Is God One?
And if God is One, what does “one” mean?
We all know the saying, “Loose lips sink ships.” With the idea being that if you share secrets, then lives may be lost. If someone is literal minded, then they may say, “Well, that doesn’t happen all the time. If I share news with my wife, that doesn’t ruin anyone’s life.” Or, “It isn’t only ships that are sunk, but airplanes get shot down and soldiers lose their lives.” the original statement was “Loose lips MAY sink ships”, but the makers of this WWII meme understood correctly that if you make the statement tighter and more absolute, then it is more memorable. But if you take it literal, you might lose the point. Even so, with “I before E except after C” is to the point and memorable, but we don’t want to take it too literally, because otherwise so many exceptions or contradictions come up. Oversimplification is good, except when it’s not.
Even so with the statement “God is one”. We are taught by theologians that God is literally singular, and so we have the foundation of the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Bahaism. God is singular.
But when we look at the oneness of God in the Bible we end up with a big mess.
We are taught in Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 4 that there is one God and that’s pretty clear. Until we realize that the Old Testament is full of references of a lot of Gods. For instance, Psalm 97 says that YHWH is exalted above ALL gods. Psalm 8 says that humanity is a little lower than the gods. If there is more than one god, then how is there only one God?
The point of calling God “one” in Deuteronomy 6 is not that there is only one god, but that our god is the highest above all other gods and no god will ever take their place. In the ancient world, every time a battle took place between nations, this was a battle between their gods, and when the battle was over, it showed which god was in charge over the other god.
The Hebrew’s theology was a bit of a cheat. Their God, YHWH, is the Most High, the authority over all the gods and no matter who wins or loses in a battle with Israel, YHWH is still in charge. Without exception. Other nations hated that.
This is why Shadrak and his friends could say this in Daniel 3: “King, if you throw us into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to deliver us from out of your hand. However, even if our God does not deliver us, we will not serve or worship your gods.”
All the other nations hated this arrogant theology. “My God is in charge.” “No, my god won” “Doesn’t matter, my God’s in charge.” Like boys playing a shooting game, deciding who really died.
Strictly, this is not monotheism. Monotheism says that there is only one God that exists. Ancient Jewish theology says that there are many gods, just one that is in charge. That’s called henotheism. And they also said that there is only one God that is worthy of worship. That’s called monolaty. (Like “idolatry” but with a “mono” instead of a “ido”).
Then we have in Christian theology a trinity. That really screws people’s minds up. Matthew says that there is “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Christian theology says that these three are one God in three persons. So God is both one and three. And don’t try to examine it too closely or else a theologian will tell you that the concept is “ineffable” which is just a fancy way of saying that nobody really gets it, just accept it.
The Nicene Creed is more exacting about the relationship of Jesus to God. “One Lord Jesus Christ… God from God, true God from true God, begotten not made, of the same essence of the Father.” “God from God” and “true God from true God” mean the same thing, so I’m not sure why they felt that they needed to repeat themselves. The unique phrase there is “of the same essence” which in Latin is “homoousion”. Which is to say that whatever “stuff” God is made of, Jesus is made of the same “stuff”, thus they are one in essence or “stuff”. Which is why they use words like “ineffable” because they don’t want me using words like “stuff” or “spiritual gunk.”
Again, it sounds nice until we actually look at the Bible. In the Old Testament, the persons of God are kind of strange and mystifying. There is a guy who looks like a normal person called The Angel of the Lord and he delivers messages from YHWH and then suddenly this “angel” is now YHWH themselves. And God appears as a cloud which is called God’s “glory” but is really YHWH. And God’s action done by God is also done by “Wisdom” who is a she, by the way, and Wisdom speaks as if she were God. And we have the Spirit of God. So God isn’t one entity, but many and also of many different kinds of essence.
The relationship between God and Jesus and the spirit isn’t really explained. So the Trinitarians say, “Jesus said, The Father and I are one. And The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us! God’s essence is the same in different people.” But when Jesus said that he and the Father are one, it seems to be something different. Because in the same book, John 17, Jesus also says, of those who follow Jesus, “May they be one as you are in me and I in you.” In other words, “oneness” isn’t something that is shared between just the persons of God. In the sense of “oneness”, we are to live in God as Jesus does, and we are to live that way in each other.
If the Biblical oneness is shared between the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and God’s people, then I can only think of two things that might qualify. First is representation. God is the Most Authoritative being and all of these share in that authority and represent the Most High.
The other makes more sense to me. God’s oneness is part of his uniqueness from all other gods and powers in the world. One distinction is that God is the authority. The other distinction is that God is love. God alone is the divine representation of agape, of sacrificial love for the sake of others. There are other gods of love, but they are selfish jerks. I’m talking to you, Aphrodite and Eros. Tricking others with your powers of animal lust.
Exodus 34 says,
“Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.”
Oneness that humans share with the divine seems to be summed up well in a passage that doesn’t mention the word “one”, “All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. “ I John 4
The uniqueness of God is the compassion, mercy and love of God, which God freely shares with humanity. Rather than monotheism, Christianity should be agapetheism, one of the religions that adhere to the never-ending compassion and kindness of God that never changes, which divine nature we might share in.