The Body of Christ: A Universalist Perspective on Divine Manifestation and Human Destiny

Eric StetsonBy Eric Stetson

Introduction

Who or what is God? What is the relationship between God and the universe? Is there a special relationship between God and intelligent beings such as humans, which is different from the relationship between God and other beings or things that exist? Is Jesus Christ ontologically different from other human beings, or are the evident differences between him and us simply differences of degree or developmental stage in time rather than of kind?

These are profound questions that have sparked discussion and debate among Christians as well as non-Christians for many centuries. Various answers have been advanced, and they can generally be classified into five categories: (1) God is a singular entity and ontologically separate from the universe and human beings; (2) God is a plural entity and ontologically separate from the universe and human beings except in one specific case, the man Jesus Christ; (3) God is singular and ontologically separate from the universe and human beings except as revealed in a special category of human beings, including Jesus Christ and some other prophets or avatars; (4) God is plural and ontologically includes all human beings but is ontologically separate from the universe in general; (5) God is plural and ontologically includes everything that exists.

View 1 is taught by orthodox forms of Islam, most forms of Rabbinical Judaism, and classical Unitarian Christians. View 2 is taught by orthodox Trinitarian forms of Christianity which became dominant after the takeover of the church by Rome. View 3 is taught by Baha’ism, an offshoot of Shi’ite and Sufi Islam that originated in Iran in the 1800s, and may also find expression in some forms of Hinduism. View 4 was taught by many early Christians, especially the Alexandrian school of Christianity. View 5 has been taught by many Hindus, theistic Buddhists, Pagans, and mystics from various religious traditions including some Christians.

Delving deeper into specifically Christian views, we find various ideas ranging from orthodox and traditional to heterodox and radical. Christianity has traditionally been based on a Trinitarian view of God, in which the Deity is envisioned as a plural entity (“three persons”) consisting of a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that together act as one. In this view, God the Father is the Creator of the universe; God the Son is the preexistent human being who was born into this world as Jesus of Nazareth, and no one else; and the Holy Spirit is seen as a distinct “person” of the Trinity who reveals God to human beings, rather than simply an aspect or mode of God’s manifestation. Though this is seen as the orthodox Christian view of God in most churches, it is doubtful that the majority of Christians today hold strictly to this perspective.

Three other views, which have been minority positions within Christian theological history but which seem to have the implicit support of a large number of Christians of the modern era, are Modalism, Unitarianism, and Panentheism. Modalism asserts that God is a singular entity manifesting Itself in multiple modes or forms, typically identified as the same as the three persons of the Trinity (but in theory could include other forms as well). Many Christians today seem to view the concept of Trinity in a way that is closer to Modalism than to traditional Trinitarianism — this may in fact be the predominant perspective that is currently referred to by the name “Trinitarianism.” Modalism cannot be easily classified into any of the five general categories mentioned above, and may include aspects of any or all of them, depending on how it is precisely interpreted.

Unitarianism (in its classical Christian form, not the non-theistic “Unitarianism” that is shorthand for the Unitarian Universalist Association) asserts that God is a singular entity beyond this world, and that attributes of God — but not God’s own Self — may be present in creation, including in human beings such as Jesus. This seems to be a popular view among a significant number of contemporary liberal Christians.

Another view of God, which has always tended to find support among mystics both within and outside the Christian church, is Panentheism, the idea that God is present in some way in all things. Christians today who have been influenced by the New Age movement are often sympathetic to this idea. Panentheism is distinct from Pantheism, which is the idea that God is identical to the physical universe and does not transcend it.

One more view that must be mentioned is the belief of many Christians during the first few centuries of church history — a view that was especially common among those who followed St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and other theologians associated with the Egyptian branch of Christianity. This was the idea called Theosis (“divinization” or “deification”), that all human beings were created in divine perfection like Christ, have fallen into a state of rebellion, and may be restored to perfection and conformed to the image of Christ in the fullness of time. This view was revived by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in the 1800s. The Theosis teaching has been revived again by some Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians in the latter half of the 20th century through the present day, going by the term “Sonship” or “Manifested Sons of God.” According to this perspective, Jesus is the divine Son of God, but so are all other humans. What makes Jesus unique is that he is the firstborn Son, the Elder Brother or example for all humanity to follow, the one who enables others to rise into our station of sons and heirs of God — but Jesus is not the only son as traditional orthodoxy claims. Therefore, the Second Person of the Trinity, the “Son of God” or “God the Son,” is a body of humans, the “body of Christ.” Depending on the specific interpretation of the Theosis/Sonship view, this body may include all human beings (“Universal Sonship”) or may only include those who have been fully conformed to the image of Christ.

