"You are gods."
Blasphemy? No, those mysterious words, spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of John and alluded to in Psalm 82, point to a holy longing deep in our hearts that tells each of us that we were created for more.
“Imagine that you were to wake up tomorrow to discover that, by some miracle, you had become a god overnight,” writes Dr. Gregory Popcak. “Not THE God—omnipresent, all-knowing, all-powerful—but a god in the classic sense. That is to say, you woke to find that you were perfect, immortal, utterly confident in who you are, where you were going in life, and how you were going to get there. It might seem ridiculous to consider at first, but allow yourself to imagine this truly miraculous transformation. What would it be like to live without fear? How would it feel to be completely at peace with yourself and the people in your life? Imagine what it would be like to be able to resolve—once and for all—the tension that currently exists between all your competing feelings, impulses, desires, and demands. What would change in your life as a result of your having become that sort of divinely actualized person?”
Bold questions are in need of bold answers. And in Broken Gods, a work that is both practical and inspirational, Dr. Greg explores what our deepest desires--and even our darkest desires-- tell us about our ultimate destiny and reveals a commonsense approach to fulfilling our true purpose in life.
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More Than You Can Imagine
Imagine that you were to wake up tomorrow to discover that, by some miracle, you had become a god overnight. Not the God—omnipresent, all-knowing, all-powerful—but a god in the classic sense. That is to say, you wake to find that you are perfect, immortal, utterly confident in who you are, where you are going in life, and how you are going to get there. It might seem ridiculous to consider at first, but allow yourself to imagine this truly miraculous transformation. What would it be like to live without fear? How would it feel to be completely at peace with yourself and the people in your life? Imagine what it would be like to be able to resolve—once and for all—the tension that currently exists between all your competing feelings, impulses, desires, and demands. What would change in your life as a result of your having become that sort of divinely actualized person?
Perhaps a better question would be “What wouldn’t change?”
What Does God See When He Looks at You?
What you’ve just imagined is exactly the destiny God has in store for you. The truth is, God really and truly intends to make you a god—a being who is perfect, whole, healed, and, yes, even immortal. “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). Christians often talk about “being saved,” but more than being saved from something (i.e., sin) the truth is, we are saved for something—to become divine!
The idea seems crazy, maybe even blasphemous, but that’s only because we are used to seeing ourselves as the world sees us—broken, struggling, failing, and frustrated. But when God looks at you, an eternal and boundless love wells up inside him and he sees past every doubt, every fear, everything you think is shameful or broken about you. When God looks at you, he sees something more beautiful, remarkable, and amazing than you could ever even wrap your head around. In the words of St. John Paul the Great, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son” (Pope John Paul II, 2002).
When God looks at you, he sees within you the fulfillment of every hope, every dream, every desire, and every potentiality. In short, when God looks at you, he sees a god.
I am not spinning some beautiful illusion. The doctrine that humans are destined, through Christ, to become gods is a lost treasure that is at the very heart of Christianity. Hidden in plain sight, it is a truth that can transform every part of your spiritual, emotional, and relational life if you know how to claim it.
Become Everything You Are Meant to Be
In the following pages, not only will you discover the incredible vision God has for your life; you will also come to see that the parts of yourself you like the least, the temptations that tear you apart, the longings you seem never to be able to satisfy, the desires you try to repress, can, through God’s grace, reveal the path to the new creation God wants to make of you. Most important, you will discover, step-by-step, how to transform the weakest, most broken, and even shameful parts of yourself into the engine of your perfection.
First, we’ll explore the shocking truth about divinization, the ancient and surprisingly orthodox Christian assertion that God truly intends to make you a god and what that means, practically speaking, for your life today. Next, I will reveal how your desires, even your darkest and most troublesome passions, expose the engine God intends to use to work this amazing transformation in your life. Finally, I will present a step-by-step plan for cooperating more effectively with the miracle God wants to work in you so that you might experience the deep joy that comes from both satisfying the seven divine longings of your heart and fulfilling your destiny to become the god you were meant, by God, to be.
“You Are Gods!”
Theologians use terms such as “deification,” “divine filiation,” “theosis,” and, as I mentioned above, “divinization” to refer to God’s incredible plan to make those who love him into gods. Although these words can be a mouthful, each term is just another way of saying you are destined for a greatness beyond your wildest imaginings! Whatever crazy dreams you have for your life, God has you beat—hands down. By means of his epic and eternal love for you, God intends to make you a god—perfect, whole, healed, fearless, living abundantly in this life and reigning forever by his side in the next.
The remarkable truth that God became a human being so that human beings might become gods is revealed in Scripture. The Second Letter of Peter (1:4) says that through Christ’s saving work we become “partakers of the divine nature.” Likewise, it was Jesus who said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). When we read that passage today, we often think it means, “Jesus wants us to be really, really good,” but Christianity has always taught that this verse means much more. Jesus told us so when he reminded the Pharisees, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I have said, “You are gods” ’?” (Jn 10:34, in which Christ quotes Ps 82:6). C. S. Lewis notes the miraculous significance of this passage when he writes in Mere Christianity,
“Be ye perfect” is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him . . . He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, 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 Him perfectly (Lewis, 1952).
Early Christian leaders and saints wrote widely on the topic of divinization. The authors of the Catechism of the Catholic Church gathered some of their more prominent reflections on this concept in their response to the question “Why did God become man?”
