Many Christians seem to think that being spiritually mature means God wants to dissolve us into nothingness. This idea finds its origin in pagan religion, not Christianity.
I will treat this important subject in two parts: I will lay a theological foundation for our ultimate “humanness” here, and then take a look at how this works out in our everyday lives.
God is, and always has been, in perfect union within Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit—so much so that we must say that He is one. Yet each of the Persons in the Trinity doesn’t dissolve into the other. The early church fathers wrestled with this mystery of God revealed in the light of Jesus Christ. They fought against two main Christological heresies: One, that the Father becomes the Son and then becomes the Spirit (called “Modalism” or “Sabellianism”) and the other, that Jesus Christ is not God (called “Arianism“).
Early church fathers, like Athanasius (c.298 – 373 AD), hammered this out into a creed:
“That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.” (From “Athanasian Creed”)
The term they came up with to describe this union was “perichoresis.” Here is Theopedia’s definition of perichoresis (emphasis added):
“It can be defined as co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration. Alister McGrath writes that it “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a ‘community of being,’ in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.” (Theopedia)
So, what does all this lofty “theology-speak” have to do with us becoming human? Everything! Here’s why it matters:
First, we could say that perichoresis is the true essence of intimacy—whether it be between two lovers or relationally with God. This “mutual interpenetration” is shared “in-to-me-see.” This is also what is meant by “knowing” in Scripture. It’s not an intellectual knowledge but a relational one (e.g., knowing about God versus knowing Him).
Second, for God to be love (1 John 4:8), He must be able to express it to another person within Himself, apart from His creation. Love is other-centered by definition; so, if God is alone (or three iterations of God dissolved into a single Person), then He cannot be other-centered. He becomes a distant deity who is alone, not defined by love or relationship. Since we are made in His image, we could not know other-centered love or intimacy in our relationships either.
Third, just like God does not dissolve His Persons within Himself, He doesn’t dissolve you either when He put you in Christ. He “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained” while we share in Christ’s life in God. He gave you an individual personality and will to express the divine nature in a unique way. (Isn’t this what we want in our love relationships, to maintain our unique selves while being in perfect union?) God loves diversity and has many manifold ways to express Himself through our particular gifting and personality (1 Cor.12:12-31; 1 Pet.4:10).
With this foundation laid, what does a totally human person look like? The answer is simple. She or he looks like Christ. Jesus is the blueprint of an authentic human life (emphasis added):
In him the image and likeness of God is made visible in human life in order that every one may recognize their true origin in him. He is the first-born of every creature. (Col. 1:5 MIRROR)
This doesn’t mean we become God, or Christ Himself. Again, we don’t dissolve into nothingness in God. We participate in the divine nature (2 Pet.1:4). And when we do this, we begin to take on the nature of the relationship. We begin to think like Christ, see people like Him, and love them like He did.
While Jesus was God the Son, He was very approachable and personable as a human being. He was always in the moment and intimate with those He interacted with. He cared for people very deeply, defending against injustice and doing good wherever He went (Acts 10:38).
Jesus showed us what love looks like in human form.
So, becoming human is found in our participation in Christ. As we do this, we are transformed, from “glory to glory,” becoming our true selves (see my post on glory, titled “Romance, heroism…and glory!“) I like how the Mirror Bible shows us this in 2 Cor. 3:18 (emphasis added):
“In Him every face is unveiled. In gazing with wonder at the blueprint likeness of God displayed in human form, we suddenly realize that we are looking at ourselves! Every feature of His image is mirrored in us! This is the most radical transformation engineered by the Spirit of the Lord; we are led from an inferior mind-set to the revealed endorsement of our authentic identity. You are His glory!” (2 Cor.3:18 MIRROR)
We will see how this works out in our every day lives next time.