All of these views of God’s ontological nature and the relationship between God and creation are attempts at envisioning a Being who, as the ultimate Source of All Being, transcends the powers of the limited human intellect to fully conceive or explain. However, I believe that the teaching of Universal Sonship and Theosis and the teaching of Panentheism together with a Modalistic and nontraditional modification of the concept of Trinity can form a synthesis that would be a highly accurate way of understanding important aspects of God’s nature and relationship with the universe and with human beings especially. In this essay I will discuss several key points as I present an overall perspective on God’s being in Itself, God’s being in relation to the universe, the meaning of Christ, and the divine origin and destiny of human beings.

Divine Oneness and Plurality

To construct a theory of God and God’s relationship with creation that is both Christian and Universalist, I believe we need to explain the implications of God’s own nature on the nature of Jesus Christ, human beings in general, and God’s plan for humanity and the role of Christ in this plan. First of all, we need to explore the concepts of singularity and plurality and what these concepts could mean in regard to God and how God creates and manifests.

If God is in some sense plural, then creation could in fact be manifestation or even reproduction of Godself.

If God is strictly singular, then all creation is by definition separate from God, since God could not create by extending Godself into other forms. On the other hand, if God is in some sense plural, then creation could in fact be manifestation or even reproduction of Godself.

Is it possible that God could be both one and many at the same time? This would enable God to be distinct from creation and transcending it, while also in some ways to be manifested in it. This is the essence of both Trinitarian and Modalist forms of divine ontology. The Trinitarian view asserts that God consists of multiple beings which together form a oneness. The Modalist view asserts that God is a oneness which manifests Itself into multiple forms. In a sense, these views are mirror images of each other. Is God one out of many, or many out of one? Perhaps God is One who becomes many and the many return back into One. The Panentheistic and Theosis/Sonship views could together portray a God who expands Godself outward by creation and regathers Its manifestations in creation back into the Divine Oneness.

We cannot plumb the depths of God’s innermost essence. But at the root level, totally inaccessible to human perception, I believe God is One. Once God becomes perceived, that by definition means that God is plural, because there is both God’s own Self as well as the perception of God from an external perspective. The very fact of there being an “inside” and “outside” of God means that God has become divided by the creation of perspective and is no longer strictly one. It would seem that the first act of creation is the manifestation or projection of God into duality, a state of mutual Self-reflection — and the natural analogue for this in human experience is the existence of two genders, male and female. This is the Taoist view of the Divine Reality as duality: yin (female, dark, cold, internal/inward drawing) and yang (male, light, heat, external/outward projecting).

The Bible confirms this basic idea by naming God with both a male and a female name. According to the Hebrew scriptures, God is both Yahweh (male) and El Shaddai (female). Yahweh is described as a Lord with masculine characteristics. In contrast, the term El Shaddai means “breasted one” or “many breasted Goddess.” So there are at least two persons or aspects of the Divine Being: God and Goddess. Further confirmation of this idea comes from the story of the creation of Man, in which both male and female human beings are created in God’s own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). This means that God must be a dual being, both male and female.

In the Book of Proverbs, the female aspect of God is described as the personified Spirit of Wisdom who emerged from Yahweh — much as Eve is said to have been formed from Adam’s rib — and together They created the world. Yahweh and the female Spirit are described as eternal lovers and co-workers in the plan of creation:

“The LORD [Yahweh] brought Me forth as the first of His works,
before His deeds of old;
I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.
When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
before He made the earth or its fields
or any of the dust of the world.
I was there when He set the heavens in place,
when He marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when He established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when He gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep His command,
and when He marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was the craftsman at His side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in His presence,
rejoicing in His whole world
and delighting in mankind.” (Prov. 8:22-31).

