THE MORNING AFTER Barack Obama won the election, Today Show host Matt Lauer lamented that Mr. Obama is going to have a tough time meeting expectations, because many news agencies have over-hyped him. This is especially true of the New York Times, which Lauer said, had "deified him". In other words, they made him appear god-like. His remarks reminded me of the important Christian doctrine of Deification.
Deification (or Theosis) is the teaching that, through the grace of God and spiritual struggle, we undergo a process in this life of becoming more like God, participating in His life, and as, St. Peter explains, " . . . partakers of divine nature."(1)
St. Irenaeus writes of, “the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, through His transcendent love, became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”(2)
St. Athanasius puts it plainly: "God became man that man might become god."(3)
Theosis is "becoming by grace what God is by nature"(4)
In his indispensible Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Vladimir Lossky, writes,
The deification or theosis of the creature will be realized in its fullness only in the age to come, after the resurrection of the dead. This deifying union has, nevertheless, to be fulfilled ever more and more even in this present life, through the transformation of our corruptible and depraved nature and by its adaptation to eternal life.(5)
In another important book, The Orthodox Way, Bishop Kallistos Ware makes some important points:
First, deification is not something reserved for a few select initiates, but something intended for all alike. The Orthodox Church believes that it is is the normal goal for every Christian without exception....
Secondly, the fact that a person is being deified does not mean that she or he ceases to be conscious of sin. On the contrary, deification always presupposes a continued act of repentance....
In the third place, these is nothing esoteric or extraordinary about the methods which we must follow in order to be deified. If someone asks 'How can I become God?' the answer is very simple: go to church, receive the sacraments, regularly, pray to God 'in spirit and in truth', read the Gospels, follow the commandments....
Fourthly, deification is not a solitary but a 'social' process...
Fifthly, love of God and of our fellow humans must be practical. Orthodoxy rejects all forms of Quietism, all types of love which do not issue in action....
Finally, deification presupposes life in the Church, life in the sacraments. Theosis according to the likeness of the Trinity involves a common life, and it is only within the fellowship of the Church that this common life of coinherence can be properly realized. Church and sacraments are the means appointed by God whereby we may acquire the sanctifying Spirit and be transformed into the divine likeness.(6)
(1)2 Peter 1:4
(2)St. Athanasius, Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface
(3)St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
(5)Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 196.
(6)Ware, Kallistos, The Orthodox Way ,pp. 236-238