There are stories, legends, mythologies, folklore, traditions, histories, scriptures, and texts from all around the world which tell us of humans who have reached the stature of the gods. They have, in essence, become “a god.” Some recognizable examples are people such as Jesus, Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), and Muhammad. The process that these went through has been called theosis, deification, divinization, realization, awakening, and enlightenment. What does it mean to become or be “a god”?
The reason I use a lower case g in god is because these humans were not necessarily the fullness of God, the totality of God, the absolute or highest God, all that God is in its most comprehensive being. All of God was not contained within their individual person. Rather, they were an avatar of God, a manifestation of God, an incarnation of God, a child of God, an emanation of God, an offspring of God, a reflection of God. Still, some became a manifestation to such a full degree, a reflection of the Divine to such a profound extent, that their words and deeds may have been considered the fullness of God, the truest Reality, the Truth itself. Just as a part of a hologram reflects the whole image, so too many of these people came to embody the entirety of the Absolute, the Ultimate, the Real.
However, sometimes we think that being “a god” means something like being the ultimate ego, having these qualities:
- all intelligence (omniscient)
- all power (omnipotent)
- all pleasure
- total control
- invincible to death
The ego often likes to imitate the Divine, creating false impressions of what it would be like to be God. It often subtly changes true qualities of God into false substitutions, imitations, which it convinces itself are really of God.
Did these people who became “gods” have all intelligence, all power, all joy, control over everything, and never died? No. They didn’t know everything (certainly not things like quantum mechanics or computer science), they were not kings or rulers in the traditional sense, they were not always joyful, they did not wield ultimate cosmic power over the elements, and they all died. This has led some people to think that they really did not become “gods” in any truly God-like way, but were merely extraordinary teachers, persuasive guides, charismatic leaders, who were elevated to the status of “god” posthumously in order to honor and memorialize them and their teachings.
But I think our understanding of being “a god” is skewed, perhaps because our perspectives of God are also. I think that these people did, in fact, come to reflect true qualities of God, the Divine, Ultimate Reality, the Ground of Being, the absolute Truth. But those qualities are not what we usually think they are. They have nothing to do with ego, and almost everything to do with losing ego, transcending self, and actualizing a deeper identity of life and being, bringing to life the most fundamental essence of what we are.
- God has all intelligence because God encompasses all intelligent beings, and is Intelligence itself, the ability to acquire and apply knowledge with understanding. The “gods” have great wisdom, or the ability to apply experience, knowledge, and judgment in a way that is most beneficial to all beings, and all forms of life. Without ego involved, they are able to judge wisely and act justly in all situations. They do not have all knowledge, and in some ways they have let go of all human knowledge, realizing that it is all relative and not absolute, and in this have paradoxically come to a higher knowledge of truth that knows the limits of the human intellect.
- God has all power because God encompasses all things that have power. God is Power itself in the forms of light, energy, movement, progression, creativity, evolution. The “gods” are powerful because they know how to inspire and harness energy for effective activity, to create new structures, situations, experiences, symbols, organizations, practices which cultivate and promote love and justice for all beings.
- God is joyful, because God alleviates the suffering of all beings, thus helping to bring them joy, and in that finds joy for itself. God is Joy itself, the bliss that comes from experiencing absolute oneness with all beings, all life, all of reality. The “gods” are often joyful, but that means suffering with those who are suffering so as to help lift them from their misery, to rescue them from their darkness, to save them from the prison of their separate egoic selves so as to realize the joy of oneness too. They seek to bring them into God as well.
- God does not have total control, but rather as Richard Rohr has said, is the great Allower. God allows all things. Everything is free to happen, to exist, even those things that are evil and that bring sorrow. There is an opposition in all things, and often God can be found in the unity underlying those opposites, a coincidentia oppositorum, which shows how all things are interdependent and interconnected. The “gods” understand that these opposites must be allowed to exist for there to be life and existence, or else all things would be one without differentiation. They are liberators, giving freedom to all, and pointing all to those ways of living that bring the most joy.
- God is eternal life, because all things live and die within God, and this process is everlasting. God is Life itself, the awareness and consciousness that continually arises in all living things, that allows reality to become conscious of itself, to know itself, and that is the way God knows God. The “gods” know that their bodies and minds are mortal and will die, but they also know by experience that they are the way God manifests and knows and loves the world, through them. They know their deepest being resides in God, and is God, not in their finite body or mind. They know their life is the Life of God, the only way God lives.
Humans who become “a god” do not become a separate god from God, but realize their godhood in God, the only God there is, since there is only one Ultimate Reality, one absolute Truth. They come to know who they are at the deepest level, the ground of their existence, and this is God. They therefore come to identify with God as a manifestation of God, “a god” in duality. At times, when this identification and communion becomes especially strong in their lives, in their consciousness and being, they speak and act with the grace of Truth and Love itself. They act as God. The Wisdom, and Power, and Joy, and Freedom, and Life of God flows through them unimpeded, unobscured by the ego self.
When the “I” of the personal ego is perceived in truth and let go, then the “I” of God fills the vacuum and flourishes. As the Apostle Paul noted, even though Jesus knew that he was in God, a manifestation of God, “equal” to God, this did not mean it was something that inflated his ego to extreme heights of grandiosity of power, control, invincibility, etc. On the contrary, Jesus could only realize the truth of that manifestation by emptying himself (kenosis) completely of ego, of his personal self, of his individual will, and becoming a servant to all other beings through love (Phil. 2:6-7; John 13:35). He humbled himself to the depths, realizing that all other beings were also a manifestation of the Self of God, for the rest of his life (Phil. 2:8; Matthew 25:40). It was through this humility, this surrender of ego-self, this condescension below all (not above), that he was exalted to be “a god” in God “the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). His life became a mirror of true Reality, of the Being that is this Cosmos, the Source of us all.
So too may each of us become “a god.” As I’ve written before, this is not a change from what we are, but a realization of what we truly are, and it is this realization that effects a great change in our lives. We may realize our oneness in the highest Truth, the Ultimate Reality, and embody this Love. This is, it seems, what all the “gods” have taught to others so that they may be “gods” as well.