It is worth noting that in Hebrew, the term for Holy Spirit is Ruach HaKodesh, which is grammatically female. Also of note is that the Spirit speaks of mankind as Her delight, much as a mother might speak of her children. She continues, directly addressing humanity as “My sons” and speaking to them in a gentle but authoritative motherly voice in Prov. 8:32-35:

“Now then, My sons, listen to Me;
blessed are those who keep My ways.
Listen to My instruction and be wise;
do not ignore it.
Blessed is the man who listens to Me,
watching daily at My doors,
waiting at My doorway.
For whoever finds Me finds life
and receives favor from the LORD.”

With the introduction of the concept of human beings as the sons or children of God, we have a third aspect of divinity. Not only is God male and female, but God is a Father and a Mother who have Children. Children are just as much part of a family unit as the husband and wife, and thus the Divine Being may be regarded as a plural entity containing within Itself all three normative parts of family structure. The Christian idea of Trinity should be envisioned as a natural triad formed by a Father, a Mother (the “Holy Spirit”), and a Child (“God the Son”). Traditional forms of Christianity have not considered the Holy Spirit to be a feminine-gendered being, probably because of the patriarchal nature of the church throughout most of Christian history, but in fact the Bible teaches that She is the female aspect of the Deity — an aspect which God must logically have in order to be a God who produces a spiritual child.

The Collective Son of God

Traditionally, Christianity has taught that Jesus Christ was the Son of God because he was begotten by the Heavenly Father, but that his mother was the earthly woman Mary. However, this could only be the case for Jesus’ physical body which was born from the womb of Mary, not his preexistent spirit which was an aspect of the Deity from before the creation of the world. The preexistent spirit of Christ must have been begotten by God the Father and birthed by God the Mother long before the body of Jesus ever came into being in the womb of a physical human woman.

Likewise, the same can be said for all human beings. Our spirits, the part of us that transcends the physical world, are the children of God. Our bodies are children of the dust. Inasmuch as our physical bodies come from the dust of the ground and are destined to return to the dust (Gen. 3:19), the spiritual essence of each one of us came out from God’s own being and shall one day return back into God (Rom. 11:36). God is “the Father of our spirits” (Heb. 12:9). “For in Him we live and move and have our being. … We are His offspring.” (Acts 17:28).

Humanity collectively is the “Son” aspect of the Trinity, because all people are the children of God. … Jesus taught people to pray to “our Father in heaven” (Mat. 6:9) and did not claim exclusive sonship for himself alone.

As these verses of the Bible show, humanity collectively is the “Son” aspect of the Trinity, because all people are the children of God. This includes all people, both males and females, and sinners and saints. Jesus may be the archetypal example of the Child or Son of God, but he is not the only human being who is a son of God. Jesus taught people to pray to “our Father in heaven” (Mat. 6:9) and did not claim exclusive sonship for himself alone, instead defending his claim to be the Son of God by referring to the Hebrew scriptures, which describe human beings in general as “gods” who “are all sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82:6, quoted by Jesus in John 10:34).

Indeed, God is plural according to the Hebrew scriptures. One of the names used for God in many passages of the Old Testament is Elohim, which literally means “the gods.” Angels, who were part of a divine council or assembly in heaven and were believed to be able to manifest themselves in human form on earth, are referred to as “sons of God” (e.g. Gen. 6:4). Judaism developed gradually from the primordial polytheism which was found among ancient peoples throughout the world into the strictly monotheistic faith it is today. Jesus made it clear that he opposed the rigidly Unitarian view of God held by many rabbis of his time which became the dominant view in Rabbinical Judaism. Instead, he affirmed the concept of a plural or corporate Deity who is in some way manifested in intelligent beings within the created universe such as humans.

The idea that God reproduces Him/Herself by creating children — whether humans on earth or angels in heaven — who are literally divine beings and are in a sense manifestations of God, may seem like a very radical idea to many Christians today. However, this idea is Biblical and is also logical, if we believe that God is both male and female as the Bible also teaches. After all, reproduction is what naturally happens when male and female energies interact and combine with one another!

