Scripture says that one of Satan’s lies greatest is that we can make ourselves gods. That is, we are told we do not need anyone other than ourselves, that we have everything we need to sustain ourselves and make ourselves great. We can achieve our apotheosis all by ourselves; we need nothing from God. Every time we try to build ourselves up as great and powerful at the expense of others, because we think we do not need them, because we think our own potential is enough to allow us to achieve true and lasting glory, we give into Satan’s lie. We repeat and make worse the cosmic fall. We give in to our base desires, ignoring connection to others. We ignore our need for God’s grace if we want to have sustainable glory. We think ourselves to be strong and wise while proving ourselves to be weak and foolish. True spiritual advancement, true spiritual glory, requires us to reject this lie. Instead of being concerned about ourselves, instead of seeking our own particular wants and desires, instead of building ourselves up while ignoring the needs of others, our growth lies in communion with others and with God. If we are going to be in communion with others, we must be concerned about them. We must edify them. Wherever we have strength, we are to use it, not for ourselves, but for others. We must understand we are to use it to build up others, as Paul indicated: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him” (Rom. 15:1-2 RSV).
Any spirituality which tells us to build ourselves up and become even greater than we are by focusing on ourselves while ignoring the needs of our neighbors is from the devil. This is not to say we cannot and should not take time to grow, to become better than what we are, but when we do so, it must not be for ourselves alone. We must realize that after working to help others, to do what we can for them, we will need rest. We will need to replenish ourselves physically and spiritually. If we don’t, we won’t be effective in fulfilling our mission in the world.
We must realize there is a limit to what we can do. We must remember that our perfection lies not in ourselves, but in communion, both with God and the rest of creation. We might try to build ourselves up without such communion. When we do so, we will find the foundation will not hold, and so it will eventually collapse in upon itself. Thus, if we separate ourselves from others , like Jesus did right before he begun preaching, it must be done so that we can prepare ourselves for the work which we are about to do instead of becoming our work.
We will not be able to advance far so long as our focus is upon ourselves. Whatever glory we attain for ourselves will be nothing in comparison to the glory which we could and would attain if we built ourselves up in proper communion with others. This is because, closed off as we are, we will not receive the grace which we need to transcend ourselves, the grace which we need to truly attain glorious spiritual heights. Though, when we begin any attempt of self-theosis, it might appear that we are growing in glory, we will find the corruption and contamination of such an attempted self-theosis will leave us worse than we were, making us, as it were, subhuman, because we will have denied our own humanity as we rejected our natural connection and responsibility to others. We are called to be one with the rest of humanity even as the divine persons are one. We truly realize our humanity in cooperation and union with others. If we try to be strong in order to please ourselves, all we end up doing is attaching ourselves to some inordinate passion and allow it to manipulate and control us until it has so distorted us that the image and likeness of God will hardly be recognizable in us.
We are called, therefore, to be one with one another. We are to care for each other, to lift each other up. We are in this together. When one of us is blessed, all of us should become blessed through them. When one of us suffers, we all will suffer. What blessings we have, what spiritual greatness we have, is not for ourselves alone, but for all. Even hermits, if they are true to their calling, recognize this, and so live out their lives in prayers, not for themselves, but for others, even as they secretly act and work as mediators for the world at large. They learned how to interact with others with grace, and so by their examples, which we find in the stories about their lives, we learn how best to engage and lift up each other.
Truly, we can properly glorify God only if we come together, united in love.“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 16:5-6 RSV). Whatever bonds sin has destroyed, Jesus heals, serving as the bridge by which we can all come together as one, even as he is the bridge between us and God. In and through him, we are able to receive all the blessings and glory we could ever desire. But he only gives it to us if we come into accord with him, and to do that, we must join him with love, love for him and love for our neighbor as ourselves. Only through such love can theosis truly be attained.
“Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7 RSV). The God-man came into the world for our sake. He welcomes us into union with himself so that we can receive the grace which we lost when we tried to achieve glory all by ourselves. That grace will build us up, so then through it, we can go out into the world and, like Christ, act as bridges, building up and restoring what sin has destroyed. Indeed, we are called to go out into the world and welcome others just as Christ welcomed us. We must love others as Christ loved us. There is no room for any selfishness, no room for any option which would have us cut ourselves off from the world because we think the world does not meet our spiritual expectations. We must not be conformed to the sins we find in the world, to be sure, but if we abandon the path of love by trying to flee from the world so that we can build ourselves up with our own self-made glory, all we will bring with us is the worst aspects of the world as we embrace the great lie of the devil. We must always remember what Jesus did: he went out into the world. “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity” (Matt. 9:35 RSV). This is the spirituality Jesus taught us. This is the spirituality which we must follow if we truly want to be all that we can be. This is one of the great paradoxes of reality. To build ourselves up, we must open ourselves up to others, where we focus on building them up instead of ourselves. For, when they are made better, we are lifted up with them. But if we ignore them, then whatever little we do for ourselves will be as nothing and will eventually crumble apart because we have, as it were, built on the foundation of sand (cf. Matt. 7:26).
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