Not Just Salvation, But Glorification

Not Just Salvation, But Glorification October 21, 2019
Francesco Botticini: The Assumption of the Virgin/ WikimediaCommons

It is a sad fact that for many, Christianity, the Christian faith, is believed to be taught merely for the salvation of souls. Everything else is said to be secondary, and indeed, easily put aside. Of course, the salvation of souls is a part of the Christian faith. No one should deny its importance. But it is not all that Christianity teaches, nor all that it is concerned about. It is concerned with what is true, and promoting the practices which follow from that truth. To reduce the Christian faith, as many do, is to the salvation of souls is to reduce the Christian faith into a mere tool, which should explain how and why many ideologues bring up the salvation of souls as a way to discourage anyone from acting contrary to their own ideology.

Likewise, to reduce the Christian faith to be solely about the salvation of souls is to ignore the value and meaning of the incarnation. The incarnation seeks to do more than save souls. The incarnation is about the way the all-deifying grace of God shares his grace throughout his creation by becoming a part of it.  Or, as St. Athanasius famously put it, “For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality.” [1]

Because of sin, humanity had lost its way; it turned away from God and his grace. It tried to take what it had been given and use it out as the source and power of its being, becoming a closed system in decline, instead of an open system penetrated by grace which would prevent any ontological degeneration. Humanity, by turning inward, ignoring the grace of God, could be said to lessen its own potential, to become ontologically inferior. God, however, desired to have humanity work with him, to unite with him, so that humanity could be raised by grace to becoming something more, something greater, than it found itself to be in its origins.[2] Closing itself off from God, it needed to find itself returned to its original purity before it can then become something greater, to become, by grace, “gods” by participating in the divine nature. What it will be like for us when we enter eternity and find ourselves infinitely blessed by God’s grace is beyond our experience, even our comprehension, as Scripture tells us, “”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”  (1 Cor. 2:9b RSV).

Thus, among the many truths it teaches, the Christian faith tell us that Christ came to save humanity, to help restore it to the purity it lost due to sin, healing it from whatever harm sin has caused it, but also to glorify it through theosis. While some could say that God could force both of these upon us, the Christian faith is also clear, salvation and glorification (or theosis) requires our assent. “The divine economy encompasses the reconciliation and glorification of humankind through Christ. This is not the fruit of an act of the omnipotent divine will but requires our cooperation and response in faith.” [3]

God does not force us to love him: to do so would be contrary to what love is all about. God does not force us to be saved; God does not force us to open up and receive his deifying grace. Rather he encourages us, entices us, stirs our heart with his advances towards us, and lets us respond to him and his enchanting glances. Do we stop our narcissism, our self-enchantment, and turn toward God, letting him heal us from all the wounds of sin (and save us) before drawing us closer and closer to him, or do we ignore him at his every attempt to get our attention, turning forever away from him by continuing to glance in and hold on to ourselves apart from him?[4]

The Christian life, our life in and with Christ, should be the life which develops based upon our relationship with God through Christ. Through Christ, we find ourselves opening up to grace, so that whatever negation of being we have received as a result of our turn-toward-the self can be restored to us, allowing us to return to our original potential. But then, what we do with the grace given to us, how we respond to it, act with it, engage it, in the world, the more we find our potential becomes greater, and the more we can be said to be glorified. The greater we become, the more we open ourselves to receive God’s grace, the more we will act upon it, allowing us to grow even more and more in our potential, allowing us than to contain more and more of God’s grace in us. This is what theosis is about.