The implications of this view of God are profound. If God is a being who reproduces, then this means that God is not static and monolithic but complex and growing. Through the “Son of God” or Child aspect of the triune divine family-nature, God is continually manifesting and expanding divinity into a potentially infinite number of unique expressions as various intelligent spiritual beings in the universe. All of these beings, whether human or extraterrestrial or in non-physical dimensions of reality, are each in their own individual way like holographic copies of the essential attributes of Deity. In this way, God enriches Godself and lives through innumerable forms. The teleological aspect of the creation of Man comes into clear focus according to such a view, for if all souls emanate outward from the Divine Source in a reproductive act taking place within God’s own Being, then our existence has its origin in love and is part of a glorious plan of divine multiplication.

Adam Returned in Christ

How does Jesus Christ fit into the divine plan? Is he a man who has attained the perfection of godhood before others and shows us the way? If so, why did he need to attain it — in fact, why aren’t all human beings already perfectly divine? If all people are the children of God, why should an exemplar like Jesus even be necessary?

To answer these questions, we must explore the deeper significance of the story of Christ and how it relates to the human condition in general. First of all, if the human condition is that of a child in relationship to God, our Parents, then this means that human beings — both individually and collectively — are in a process of growing up from infancy to maturity. Christ, as the firstborn son of God, would be the one who sets the example for his younger spiritual siblings to follow and assists in their training and development, much like the eldest brother in a traditional family. Also like the oldest child of a family, Christ would be the first one to make mistakes and to go through the process of facing the consequences and learning from those mistakes.

The Bible tells us that long before the man Jesus walked the earth, there was another man who was also called “the son of God” (Luke 3:38), was perfect and sinless, was given authority and glory over all things in the earth, and enjoyed intimate fellowship with his heavenly Father/Mother. This man was Adam, described in the Bible as the first human being ever created! Could it be that Adam and Christ are the same person?

Adam represents the fallen human soul and was the father of a fallen race of men. Christ is the transformed Adam, the firstborn son of God who comes back to defeat the sin he originally introduced into this world.

I believe this is the clear implication of the story of Christ when juxtaposed with the story of Adam. Adam represents the fallen human soul and was the father of a fallen race of men. Christ is the transformed Adam, the firstborn son of God who comes back to defeat the sin he originally introduced into this world. All human beings were fallen in Adam but will overcome in Christ, because Christ is the new pattern or archetype for all humanity.

Consider the details of the stories: Adam fell from perfection into sin, and Christ overcame sin and ascended into perfection. Adam faced the consequences of sin in the form of decay and death of the physical body; and Christ suffered death without decay, to defeat the power of sin and death through the crucifixion of the physical body and resurrection of the spiritual body. Most importantly, Adam’s fall into sin, rebellion, and separation from God became the pattern for all humans, a fallen race of spiritual beings encased in flesh upon the earth; and Christ’s suffering on the cross, death to the things of flesh and new life and glorification in the spirit is prophesied to be the pattern for all humans to become a restored race of spiritual beings made perfect, again in harmony and reunited with God in heaven.

The Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45) and “the second man” (vs. 47). He is the last Adam in the sense that he represents the end of the Adamic state of being, the corrupted or fallen state. Jesus was fully human and was subject to all the things of the flesh, including temptations, sicknesses, pain, and even death. Nevertheless, he is also the second man in the sense that he is the second archetype for humanity to follow. Even as all humanity followed Adam into the sinful nature of earthly life, all humanity shall eventually follow Christ into reconciliation with God in the spiritual realm. Each individual is destined to be transformed from Adam to Christ, even as Jesus already was. As Paul said, “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man [Adam], so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven [Christ].” (vs. 49).

Indeed, Adam and Christ are universal human archetypes and are two sides of the same coin. Adam is the archetype of the spiritually immature and corruptible man, who fell from divinity into sin and separation in the realm of flesh. The return of Adam, Christ, is the archetype of the spiritually mature and victorious man who overcomes sin, ascends into glory and returns to God. In the transformation from the old man (Adam) to the new man (Christ), we see the evidence of spiritual evolution as a basic principle of God’s plan for humanity. The Son of God progresses from the cradle of Eden (pristine state of infancy) through the learning process of childhood and adolescence — with its laws and rules, rebellion, discipline and punishments (as illustrated by the Jews collectively and in the person of King David, who like Jesus was referred to as the “begotten” son of God [Ps. 2:7]) — and finally into the maturity of spiritual adulthood with its powers and privileges (the fully Christed state). Eve and Mary are female analogues of Adam and Christ: Mary, the saintly mother of Jesus, can be regarded as the return of the sinful Eve, much as Jesus is the return of Adam.

