Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed
The Aim and Means of Orthodox Spirituality (contd.)
(1) Aim of Christian Life (contd.)
Images of union with God in the New Testament: The New Testament offers us several images for the final glorious state in which man will become, and which describes this union with God:
1- Christ’s wedding to the Church
The book of revelations tells us: “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters, and as the sound of mighty thundering, saying, Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice, and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:6-7)
Here, the Holy Spirit reveals to us that the final state of the believers in the coming age will be “the reigning of The Lord God, the Almighty”. Now, the final kingdom of God is attained, as it was said: “God has ruled”. This is the final meaning of union with God: that He rules over humanity completely. This does not mean ruling of slavery but ruling in uttermost love. In this man finds his utmost joy because God rules over his whole life without hindrance or resistance on his part. What makes it clear that God’s reign over man in the coming age is the state of union with God, is the expression in these same verses that this reign is the marriage of the Lamb. Thus he says: “for the marriage of the Lamb is come and His wife has made herself ready”, meaning that union with God in the coming age is Christ’s wedding to the church. This is a spiritual marriage between Christ and the believers. Christ is the bridegroom who betrothed our souls with His blood on the cross. The church enters into the ceremony of her wedding day to Jesus with complete union when He comes. This is the goal to which the church keeps looking right now while being estranged in this earth, to reach her union with the bridegroom. Therefore she prepares herself with love and obedience, in watchful prayer waiting for this union with Jesus the groom.
2- Seeing God face to face
The New Testament shows us a second picture of the final state of man in the coming heavenly kingdom. This was expressed by the apostle Paul when he said: “for now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face, now I know in part; but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)
Thus, as the apostle Paul compares our present knowledge of Jesus Christ while we are on earth to the complete knowledge of God in the age to come, he likens our present knowledge to that of a child, saying, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” And he also says, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” (1 Co. 13:9-11)
Here he presents to us the state of the fullness of the Kingdom, which is the union with God, as seeing God face to face. This seeing of God will give us full knowledge of God. This is described by the apostle as, “then I shall know just as I also am known (by God)”, i.e. we shall in the future know Him with the same strength of knowledge with which God at present knows us. This was spoken of in Revelation in the last chapter when he said about the believers: “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 22:4-5)
The apostle John also speaks of this face to face revelation – being the everlasting kingdom for man – saying: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be; but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Here again the apostle John tells us that Jesus, in His second glorious coming from heaven at the end of this age, will change us when we see Him face to face in His unhidden glory appearing from heaven. This is what he meant when he said, “we shall see Him as He is”, meaning as He is in reality in His Godly glory that is inexpressible.
3- Incorruptible and unfading inheritance.
The third picture for union with God that is found in the New Testament in the first epistle of our teacher the apostle Peter: “God … has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)
Here the apostle Peter presents to us the situation in the everlasting kingdom that we are waiting for, viewing the incorruptible, undefiled and unfading inheritance that is unlike any created worldly inheritance that vanishes, becomes lost, or defiled. This inheritance is the glory of the everlasting God Himself, or the eternal life with God the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the union with God, or as the apostle pointed out in his second epistle: “that by these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:4)
This eternal and unfading inheritance is expressed by the apostle Peter also as “the salvation that will be revealed in the last time”, i.e. when Christ appears in His great glory in heaven (1 Peter 1:5). Also, our teacher Peter exhorts us saying “rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. (1Peter 1:13) This means that at the second manifestation of Christ, we shall be given a great grace that will fulfill our total union with God and that will change us completely to become like Christ in His second coming, as we are told by John the beloved. And as we look forward to this grace, Peter the apostle urges us to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you.”(1 Peter1:13)
This means that we should watch with our hearts and our minds and be wakeful, laying our hope on Christ’s grace, waiting and ready with love and obedience for His glorious appearance from heaven that will completely fulfill our salvation to the end.