When we enter into eternity, if we have opened up to God and his grace, and properly acted upon it in the world, we will find it becomes the basis of our infinite growth in eternity. What we do in our life matters in eternity. Christianity tells us our place in the world, our actions in history matters. Now, to say that we will find ourselves becoming greater throughout eternity, is not to say there is no limit to such growth. Nor does it suggest that each person will have the same progression, the same potential for growth. Rather, Scripture suggests we will find ourselves following different trajectories on the great chain of being, some aiming higher (and “closer” to God), with others aiming lower (but still far greater than what they were like with their original potentiality). Calculus, in its engagement of infinity, is capable of demonstrating this, showing different types of infinite series (or functions), each with different “limits.” As the function goes on to eternity, we can begin to see how the trajectory shapes, where some could have a limit which is said to be 1, 2, 3, 5000, 2408080, 3993797973, or any other number: the function can be infinite but still contained within a limit, with some limits being greater than others. Those with smaller limits, then, could be said to be less than with those of greater limits, so that through mathematical analysis, we can understand how infinite progressions do not indicate the same ending or status when infinity is reached.

Thus, the Christian faith is not only about being saved, but rather, it is about how we can and should have a life in and with God. It encourages us to live our life the best we can here to find that reflected in eternity.  To be sure, all who engage theosis, all who transcend their original nature through deifying grace, will be blessed and happy, but it is possible for some to engage grace more than others, to be lifted more than others, and to be “greater” than others in eternity. All will be happy. There will be no sorrow. There will be no jealousy. There will be no envy. But some will have a greater potentiality for happiness, for beatitude, according to what they have done with their life on earth, for how they responded to the grace (talent) God gave to them. In other words, while the parable of Workers in the Field (cf. Matt. 20:1-16) indicates that we should not be envious or upset when anyone is saved, The Parable of the Talents (cf. Matt. 25:14-30) tells us that there can be and will be differentiation in regards how we use the grace given to us  and the reward we receive for our proper engagement with it.

Scripture tells us in many places that there can be and will be distinctions of glory. Jesus said: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going” (Jn. 14:2-4 RSV). This was taught to show that there would be many places of distinction in heaven; Jesus went to make them for us as a way to reward us.  Everyone will receive from God the justice their life demands. “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done” (Matt. 16:27 RSV).  Paul, likewise, declared, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2Cor. 5:10 RSV).

Righteousness will be rewarded, so that it certainly is worthwhile to follow the path of righteousness even if it happens that all will be saved, because we are not all promised to receive the same glorification. Jesus did more than tell about salvation; he told us, rather, to prepare ourselves for eternity:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matt. 6:19-21 RSV).

How can we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven if our works, our righteousness, our cooperation with grace means nothing and all of us, all who are saved, will be seen with the same glory for eternity? “A wicked man earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward” (Prov. 11:18 RSV). We will get a sure reward.  Some will be more glorious than others, even as all share the one and same reward, God himself:

For star shall differ from star, that is, elect from elect, in brightness of mind and body. Indeed some shall contemplate God’s beauty more closely and with greater clarity, and this very difference in contemplation is called a diversity if mansions. And so that house that is one, that is, the coin is one, but there is a diversity of mansion in it, that is, a difference of glory. The highest good, blessedness, and life of all, is one and the same – God himself. And the elect shall enjoy this good, but some more fully than others. But they shall enjoy it face to face, and not through a mirror dimly. And so to have life is to see life, that is, to know God face to face. [5]

It is because some have opened themselves to God more that they are capable of being filled with greater grace, so that though all receive the one and same ultimate reward, union with God himself, they will experience it differently. This is because everyone will have different capacities to receive God and his grace, capacities which they made for themselves due to their actions in life. If we think of a spoon, a cup, and a bucket, being all placed in a pool of water, we might understand what will go on in eternity. They will all hold the very same water, but the spoon will have less of it from the cup, and the cup from the bucket. And what that capacity will be is based upon our righteousness. Of course, it is not just what we have done, it is also God’s grace, which is involved, so our capacity will have some proportional relationship to the righteousness we established for ourselves in our earthly life, as St. Maximos the Confessor indicated:

