4. Conclusion: Reflection, Motivation, Consummation (conc.)
The “End” of the Story: Resurrection, Consummation and Theosis
Up until this point, our focus has been upon telling and participating within the first four movements of God’s Story (movements which span from “the beginning” to the present day) and we have only briefly alluded to the fifth movement –- the concluding movement of consummation and of the new creation of all things. However, a story-shaped people lives with both remembrance and expectation, because the story contains both past events and promises for the future. Telling God’s story is remembering our future just as much as it is remembering our past. Therefore, we will conclude by reflecting upon the movement of consummation and, in this way, complete this prolegomena. Within this conclusion we will draw from Eastern Orthodox sources in order to recover the notion of theosis and thereby fill out the work done by the Protestant and Roman Catholic sources that have been our main dialogue partners so far.
The mission of God within the movement of consummation is thoroughly trinitarian. The Father will return to be personally and physically present with his creation. He will heal all wounds, wipe away all tears, and make all things new. The Son will return in glory to consummate his kingdom, to subject all the powers, and to complete his victory over sin and death, over exile and hell. The Spirit will be poured out on all flesh and in this way God will be all in all. In this way, the story of God-with-us will reach its wondrous conclusion and just as at the beginning of this study, so now at the end we discover that all of this occurs through resurrection. The event of the general resurrection of the dead is at the core of this movement. Therefore, just as the mission of the Church is founded upon Jesus’ resurrection, so also it reaches its completion in the resurrection of all people to new life.
In the movement of consummation God’s mission to create humanity in his image will be completed. Indeed, as Moltmann argues, humanity was created to be God’s image, not according to God’s image; therefore, humanity is created “in the direction of” God’s image, and the true likeness of God is not to be found at the beginning of the story but at its end. In the movement of consummation, humanity, indwelt by the Spirit and shaped by Jesus, will be the true reflection of the Father -– although now we only see this reflection “as through a mirror darkly,” in the movement of consummation God’s image will be fully revealed. This approach to the telos of humanity fits well with the tradition of theosis and deification that has been sustained within the Eastern Orthodox churches. Appealing to the Church Fathers -– especially to St. Athanasius, who argued that “God became man, so that we might be made gods” -– Orthodox theologians argue that the purpose of life is to be participants within the divine nature as we enter into union with God (and with one another). However, because of Western Protestant and Roman Catholic discomfort with the language of deification, it must be noted that this doctrine does not lead to pantheism or polytheism. The focus is upon union, not confusion or fusion, with God. To enter into theosis is simply to be a creature of God in the way that God intended one to be -– deification is the fulfillment of our creatureliness. Indeed, deification is a convenient shorthand way of referring to the missio Christianus that has been developed within this paper. Although all humanity has been gifted with the image of God, it is only those who participate within the missio Dei as a Spirit-empowered, cruciform, abandoned, and Fatherly people, who truly bring that likeness to bear within the present. In the movement of overlap the people of God begin to model what it is to be caught up within the perichoretic relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. In the movement of consummation all of creation will be caught up into that relationship.
Of course, this concluding movement is not the end of God’s Story, nor is it the end of the story of God-with-us. This ending is but a new beginning. These first five movements are only the start of the grand narrative of God-with-us. These movements are but a part of the labor pains that accompany new life. From the fifth movement onward we move into something completely different. We are caught up into the perichoretic relationship of the Father, Son and the Spirit. We are transformed into the fully unveiled glory of the children of God, the world is made new, and justice and peace embrace within the unbroken reign of God’s reconciliation and shalom. Little wonder then that biblical visions of this movement of consummation are so inundated with scenes of worship that overflow with spontaneity and joy. Yes, all things will be made new. The transforming love of the One God –- Father, Son, and Spirit –- will triumph over all things, even godforsakenness and hell.
We have only begun to taste and see the ever deeper, ever more wondrous, life and goodness of our Lord. Therefore, let us persevere as those who are empowered by the Spirit to become the cruciform revelation of the Father in the remaining places of abandonment that persist for just a little while longer, and in our persistence let us remember that the night is passing and the day is at hand. Therefore, we join with the communion of the Saints and in our worship anticipate the day when all creation will rejoice in the presence of God.
Glory be to the Father; glory be to the Son; glory be to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Emil Bartos, Deification in Eastern Orthodox Theology: An Evaluation and Critique of the Theology of Dimitru Stanisloae.
Jurgen Moltmann, In the End — The Beginning: The life of hope and God in Creation.
Panayiotis Nellas, Deification in Christ: The Nature of the Human Person.
Christoforos Stavropoulous, “Partakers of Divine Nature” in Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader.
Richard Valantasis, Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age.
Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way.