In spite of the theories of some anthropologists, it is doubtful whether men left to themselves would arrive at the idea of one source of power, energy and life in the universe. It is almost certain that they would not reach the idea of one source of righteousness, goodness, and love. The tendency of the human mind has been to trace different forms of activity to different sources, and to find a different origin for different powers or attributes. Men’s imagination has peopled earth and air and sky and the waters under the earth with a multitude of spirits or demons, each responsible for some one aspect of nature, or presiding over some single quality of mind.

That, after all, is an easier and more obvious way of accounting for the infinite diversity of things in the world than tracing them all to one creative source. Once men grasp the idea of one God, it is satisfying and irrefutable as no other belief can be; but to arrive at it demands just that kind of sublime simplification which is the mightiest achievement of intellect. The fact that a child can accept it does not mean that a child could think it. If a genius, an Akhenaton or a Plato, has put forward the idea of one God (though even they fell far below the Biblical conception of Him), it was a pinnacle of hu­man thought; though there is a possibility that they derived it from some other source, and it did not burst full fledged from their own minds. Ultimately, we can only point to revelation as the undoubted source for the belief in one God, from whom not only all physical but all moral qualities are derived.

That God is in the Old Testament so definitely shown as one – and not three, or any other number – has been attributed to the needs of a primitive and simple-minded people. But if it had been desired to prepare the minds of Israel to receive some other idea, such as threefoldness in oneness, no better training ground could have been found for such a purpose than Egypt in the Eighteenth Dynasty, when Israel was in bondage. Not only was there a popular belief in a rabble of deities, but the favour­ite gods of Thebes and Memphis were three-fold; different deities were fused together in the triads, Amon-Ra-Harmachis and Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Further, the college of Sun-priests at Heliopolis (so closely associated with the history of Israel as the “On” from which Joseph’s wife came), tried with philosophical subtlety to represent many gods as manifestations of one, Ra. In sharp contrast, and in direct repudiation not only of the crude polytheism but of the intellectual subtlety, Moses – who was “learned in the wisdom of the Egyptians” – declared to the people: “Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”. Those words are the foundation stone of Hebrew religion.

Even when men’s minds have travelled far along the road of finding a common cause for many differ­ent things, they tend to distribute them between two principles – one the origin of darkness, the other of light; one evil, the other good and beneficent. They think the reality behind things seen is not one, but twofold, and two principles, spirits or entities are forever in conflict. Such was the ancient Persian view; and this belief is directly denied in a proph­ecy addressed to Cyrus through Isaiah. “I am the Lord”, says God, “and there is none else.” “Beside me there is no god.” “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isa 45:5-7). He is the source and creator of all things; there is no reality apart from Him; therefore nothing can be beyond His control. This clearly excludes any rival to His power: He alone is the Eternal Spirit. And as for men, if they pursue their own way on the earth, ignoring or defying Him, it is only for the time and through His forbearance, in order that some higher and fuller purpose of His own may be attained. For men die, and their devices perish; and where are they then? It is only an illusion that they can challenge God, any more than a whiff of smoke can challenge the sun. In the end there is no reality but God and His purpose. And these two ideas, control and purpose, may be deduced from the fact that God is one, and there is no other: there is no division in Him, and no rival to Him. Therefore Isaiah can write:

“All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field … The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isa 40:6-8).