Or, again, since the “place” of the saved will be God Himself, who is uncircumscribed, unlimited by time or space, and infinite, “becoming all things to all things,” in proportion to their righteousness, or rather granting Himself to each person according to the measure they have suffered knowingly for the sake of righteousness – just as the soul reveals itself as active in the parts of the body according to the capacity underlying each part, while maintaining in itself the existence of the parts, and sustains them in life – then, I ask, “where will the impious man and sinner appear?” For “where” will one, who is unable to receive the presence of God, actualized in the state of well-being, “appear” after having suffered separation from divine life, which transcends age, time, and place?[6]

It is important to remember that theosis does not change who we are by nature, but only elevates us by grace:

In this way, man as a whole will be divinized, being made God by the grace of God who became man. Man will remain wholly man in soul and body, owing to his nature, but will become wholly God in soul and body owing to grace and the splendor of the blessed glory of God, which is wholly appropriate to him, and beyond which nothing more splendid or sublime can be imagined.[7]

Eternity is not static, it is ever-increasing glory, but it is related to what we have done in our temporal life. This should not be surprising because life is important. To make it unimportant, to make it insignificant in relation to eternity would bring into question the meaning of life itself. Why does what we do matter if everyone and everything will be reduced to the same exact quality in eternity? Scripture, and tradition, makes it clear that this will not be the case; we don’t have to perceive people in stasis in eternity, but we also don’t have to think the trajectory of each and everything in eternity is one and the same, even as mathematics proves infinite sets can and do have different trajectories when mapped out on  a graph. Each person, each creature, will get from God the fullness of what is contained in that trajectory. “It is sufficient to know that God gives each and every person his fulfillment in a way particular to this or that individual, and that in this way each and all receive to the uttermost.’[8] And seeing the variety of glory, we will rejoice with each other in each other’s glory, none being envious because all will be satisfied in what they receive, as St. Augustine explained:

But who can conceive, not to say describe, what degrees of honor and glory shall be awarded to the various degrees of merit? Yet it cannot be doubted that there shall be degrees. And in that blessed city there shall be this great blessing, that no inferior shall envy any superior, as now the archangels are not envied by the angels, because no one will wish to be what he has not received, though bound in strictest concord with him who has received; as in the body the finger does not seek to be the eye, though both members are harmoniously included in the complete structure of the body. And thus, along with his gift, greater or less, each shall receive this further gift of contentment to desire no more than he has.[9]

We are told that what we give, what we do, how we cooperate with God will be returned to us, measure for measure, glory for glory. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Lk. 6:37-38 RSV). We do not have to fear that we waste our life away following him. The more we open up to him, the greater the measure we will get in return.  “For God is just and He rewards those who await Him in patience.”[10] This, more than the salvation of souls, is important for us to remember. Once we do, we will see why how we treat each other, what we do for each other, how we live out a virtuous life, matters; it is why Jesus talked about our deeds and the rewards which they will generate. He didn’t reduce his message merely to our salvation, because he intended much more out of us than that.


[1] St. Athanasius, “On the Incarnation” in NPNF2(4):65.

[2] To be sure, God’s desire is for the whole of creation, and not just humanity, to be raised up by grace: God is all-deifying in his activity.

[3] Norman Russell, Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), 35.

[4] Obviously, our very existence comes from God, and is itself one of the graces which God gives us. The more we try to cut our ties from him, the more we turn inward, the more our potential being declines; it can become an infinite regress: while never being annihilated, the limit of that regress could be said to be such annihilation.

[5] Peter Lombard, Then Sentences. Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs. Trans. Giulio Silano (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2010), 266 [XLIX-1].

[6] St. Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Responses to Thalassios. Trans. Maximo Constas (Washington. DC: CUA Press, 2018). 444-5. [Q61]

[7] St. Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers. The Ambigua. Volume I. trans. Nicholas Constas (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2014), 113 [Amb. 7].

[8]Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life. Trans. Michael Waldstein (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1988), 236.

[9] St. Augustine, City of God in NPNF1(2):510 [XXII.30].

[10] St. John of Damascus, “On the Orthodox Faith” in Saint John of Damascus: Writings. trans. Frederic H. Chase, Jr. (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1958), 401.

 

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