If you consider that God is righteous,
you also know that everyone who acts in righteousness
is begotten by him.
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
—1 John 2:29–3:1
I’ve been watching a lot of C.S. Lewis Doodle on YouTube lately—if you have not yet experienced these videos, I highly recommend them. In particular, I’d been watching the video Making and Begetting, and today’s first reading brought it to mind. The video illustrates the following passage from Lewis’s book Mere Christianity:
We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of; to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers, and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.
Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.
Given this description of making vs. begetting, I thought it odd that John specifically uses the word “begotten” in describing our relationship to God. Jesus is begotten by God, but we are not begotten in the same way that Jesus is. We are His creation, made in His image and likeness but distinct from Christ in that we are not actually God ourselves. What, then, is John’s meaning when he says that “everyone who acts in righteousness is begotten by him”? How could we possibly be begotten? As I reflected upon this phrasing, I recalled Lewis’s eventual conclusion to the chapter:
In reality, the difference between biological life and spiritual life is so important that I’m going to give them two distinct names. The biological sort, which comes to us through nature and which, like everything else in nature, is always tending to run down and decay, so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from nature in the form of air, water, food, etc., is bios. The spiritual life, which is in God from all eternity and which made the whole natural universe, is zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to zoe, but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having bios to having zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.
And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is like a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going around that some of us are some day going to come to life.
We are created by God, not begotten; we are like statues made in His image. But God desires to elevate us beyond our natural capacity. He is not held back by the laws of nature; He can give us life that transcends all we know in this earthly plane. That we might be considered begotten by God seems impossible, yet nothing is impossible for God.
How does God initiate this radical transformation in us? He meets us in the sacraments, washing away the decay of sin through baptism and confession, fortifying our souls through the Eucharist. In our human condition, we are ever aware that life is a bittersweet experience—we recognize it as a great gift, but at the same time we ache for something more, something that will not wither and fade away. God Himself has written this desire upon our hearts, and He intends to prepare us to receive life that is beyond our imagining. As we draw closer to Him, we become like statues that are beginning to blink and fidget around, suddenly aware of the life flickering within us.
In this new year, may we become ever more alive in the Lord, open our eyes to see the gifts He is giving us each day, and allow Him to transform us.
Image: Jean-Baptiste Regnault, Pygmalion / PD-US