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Monday, June 01, 2009

Love and Divine Union: Summary Thoughts

Ephesians 3:14-19 (my translation):
For this reason I bow my knee before the father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, in order that he might give to you according to the riches of his glory/divinity (doxes), empowering you to be strong through his spirit in the inside person (eso anthropon), Christ living in you (katoikeo) through faith in your hearts, being firmly rooted and firmly established in love (agape), in order that you might be able to fully understand with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, to know the surpassing knowledge (gnosis) of the love (agape) of Christ, in order that you might be filled to all the fullness of God.

In the previous post, I wrote down a few, brief exegetical notes on the above passage. In this post, I have a few summary observations.

Summary Thoughts
The idea here in this passage of participating with God and sharing of the divinity is fascinating to me. I believe that God is essentially and most fundamentally mystery, because God "dwells in unapproachable light.” God transcends in mystery. However, the New Testament does not hesitate to open the possibility of humanity sharing in the divine nature. And, in fact, this is the heart of the Gospel. As Athanasius famously said, "God became man so that man might become God.” (On the Incarnation, 54:3) In the Gospel, the greatest gift that God gives is God's self.

This union with the divine is connected here with love. Through contemplation of love, one can begin to contemplate being “filled with all the fullness of God.”


I am also intrigued by Paul’s language of the “inside person.” Early in the prayer, Paul speaks of the existential awareness of ourselves. Divine union and divine love penetrate to the “inside person,” to the self. It is this self that can realize the “surpassing” knowledge of love (v. 19).

What does it mean to discover this divine union and love?

Personally I have no answer to this question. And perhaps there is no answer, per se. Perhaps the question of divine union and divine love is a question that takes a lifetime to unpackage and reflect on.....to contemplate and to live. The point of divine union and love, I think, is the direction in which it points us. It is interesting that when it comes to mystical issues of experiencing the fullness of divine union and divine love, it seems as though we are given the direction but not the map. We are pointed in way but not shown how to walk. The process of walking seems to be our gift: to discover for ourselves how to discover union with God and the surpassing knowledge of love.

I think, though, that grace must be most basic. Often we cannot embrace the divine or understand love because something in us does not believe we deserve the "fullness" of the divine. Or we build up internal defense mechanisms to cope in the grace-less-ness of the day-to-day world, and we reach a point where we close our hearts to grace, failing to open to the gift that God gives us of God's own self and of the vast dimensions of Her love.

Grace is that openness to receive the love and the divine, the openness to be "filled to all the fullness of God."

I also appreciate in these verses how Paul opens with a deep sense of inclusivism: the whole family of the cosmic universe derives its name from God. God's desire, as expressed in chapter 1 verse 10 of this same book of Ephesians, is to bring all together under Christ. Whether Paul truly believes in an eschatological universalism is certainly not clear, but what is clear is that universalism is the goal and ideal: that the Gospel is fundamentally about reconciliation and restoration.


samlcarr said...

"What does it mean to discover this divine union and love?"I personally believe that Paul is expanding on his own understanding of what happened to him (and to all those who have responded to his own preaching of the gospel)when he encountered Christ.

For me then, the entire process that unfolds is a mystery. It is highly individual, yet grounded in this reality of the Messiah. Grace, love, peace and all the experience of 'fruits' or, for that matter, the experience of existential despair, are the result of my 'self' being made open to the self of God - most clearly seen in his messiah.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I agree with you, Sam. I especially think that it is important to respect each other's agency, as free individuals.

Tamie walked the Camino de Santiago a few years back. One of the things about the pilgrimage that impressed me is that the pilgrims would say "that's his/her camino." In other words, each person has their own journey, and it is important to respect each person's own pilgrimage.

Yet it is also true, on the other hand, that we learn from each other. So, while the process is a mystery, the mystery unfolds as we relate to other pilgrims.....and for those of us in the Christian tradition, we relate our journey with the pilgrimage of Christ........So, eachy individual mystery, each pilgrimage, relates itself to other fellow-travelers......perhaps that even deepens the mystery.

samlcarr said...

In Acts 17 the author quotes Paul as declaring that all live and move and have being (loosely KJV, 'exist' says Moffatt) in God. Paul is speaking to a random assortment of curious Athenians; a setting quite different from his letters to established 'believer communities'.

There is no doubt at all in my mind that the vision, the invitation, and the call, are all universal. But, I don't think that that was your primary point.

We certainly do learn from one another. One thing that I wonder about is how one retains ones individuality, ones own selfhood while, entering in to any sort of union in being with another. The problem seems to become more acute when we think of God. Isn't that such a greater 'self' that I would be lost within it?

Is there some sense in which the nonpossessiveness of agape allows the retention of even very inferior selves? God doesn't seem to want to drown me out. she wants me to become and to be the best that I can be, "in Christ", whether I know that terminology or not.

Too speculative, but a real question...

Jonathan Erdman said...

It is a real question, Sam, and one that can hit us square in the gut.

I think we all experience that fear and anxiety that "I" will get lost in the other. This probably isn't so much of a problem in casual relationships, but the closer we grow together in real union with others (e.g., a spouse, partner, or God), the greater the pressure to compromise our identity and the things that are important to our sense of self.

I'm not quite sure what the answer is, or even if there is one. In part, it seems to be a negotiation process: being able to fully love and wanting to give fully while still expressing one's fear of losing self/identity.

The Quakers have an interesting approach to negotiating self in relationship to the community. When making a church decision, they only proceed with 100% consensus. They take their time and allow everyone to register their concerns and perspectives. And then they wait it out and discuss things. In this way, they bypass the power dynamics of hierarchy (where the powerful minority rule) and democracy (where the powerful majority rule and the marginal voices are trivialized).

I think a similar approach to God seems appropriate. As we grow in our union with Her. There seems to be a certain negotiation at work, where we should not simply allow our wills and desires to be trumped by the Divine Almighty. We even resist God and fight him, at times. And yet we are still under Divine Grace and Love.

Eventually, I tend to think that the more we leave aside illusions and defense mechanisms of the ego and move toward become more our Selves, the more we will experience union with the Divine, and vica versa......but this can seem overly simplistic, and the actual negotiation process can be far more complex.

samlcarr said...

That seems to me the essence of the promise. "I" is/am not going to get lost. Rather I may just find the real me. The true me is not this defensive, selfish, unloving, caricature that I usually recognise as 'myself'. And, the true me is also not something that I will ever regret becoming, once I get there.

If I allow myself to be radically remade, and even forget my own self - my 'new self' will then be free to get into the agape - reconciliation mode for action, or so I think Paul implies.

Could that be a part of what grace and love are all about?

Anonymous said...

Way to go Erdman! I am a fan of this stance. This articulates much of what I have thought. I am impressed that you care about this.