The whole purpose of our existence is to develop our capacity to love so that we can increase our unity with the Divine to realize a more fulfilling eternal existence full of incomprehensible joy with family and loved ones. That was the essence of Christ’s great intercessory prayer uttered shortly before his crucifixion. As recorded in John, chapter 17, Christ prayed for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us. . . . [T]he glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. . . . I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one . . . that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
This was Christ’s supplication at the start of the process we appropriately refer to as the atonement—or, in other words, at-one-ment with God. The atonement is the whole foundation of Christianity. It is the gospel or good news that Christians proclaim to the world.
There is an ancient saying in the Eastern Orthodox Church: “God became man that men may become gods.” This saying comes from the writings of the early Christian fathers, including the apologist Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130–202). He wrote that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5, pref.). Irenaeus also said, “If the Word became a man, it was so men may become gods.” He added, Do we cast blame on him [God] because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men, and then later as gods? Although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, that no one may charge him with discrimination or stinginess, he declares, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are sons of the Most High.” . . . For it was necessary at first that nature be exhibited, then after that what was mortal would be conquered and swallowed up in immortality.
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.38 (4); see also Against Heresies Book III, Chapter 19)
There were many other references to God lifting mankind up to become divine in the writings of the early Church fathers. At about the same time that Irenaeus taught, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), wrote: “Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god” (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1). Clement further stated If one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God. . . . His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes a god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, “Men are gods, and gods are men.”
(Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 3.1; see also Stromateis, 23)
Clement of Alexandria also stated that “he who obeys the Lord and follows the prophecy given through him . . . becomes a god while still moving about in the flesh.” The Christian philosopher Justin Martyr (c. 100–165) insisted that in the beginning, men “were made like God, free from suffering and death” and that they are thus “deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124). Additionally, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria (c. 296–373), stated his belief in literal deification: “The Word was made flesh in order that we might be made gods. . . . Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life” (Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34). Athanasius also observed, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become god” (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation: De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, 54, 3: PG 25, 192B).
The concept of deification is not limited to Eastern Orthodoxy and early Christianity. The magnitude of this teaching is so great that it still casts a shadow on modern Western Christian thought, both Catholic and Protestant. C. S. Lewis, arguably the most influential Christian writer of the twentieth century and the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, put it well when he wrote:
Now, the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. . . . If we share in this kind of life, we also shall be sons of God. . . . Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. . . . He said that we are “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly. . . . His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.
(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 177)
This renowned Christian writer recognized that the essence of Christianity is our conversion to become as God, even though he did not believe that we would literally become a god.
God’s goal is to convert us from our natural sinful state into an eternal loving state. He wants to turn us into a god. This is no small undertaking. Only God can create a child of God whom He can convert into a “god” and, as Paul says, a “joint-heir” with Christ. We must be born again into a new life in Christ in which our very nature is changed. We naturally resist this conversion. We are our own obstacle.
God wants all of us to become united with him. Likewise, our main goal should be to seek fulfillment through our Creator by becoming like Him. Accordingly, in order to reach our full potential of becoming like God, we need to know what God is like. The scriptures teach us that God is love, light, and truth. Consequently, if we are to become like God, we must also incorporate love, truth, and goodness into our very being so that they become synonymous with our identity.
How can this be achieved? Only God can do it. But it can only happen if we truly want it. It is not something that God grants without our request. God will not fill a closed heart. He can pour his love all over us, but it will just run off like water being poured on top of a closed jar until we open ourselves up to Him. God will force no man to heaven. Hence, God’s love is something that we must seek with enough desire and consistency that when we find it, it becomes part of our very nature.
This was not possible while we basked in God’s love when we were in his presence before we were born. We could not seek light, truth, and goodness in our premortal state because we were already surrounded by it. Hence, the only way for us to grow and mature and truly become like God was for us to leave His presence so that we would feel the need and drive to seek these attributes in order to make them part of our personal being. Before we can look for something, it must be lost. Before we can seek God’s love, we had to lose it. That is why there is a veil placed between our mortal life and our preexistence with God. This creates a void that must be filled. So the quest begins.
That is what this phase of existence is all about. The big test is to determine the extent to which we will seek the essence of God, which can be found in our divine nature. We will reap the reward of our life’s labor to find God by receiving glory to the extent that we find and accept Him. The more light and truth (intelligence) we obtain in this life, the more we will have in the next phase of existence as we continue in our quest to become like God.
It will not be easy, for that which is easily obtained is easily discarded, while that for which we struggle sticks. Hence, the purpose of life is to struggle through difficulties in order to help us discover the true source of happiness and to give us enough experience so that we have the opportunity to seek God so intently that we integrate His characteristics into our very soul so that we will become more like Him.
Humility is the key that unlocks the treasures of eternity. I discovered that if I ask myself why I did something—or, better yet, why I am doing something—I can be more sensitive to His inspiration and draw closer to God. I simply ask myself, “Am I saying or doing this because I am afraid of rejection, want to look better to others, or to control the situation?” Then I stop and listen for the still, small voice to direct a better way. Through patient application of this approach, I am learning to be more receptive to inspiration and to draw closer to God.
As we learn to give our lives to God, we actually find our true identities. As we seek truth and goodness, we allow God to fill our souls with his love. Love evaporates fear and fills the emotional voids in our lives, and we are liberated from the fears that hold us down. True humility actually creates real confidence as we draw closer to God while pride, on the other hand, is simply a deluded sense of significance to counterbalance the emptiness we feel inside.
Challenges in life are blessings if they help us discover the path to God. Most of us need weaknesses so we will have problems that will humble us and make us more receptive to God’s will.
The key, then, is to turn to God while we are in the midst of our despair and seek to truly do His will instead of allowing our emotional fears to control our lives. God, then, will set us free. If we let God have His way with us, He will raise us up to become united with Him so we can enjoy all that He is and has.