I’m sure you’ve heard the classic Joan Osborne song, which features the lyrics, “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us. Just a stranger on the bus, tryin’ to make his way home.” And as I write this article, I’m also reminded of a song by the Fray called You Found me. The song starts with the line, “I found God on the corner of First and Amistad, where the west was all but won. All alone, smoking his last cigarette…” Speaking about the inspiration behind the lyrics in an interview, the Fray’s lead singer, Isaac Slade said, “I just imagined running into God standing on a street corner like Bruce Springsteen, smoking a cigarette.”
I have always loved these images that portray God as that which walks among us; rather than some kind of unapproachable super-being that sits on a throne somewhere. I think there’s something very true and profound in these images.
The term Namaste is a form of greeting that comes from India and is translated, “I bow to you”. This greeting has become popular among westerners who attend Yoga classes. Namaste also reflects the Hindu belief that the divine is the same in you and me. Therefore, it’s also a way of saying “The Divine In Me, Honors The Divine In You.” It’s a beautiful expression, isn’t it? And I wonder if this is one reason why so many westerners have been drawn to the eastern spiritual traditions. Because it contains a truth that our own Christian tradition lacks – this idea that God is not removed from us, but one of us and at the same time, all of us. It’s this idea that every living creature is an expression of the divine energy.
Even though the Bible starts with man being created in God’s image – as an expression of God – Christianity hasn’t always seen it this way. According to traditional Christianity, humans are bad, evil and fallen by default as opposed to an expression of the divine. And I have to wonder, how has this view shaped our society? If we truly believe that humans are bad by default; how would that notion influence how we treat each other? Is this why Christianity has got such a bad rap in recent times? Sadly, Christianity rarely says to the Muslim, the Atheist or the homosexual, “the divine in me honors the divine in you.”
And even if religion doesn’t play such a dominant role in modern culture, would the influence of such a belief system still be felt? I’m not saying that places like India are perfect. It’s no secret that they have their own problems like poverty and corruption; but I hardly think that India will be dropping bombs on anyone any time soon. Yet, nations influenced predominantly by the Abrahamic religions probably will, and have. And I have to wonder if it doesn’t have to do with the fundamental belief that God is good whereas people are bad. Therefore any injustice committed against people in the name of God can be justified; especially if you believe that you are on God’s side whereas “the other” isn’t.
But what if God isn’t something distant and removed from us? What if God is the person on the other side of the border; the guy looking for companionship in a gay bar; your annoying co-worker; the guy begging at a traffic light or the guy sticking a dirty needle in his arm?
What if God was one of us?
Jesus certainly seemed to have seen things this way. I’m sure there’s no need for me to go over Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan, but it’s a great example, so I’ll do it anyway. Jesus told a story about a man who was robbed and beaten on his way to Jerusalem and left for dead (Luk 10:30-37). A Priest and a Levite came down the same road, but passed by on the other side in order to avoid him. But when a Samaritan passed by, he had compassion on him and helped him.
At the time, this was a loaded story. If Jesus was speaking to modern Jews he probably would have replaced the Samaritan with a Palestinian. It would be like telling the story during the Northern Ireland conflict and replacing the priest or levite with a Catholic and the Samaritan with a Protestant. It would be like speaking to a group of Afrikaner Nationalists in apartheid South Africa and replacing the priest with a Dutch Reformed minister and the Samaritan with a black man.
To be fair though, according to the Torah, Priests and Levites weren’t allowed to come near a dead body. This could explain why they passed on the other side of the road – they were just obeying religious law. Although the exact meaning of the Latern term “religiō” from which the English word Religion is derived is uncertain; some scholars seem to think that it means “to reconnect”. Funny then how religion can actually make us more disconnected from God if God is to be found in the eye of the other. These guys spent their lives serving God in the Temple; yet they failed to see God in the stranger lying on the side of the road.
Paul said to the Ephesians that there is, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:6 NIV) This message has gotten so lost in western spirituality. Instead of one God who is through all and in all; we’ve created a God who is removed, especially from those that are other than us. But what would this world look like if – instead of honoring a divine being who is “out there” – we began to recognize and honor the divine in each other? If we believed that God is one of us and all of us; how would that belief change how we treat each other?