The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4): “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God” (St. Irenaeus). “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius). “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods” (St. Thomas Aquinas) (CCC, no. 460).
The Catechism isn’t cherry-picking random quotes from fringe figures. These sayings come from some of the greatest minds in the history of Christendom, all of whom are universally respected by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike for their scholarship and their sanctity. Moreover, these few quotes cited by the Catechism are only a small sample of a much wider pool of similar quotes dating back to the earliest days of Christianity. For instance,
[In the beginning, humans] were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons, and yet they, becoming like Adam and Eve, work out death for themselves; let the interpretation of the Psalm be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and of having power to become sons of the Highest.
—St. Justin Martyr, c. AD 100–165 (Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 124)
[H]e who listens to the Lord, and follows the prophecy given by Him, will be formed perfectly in the likeness of the teacher—made a god going about in flesh.
—St. Clement of Alexandria, c. AD 150–215 (The Stromata, 7.16 (book 7, chapter 16))
From the Holy Spirit is the likeness of God, and the highest thing to be desired, to become God.
—St. Basil the Great, c. AD 330–379 (De Spiritu Sanctu)
If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.
—St. Augustine, c. AD 354–430 (Exposition on Psalm 50)
The idea that we are destined to become gods through God’s love and grace was supported by the Protestant reformers as well. John Calvin wrote, “The end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us” (Wedgeworth, 2011).
Martin Luther also took up the theme of deification when he preached, “God pours out Christ His dear Son over us and pours Himself into us and draws us into Himself, so that He becomes completely humanified (vemzenschet) and we become completely deified (gantz und gar vergottet, ‘Godded-through’) and everything is altogether one thing, God, Christ, and you” (Marquardt, 2000).
Perhaps the most shocking thing about this promise of God to make us gods is that it generated virtually no con- troversy within the early Christian communities. This is incredibly odd because the first few centuries of Christianity were rocked by epic arguments even about the nature of Christ. Despite this, there is no record of any first-century Christian seeming the slightest bit put out by the idea that human beings are destined to become divine through the saving work of Jesus Christ. In the words of theologian Juan Gonzalez Arintero, “So common were these ideas concerning deification that not even the heretics of the first centuries dared to deny them” (1979). Indeed, Arintero goes on to say, “This deification, so well known to the Fathers but unfortunately forgotten today, is the primary purpose of the Christian life.”
As you can see, divinization is a foundational teaching of mainline Christianity, but it is a lost treasure. Of course, there is only One True God. But we are made in his image and likeness and, because of the saving work of Jesus Christ, we have been gathered up into the life of God, and become partakers in that divinity.
Why Should We Care?
But so what? What’s all this to us? Sure, it’s a provocative idea, but what difference does it really make? It would be easy to write off divinization as just some moldy theological concept. But it is so much more. Though we are often tempted to feel that our lives and hopes and dreams are burning down around us, deification is the blueprint that allows us to rebuild our lives from the ashes and become everything God intended us to be from the beginning. It is the treasure map that helps us to rediscover just how truly wonderfully and fearfully we have been made (Ps 139:14). Understanding deification enables us to finally stop running from our sins and instead begin running toward divinity. It enables us to become not only our best selves, but so much more besides. When we embrace the idea that God wishes to make us gods, we are set free from fear and encounter within our hearts the peace this world cannot give ( Jn 14:27). Along the way we become empowered to resolve all the conflicts that fill our days with exhausting, petty dramas and instead experience radical, harmonious union with both God and the people who share our life (Jn 17:21). Most important, God’s plan for our divinization enables us to stop the constant emptiness and aching of our hearts and sets us on a path of abundance and the authentic fulfillment of all of our earthly and heavenly desires (Jn 10:10).
Just as important, the idea of divinization helps place in proper context the central and critical Christian belief that we are broken and in need of salvation. Prominent atheist blogger Neil Carter illustrates the importance of this belief in his article “We Are Not Broken,” where he writes of his frustration in finding common language with even progressive Christians who agree with him on so many social issues.
But then I suggest that human beings aren’t broken—they aren’t sinful or lacking something essential to their wholeness—that they just are what they are and they’re not “supposed to be” something else and then the conversation changes. I’ve just touched on something bedrock for them, immovable. . . . This belief—that the human condition is fundamentally flawed—is so central and necessary to their way of thinking. . . . If you take away human inadequacy, you take away the basis for the Christian faith. If you don’t believe me, then try it sometime. Try to suggest that we are fine the way we are. Not perfect, mind you. Not flawless or infallible. But not fundamentally messed up, either—not broken, not wounded, not inadequate—and watch what happens next. They won’t have it. You can’t take this away from them (Carter, 2014).
Carter gets at what many Christians themselves struggle to understand and certainly can’t articulate to others. Atheists like to think they are being optimistic about human nature—that it is Christians who are down on humanity. But atheists like Carter are lost in pessimism without even knowing it. From the very beginning, Christianity taught that humans were not meant to be merely human. We are, in fact, broken gods. Because of the reality of sin, humanity has lost its divinity, and it is exactly this “life more abundant” (Jn 10:10) that Jesus Christ came to restore. You, and I, and Neil Carter might want to believe that we are fine just the way we are, but we are not gods—we are not perfect and immortal—not yet, anyway, yet by God’s grace that is exactly what we are meant to become!