According to the Biblical creation story, Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden — which can be considered God’s nursery — and went out into the world of earth. This was the beginning of Man’s difficult process of learning how to face temptation, overcome corruption, and return to harmony in the divine spirit, often by experiencing suffering in the process as a consequence of sinful behavior. The fallen Adamic human condition was summed up, expressed, and carried by Christ as the archetypal representative of all humankind — the one who, though inwardly perfect, nevertheless was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isa. 53:3) — when he hung on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46). The sinful, Adamic man feels forsaken by God and condemned to punishment because of his karmic burden. It is highly significant that Christ said “it is finished” as his last words before physical death (John 19:30). This can be interpreted in a cosmic sense as a proclamation of the ultimate ending of the fallen condition. Truly, Christ is the last Adam, the end of the Adamic state of sin, suffering, and separation from God.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is evidence showing that Man returns to the Garden of Paradise after sin has been overcome and all karmic debt paid for. Similarly, the miraculous assumption of Mary into heaven (a belief of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions) could be considered as a symbolic demonstration of the redemption of the archetypal Eve, the divinized and ascended female. Mary bore the “second man,” the perfect ascended master Jesus, in her womb, much as Eve was first the mother of the fallen human race. For both the male and the female of humankind, the sinful state is overcome by the ascension into deified glory. We come full circle, originating in perfection, falling, and then rising back into harmony with God.

But Man does not return to the nursery of Eden; we enter the paradise of reunion with God, our Origin, in a new and far more glorious way — as mature, fully divinized beings conformed to the perfect image of our heavenly Father/Mother. Stepping off the spinning hamster-wheel of this earthly world of birth, decay, and rebirth of the flesh, we are finally reborn into our true and enduring spiritual identity in Christ. In the resurrection of the spirit, we attain Christhood as Jesus of Nazareth showed us is possible even for a suffering and rejected human being, demonstrating that God’s plan is not one of exclusion but an all-inclusive salvation of the sons and daughters of Adam. For we are not only the children of Adam but the children of God! The spiritual journey of humanity is a journey from the condition of sin, separation, suffering, and death towards perfection, reunion, paradise, and eternal life. This is the journey of humankind collectively and of each individual human spirit.

Christ as the Body of Saints

Christ means the Perfected Human. In this sense of the word, all human beings — not just the historical man Jesus of Nazareth — are destined to become Christ as well.

The word “Christ” is often used interchangeably with the name Jesus, because Jesus is Christ. But this equation of “Jesus” with “Christ” can be used by traditional Christians to imply that only Jesus is Christ. In one sense, that is true: The word Christ comes from the Greek Christos, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Meshiach, meaning Messiah. Only Jesus was the Messiah of the Jewish people, at least according to Christianity. But the word Christ also has a broader meaning for humanity as a whole, as we have been discussing. Christ means the Perfected Human. In this sense of the word, all human beings — not just the historical man Jesus of Nazareth — are destined to become Christ as well. Let’s explore this theme in greater detail.

First of all, it is worth noting there are analogues of the name “Jesus Christ” as it is used by Christians. For example, Mohandas Gandhi is often called “Mahatma Gandhi.” Mahatma is a title meaning “Great Soul.” Gandhi is generally considered to be a saintly, Christlike figure. Therefore, in Christian parlance, Gandhi could perhaps be called “Gandhi Christ.”

Sound shocking? The fact that this may shock the sensibilities of many Christians only goes to show how far Christianity has drifted from the true Biblical understanding of the concept of Christ. In purveying the narrow view that only Jesus is Christ and no other human being may ever be described in this way, traditional Christians are ignoring the idea — expressed by Jesus himself in the Bible — that saints are one with Christ. They are also ignoring Paul’s teaching that Christ is a corporate body of the faithful with Jesus as its head, not its only member.

