In my young adult Sunday School class at church, we’re doing a series on portrayals of God in culture and how they compare to the God of the Christian faith. This blog post is an adaptation of some of the discussion points from the second lesson.
Let me begin by addressing the elephant in the room: This is not the original version of the song “One of Us.” This is the Glee version of the song “One of Us.” I am not ashamed of my love for Glee or for their rendition of this song. I came across it during a recent re-watch of the show and found it to be the perfect topic for a discussion like this one. Although the show from which it comes is dramatic and silly, if we take the song seriously, it reveals some profound truths about the way many people view God, and I think that’s worth discussing.
I used to think I was being a bit rebellious when I listened to this song, like I might get in trouble for it if my pastor found out. Because the lyrics contain some questions about God that you wouldn’t expect to hear someone ask in church, at least not in such blunt terms. But I don’t consider this song offensive; rather, I’d call it misinformed.
“One of Us” reveals some beliefs and questions about God that are common in our culture. These issues usually lie under the surface, but it’s important to bring them into the light because they are real, and the church has adequate responses to them. What follows is a short list of the theological issues I see raised in the song and how the Christian faith addresses each one.
This song portrays God as mysterious and unknowable. The opening line asks the question, “If God had a name, what would it be?” This implies that God doesn’t have characteristics of basic relatability, or at least that he hasn’t revealed them to people. This sort of belief is all too common in our culture today. While it’s true that God is transcendent and beyond human comprehension (see last week’s blog post, there’s much, much more to the story.
One of the most amazing truths of the Christian faith is that the God of the universe desires to know us. He’s chosen of his own accord to enter history and interact with his creation in a deep, personal way. He even allows himself to be affected emotionally by human actions. He didn’t have to do that, but he chose to.
In response to the song’s question about God’s name, the answer is clear: God has a name, and he’s chosen to reveal it to us (Exodus 3:14). This revelation of the divine name has huge implications for our ability to know God and to relate to him on a personal level. Every relationship has two elements: knowing someone and being known by them. God knows us fully, whether we like it or not, but our ability to know him is dependent on his revelation of himself, and he’s chosen to take that step, to open himself up to us. Some might even call that vulnerability.
The song also views God as distant and unreachable. According to the lyrics, God has no face and lives “up in heaven all alone” with “nobody calling on the phone.” Like the narrator of this song, many people believe in God but don’t think that they have any access to him. Some adhere to the “cosmic watchmaker” theory, the idea that God set the universe in motion and then withdrew from it, allowing things to play out according to the natural laws he put in place. This apathetic deism is tragically all too common in our culture.
But it does not line up with the way God is portrayed in the Bible or the way God has interacted with his people over the centuries. Christians worship a God who is not only involved in the affairs of the world, but is so involved that he is always available to his followers. God is omnipresent, which means that his presence is with us in all places and at all times. All we have to do in order to communicate with him is reach out in prayer. Does that sound like a distant God to you?
God is involved in the mundane, everyday events of our lives. Every minute, he is present with us and available to us. We each experience phases of life when God feels distant, but even in those moments, he is there. He is available to us because he wants us to reach out to him, to know him, to live this life with him. All we have to do is open ourselves up to his presence.
The thesis of this song is the question, ”What if God was one of us?” The song imagines God as a stranger simply trying to get home. This question reveals a deep desire that we have to worship a God who is relatable. We want a God who can sympathize with us, who knows what it’s like to go through what we go through. We want a God we can relate to, a God who is like us in some way.
In response to that desire, the Christian faith has some good news: God did, in fact, become one of us. We don’t have to wonder what it might be like if God were one of us, because it’s already happened. In the person of Jesus Christ, the God of the universe became a man and lived life with us. He experienced what it’s like to grow up, to work, to struggle, to have his heart broken, even to suffer and die.
And that fact offers us encouragement. There is nothing we can experience that God hasn’t already been through. It’s not enough that we can know God and reach him. He took it even further. He came to the earth and lived a human life so that he could connect even more deeply with us. There’s nothing unknowable, distant, or unrelatable about Jesus. He’s a person just like us, and he also happens to be God.
So you want to know what it would be like if God were one of us? Look no further than Jesus Christ. He is God, but he’s also one of us. And that makes all the difference.