Ron Highfield in his rather great book Great Is the Lord mentions that ‘(God’s) uniqueness is personal and incommunicable.’ He also says that ‘the biblical declaration of God’s uniqueness does not speak merely of divine nature.’
The above truthful assertions have profound reverberating consequences than myself, like many other believers, notice.
Deuteronomy 6:4 declares that the Lord is One. This declaration is at the core of Jewish and Christian monotheism. And like Thomas Aquinas would say, God belongs to no genus, He has no classification.
Because God is One, His divine nature is incommunicable. Deity is not like a mutual substance distributed among many persons. The Greeks and Egyptians thought of divinity this way. Polytheism believes in one nature, shared among many individuals or ‘gods.’
What Christianity (and Judaism) however teach is that in addition to one divinity, there is only one Being that possesses this substance. In other words, no one can have the divine nature apart from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
1 Peter 1:4
Peter as a Jew understood the seriousness of God’s prohibitions to Israel against conceiving the divine nature as shared among individuals. God’s severe judgment of the Jewish nation was because they forsook the uniqueness of God as announced in Deut 6:4, and followed after ‘idols’ that pretended to be divinity.
It is with this knowledge that we must read 1 Peter 1:4. What does it mean when Peter, a monotheistic Jew guarding against polytheistic ideas mean when he says that believers partake of the divine nature?
To share in the divine nature, in Peter’s writing, does not (and cannot) mean that God has given us His divine nature as someone provides another something which is transferable. The reason this is so is that the deity is not something God has in addition to Himself, something He can distribute to as many as He wishes. God cannot give anyone His divine nature without His Person and remain as God. Divine substance is inseparable from God’s Person-hood. Divinity is bound in God’s Person.
Therefore, to partake of His divine nature means merely to participate in the fellowship of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, as 1 John 1 says. Believers have been grafted into the eternal Father-Son relationship by the Spirit of the Father and Son to participate in the joy and life revealed through the love of the Father and the Son.
That is what it means to partake of the divine nature. Highfield rightly remarked that ‘We relate to God as persons, in fellowship, love, and mutual indwelling. We do not relate to the divine as an impersonal substance in which we participate by nature or grace.’
Again, the divine nature is not something that is or can be distributed among believers, because divinity is not something extra to God’s Person. But instead, God’s Person is the foundation of and the only place where deity dwells. Believers do not have portions of deity. They are human beings that participate in a fellowship that has been eternal in God, drawn by the Spirit of God, who is the very fellowship of the Father and the Son.
Why This Clarity is Important
It is crucial for us to guard against encroachment on God’s glory. There is the glory that rightly belongs to God alone owing to His whole-otherness. And when our language blurs the distinction between Creator and creature, we are falling into the same error of the Greeks and Egyptians. We are becoming polytheists; we have become idolaters, we profane, and become self-conceited.
Secondly, our worship is directly related to our amazement at what we worship. Safeguarding divine uniqueness is the only way our reverence for God will thrive. If you notice, those who think that they have divine nature in themselves (as something external to the Person of God) are often puffed up. It is inevitable not to be, after ignoring the gap between the only One whose existence is within Himself and everything else whose being comes from the outside.
You are not divine, and neither am I. We are mere creatures, looked on kindly by the One whose majesty is unfathomable, wisdom incomprehensible, a Being of infinite power. We are beggars graciously given bread, corpses kindly raised to life. We are nothing in comparison to Him who is immeasurably valuable, and worthless apart from His merciful. If not for His grace, we would all be in the grave, rotting, returning to the nothingness from whence we once came. Spiritual growth is about a growing dependence on God, and your awareness of it.
I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still, you hear me when I’m calling
Lord, you catch me when I’m falling
And you’ve told me who I am
I am yours (Who am I, Casting Crowns)
I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org