With these thoughts in mind, we are better able to appreciate the words of Jesus in his prayer before his crucifixion: “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee: even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that whatsoever thou hast given him, to them he should give eternal life. And this is life eternal, that they should know thee, the only true God, and him thou didst send, even Jesus Christ” (John 17:1-3). The glory of God is to be made evident to men through His Son; and the Son is at the same time to receive glory from the Father. The glory is bound up with something else which is a means to the end – that is, with the authority over men’s lives which the Father has given to Christ; and that authority is to be exercised by giving eternal life to men who believe on him. But what is eternal life? Endless duration, an incor­ruptible state, an unfading joy? Yes, it is all these: but something more lies behind them, as the basis for all the other qualities which life may possess. It is the relation of men to God, who is eternal and is the source of life; and what determines that rela­tion is the man’s mind, emotion, and will. Therefore the basis of eternal life is to know God. To “know” Him in the deepest sense, more fully than we can now know the most beloved of mortals, will be the essence of the life of the future age; all the blessings of immortality will flow from that fundamental relationship to the Source of life. To attain to that state knowledge must begin in this life; and we may know God through the one whom He has sent to reveal to men His character and purpose. The words of Christ make clear that he himself is one who is sent, deriving from the Father in heaven his commission, his authority, and his glory. From the Father also comes the eternal life which the Son is empowered to bestow: and the basis of eternal life is man’s relation to God: and the basis of that relation is knowledge – to “know God”: and the knowledge is made possible by Christ, who reveals God to men. The Son, therefore, depends on and derives from the Father; and the “many sons” who are to be brought to God through him depend on the Son: as it is written: “For it became him (God) … in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb 2:10). So we have the threefold chain: the Father, the source; the only-begotten Son, deriv­ing from and dependent on the Father; and “many sons” deriving from and dependent on the Son: the Father, the origin of all; the Son, the means of all; and “many sons brought unto glory”, the end to be accomplished.

It is in the light of this that Paul is able to write to the Corinthians that though many gods are recognised by the heathen, in the sure knowledge of the Christian there is “One God, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him” (1 Cor 8:6). All things come forth from God, and are designed to accomplish His will: therefore they are “out of” and “unto” Him. But there is another who is the means, the instrument, to bring men to God – the Lord Jesus Christ: and therefore the “many sons” are “through” him.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-6, Paul says prayer for all men is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who willeth that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth”. God, who is the Saviour of the believers, is potentially the Saviour of all without distinction who will come to Him; and the means of salvation is knowledge – “knowledge of the truth”. And Paul immediately goes on to state the fact which is the foundation of saving truth, and which at the same time explains why there is one way of salvation, and why God is willing that all men shall be saved. It is the fact that God is One: therefore there is in Him no division, no contradiction, no variation, no inequality, no par­tiality. Hence He has provided one only as mediator between God and men, through whom redemption is offered for all without distinction. “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.” The very principle which makes salvation possible is the fact that God is one; and the same fact assures that the means of salvation is universally the same – to know God, and him He sent, even Jesus Christ.

Man’s mortality, with all it involves of corruption in nature, is the result of a disharmony with God. If that disharmony can be resolved, there is no other evil from which he need be saved, because there is no other power in the universe that can claim him. God has no rival: as Jesus says, “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:30). He adds: “I and the Father are one” – leaving the conclusion to be inferred: “therefore no one can pluck those he has given me out of my hand”. Because God is one, and there is none else, union with God, who is the source of life, means the assurance of life incorruptible. And God Himself provides the way of salvation by the Mediator whom He has given, through whom alone can come the radical change in men’s relation to the Divine which is called reconciliation.

Hope not only for the individual but for man­kind as a whole lies in the same fact that God is one: for He has said: “As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” In attaining that end He may permit evil – He may even create evil, in the sense of calamity (for man’s wayward will, not God, is the source of moral evil). He may guide and overrule the consequences of men’s own evil acts so as to use them in the divine education of man by which He is bringing the world to Himself. But because God is one, the end can only be one – glory, righteousness, and peace.

That God is one is therefore not dogma divorced from life; nor a mere subject for intellectual curios­ity; nor a theme for theological specialists. It is not an abstract and academic issue but a Gospel – for it is the Good News which gives the final assurance of man’s destiny and the world’s. It is a faith which can be a driving force in life, because in it lies certainty, and the way to God, and the life eternal.1

Footnotes

  1. (2001) e Christadelphian, 96 (electronic ed), p305-307. Birmingham: Christadelphian Magazine & Publishing Association