Consider this prayer of Jesus for those who believe in him: “[T]hat all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent me. I have given them the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.” (John 17:21-23). In this moving prayer, Jesus asks God, our Father, to make the believers one in Christ — glorified like Christ and filled with divine Christ-ness. He asks this for the purpose of bringing the whole world into the knowledge of God’s Fatherly love for all souls.

Like Jesus who said that he has given his disciples the glory that God gave him, Paul taught that all people will grow up into the full spiritual stature of Christ, beginning with those who believe in him. He says that the disciples of Christ must “prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants… Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:12-16). In other words, the purpose of becoming glorified in Christ — being a true Christian — is to do the work of sharing the truth with others, to bring the whole body of the Son of God, all humanity, into divine oneness as the Body of Christ.

This truth we are commissioned to share is not some phony “truth” of dogmatic traditional Christianity, but simply the all-embracing, all-transforming truth of God’s universal love, forgiveness, and the reconciliation of all. As Paul puts it, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us…” (2 Cor. 5:17-20).

So it is clear that to be a Christian, to be part of the Body of Christ, means to be a worker in this world to bring about the salvation of all. God accomplishes the plan of universal reconciliation and transformation of humankind from the Adamic to the Christed state of being through the work of divine ambassadorship and discipleship. Jesus Christ served as God’s ambassador in the earth and made disciples to raise other humans up into the glorified state of mature Sonship and Christhood. We as his disciples are called to do the same things, until eventually the whole world will become one spiritual body, one corporate Christ, one mature Son of God or “God the Son.” Truly, we are to be the ambassadors of Christ here on earth — a light in the darkness for lost souls, a healing balm for the sick, a helping hand for the weary. This is true discipleship and sainthood. This is the manifestation of oneness with Christ. While we are here on earth, we are called to be the manifestations of God on earth!

If we are becoming transformed from being part of the body of Adam to the body of Christ, rediscovering our true inner nature and destiny as divine spiritual beings, then we must live accordingly, or else we are still in Adam.

If we are becoming transformed from being part of the body of Adam to the body of Christ, rediscovering our true inner nature and destiny as divine spiritual beings, then we must live accordingly, or else we are still in Adam. If we live according to the earthly spirit of separation from God, then we are not living as a member of the body of Christ because we are cutting ourselves off from this exalted purpose and condition. To be part of the body of Christ means to be a disciple of Christ, a follower in the path that Jesus showed the world; and this means we must be willing to deny the selfish ego, “take up our cross daily” and actually follow the path of the spirit (see Mat. 16:24-25, Luke 9:23-24), not just talk about theological beliefs and doctrines. Discipleship is what leads to sainthood and Christhood. Excessive focus on doctrine and “rhetorical Christianity” — the religion of churchy-sounding words without actions — often leads to egotism and separation from other human beings and from the true purpose of God.

Each individual must find his or her own place in the collective, organic body of the Son of God. The concept of “church” can be a useful way of understanding the need for disciples of Christ to come together and work together for the salvation of all humanity — as long as we are willing to admit that there are many, many people who do not belong to physical churches who are nevertheless important members in the invisible church, the mystical body of Christ or body of the saints.

Paul suggests several types of roles that Christians can play in this exalted body: Some people are “to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” (Eph. 4:11). There are “workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues” — categories which in modern terminology would include doctors of mind and body, charitable workers, entrepreneurs, office workers, and those skilled in foreign languages to spread the Gospel and reach souls in all lands. I would also add to Paul’s list a couple more possibilities for working as a disciple of Christ that I think are important: artists using various media to challenge and uplift the spirits, and responsible parents and homemakers training the next generation of human beings in love and service to one another.

In fact, no matter what a person’s vocational calling is in this life, we can all find ways of fulfilling our God-given calling to strive to live as saints for Christ, in Christ, to bring others into Christedness. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27). “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom. 12:4-6).

