and leave comment for the second.

Eastern Orthodoxy is described here, highlighting significant points:

In discussing God’s relationship to his creation, Orthodoxy used the concept of a distinction between God’s eternal essence which is totally transcendent and his uncreated energies which is how he reaches us. It is also necessary to understand that this is an artificial distinction, not a real one. The God who is transcendent and the God who touches us are one and the same...

By his participation in human life, death, and resurrection [Christ] sanctified the means whereby we could be restored to our original purity and regain our right relationship with the Father. This is what the Orthodox call salvation from consequences of the sickness of sin. Christ’s salvific act worked retroactively back to the beginning of time thus saving all the righteous people from the bonds of sin, including Adam and Eve...

The Bible is always interpreted within the context of Holy Tradition, which gave birth to it and canonized it. Orthodox Christians maintain that belief in a doctrine of sola scriptura would be to take the Bible out of the world in which it arose. Orthodox Christians therefore believe that the only way to understand the Bible correctly is within the Orthodox Church...

Though [a dead person’s soul] may linger for a short period on Earth, it is ultimately escorted either to heaven or hell, following the Temporary Judgment (Orthodox do not believe in Purgatory). ...The Orthodox believe that the state of the soul in Hades can be changed by the love and prayers of the righteous up until the Last Judgment. For this reason the church offers special prayer for the dead on the third day, ninth day, fortieth day, and the one-year anniversary after the death of an Orthodox Christian...

The Orthodox believe that after the Final Judgment:

  • all souls will be reunited with their resurrected bodies
  • that all souls will fully experience their spiritual state
  • that having been perfected, mankind will forever progress towards a deeper and fuller love of God, which equates with eternal happiness
  • that hell, though often described in metaphor as punishment, is not so much inflicted by God as the soul’s inability to participate in God’s infinite love which is given freely and abundantly to everyone
....

According to Orthodox theology, the purpose of the Christian life is to attain theosis, the mystical union of man with God. This union is understood as both collective and individual. St. Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote concerning the Incarnation that, “He (Jesus) was made man that we might be made god”. See 2 Peter 1:4, John 10:34–36, Psalm 82:6. The entire life of the church is oriented towards making this possible and facilitating it...

[Water] Baptism is the mystery which transforms the old sinful man into the new, pure man; the old life, the sins, any mistakes made are gone and a clean slate is given. Through baptism one is united to the Body of Christ by becoming a member of the Orthodox Church...

Chrismation (sometimes called confirmation) is the mystery by which a baptized person is granted the gift of the Holy Spirit through anointing with Holy Chrism. It is normally given immediately after baptism as part of the same service, but is also used to receive lapsed members of the Orthodox Church....

Sin is not viewed by the Orthodox as a stain on the soul that needs to be wiped out, or a legal transgression that must be set right by a punitive sentence, but rather as a mistake made by the individual with the opportunity for spiritual growth and development...

Now some more quotes from Union With God:

Instead of asking why God allows so much suffering on Earth, we should ask ourselves why we allow it! ...

Paul says we are like mirrors that not only reflect God’s brightness, but which are transformed into the light which they reflect.(2 Cor. 3:17-18)...

Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest known for his many works on Christian mysticism, agrees. The final section of his masterwork, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, is titled “A Vision of the Second Coming,” and considers the coming of the Kingdom of God to be the work of the God’s children acting in their divinization, restoring the Earth and rebuilding all human institutions to eliminate hunger, hopelessness, and violence...

I have come to believe that God has also entrusted us with far more of the responsibility of saving the world than we might commonly suppose...

Theosis is one more reason why I believe the “emergency airlift” idea of “the Rapture” is completely mistaken...

Some points of clarification: deification does not mean that we will only have a divine nature, but that like Christ, we will be one, with God, both human and divine...

Thomas Aquinas described it like a poker being held in a fire. The poker becomes a fire, in that it takes every attribute of the fire. It burns, radiates heat and light, emits energy as it is transformed by the fire’s energy. And yet, it though it has “become fire,” it is unquestionably iron as well...

I believe there is a largely unexplored potential for inter-religious cooperation and understanding at the deep, universal level of this quest for mystical union with the Absolute. In Hinduism, this transforming union is called in Self-realization or liberation; in Islam, it’s fana; in Buddhism it’s enlightenment, and in all traditions, it’s awakening.

Many great teachers on the mystical path have seen the value of learning from the common strands in their own faith and other faiths; for instance, Thomas Merton, John Main, Laurence Freeman, and Bede Griffiths are but a few of many Catholic priests who have learned much from Eastern spirituality, and the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, the world’s two most prominent Buddhist writers, frequently refer to the teachings of Jesus.

Lastly, from another site on theosis:

The doctrine of theosis puts the trinity in a new light. Many modern thinkers tell us that 3 is an incomplete number. Carl Jung, and some others have proposed adding Mary and making it a quaternity.

For Protestants theosis leads to the idea that the 4th member of the godhead might be humanity.

That will have to do for now. But you’ll notice already a subtle progression from the vaguely acceptable to the outright unbiblical. Or as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details”. This is true of many religions; they all sound the same until you pin them down on specifics. I’ve left out a lot here in the interest of focus, but hopefully it will do justice to the topic. Stay tuned.

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