Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
The Lord is one. What does that mean? The obvious answer is that God is God alone. There is only one God. That is so accepted by the major religions that it’s hardly a big deal, but in Jesus’ day, it was a big deal. In fact, it’s what would get Christians into trouble with the Romans later on. The Romans worshiped a number of gods, including their own emperor, and Christians, believing that there was only one god and therefore refusing to worship Caesar, got into a lot of trouble. So that’s the obvious meaning, but Jews and Christians understand that that statement, the Lord is one, has many layers of meaning. In fact, whole theological systems have sprung up from this one idea. For instance, since God is one, he is indivisible—there is no composite or partial aspect of his nature. What he is, he is completely. This leads, through a series of rather philosophical musings, to the ideas that he is also immutable or unchanging; omniscient or all-knowing; omnipotent or all-powerful; and omnipresent or always everywhere. So from this one simple statement, God is one, we get that God is perfect, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. And that is why that statement is foundational to our faith.
But I think that if you stop there, you get a distorted view of God, and a distorted view of God leads to distorted religion, and distorted religion is the source of great evil in the world. Old definitions emphasize the difference and the distance between us and God. That’s OK, God is different. The creator can never be the same as the created. We call this transcendence. But there is another aspect to the statement that God is one that I believe really gets to the core of our understanding of God.
We can think of oneness in terms of uniqueness, singularity, aloneness—which is one step from loneliness. But the opposite of loneliness is togetherness. And what is the ultimate expression of togetherness? When you and another person are so together that even when you are physically separated your are still together, it feels like what? Like you are one. You live and breathe and act as one. You anticipate each other’s actions, your think each other’s thoughts, you feel each other’s feelings. You intuitively understand each other. It’s as if before the two of you met you thought you were one person, and then you met this person and discovered that you were only half a person, and that person was your other half—your better half. And together, you make up a whole. You are one. Together.
The Father and I are one. (John 10:30)
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 )
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
That, in my mind, is the ultimate expression of who God is. That he doesn’t want us to be far apart from him, distant relationally, but so close to him that it’s hard to tell where we begin and he ends. The goal of personal transformation is unity with Christ.
Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
This is what God wants, and it is what we have to want also. We have to want it so bad that we would rather die than to live without it. Because that’s what Jesus did. He came so that the oneness he shared with his Father, we also could have.
And he died so that we could have it.