Salvation as Reunion with the Godhead

We have seen that the concept of “Christ” goes far beyond merely the historical man Jesus of Nazareth, because Christ is an organic body that grows and expands as more and more human beings are divinized and begin working as active members of God the Son to bring those still in darkness into the Divine Light. Thus all humanity will ultimately be restored to harmony with God and perfected in God’s likeness as we were originally created to reflect and manifest. To bring this discussion back to the overall subject of the relationship between God and creation, let’s consider the meaning of the Christian concept of “salvation” in a broad sense, both as it applies to human beings and to the universe as a whole.

First of all, I believe that most Christians have grievously misunderstood the meaning of salvation. Blindly following “orthodox” religious traditions, they equate salvation with escape from the possibility of being condemned to a never-ending hell. But this was never the teaching of Jesus or the Apostles or the earliest Church Fathers. Salvation was originally understood as restoration of one’s human nature to the divine nature in which we were created, and furthermore, transformation into a higher spiritual condition of godhood as Jesus demonstrated. The concept of “hell,” when understood correctly, is simply the recognition of the fact that the fallen Adamic state of being is a state of suffering. As long as a soul is “in Adam,” that soul is in a sense in hell. In other words, earth itself can be thought of as something of a hell realm. Are there even worse hells than earth? Perhaps. But whether or not that is the case, human beings could remain in hell simply by returning to earth over and over again, for life after life in the flesh. Christ was resurrected in an eternal spirit-body and will never again be subject to the suffering of a fleshly life, because he has transcended the need to live in this dark and cruel world. That is because Christ has overcome sin and therefore no longer shall suffer its consequences.

So Jesus Christ is “saved.” Have any other human beings also been fully saved yet, or is Jesus the only one so far? That is an open question, but I suspect there are a relatively small number of others who have already reached the state of godhood, the state of true salvation — souls that will never again walk this earth in the vessel of a normal human body, but have made their permanent abode with God in the heavenly realms. Perhaps these deified, ascended souls number only in the thousands or even merely the hundreds — God only knows. But what we do know is that we are here on earth right now because we have not yet reached this state of full and total salvation, the perfection of Christ. We are in the process of striving for it, yes, working towards it as students of the Master. James, the brother of Jesus, said that “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (Jas. 2:26). Truer words have never been spoken. Jesus was a man of great deeds, and it was the quality of his deeds that made him spiritually alive while others were dead. Believing good things about Jesus — that he is Lord and Savior, that he died for our sins, and all the other Christian buzzwords and catch phrases — is utterly meaningless unless these beliefs are understood according to their true meaning and purpose, and then applied in real life. The purpose of beliefs is to drive our actions.

The point is, salvation for human beings is not about what we believe; it’s about what we do, which enables us to become who we really are. Christians who think they are “saved” because they profess Jesus as Lord have really only taken the first step toward salvation. It’s like a man who is planning to walk to Jerusalem and takes one step outside his doorstep, and pompously proclaims, “I have arrived!” Unless his abode is right next to the city gate, such a statement is foolishness. Jesus was able to say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mat. 11:30) because he was right on the threshold of the transformation from Adam to Christ. But for most of us, we still have a long, hard road to travel before we reach the Goal.

We can make the journey of salvation much easier and faster by having the kind of beliefs that inspire us to greater heights of consciousness and action. That is why true spiritual faith is important. Religion can either hold people back from salvation — as Jesus himself pointed out (see Mat. 23:15) — or it can propel us forward and upward toward that eternal City of God. It all depends on the nature of the beliefs taught by religion. Fundamentalist religions that denigrate the human condition as inherently wicked and separated from God, denying our divine origin and divine potential, close the doors of heaven in the faces of humanity and provide only an ephemeral and illusory salvation like a mirage in the desert — a brief feeling of self-righteousness that is no salvation at all.

The ego is the adversary of God, what keeps us separated from the Source of All Being. The ego — the voice inside us that is ever whispering “I am saved and that other person is not,” “I am loved by God but some others are not,” “I am worthy and the other is not” — this is the meaning of Satan, the devil! In Hebrew, the word HaSatan literally means “the Adversary.” Indeed, this inner demon of ego that speaks to us of separation from others and division of the world into “the saved/loved/worthy” and “the damned/loathsome/worthless” is what keeps us in the fallen Adamic condition and prevents us from reaching true salvation. How ironic!

