St. Athanasius wrote, “The Son of God became man so that man might become God.” Such a profound prospect for humanity might lead us to think it the height of self-aggrandizement, an illusion that could only be the suggestion of the devil. However, it is the devil’s work to convince us otherwise. The devil does not want us to fully flourish as God intends in his salvific act in and through Jesus Christ. He wants us to be stuck in sin without the hope of redemption and deification.
Salvation history is the story of how God has freed us from the misery of sin and its consequence of death and opened for us the divine life of joy. As the loving Father, God wishes no less for man than to partake fully in his divine life, for such is his intention from the beginning. We must be careful when discussing deification so as to not to mistake God for something he is not.
The most perfect image of God is that Image the Father has given us in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, consubstantial with the Father. And in him, what do we see? The Father’s love for us. The Son’s kenotic (self-emptying) love is the form of love (seen most fully in the Paschal Mystery) in which we partake when we become like him. From Lent to Pentecost, we see how God has come to us sinners to elevate us to life in the Trinity, which from our end is life as members of his Bride, the Church.
The whole point of the Church is to fulfill our surprising destiny as sons of the Son. We see this work effected in the saints who, as other Christs, exist in a new life breathing in the Holy Spirit poured out upon the Church for our salvation. This is seen most eminently in Mary.
Mary is the spouse of the Spirit. When the Archangel Gabriel announced God’s plan for humanity and Mary offered her willing participation, the Spirit overshadowed her and God became man (flesh). She is the womb where the humanity of God grows, the humanity of the New Adam. She is the fulfillment of Israel, the spouse God chose to accomplish his intention to bring about salvation for the world. By uniting his divinity with our humanity, our humanity was elevated into a participation in his divinity, a condition higher than what the first Adam had prior to the fall. This elevation, while it has already been enacted through Christ, is taking place now within the Church until the eschaton (the end) in which God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). A foretaste of that reality is present in the sacraments and can also be witnessed when contemplating the lives of Immaculate Mary and the saints (the holy ones).
Let’s ponder sin a little more. In Christianity, sin is the problem. It prevents us from being like God, placing us in the lifeless throes of death, the nothingness that is contrary to the divine life. Man, in his hubris, buffers himself from God and thinks he can save himself from his lifeless condition. But the dead cannot bring back the dead, especially themselves. Only life beyond death can do this. This is the salvation the Good News proclaims; namely, that God in his mercy becomes our Savior, freeing us from sin and death—if only we cooperate with his aid. This understanding of salvation must be articulated to the seeker interested in the Church. It is the Good News we are compelled to proclaim.
The history of salvation begins right after Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden. God provides them with garments to clothe their nakedness, and he establishes a series of covenants with humanity in preparation for the greatest of his gifts: the coming in Christ, which is an invitation for human beings to enter an even better garden than the first one: the New Jerusalem. He takes upon himself the punishment for our sins, redeeming us from all their debts. And just as he gave Adam and Eve skins to cover their nakedness, God incorporates us into the flesh of his Mystical Body.
Christians need to remember what God intends for humanity. They need to hear the Good News of salvation and deification afresh. And while “deification” language may not be explicit in Scripture it is a central theme throughout. So make it your duty to remind your brothers and sisters in Christ of God’s salvation and the meaning of deification, partaking in the Divine Life.