Man was created in the image of God, but through sin, denial and a lack of knowledge he no longer understands and believes that he is a partaker of the divine nature. Not only does this create a sad and dangerous reality for those who have fallen away from the Lord, but also demands a sober and serious response by those of us who call ourselves believing and committed Christians.
To understand this a little more clearly, take a moment to understand what we are told about this in Sacred Scripture. In Psalm 82, verse five we are reminded that “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” At one level this means that there has always been and always will be a segment of the population that neither acknowledges God nor desires to a live a life in and through him. At another level this also means that many of us who know God and say we live for God are now and will continue to persist in sin and obstinate denial of His will for our lives.
The good news, however, is that the story doesn’t end there. Verse six of the same Psalm continues: “I say ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you’”. Again, at one level this means that we share in the life of God simply because we were created by Him through love; and that we should live our lives according to this love. At another level, though, this means that we actually partake of the divine nature of God. The reason for this is that God is so loving and good that He desires for us to be in union with Him now and into eternity.
St. Peter explains it this way: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
St. John the Theologian adds this: "For he has given them power to become the sons of God" (John 1:12).
For the early Church Fathers, man’s ability to share in the divine nature of God is not simply a metaphorical return to the blissfulness that Adam and Eve enjoyed before sin. Much more than that, they believed and wrote that since Jesus had both a divine and a human nature, it became possible for man to participate in the divine through the sacraments, as well as by literally joining his human activities (i.e., synergy) to God’s operation in the world. This is what is known as theosis (θέωσις) or the union with God that begins now and culminates in eternity.
St. Irenaeus wrote that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself” (Adversus haereses, book 5, preface). He also wrote, “If the Word became a man, it was so men may become gods” (Ibid). St. Athanasius wrote, “He became man that men might be made gods” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54). St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. Basil the Great wrote similar statements too.
As you delve deeper into prayer, take a few moments to meditate on how little we must think of ourselves when we pat ourselves on the back for human achievements or despair over the things in life that we know are small or petty. Then compare that to how much more God is inviting us to be, and think about how that ought to inform and change the way we pray and live every day.