Divinisation and Incarnation
John Navone SJ FAITH Magazine September-October 2007
The story of Jesus is what the eternal trinitarian life of God looks like when it is projected upon the screen of history, and this means not only on the screen of human history but of sinful human history. The obedience of Jesus to the Father, his obedience to his mission, is just what the eternal procession of the Son from the Father appears as in history. His obedience consists in nothing else but his being in history. Jesus did nothing but be the Son as man. His crucifixion was the dramatic manifestation of the sort of world we have made, the showing up of the world, the unmasking of what we traditionally call original sin. There is no need for theories about the Father putting his Son to death once we know that he was human in our world. Jesus died in obedience to his Father's will simply in the sense that he was human in his obedience to his Father's will.
Just as the crucifixion/resurrection is what the eternal procession of the Son from the Father looks like when projected upon sinful human history, so the sending of the Holy Spirit (so that we share in the life of God, so that the mystery of the church exists) is what the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit looks like when projected on to that sinful human world. And the Holy Spirit appears in our world as the transforming force making the world new, or the church new, the individual new, by reducing all the obstacles to its new creation.
The Holy Spirit of the Father and Son is our given capacity for God in our divinization. It is a given equality/communion with God. To lose sight of that would be to make ourselves God, to divinize ourselves. It is the mystery we encounter when we try to speak of the relationship of Jesus and the Father. There is an equality between them, yet evidently there can be no such thing as two individual Gods. Jesus is indeed from the Father, owes his being to the Father, but is nonetheless not a creature but wholly equal with the Father. The traditional word for this is “procession”: Jesus proceeds from the Father but not by being created.
What we mean by the Incarnation is that the divine Son took on humanity; what we mean by our grace is that we human beings are given divinity. And it is in living the divine-life-weare- given that we have what we call faith in the fundamental truth that the Father loves Jesus. That God is creator and loves Jesus as equal is revealed to us in the story of Israel and the church, centering and pivoting on Jesus of Nazareth. The revelation is not given to us as a piece of information about God; it is communicated to us in the act of taking us up into his love. In other words, that the Father loves Jesus is revealed to us precisely in our being brought to share in that love between them: and this is the Incarnation. Jesus in fact actually reveals the Father’s love for him not in talking about it but in embracing us within it – he does talk about it too, but you could listen to the talk without receiving the revelation for that lies in responding faith to the offer of love.
What is offered in the church and scriptures is a share in his life. What is unique about Jesus is the encounter with God that he represented. If we are to enter into the mystery of God we need to be taken up by God himself, to share in his knowledge of himself, a share that makes us acutely aware of our inadequacy before the mystery as we are brought closer to it.
So it is God’s initiative that is needed. Not that we should speak more about him, but that he should speak to us. No one, however sinless, could know God except God. No one knows the Father except the Son, no one knows the Son except the Father. Unless we are taken up to share in God’s self-knowledge there is just no way a creature can answer his/her own radical question about God. It is not sin that gets in the way; it is the fact that we are creatures. The gap between ourselves and God is not simply a moral one, that he is good and we are not. It is the metaphysical one: God is creator and we are his creatures.
Of course, our being sinners does not help. It means that we do not of ourselves share in knowledge of God (true of creatures anyway) but that when it is offered to us we reject it. There is for us no such state as absence of divinity: we are either divinized or we have rejected divinity.
For this is what is involved in the gift of Jesus. God loves Jesus and loves him from eternity as his co-equal Son, owing his existence indeed to God though not created. It is into this eternal exchange of love between Jesus and the Father that we are taken up, this exchange of love that is called the Holy Spirit. And this means, of course, that we are taken up into equality/communion. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit of love poured into ours hearts (Rom 5:5) we are given equality, the divine life love itself, the Holy Spirit.