“All major religions agree on one thing: the deepest desire of the human person is to get in contact and to live in union with his or her God.”
“The search for unity with God is undoubtedly the leading motif in religions.”
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, begins his book, One With God: Salvation as Deification and Justification, with these strong claims. The main theme in common with the major religions is the human desire for union with God.
He goes on in the book to argue that this theme pervades not only Eastern Orthodox Christianity (known for its emphasis on theosis, or deification (participation in God), but that it’s also an important theme in Catholicism and–most controversially–even in the great Protestant theologian, Martin Luther.
The claim that Luther’s theology contains strong themes related to deification or theosis (union with God) is developed in the so-called “new Finnish interpretation of Luther,” whose primary voice is Tuomo Mannermaa (1937-2015) formerly professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Helskinki.
Kärkkäinen introduces the Finnish interpretation of Luther in this book, and shows how this recovery of an overlooked theme in Luther’s theology could assist in ongoing ecumenical work between the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches.
I plan to blog more later about the Finnish interpretation, but for now I’m interested in Kärkkäinen’s claim that at the heart of all major religions is this desire for union with God.
Of Christianity in particular, he goes on to write that,
According to the Christian understanding, all people, whether within or outside of the church, have the very same need: to be saved from fear and judgment to love and safety. Even though we believe and live our Christian lives within our various traditions, we do not suffer or die merely as Baptists, Catholics, Orthodox, or Pentecostals. Whether we like it or not, all Christians are on their way to the very same salvation provided by the same Almighty God. For Christian testimony to win any kind of credibility in an unbelieving and doubting world, we need a consensual understanding of salvation. Let us not be naïve: the Christian church is not likely to be united doctrinally, perhaps it even should not be. The richness of Christian theology and witness is the symphony—even though too often a cacophony—of various legitimate voices concerning the saving works of their God and Savior. While no homogenous testimony is to be expected or desired, a hope for a common perspective on salvation could be realistic.
The irony of Christianity lies in the fact that all Christians, as the rest of the world, yearn for union with God and unity between others. However, churches are divided, churches that speak about the final union to come. Could the doctrine of salvation be a catalyst for a more serious concern for unity?
I don’t disagree with the claim as such – though I might substitute “the divine” for God, but I wonder if we dig a layer deeper we’d discover that even beyond “unity” or “union” with God, the common human desire expressed in all religions, perhaps expressed through that motif of union with God, is the quest for meaning, significance, and wholeness in a world that otherwise so often seems to lack it? In this sense, perhaps it isn’t just union with God, but also with creation, with others, and having a sense of peace and of place in the world?