“It is the great mystery of human life that old grief passes gradually into quiet tender joy.”Dostoevsky, The Brother’s Karamozov
The West calls it divinization. The East calls it theosis. It is the journey, goal, and purpose of the Christian life lived out in this world, getting us fit for the next. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God,” to quote St. Athanasius. The whole sacramental life, one long process of healing.
Although the stain of original sin was dealt with at my baptism and although Jesus imprinted my soul with an indelible mark as his, living in the truth of this takes a lifetime. A lifetime of learning what it means to belong to him. A lifetime of learning to trust, a lifetime of discovering what it means to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)
I am healed. I am also healing. Slowly.
Recently my body reacted so badly to stress that it has taken me two months to put the pieces back together. The alarming rate at which my body rebelled and the unusual ways it rebelled, even made one of my doctors comment, “Are you sure you haven’t been reading the book of Job?”
Awake in the night experiencing the worst pain of my life, I cried and ask God to heal me quicker. Even as I said it I had to laugh. This process of healing is the purpose of my life. And who I am to tell the Great Physician how to do his work. His deep mysterious work in my soul, lived out through my body.
This work of theosis is so incarnational I miss it sometimes. I forget that the Incarnation of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem was only the beginning of the Incarnation, not the consummation. The Incarnation is now lived out in those who belong to Christ—including me. His birth, his life, his work, his sufferings, his redemption, and his resurrection—I get to participate in all of it.
It’s all well and good to say that I embrace and love the Incarnation when I am talking about birth, miracles, or the promise of eternal life. But at 3AM when sleep won’t come and my whole body silently screams for respite, then I have to look my suffering Savior in his beautiful face and offer him my body to reveal himself. In comparison to what he suffers, my pains are small. And I whine a good deal. But, every time I assent to the suffering presented, God is glorified in it. And in that space is where I am healed. It is the place where the deep hidden things are brought to light, where broken things are mended, where strength is found.
If you grew up in a Protestant setting, at one point or another, you have likely heard a pastor proclaim “God is good!” And unanimously the congregation shouts back, “All the time.” The pastor says, “All the time!” and again the congregation responds “God is Good!”
God is good all the time. All the time God is good.
Surprisingly, as I laid in the dark alone, crying, suddenly my soul started singing, “And all my life You have been faithful. And all my life You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able, Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God.” Even more surprising than having this song in my head in the middle of the night and in the middle of my pain, is that I actually believed it. I believed it with every fiber of my being. Yes the darkness and the pain and the exhaustion were real. But I felt somehow that I was so wrapped up in goodness. I don’t think anyone can say they know the goodness of God until they know it in the darkest night. Surely I do not know his goodness as well as some people who have known far greater suffering. And I don’t know his goodness as well as someday I will, because the healing continues. All my dark nights are not over. It’s a mercy though that God paces our healing. He heals us slowly. He remembers that we are dust, he regards our human frame. We can say to him, “Lord, remember that I am still a beginner and so very weak.” That is also a prayer of faith. Don’t forget that.
The healing of soul and body is real. God deals with the deep grief of our broken humanity at the pace of our broken humanity.
Theosis is the long game of salvation.