When I was growing up, my parents would send me away for a week or two in the summer to my grandparents’ house. I looked forward to these weeks in the season of long light. Grandpa and Grandma had a tract of acres, a garden, an apple orchard to climb in, an old barn filled with tools, rusted machinery and tractors from a bygone season when the land was farmed. But my favorite place to explore was the attic.
Upstairs, there was a closet with a door that, if pulled to the right, would open into a large attic filled with racks of old clothes, forgotten books and miscellaneous boxes. I loved to rummage through this room. I would open the cardboard boxes and find photo albums, letters and family memorabilia. Looking at the photos I could see my grandparents in their youth – my father as a boy – the farm in use.
I loved the connection I felt with these forgotten family memories. In the attic I discovered a larger history. Here the past whispered to my present and in a quiet way directed me to an undefined future that connected me to my family’s forgotten life.
To this day, I am grateful for those summer weeks when I was given freedom to explore the family attic and its forgotten treasures. It is easy to put things away in boxes and forget about them. It’s easy to lose treasures that should be cherished.
Reflecting on those days makes me wonder if we Christians need to explore the attic of the church. Do we need to pull out the family album, read the old letters and discover and reclaim some family treasures that we are in jeopardy of forgetting?
Some of those treasures can be the words of our faith. Words such as “trinity,” “righteousness,” “atonement,” “resurrection” and “holiness” should not be scrubbed down and sanitized. These words, so key to our family history, are often shut away in little boxes and left to collect dust in the attic. Yet, if we unpack them, we may discover to our surprise that these words are actually gifts that invite us to participate in a bigger family life with God.
One such forgotten treasure is the word this issue has explored. “Deification,” or theosis, is the transforming effect of divine grace, the Spirit of God working out the consequences of Christ’s life, death and resurrection for our shared future glory. Deification means to become more divine, more like God: to take on a divine nature. This is the essence of our faith. To be in Christ, more like him through the Spirit, is to be given the power of a holy life – it is to be given the promise of an eternal future.
Old words such as “deification” speak to our deepest desires and offer an alternative to unquestioned assumptions. Despite popular opinion, the church does not call for the repression of desire but rather the directing of desire toward its proper end. Words such as “deification” point us to a future where our desire bends toward participation in the divine life of God. It is a word that connects us to our past and speaks to a promised future. It reminds us that ours is a future where we will one day see the Word behind the words – Jesus Christ – and be made like unto him, that we shall see him face to face. This is another way to describe hope!
Let’s unpack the old boxes and see if we can’t discover treasures that may be worth reclaiming. I wager it would be an interesting summer if we did – and possibly a more interesting life.
Trygve D. Johnson is dean of the chapel at Hope College, Holland, Michigan.
Image: Härmägeddon, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.