Many years ago, in the summer of 1994, I had the privilege of spending a glorious summer traipsing around the Badlands of South Dakota. As an undergraduate student at Wheaton College, I had elected to spend my summer at the school’s science station, where I “studied” environment chemistry, astronomy and geology. In reality – and with apologies to my parents – very little studying actually occurred. Instead, I spent almost every free moment I had walking back and forth along a rather treacherous trail known as the Razorback Ridge.
Now, assuming you have never been to Razorback Ridge, this probably means very little to you. But let me assure you that Razorback Ridge is not for the faint of heart. Looking back on it now, I am actually somewhat surprised that I spent as much time wandering its length as I did. Similar in many ways to the Devil’s Causeway in Colorado, Razorback Ridge is an uneven, winding trail set at the peak of a “mountain.” The face of the mountain on either side of the path drops off in such a fashion that were you to slip off either side of the three-foot wide trail, you would almost surely plummet to your death.
So why am I telling you about Razorback Ridge in a series on theosis and deification? Because in many ways, navigating the complex, theological waters of theosis and deification is a bit like navigating Razorback Ridge. The path is excruciatingly narrow, and if you slip up even a little in your understanding, you are likely to fall off into the steep ravines of pantheism on the one side and panenetheism on the other.
Now stop. Does what I just wrote sound a little scary to you? Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? It’s okay. Trust me. We often tell our children that the only things worth having in this life are the things that we have to fight to obtain. We tell them that hard work matters, and that hard work pays off. But for some reason, when it comes to theology, when it comes to our walks with the Christ, we want everything to be instantly accessible. And if it isn’t “applicable” for right here and right now, we tend to write it off and say: this is too hard. The problem is, in the process of doing so, we settle for a much, much smaller picture of God and we settle for a greatly reduced vision of what we were designed to be. It’s almost as if someone has handed us two sets of car keys. One set is for a two-door, hatchback, rusty old Yugo, while the other set is for a shiny, red Ferrari. As Christians, we seem to be willing to settle for the keys to the Yugo because we know how to drive a Yugo. While the Ferrari looks cool and exciting, we don’t really know how to drive a high-end sports car and truth be told, we’re a little scared of driving it right into a light pole.
So I’m pausing for a moment, in the middle of this series, to remind you of the richness of God’s Word and the unbelievable depth of The Great Christian Tradition. And if sometimes, in the course of your studies, you open a door that leads down a passageway you’ve never seen before, don’t immediately assume that the passageway is false or dangerous. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the door that leads to a heated, indoor garage with a purring red Ferrari just waiting to be taken out for a test drive.