. . . that they may be one, just as we are one . . .
If you pause on this snippet of Christ’s prayer long enough, you might need to take your model of God and the Church off the shelf, and try to make some room for alterations.
Sure, we can accept the unity of Christ and his Father. We may not understand it, but he’s God, so we have to take his word for it. But if Jesus prayed that the Church would experience the very same unity . . . does that mean the union of the Trinity can be understood and actually experienced by human beings?
The fact that Jesus is praying for unity shows that: 1) God wants his people to experience unity, 2) that this unity is possible, 3) that this unity is God’s will for his people, and 4) it is not guaranteed.
Can we imply by Christ’s sending his disciples into all the world that the mission of the Church is not just God’s plan for a subculture of saints, but ultimately his will for the entire human race, creatures that he originally made to share in his image, likeness and authority, an image that apparently reflects a value system with unity at its core?
Think about what God said in Genesis. “It is not good for man to be alone.” So he makes a woman, and declares them to be “one flesh.” Hold on. Doesn’t he know that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus? If he wanted unity, why make a person so inherently different than Adam? Apparently God’s definition of “one” can unite two very different but functionally equivalent beings.
The Fall did not create diversity, God did. Yet he expected unity. He initiated a relational hierarchy between himself and angels and humans and animals and plants and rocks that could be considered “good,” a “marriage” between heaven and earth ensuring a mutual existence of joy, peace and contentment.
The Fall destroyed God’s vision for unity. Not by introducing the knowledge of evil—they already knew that it was wrong to eat the fruit—but by breaking the relational hierarchy. Eve was supposed to govern the animals, but she let a snake convince her to doubt and disobey God, her only true authority. Suddenly we see humans hiding from God, marital problems, and God bringing law and judgment, neither of which was necessary before.
Don’t let the Age of Enlightenment or the Theory of Evolution or the bridge of the USS Enterprise give you too much hope. Sure, we can make strides toward liberty and justice for all, but we can’t fix the relational hierarchy with improved governments or impassioned speeches on the steps of the White House. That’s like trying to lift yourself off the ground by tugging at your hair. Hitler tried to reorient the world to a new social hierarchy. That was a big part of his Final Solution. Unfortunately he put “Germany” in the wrong G-category.
Scripture is pretty clear that Jesus is the only solution to our broken unity.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal. 3:27 – 28
One in Christ? How does Christ eliminate racial, sexual and social diversity? Is he trying to make us like a bunch of penguins waddling through life without distinctions? That can’t be it. Otherwise my marriage just became . . . awkward.
I’m glad some of the early churches were so screwed up. If the Corinthians were not so self-oriented, reveling in their spiritual gifts and privileges, we might not have such a clear passage on God’s vision for unity. Here are a couple familiar excerpts from I Corinthians 12:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Like a body, our unity is not about uniformity, but functionality. We have one head (Christ, the Lord) and one central nervous system (the Holy Spirit, our guide), but a diverse body. This functional unity allows each person to be unique, but embraced by the whole. One yields to the other.
That explains how Christ can say to his Father, “Not my will but yours be done.” If they were bound by nature, how could they have different wills? But if they share a relational unity, bound by love . . .
Paul makes it pretty clear that our spiritual unity is not founded in some divine or social compulsion. This is not communism. Not predestination. Not robotics. The chapter in the very center of his discourse on spiritual gifts and unity is chapter 13, the Love Chapter. What’s love got to do with it? Everything.
What if Eve truly loved God? What if Cain loved Abel? What if husbands loved their wives? What if Hitler loved the Jews? What kind of history would we have?
But there’s a catch. Love is not something you can go find somewhere. You can’t buy it. You can’t meditate your way there. You have to be born into it. Well, reborn.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. I John 4:7 – 9
This is God’s Final Solution. This is how God’s nature and mode of existence plays into his design and destiny for all of Creation. It gives us a fresh sensitivity for our mutual state of existence without having to drive wedges between ourselves based on race, sex, religion or social standing. It puts a new spin on our understanding of salvation. It widens our vision of the Church.
Now do you understand why Jesus is the only solution? To entertain any other option is to be unclear about the problem itself.