What If God Was One Of Us?
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with this song from 1995. Written by Eric Bazilian and sung by Joan Osborne, it asks an important question without really engaging with the fact that Christianity proclaims that in Christ God did become one of us. It describes a God seemingly unconcerned with humanity, just trying to go home to heaven. While the song acknowledges various existential questions for the listener – “If seeing meant that you would have to believe In things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?” – it doesn’t bear down on how that might relate to twenty centuries of reflection on the fact for Christians that God did become one of us. It’s a great song with excellent singing and a god guitar solo, but it bothers me. Indeed, this is the second blog where it has popped in as a topic (here’s the first, almost three years ago). But, then, you can only do so much in a five minute pop song.
The text from Hebrews in the Daily Office Lectionary for today does get into what it means that God became one of us.
Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 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. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The reading today contains a division in topic. In the first two paragraphs (4.11-13) the author is finishing off his reflections on Psalm 95 and entering into God’s rest. He then takes up the topic of Jesus as a great high priest, which continues to the end of chapter five.
Hebrews 4.14-16 asserts that God was one of us, subject to temptation and who knows our weaknesses. The great high priest Jesus and the total offering he made of himself in the Cross is not distant from us, but part of us and one who speaks and acts on behalf of us. If God was one of us, atonement is achieved in Jesus’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. Estrangement between God and humanity is overcome, and humanity is transformed and re-created to be what God created us to be. We grow into this through prayer and meditation, reflection on scripture, and by reaching out towards our neighbours and lifting them up through compassionate empowerment.
What Eric Bazilian/Joan Osborne does capture well is the sense of challenge that someone facing God might experience. The reading from Hebrews gets that, too, when it describes the word of God as, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The author here sounds positively Johannine, like the author of the Fourth Gospel, but it may simply be that he sees the word of God as that inspiration which came to the prophets and now inhabits every person. It might come from reading scripture, it might come from contemplating the incarnate Word of God, and it might come from the face of Christ reflected in our neighbour on the bus. This is the challenge to any human being, and especially to any Christian: since God has become one of us, what are you now going to do? We can speculate about what might be going on in the mind of Christ, or we can resolve to act like the renewed person Christ makes us be.