ON THE ONENESS OF GOD

 

Noel Rude

 

If anyone thinks that for unitarians the oneness of the Deity must be as severe as it is in Islam, I would ask we consider this from G. K. Chesterton:

 

The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. ... For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) — to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.  (from Orthodoxy, as quoted in First Things, April 2002, pg. 82)

 

I have to agree to a certain extent.  Some will argue that “one” always indicates absolute elementarity, or that in Hebrew or whatever language the word is different—disallowing “one set” or “one family” or “one pantheon” or mere unity—though of course unitarians do not argue that.  It is good not to say things about the word “one” that just ain’t so.

 

Then there are all those verses like Deut 4:35, “Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.”  Similar might be said of a collective, of a city like Babylon (Isaiah 47:8-10), “…that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me … and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.”  And so also of Nineveh (Zeph 2:15): “This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me...”

 

Context is important, and so when God says that there is none else beside him, is he talking about Andromeda?  Or his sovereignty over the nations down here?

 

One might even ask—after Jesus fulfilled Psalms 110:1, “Sit thou at my right hand,” can we still say, “…there is none else beside him”?

 

What really defines God?  Is it his “oneness”—whatever that ultimately means?  Is it that he singularly created all that is and thus transcends everything that can be imagined or named?  Is it that he alone has a past eternity?  Is it that, as the theologians say, that God dwells outside of time and space?  Or is it that God is the supreme authority and none else can challenge him?  I should think a positive case can be made for the latter—at least from the standpoint of Scripture.  As for a past eternity—I cannot understand there being such nor can I understand there not being such.  As for the claims of the theologians—transcendence, disembodiment, timelessness—and, let us add, whether or not God is a class of beings or a family—why be dogmatic when we really don’t know?  I suggest we simply stick with the Scriptures and say with Job (Job 42:3), “Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.”

 

If God has existed for all eternity in the past, and if he has always been creating intelligent beings, then there was never a time when there was no one beside him.  There would always have been a heavenly court.

 

The plurality expressed in Genesis 1:26 is most often interpreted as referring to the heavenly court, as for example in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (which, however, sees the angels created on the 2nd day, evidently based on Psalms 104:4),

 

כו וַאֲמַר יְיָ לְמַלְאָכַיָּיא

26 And the Lord said to the angels

דִּמְשַׁמְשִׁין קוֹמוֹי

who ministered before Him,

דְּאִיתְבְּרִיּוּ בְּיוֹם תִּנְיָין

who had been created in the second day

לִבְרִיַית עַלְמָא

of the creation of the world,

נַעֲבֵיד אָדָם בְּצַלְמָנָא

Let us make man in Our image…

 

The majority of rabbinical commentators follow this interpretation, and they tend to come down pretty hard on any other.  Nachmanides, however, invokes Gen 2:7 and explains,

 

אָמַר בָּאָדָם

Concerning Adam he said,

נַעֲשֶׂה

“Let us make …”

כְּלוֹמַר

meaning,

אֲנִי וְהָאָרֶץ הַנִּזְכֶּרֶת נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם

“I and the aforementioned land will make man.”

 

One could also, I should think, invoke Isaiah 62:4, “…for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.”

 

Also the idea of a female counterpart in Gen 1:26 meshes with the imagery in the New Testament.  God is a Father (1Cor 8:6) and Jerusalem is a mother (Gal 4:26) and their firstborn is messiah (Rom 8:29), “… the firstborn among many brethren.”  As it says (Rev 12:5), “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.”

 

The fatherhood of God is linked to creation (as in Genesis) and the covenant (as in Exodus) in Malachi 2:10—“Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?”

 

Christians in general are confused as to the covenant (God’s marriage to Israel – Jer 3:14) and the law (the marriage contract – Ex 20-23).  Eternal life, they are confident, is rooted elsewhere than in the marriage of God and Israel.  But when asked about the subject Jesus appealed to the Covenant, as in Matthew 19:

 

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

 

And in Matthew 22 Jesus recalls Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush (Exodus 3:6): “Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

 

31 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

 

Who is the married wife in Isaiah 54:1?  “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.”  It is God’s wife—composed of the saints produced by the covenant at Sinai—a covenant that is to be renewed (Jer 31), the one described in Hebrews 12:

 

22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things that that of Abel.

 

One way of harmonizing the two accounts of the creation of Adam—that in Genesis 2 (where Adam is formed first, then the garden, then the creatures, and then Eve) with that in Genesis 1 (where the garden is first, then the creatures, and then Adam and Eve together)—is to see the Adam who is dust in Gen 2:7 as created first—first as Israel (Ezek 34:31 - אָדָם אַתֶּם ‘ye are Adam’) and then as messiah taken to God’s right hand in the garden (Gen 2:8—“and there he put the man whom he had formed.”; Psalms 110:1—“Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.”) and finally as Adam and Eve together made in the image of God which implies the resurrection.  This, I would argue, is the imagery Paul appeals to in his resurrection chapter (1Corinthians 15).

 

45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul [Gen 2:7—“and man became a living soul”]; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit [Gen 1:26—“ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them”]. 46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. 47 The first man is of the earth, earthy [Gen 2:7—“And the LORD God formed man the dust of the ground”]; the second man is the Lord from heaven [Gen 1:26—“and let them have dominion…”]. 48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy [Gen 5:3—“And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image…”], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [Gen 1:26—“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”]. 50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

 

Paul is clear that God the Father and Jesus are separate beings (1Cor 8:6), that God is God and Adam serves as the type of Jesus (Rom 5:14) and Adam and Eve together as typical of Christ and the Assembly (Eph 5:32).  Jesus prayed to his Father in heaven as though he were praying to a separate person and not to himself or some other side of his nature.  He prayed for his disciples (John 17:22), “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one...”

 

What is the meaning of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4?  Interestingly the greatest of the Jewish commentators (Rashi) explains it not as a singularity but as unity in God’s realm (my translation):

 

ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ ה׳ אֶחָד.

“Hashem our God, Hashem one.” 

ה׳ שֶׁהוּא אֱלֹהֵינוּ עַתָּה

Hashem who is our God now

וְלֹא אֱלֹהֵי הָאֻמּוֹת

and not the God of the nations,

הוּא עָתִיד לִהְיוֹת ה׳ אֶחָד

will in the future be one Hashem,

שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר

as it says,

כִּי אָז אֶהְפֹּךְ אֶל עַמִּים שָׂפָה בְרוּרָה

“For then will I turn to the people a pure speech,

לִקְרֹא כֻלָּם בְּשֵׁם ה׳

that they may all call upon the name of Hashem,

[לְעָבְדוֹ שְׁכֶם אֶחָד] (צפניה ג ט)

[to serve him with one consent.]” (Zeph 3:9) 

וְנֶאֱמַר

And as it says,

בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה ה׳ אֶחָד

“…in that day shall there be one Hashem,

וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד. (זכריה יד ט)

and his name one.” (Zech 14:9)

 

For me the big questions involve not deep theological forays into regions of reality hidden from me, but whether or not Jesus preexisted, and what images and types and prophecies the New Testament uses in regard to him.  Adam, for Paul, was the type, he who had been made in God’s image.  And the book of Hebrews starts out demonstrating Jesus’ greatness by quoting verses as to the greatness of man—of Adam and the king of Israel.  Hebrews 2:5 should shoot down the so-called Arian hypothesis (who knows for sure what Arius really taught): “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.”

 

What is important is that a mere man—one of us—has been exalted to eternal life, higher than the angels in authority on this planet (who knows about Andromeda), and that he set the pattern for us.