Christian Perspectives on Union with God
So many times we get caught up in the romance and excitement of anything in life. The same is true with spirituality. Many are deceived by false promises of Eastern religions that teach deification instead of unification. New Agers, free lance spiritualists and other pseudo Christians speak of the marvels of the East and how one can astral project oneself or become unified with an entity and learn secret and lost wisdom. Some also boast within the West of great raptures or locutions and visions. Extraordinary miracles and spiritual favors are equal to union in their mind. The Christian perspective does not see union in such ways and Christian Counselors need to guide their spiritual children away from such ideals.
While God sometimes does dispose upon the soul various gifts and charisms, union, at least in the temporal reality, is far from glamorous. It involves a deviation from our fallen nature and a submission of our will to God’s will. It demands humility, obedience and love of creator and aversion to materialism in this world. Divine Union is not always filled with rapture but on many occasions is filled with aridity and solitude. It on many occasions seeks one to choose the hard road instead of the easy road. Yet be rest assured, one is traveling the correct road which will lead one to paradise when one seeks union with God. As pilgrims in this temporal reality, union with God gives us a glimpse of heaven but for those who truly seek union, it is not about reward but only love.
Union is a love that is beyond the good feelings upon the outset of a relationship. Instead it is the love that carries one from the hardships of day to day. It seeks no reward but only reciprocity of love from the lover. This type of union hopes to tie the soul to God so intimately, that the two wills become one. Through this fervent and deep love, the soul progress spiritually while it learns to oppose its illicit desires.
I would like to list various quotes from saints on the issue on union. These saints represent a universal theology of union that is applicable to both Protestant and Catholics.
The object of all virtues is to bring us into union with God, in which alone is laid up all the happiness that can be enjoyed in this world. Now, in what does this union properly consist? In nothing save a perfect conformity and resemblance between our will and the will of God, so that these these two wills are absolutely alike—-there is nothing in one repugnant to the other; all that one wishes and loves, the other wishes and loves; whatever pleases or displeases one, pleases or displeases the other.—-St. John of the Cross
Those deceive themselves who believe that union with God consists in ecstasies or raptures, and in the enjoyment of Him. For it consists in nothing except the surrender and subjection of our will with our thoughts, words and actions, to the will of God and it is perfect when the will finds itself separated from everything, and attached only to that of God, so that every one of its movements is solely and purely the volition of God. This is the true and essential union which I have always desired, and which I constantly ask of the Lord. Oh, how many of us there are who say this, and who think we desire only this! But, wretched that we are, how few are ever to attain it!—-St. Teresa
Union with God takes place in three ways: by conformity, by uniformity, and by deiformity. Conformity is a complete subordination of our will to the Divine Will in all our actions, and in all occurrences and events, so that we will and accept all that God wills and sends, however painful and repulsive it may be. Uniformity is a close union of our will with the Divine Will, by which we will, not only all that God wills, but we will it solely because He wills it, and so all repugnances are banished. Deiformity is a transformation which renders our will one with that of God, so that it is no longer conscious of itself, as if it were no longer in existence, but only feels in itself the Divine Will, and, as if it were changed into it, no longer desires in any of its acts and operations anything, even what is most holy, with or through the created will, but only in the uncreated, made its own by transformation.—-Fr. Achilles Gagliardi
So great is the delight which the Angels take in executing the will of God, that if it were His will that one of them should come upon earth to pull up weeds and root out nettles from a field, he would leave Paradise immediately and set himself to work with all his heart, and with infinite pleasure.—-Bl. Henry Suso
We ought to submit to the will of God, and be content in whatever state it may please Him to put us; nor should we ever desire to change it for another, until we know that such is His pleasure. This is the most excellent and the most useful practice that can be adopted upon earth.—-St. Vincent de Paul
Perfect resignation is nothing else than a complete moral annihilation of thoughts and affections, when one renounces himself totally in God, that He may guide him as He wills and pleases, as if one no longer knew or cared for either himself or anything else except God. It is thus that the soul, so to speak, loses itself in God, not, indeed as to its nature, but as to the appropriation of its powers.—-Bl. Henry Suso
