Sunday, 15 May 2016

The meaning of life, your life, is about becoming more divine: in fact *that* is the meaning of everything...

The reason we are alive - why we are here, now as incarnated mortal Men - is so that we can become more divine, more God-like: the process of divinization, theosis, sanctification, spiritual progression.

This is why there exists the earth and all the people and things on it - as the place where we work on spiritual progression towards divinity. Indeed, that is why there is anything at all - it is the reason for creation - everything exists towards the primary purpose that some individual Men may (by their choice, and long, long endeavour and learning extending after mortal-death) become more and more like God, aiming for a distant time when some people can 'relate to' God on the same level.

The purpose of this life is not really 'salvation' - we are not born as mortal men in order 'to be saved'. The meaning of salvation is merely that a person has recognized that the true purpose of life is divinization. In other words, when you recognize that your purpose in life is spiritual progression towards a God-like nature, then you are saved - you have been saved.

When you, personally, recognize that the actual life you are living is for the purpose of you becoming more like God, then this is extraordinarily motivating and encouraging. Life becomes both mysterious (trying to understand what this goal means here and now, in the minutiae of daily life) while being sure that there is a real answer to the mystery.

With theosis as primary, my life and your life becomes an adventure, a trial (trial and error) like wandering through uncharted terrain towards an invisible but definite goal - with the process of learning being the main point here-and-now, but the direction of travel giving point to it all and ensuring that the overall experience is Good.

Only we, we ourselves as individuals, can do this - and we can do it. Everything necessary is within us or provided.

We are sure to make many mistakes - things seem set-up to guarantee that, presumably so that we can learn from recognizing them; therefore the key thing is not to try and avoid all possibility of mistakes, so much as to do the best you can manage and acknowledge and learn from your mistakes (this is called repentance).

Being a Christian is not about being Good, but about aiming for Good; it is not about avoiding error, but about acknowledging error. It is not about being saved, but of making proper use of the fact that we are saved (assuming we don't reject that salvation).

But Christian divinization is not about becoming the same as God, nor becoming the same as Jesus; it is about being the way God wants us to be - which obviously is to be (as we already are) unique individuals with unique experiences - such that each person will become (if he chooses and works long enough) an unique god: our-selves as a god (not some kind of replica of Jesus).

The vital importance of Jesus Christ is that he is our elder brother went before and achieved divinity - he made it possible and we know it is possible, because of Jesus.

To a large extent, therefore, our job in theosis is to do what God wants us to do, behave in the kind of way God wants us to behave (which is clearly enough known) - rather than to try and be like God, or Jesus, or any other personage.

Divinization is not a standard protocol and Men are not supposed to be 'clones; but each person has an unique path starting from where he or she actually is; all aiming at the same ultimate destination and according to the same basic rules - but each having very different experiences along the way.    


William Wildblood said...

I really like the key distinction you draw between salvation and divinization. Salvation is relatively meaningless in terms of our true goal which is to become godlike. As far as I can see this is where Evangelical Christianity falls down. It gets on the horse but doesn't see there's a race to be run!

Bruce Charlton said...

@William. Glad you find it at least plausible. I have been puzzling over how to relate salvation and theosis/ divinization for about six years; and have only just reached what seems a sufficiently clear 'formulation' in this article.

And, yes, you are right about evangelical Protestants - at least in theory. Our 'family' church is evangelical Protestant - it does tremendous work in many ways, and they are certainly real and serious Christians - but there is a kind of... what could I call it, uncertainty? about what to do after conversion (and presumed salvation). Of course there is prayer, and involvement in further evangelical activity - but it is unclear what exactly this is supposed to achieve beyond the fact of salvation, which has already been achieved. There is no belief in theosis as such, although there is sanctification which is somewhat similar in some ways. But there is no progress post-mortem (as the tree falls, so it lies... for eternity). It sometimes seems asif it is downhill all the way from the moment of being born-again - the rest of life seems like a series of hazards that may take this from you, but can't really take the individual any further or higher.

I came across theosis (spiritual progression or exaltation) first in Mormonism and befoe I was a Christian (the above formulation is compatible with Mormon theology, although I think in practice Mormons are sometimes less confident of salvation than the theology implies - or, at least, they regard the highest form of Heaven (Celestial) as if it was the only Heaven (Kingdoms of Glory) - when the lower forms of Heaven (Terrestrial and Telestial) are still Heavenly by comparison with mortal life. So they are sometimes rather like Evangelicals but with respect to the Celestial Kingdom available only to Temple married ('sealed') Mormons - with its direct route to ultimate divinity.

I then came across the Orthodox idea of theosis - which is related to the lives of celibate ascetic monks or nuns who - over decades of heroic striving - become Saints with their 'heads in Heaven and their Feet on earth' - and capable of miracles and wonders. But there is a strange 'Orthogonal' relationship between Orthodox salvation and theosis - such that even a person far advanced in theosis may, in a moment, lose it all (typically from spiritual pride) and be damned. Spiritual progress does not even seem to bring a higher resistance to damnation - almost it makes the person more vulnerable. So, there is not any very clear sense of salvaton and theosis being on the same scale.

This posting is the first time I personally have been able to make satisfying sense if the two goals.

William Wildblood said...

Why be a saint if salvation, as in accepting the reality of God, is all that's required? Jesus told us to be perfect so that's what we should strive to be. It's what we should be working towards anyway. Simply believing can never be a substitute for being. That's like a caterpillar saying 'Yes, I believe in butterflies!' but never growing wings. Not a very good example because caterpillars naturally become butterflies but you see what I mean.

And you're right, the temptation to spiritual pride will be there right to the very end, and no doubt become stronger the more it is (so to speak) justified.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I think the root of the problem for mainstream (ie non-Mormon) Christians in the main churches is that God is supposed to be utterly different in kind from Men - he the creator, we the created etc. - so the divinization of man is hard to understand. Standard Trinitarian theory has Christ as mystically the same being as God the Father, so although he was a Man it is nonetheless hard to imaigine how we can be the same as him.

In other words, many Christians feel it is blasphemously pride-full to talk in terms of Men becoming gods, because gods are infinitely lesser than God, which makes the whole thing hard to understand. Mainstream Christians are more convinced of monotheism (albeit mystical Trinitarian monotheism) than of theosis.

In other words, Trinitarian monotheism makes it very difficult to imagine men becoming gods in any meaningful way - and for theosis to be meaningful also seems to entail that much of the process happens outwith mortal life (especially in post-mortal life) - which also raises concerns that this diminishes the importance of mortal life, the importance of being a Christian, the importance of the church etc.

So - with all these complications and problems and worries - it does not surprise me that ideas of theosis/ divinization have failed to take root in most Christian denominations.

Yet, it is the main purpose of existence! So something needs to change.