Apotheosis, or simply “theosis,” is the belief that humans can become gods. This belief is found in many forms throughout the religions of the world. In much Eastern thought, we are already God, the universal consciousness. We just have to realize it. Meanwhile, panentheism claims that everything is God, even the physical world, while pantheism maintains that God is in all things.
LDS doctrine claims that as both God and Jesus had become Gods through their labors, we too can become Gods. One popular Mormon quote, which is often attributed to the early Mormon leader Lorenzo Snow (1837), reads, “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”
This is consistent with Mormon writings:
· God undoubtedly took every opportunity to learn the laws of truth and as He became acquainted with each new verity He righteously obeyed it…As He gained more knowledge through persistent effort and continuous industry, as well as absolute obedience, His understanding of universal laws continued to become more complete…until He attained the status of Godhood…He became God by absolute obedience to all the eternal laws of the Gospel. (The Gospel Through the Ages)
According to Mormonism, if god was able to become God, so can we.
However, theosis is also found in less extreme forms among some of the Church Fathers. St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, "He was incarnate that we might be made god."
St. Maximus the Confessor wrote:
· "A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to deification of human nature is provided by the Incarnation of God, which makes man God to the same degree as God Himself became man ... Let us become the image of the one whole God, bearing nothing earthly in ourselves, so that we may consort with God and become gods, receiving from God our existence as gods.”
Is this Biblical? While Eastern Orthodoxy holds that we “become gods,” it seems that it stops short of making us deity. However, even this is extreme. What then does Scripture teach about our destiny?
For one thing, the saints in heaven with God are not seen worshipping each other but God alone (Revelation 6:10; 7:10, 15-17). These portraits demonstrate that we will not be equal with God but dependent upon Him.
This is consistent with other verses which consistently claim that we were created in the likeness of Him (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6) and not identical with Him. We are also emerging from our fallen-ness to become more like Him:
· …be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:23-24; ESV)
This is a process:
· …He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:4; 2 Cor. 3:18; Romans 8:29)
However, this process of being conformed into God-like-ness will not be completed until He returns for us:
· Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)
· Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49, 51; Phil. 3:21)
The Biblical promise is not that we shall be gods but God-like. Therefore, in heaven, we shall not be worshipping one another but God alone. This is why Jesus prayed:
· “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24; Revelation 21:22-23)
While we will be reigning with Christ, we will not be seated at the place of greatest honor (Rev. 22:1-5). Instead, we will share His glory but in a gloriously subservient role.
Perhaps most problematic about Eastern Orthodoxy is their self-preoccupation with theosis:
· “The journey toward theosis includes many forms of praxis [practices], the most obvious being monasticism and clergy…Living in the community of the church and partaking regularly of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, is taken for granted. Also important is cultivating "prayer of the heart", and prayer that never ceases, as Paul exhorts the Thessalonians (1 and 2). This unceasing prayer of the heart is a dominant theme in the writings of the Fathers, especially in those collected in the Philokalia. It is considered that no one can reach theosis without an impeccable Christian living, crowned by faithful, warm, and, ultimately, silent, continuous Prayer of the Heart.” (Wikipedia)
While it is true that we are being changed into His image, transformation should not be our pursuit, as it is for Eastern Orthodoxy. “The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology” contains the following in an article titled "Deification":
· Deification (Greek theosis) is for Orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is 'made in the image and likeness of God.'
However, this must not be our goal. For one thing, it will lead to discouragement. This is because, as judgment begins with the household of faith (1 Peter 4:17), many ugly impurities will be brought to the surface, into our awareness:
· In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
As we are being tested as gold by fire, we are melt down, and the impurities come to the surface to be confessed and repented. This is a painful and humbling process, in which we see that we are not worthy of the slightest good thing from God. Instead of seeing deity being formed within, we are broken of any sense of entitlement or worthiness. However, this painful process ironically produces love for our Savior, as Peter’s next verse indicates:
· Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, (1 Peter 1:8)
How can this humbling process produce love and joy? When someone humbles me, I usually want to retaliate. I do not feel love for this person. However, through the pain, we come to a greater realization of His love, having begun understand that we truly deserve death and only His mercy stands between us and destruction. Eventually, this fills us with gratefulness (Hebrews 12:5-11).
Instead of seeing our non-existent worthiness, we behold Him (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16-18), our only hope. Therefore, our hope and focus must be upon Him alone. It is only here that we will find rest and assurance:
· I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:22-26)
Praise be to our Savior forever and ever!