The satanic ego tries to compartmentalize God as being distantly “up there” and we humans as being mere animals “down here” — but the Holy Spirit proclaims that “all things” are “from” God, “through” God and “to” God (Rom. 11:36), and that God is becoming “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

You see, the real meaning of salvation is reunion with the Godhead. And ultimately, all people and all things will be brought back into oneness with the Divine. The satanic ego tries to compartmentalize God as being distantly “up there” and we humans as being mere animals “down here” — but the Holy Spirit proclaims that “all things” are “from” God, “through” God and “to” God (Rom. 11:36), and that God is becoming “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). The satanic ego tries to keep a person focused on one’s separation from that which seems to be other or external to oneself — but the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are all one and “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26). Salvation is when we overcome the ego, when we firmly take command of the rebellious self, saying, “get behind me, Satan!” (Mat. 16:23), and move beyond this stumbling block once and for all as Jesus did when he accepted the cross. Through a cross — the defeat and death of the carnal man, the ego — we attain an eternal life and glory that comes only by extinguishing the part of us that is incompatible with God.

The Buddhists call the state of the extinguished ego nirvana, which literally means the condition in which a being extinguishes the fires of self and separation and attains oneness with the Universal Reality. The Hindus speak of the Highest Deity as Brahman, a word which comes from the root “to breathe.” God breathed out the creation and is breathing it back into Oneself. To be in Christ means to pour the divine waters of life on the fires of hell that burn within one’s Adamic being, and thus to enter reunion with the Godhead as a cell in the Divine Body — joining the Elohim, the council of the gods or the heavenly host — and ultimately, after ages and ages of time, to surrender completely to the All-in-All, the mystical Oneness of Being as a droplet, a photon of spiritual light, dancing and merging with the Ocean of Eternity.

All of created reality came from God’s own Being and reflects some aspects of divinity. Intelligent souls in the universe play a special role in God’s plan for the divinization and perfection of all creation, with Jesus Christ as the head exemplar of the body of God the Son. As Paul declared, “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. … ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ … He who descended [from heaven to earth] is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” (Eph. 4:7-8,10).

Imagine that: the whole universe will become filled with Christ! The spirit of separation, of death, decay and destruction will be conquered by the spirit of Christ, the spirit of divine life, beauty, and interconnected meaning and purpose. All the Universe — all realms whether earthly or heavenly or hellish — have a teleological function leading to reunion with Deity.

Conclusion

We have seen an amazing and wonderful vision of God, of creation, of human nature and destiny, and of Christ. What a glorious reality! Our lives on earth and in other realms of existence provide us with an opportunity first to develop an ego-self as we proceed outward from God, and then to overcome this ego-self and subordinate/subsume it to the One True Self as we proceed back into God. The Divine Breath projects Itself outward in the “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3); manifests itself in innumerable forms in creation; culminates in the perfected Son of God, the Body of Christ, the ascended intelligence and power of divine humanity (including any other sapient spiritual beings there may be); and draws Itself back inward in the process of “the Son himself will be made subject to [God] who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:28).

In conclusion, let us be clear about one thing which is perhaps more important than anything else: Although salvation, the return of humanity to the Godhead, shall be universal, this does not happen automatically without our participation. Because God is in us, it is we who, as the Body of Christ, enable God to accomplish the goal of universal salvation.

If Christ had not come to earth and taught his message, people would not have learned the truth and become disciples. If we do not act as the Body of Christ — as sincere disciples sharing spiritual truth as Jesus did, both through words and deeds — those who are currently walking in the darkness of falsehood, sin and separation from God, burning in the hell of ego, will not escape from the chains of the earthly, Adamic life/death. Bound to a world of flesh, a world currently ruled by the Satan of ego-separation from God, they will remain confined within themselves and this fallen world until liberated by those who are themselves being liberated and brought into Christ. It is our responsibility as Christians striving for maturity in the Body of Christ to manifest our destiny of divinity and to help bring others into the ever-growing Manifestation of God, that all the world may be transformed from Adam into Christ and the divine attributes may shine resplendent in all things.

Eric Stetson is the author of a 2008 book, Christian Universalism: God’s Good News For All People. He served as the founding Executive Director of the Christian Universalist Association.