Recently I heard a song, I believe by Joan Osborne, which had as its first line, "What if God was one of us?" I started thinking about what that said to our teenagers, and about religion in general. Basically all religions fall into one of three categories: "What if God was one of us?"; "What if we are one with God?"; and "What if there is God and us?" There may be a fourth category--"What if there is no God?"--but that has no bearing on this discussion.
What if we are one with God?
This seems to be the basis for some Far Eastern religions such as Buddhism and possibly Confucianism. Because of that, it has also become the basis for much "New Age" consciousness. The essential belief, as expressed in Buddhism, is that we are all part of the cosmic awareness. We are a drop in the ocean that is godness. But we have become separated from that ocean. If our karma is bad, we move farther away from that ocean. If our karma is good, we move closer to being one with god. Each successive reincarnation moves us one way or another. If we learn to be good and do good, after sufficient reincarnations we will join our consciousness with the cosmic consciousness, and will lose all awareness of self. Thus, we are part of god and god is part of us. Those who try to combine Eastern thought with Christianity, though, come up against an insurmountable problem. "And inasmuch as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment; so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for him, unto salvation. (Heb 9:27-28) Rather than working to reenter the cosmic godness, man has only one chance--this life. Additionally, God is immeasurably different from, and greater than, man. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa 55:9) We are not gods, and can not even strive to be God because it is an impossible task.
What if there is God and us?
This is the thought that man is not, nor ever will be, God; and God is not, nor ever will be, man. In the first centuries of the Christian era this was held by the Gnostics, among others. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries Deism became popular, including among its proponents some of the founders of the United States. It was a reaction to "enlightened" science which was saying there is no God. The deists could not accept that, although they accepted everything else scientists were saying. So they developed a sort of "theistic atheism." In their view, God created the world, and "wound it up like a clock." Then he set it aside and went off somewhere else, letting the world run down on its own.
The Jews, on the other hand, have always believed God was distinct from man, but that he took an active interest in manís affairs. "What is man," the psalmist asked, "that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (Psa 8:4) The history of the prophets, even the founding of the nation of Israel, is entirely based on the fact that God is interested in, and takes a hand in, the affairs of man. But it is just this that makes it difficult for modern Jews to accept the Christian view of Jesus as Messiah. They can not accept that God could become man, even the Messiah of promise. (Interestingly, Jews of the first century had no problem with this--even those who would not accept that Jesus was Messiah).
What if God was one of us?
This question is the basis for Christianity, as well as much that is error. It is easy to take this question too far, as I believe the song that brought about these thoughts does. The idea is carried to extreme even among Christian young people today. This extreme personalizes or humanizes God so much that he is no longer the awesome being, the creator and sustainer, the one of whom Isaiah said, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isa 6:5) The idea of a "personal savior" is good, so long as you donít personalize God out of being God. When God becomes too human, we lose the respect and admiration due him. He no longer is an "awesome God" (Deut 7:21), but becomes just an "awesome dude."
The New Testament presents a different view of the God who is one of us. He is still worthy of respect, because he became one of us.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5-11)
Even though God became one of us, he is still so highly exalted that we should fall on our faces in His presence.
But why would God become one of us? What advantage would he have in becoming subject to the frailties and temptations to which we are subject. The writer of Hebrews answers this, and at the same time answers those modern Jews spoken of earlier who can not accept that God became man. The advantage is that it allows God to understand us--and allows us to know that God is not so far above us that He can not understand us. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15) He goes on to say, "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek." (Heb 5:7-10) Further, "If the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant." (Heb 9:13-15) Our High Priest was made complete by his humanity, and was enabled to be our atonement sacrifice, because he was the only man to have lived perfectly.
What if God was one of us? He was! Because of that, he can extend mercy with his justice. Because of that, I need have no fear of judgement. Because of that, I can be, and am, called a son of God. What a wonderful thought. Praise God, He was one of us!