As a father with grown up children and grandchildren it is extremely rare for us all to be together in one place at the same time. A few years ago, when it was still possible for us all to meet occasionally and sit round the table of our home here in Skye, there was, for me, a unique sense of completeness – a feeling of oneness.
I have struggled for a long time in attempting to understand the concept of oneness I find in the teaching of Jesus and other parts of the Bible. In fact I had probably filed it under the ‘mystery” section of my mental library.
But last week, for no apparent reason, my attention was drawn to the subject again. Especially the words of Jesus as he prayed to the Father-
‘I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.’
John 17: 20 – 23 (NKJV)
The feeling of unity, completeness and oneness I experience with my family round the kitchen table does not take away from the character, uniqueness and individuality of each person. In a similar way the unity Jesus speaks of here does not, I believe, take away from the uniqueness of the members of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit or of those caught up in unity with them. So true oneness is not the obliteration of identity – but a unity so unique as almost, it appears, to render the individuals indistinguishable from one another in respect of their motivations, thoughts and actions.
The importance of the truth Jesus speaks of in his prayer here is no passing fancy or some unworkable ideal or impossible aspiration. He has spoken about it before to his disciples –
“A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
John 14: 19 – 21
I think I am quite comfortable to give my assent to the concept that Jesus is ‘in’ the Father and the Father is ‘in’ Jesus. But it is more difficult for me to conceptualise that I am ‘in’ Jesus and that he is ‘in’ me. And yet that is the very essence of the Christian message –
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.’
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
Some more modern translations of the Bible replace the word ‘in with the word ‘united’ and I think that is very helpful. It also opens up another picture of ‘oneness’ used frequently in the Bible – marriage. In fact it is one of the foremost pictures used in the Old Testament to describe the unity of God with his people. Of course we find this concept very early on in human history –
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Again the principle of oneness is a unity that does nothing to detract from the nature of the individual – but to compliment both in a very unique way. And yet it is a ‘oneness’ – it is a ‘unity’ with all the implications that these things entail.
I think that is what Paul had in mind when the wrote to the early church –
“If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
1 Corinthians 12:26 (NKJV)
The late Oliver Clement picks up on this truth in one of his books when he writes –
‘The sanctified person is someone no longer separated. And he is only sanctified to the extent that he understands in practice that he is no longer separated from anyone or anything.’
Of course this is an echo the Messiah himself of whom Isaiah wrote –
‘In all their affliction He was afflicted …’
Isaiah 63:9 (NKJV)
It is because of his union with us that the Father can feel our pain, sorrow, bereavement and suffering.
In the eternal day, the reality of the oneness we can, perhaps, only know partially in the here and now, will come to full bloom. But, it is not without a slight temptation to put these thoughts back in the ‘mystery’ section, that I read these words –
‘And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.’
1 Corinthians 15:8 (KJV)