‘Partakers of the Divine Nature’
God the Holy Trinity exists eternally as a communion of love, and it is out of this love that he created the world and, above all, humankind. God did not create us to be disposable pawns on a cosmic chessboard, nor does he have any need for servants, helpers, or worshipers. God created us in order to share his love with us, and to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
In the Book of Genesis, we learn that humankind is unique among all creatures in that God has made us in his own image, with the potential to attain his likeness. Attaining this likeness, becoming like God, is the goal and purpose of every human being. In the Orthodox tradition, we refer to this process as theosis; we become by grace what God is by nature.
Humankind and creation
Humankind is also unique in another sense; namely, in that we belong to both the visible and invisible realms of creation — we have both a physical body and a spirit.
The human being, then, stands at the centre of the created world, uniting the physical and spiritual parts of creation, and acting as the link between God and the world.
In the eyes of God, each human person has infinite value and a lofty calling.
As we said, we were created out of love, to love, and be loved. But love is only love when it is freely chosen. In order for true love to exist, then, there also has to be the possibility of rejection — in order for union with God to be possible, separation from God also has to be possible.
The story of Adam and Eve, their disobedience and eviction from Paradise, is an expression of this reality. Instead of reciprocating God’s love and finding their fulfilment in him, humankind chose self-worship and self-deification (the eating from the Tree of Knowledge of God and Evil symbolises, among other things, man usurping the place of God as the ultimate criterion and reference point for what is right and wrong, true and false) and turned away from God.
Since God is the source of life, cutting ourselves off from that source naturally led to death: first spiritual, then physical. Moreover, since mankind is the link between God and creation, the fall of man did not just affect him, but the entire world.
This state of separation from God — into which we are all born, and which accounts for all the brokenness and injustice in our world — is what we call ‘sin’. The Greek word for sin is hamartía, is an archery term that literally means ‘missing the mark’ (the Hebrew word חָטָא has the same meaning). Union with God is our target, any act or disposition that leads us away from that goal of union is hamartía, sin.
God’s love, however, is unconditional. Mankind rejected him, but he did not reject mankind. Quite the contrary, the Bible tells us that ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). As we pray at almost every Divine Liturgy,
You brought us out of non-existence into being, and when we had fallen you raised us up again, and left nothing undone until you had brought us up to heaven and had granted us your Kingdom that is to come.
In order to bridge the gap separating God and man, God himself — in the person of the eternal Word — became man, uniting himself with our human nature, and conquered our enemy — sin and death — by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead on the third day.
Who is Jesus Christ?