Or, the world’s best-kept secret.
Actually, they didn’t forget to teach it, but must have trembled to repeat such an outrageous statement, even though it had been repeated by several Fathers of the Church for the first several centuries of Christianity. Here it is:
God became human so that humans might become gods. (Or variably, so that we might become God.)
This shocking statement appeared in the Gospel of John –
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God. (1: 12)
Then Peter –
. . . he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4) –
Followed by other similar proclamations by Bishops Irenaeus, Athenasius, and Augustine – where I’ll stop in the interest of brevity.
But really I ought to have included the very first message of this truth as emphatically recorded in Genesis:
Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. . . [And] God created mankind in his image . . . in the image of God he created them. (1:26,27)
Most convincing of all are the urgings of our Lord Jesus Christ who commands us to imitate our Father by being perfect in the way we treat others: with mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
Somehow in the western church we got caught up in rules, just as our Jewish forebears had done. Ideally, the church’s rules might have been created to prop up and help us live out the teachings of Christ. Alas! All too frequently the props on the spiritual stage became a greater reality than what they were meant to be. So we imitated what had occurred with the Jewish laws, causing Isaiah to write and later Jesus to quote:
This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. ( Matthew 15: 8-9)
Jesus did indeed make some commandments more difficult than the original.
You have heard it said, he begins, that . . .
You shall not kill —
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment,
You shall not commit adultery —
But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth —
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy —
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5)
Being a real Christian requires that we rise above even the basic human standards of being a “good person.”
We are called to be so much more than that. We are called to take on the holiness of God’s own Self. Of course we’ve failed to do that, which is why the world repeats the same-old same-old practices of greed, selfishness, cruelty, etc., etc., etc.
We who wish (or claim) to be Christians must therefore look closely at the actions and words of Christ, especially those where he teaches us the “rules” regarding love of God and neighbor. Why are so many of us eager to see other people (who are judged to be “sinners”) kicked out of the church? We see someone breaking what we think is a rule and demand that they be removed, or denied Communion, or have some other privilege taken away.
It is not the healthy who need a physician, Jesus reminds the Pharisee, outraged to see “sinners” eat at the same table; or view the wanton, vile woman who shamelessly displays her tears and uncovers her hair to weep at the feet of Christ.
A new law I give you: Love one another as I have loved you.
How easy Christ makes it for us! Only one law to remember, only one law to obey. Love covers all the rest.