To lose ourselves in God is simply to give up our own will to Him. When a soul can say truly, “Lord, I have no other will than Thine,” it is truly lost in God, and united to Him.—-St. Francis de Sales
If you give yourself to the practice of holy abandonment, though you may not perceive that you gain at all, you will, in fact, advance greatly, as it is with those who sail upon the open sea with favorable winds, trusting wholly to the care of the pilot.—-St. Francis de Sales
In this holy abandonment springs up that beautiful freedom of spirit which the perfect possess, and in which there is found all the happiness that can be desired in this life; for in fearing nothing, and seeking and desiring nothing of the things of the world, they possess all.—-St. Teresa
When we have totally abandoned ourselves to the pleasure of God, submitting without any reserve our will and affections to His dominion, we shall see our souls so united to His Divine Majesty that we shall be able to say with that perfect model of Christians, St. Paul: “In myself I no longer live, but Jesus Christ in me.”—-St. Francis de Sales
The soul which remains attached to anything, even to the least thing, however many its virtues may be, will never arrive at the liberty of the Divine union. It matters little whether a bird be fastened by a stout or a slender cord—-as long as he does not break it, slender as it may be, it will prevent him from flying freely. Oh what a pity it is to see some souls, like rich ships, loaded with a precious freight of good works, spiritual exercises, virtues and favors from God, which, for want of courage to make an end of some miserable little fancy or affection, can never arrive at the port of divine union, while it only needs one good earnest effort to break asunder that thread of attachment! For, to a soul freed from attachment to any creature, the Lord cannot fail to communicate Himself fully, as the sun cannot help entering and lighting up an open room when the sky is clear.—-St. John Chrysostom
To arrive at perfect union, there is needed a total and perfect mortification of the senses and desires. The shortest and most effectual method of obtaining it is this: As to the senses whatever pleasing object may offer itself to them, unconnected with pure love to God, we should refuse it to them instantly, for the love of Jesus Christ, who in this life neither had nor desired to have any pleasure except to do the will of His Father, which He called His food. If, for example, there should arise a fancy or wish to hear or see things which do not concern the service of God or lead especially to Him, we should deny this fancy, and refrain from beholding or hearing these things; but if this is not possible, it is sufficient not to consent with the will. Then as to the desires, we should endeavor to incline always to what is poorest, worst, most laborious, most difficult, most unpleasant, and to desire nothing except to suffer and be despised.—-St. John of the Cross
When I see some persons very anxious about being attentive in prayer, and keeping their heads bowed while occupied in it, as if they did not dare to stir in the least, or to move even in thought, that the joy and sensible devotion they have may not leave them even in the slightest degree; this shows me how little they understand the road which leads to union, while they imagine that the whole affair consists in keeping their thoughts fixed. No, no, the Lord desires works. Therefore, when things present themselves to be done, to which obedience or charity obliges you, do not at all regard losing that devotion and enjoyment of God, that you may give Him pleasure by doing these things; for they will lead you more quickly than the others to holy union.—-St. Teresa
Self-will, as God says by the Prophet, is what spoils and corrupts our devotions, labors, and penances. Therefore, not to lose time and trouble, we must endeavor never to act from the impulse of nature, interest, inclination, temper, or caprice, but always from the pure and single motive of doing the will of God, and accustom ourselves to this in all things. This is the most effectual, nay rather the only means of arriving safely and quickly at union with God.—-St. Vincent de Paul
To attain union with God, all the adversities that He sends us are necessary; for His only aim is to consume all our evil inclinations from within and from without. Therefore, slights, injuries, insults, infirmities, poverty, abandonment by friends and relatives, humiliations, temptations of the devil and many other things opposed to our human nature—-all are extremely needed by us, that we may fight until by means of victories we have extirpated all our evil inclinations, so that we may feel them no longer. Nay more, until all adversities no longer seem bitter to us, but rather sweet for God, we shall never arrive at the divine union.—-St. Catherine of Genoa
As Christian Counselors who seek better meditative ideals, it is important to realize as we progress towards God that we must start simply loving God and submitting our will to him everyday. We should do this without seek of reward but only love. The rest will fall into place as Our Lord wills.
Mark Moran, MA