Jesus once quoted some words from the Psalms that have often left me more than a little mystified. He was debating with the Jewish leaders who challenged him because He had dared to claim that He was God – one with the Father. As they are about to stone him for the sin of blasphemy Jesus says, “Whoa! Hold on a minute! Doesn’t God say in the Bible: ‘You are gods!’?” (Westy’s paraphrase).
So is the Bible teaching us that we are divine? Lots of people seem to endorse wholeheartedly the idea that we human beings are really gods – or that at the very least that our goal is to be gods.
M.Scott Peck, American Psychiatrist, has this to say in his book, ‘The Road less Travelled’, “God wants us to become Himself… we are growing towards godhood. God is the goal of evolution”. Peck goes on to claim that it is possible for man to become God.
Some popular televangelists have made similar claims. Kenneth Copeland is on record as saying, “You don’t have a god in you, you are one.” Benny Hinn put it even more strongly, “God came to earth and touched a piece of dust and turned it into a God.” On another occasion Hinn said, “Are you a child of God? Then you’re divine! Are you a child of God? Then you’re not human!”
Of course this teaching lies at the heart of the Mormon faith. Their founder, Joseph Smith stated, “You have got to learn how to be gods yourselves”.
So is it true that we are really little gods? Is that what we are meant to be?
At first blush there are some hints in the Bible that seem to endorse what Copeland and Hinn are teaching. I think not only of Psalm 82 which Jesus quoted to the Jewish leaders. There are also those words of Peter in 2 Peter 1:4, that through God’s great and precious promises we participate in the divine nature and so escape the corruption in the world. So if we participate in “the divine nature” doesn’t that mean that we are in fact gods?
I don’t blame Peck for his view that we humans evolve into God. Peck was on a journey. He wrote that first book while he was still flirting with Buddhism and before committing to the Christian faith. We might also excuse the Mormons whose beliefs don’t rest solely on the Bible but also on the Book of Mormon and other Mormon writings. However, it’s a little harder to excuse Copeland and Hinn who supposedly teach the Bible.
It’s interesting to compare claims that we are divine with what the devil said to Adam and Eve in the garden. When he tempted them to eat the forbidden fruit he didn’t tell them that it was okay for them to eat it because since they were gods they could make up their own rules. No! He said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” So here we are not gods but only in some ways like God.
A careful reading of Peter will also show that he is not really suggesting that we are divine but that our participation in the divine is what enables us to live godly lives. Behind this lies the teaching that we are by nature spiritually dead and incapable of any good. Only when we are born of God’s Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus indwells us, are we empowered to live the kind of life that pleases God. We are born again to be God’s children and as God’s children we show the family likeness that was seen most perfectly in Jesus, our older brother. But that’s still a far cry from claiming that we are now divine and no longer human.
A careful reading of Psalm 82 brings us to same conclusion. This Psalm is a lament about the godlessness in the world and how that godlessness comes under God’s judgment. In that context the Psalmist calls them to remember that they have been made for something better. Humans were made in God’s image and likeness to be His sons and daughters but because they were not showing the family likeness of their Father the Psalmist calls them to remember who they really are.
There’s a fine line here. It is the height of arrogance and pride to claim that we are divine and no longer human. But it is a wonderful thing to claim that because of Jesus and faith in Him we now share in the divine nature which enables us to live lives that are radically different from those around us.