So often one sees the words “ Jesus Saves” bandered about, and like the cynic I am, cannot resist adding “with the Pru” or “ but not as good as Wilkinson”. Or whatever pop reference I can come up with.
Many people see Jesus as being the equivalent of a religious Life Boat – literally dragging us, coughing, spluttering, from drowning in our own “sea of sin and iniquity”. Jesus as a life saver. A rescuer. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn't.
But what does the word “Salvation” or “save” in this context mean? Salvation is taken from the Latin salvere meaning “to find wholeness”. In other words, Jesus doesn't save like a goal keeper or a computer programme, saves us from deletion; he's not like the computer in the Dr Who episode 'Silence in the Library'. Instead, he brings us wholeness. Brings a sense of oneness, oneness not only with ourselves but with each other and with God.
Trusting in Jesus, trying to live a life of radical, inclusive, love is what brings that sense of wholeness, of fulfilment, of unity of spirit and purpose. So often our bodies and souls can be out of balance. Detached from God and our inner light. The old fashioned word for this dislocation is “sin”. This dislocation can be due to worries about finances, stress of the work place, lack of time to relax. Or worse. Not being able to recognise our own inner light, not being able to express our light, not being able to live out our light, not being able to see our light in each other, because of the sins of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia (and others).
If Jesus truly does bring salvation, and by that, wholeness, it means he restores to balance our soul and body.
Indeed, the New Testament shows just this: he reached out across the narrow boundaries of his own day, reached out in love and knocked down the walls of injustice and oppression. Showed how an outcast like a Samaritan could love or how a woman from a different country could have faith and trust. In the story of Jesus casting out “evil spirits” from pigs, it's not that there literally was a herd - if that's the right word – of demonicaly possessed pigs, but that he was brining a sense of wholeness. Remember that those spirits told Jesus that “we are called Legion because we are many” (I'd question that translation as Legion is derived from Legio/s meaning a “military levy” rather than great in number, but I digress). Here Jesus is making one from many. Brining wholeness, unity of purpose, or body and soul.
Remember how Jesus said that we are all called to be “one”. Called to oneness with God, just as he was one with God.
This sense of wholeness, of oneness, crosses all the artificial barriers we create and put so much store in. But by stressing that God is one, not many, suggests that all things are one with God, all things are in God and God is in all things: remember “in my father's house there are many rooms”
To quote Virginia Mollenkott “The One Source likes variety and has chosen to be incarnated in millions of diverse ways. I assume that the ultimate reason for difference does not lie in concepts constructed by some society, or eternal essence like 'male' or 'female', but rather that God has chosen to embody Himself/Herself/Itself in one person's particularities at this time and place”.
I believe in the humanity of Jesus and the oneness of God, the Divine Unity and this call to oneness, of wholeness by Jesus is made all the more eloquent. Because Jesus was one with himself and with God, so can I.
But at a more fundamental level, what does it mean to believe in oneness, in the oneness of God?
It is to say something fundamental about the very nature of reality. Traditionally, and still today for purposes of comprehension and devotion, we may speak of God’s unipersonality, God is one person: ‘our Father’ in traditional Christian terms as based on the religious experience and background of Jesus. We cannot relate to an abstract philosophical concept, cannot be moved by it or be touched by it in our ‘inmost being’ (Psalm 51: 6). The Divine Unity, the Great Mystery, is beyond our understanding in all its depth, immensity and subtlety, so we must create myths and symbols through which to touch the reality we sense yet cannot understand, to reach out in wonder and humility to that which transcends us and yet is the entire nature of our own being. And though we may not be able to conceive of the Divine Unity, any more than we can conceive of the universe in its entirety, yet we can feel it and feel ourselves to be a part of it and its pulsating life.
When the Jesus of John’s Gospel says, ‘The father and I are one’ (10: 30) he was expressing that participation in God is fundamental to us all, but one which it takes the insight of the true spirt led believer to realise in its fullness. The affirmation, ‘God is One’, is thus about much more than narrow theology. It says that oneness, wholeness, is the very nature of reality, of ultimate reality, beyond all the diversity and separateness that we see around us. It says that all these disparate particulars, all these varieties and variations, all these divisions and subdivisions, rest within a universal oneness, the Divine Unity.
To affirm the Divine Unity has very real, very practical implications. It means that oneness pervades and connects all Creation, the natural world and us with it. It is the failure to recognise this that leads us to fight against nature, to violate Creation, to live in greedy, destructive and unsustainable ways on this beautiful earth. Because we see ourselves as separate from the rest of Creation we risk bringing catastrophe on our own heads. For too long we have been trapped in a false and limited consciousness that denied not only our oneness with the rest of Creation, but also the intricate, complex oneness of Creation itself as part of the Divine Unity.
And affirming the Divine Unity means recognising the oneness of humanity. The divisions of nation, race, class and creed are superficial constructs. They rest upon oneness but they blind us to it when we invest them with a significance they do not warrant and a reality they do not truly possess outside our heads. The diversity of the human species is a rich and wonderful thing but only when it rests on the realisation of our oneness. And the oneness of humankind is but a manifestation of the greater oneness of the Divine Unity. If we could but realise that then we would be well on the way to tackling the conflicts, bigotries and injustices that inflict so much suffering in this world.
At a more personal level, the realisation of our oneness with our neighbour, of our common identity and kinship with every other human being, is at the heart of authentic, creative and respectful relationships. This is what love is all about. Love is feeling oneness between oneself and another person, a fundamental connection, and a sense of responsibility for them. This is what Jesus taught so wonderfully in the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10: 29-37). The Samaritan sensed his oneness, his neighbourliness, with the victim of a crime, despite the superficial differences of religion, culture and nation.
Oneness doesn’t mean that you will (or should) agree with everyone, get on with everyone (there are many rooms in my father's house) or be free of all negative feelings and damaged relationships—we are who we are! But it does give us the ability to empathise, to understand human feelings like our own, and to prevent a dispute or even a major row deteriorating into hatred, vengefulness and destructive bitterness.
The sense of oneness opens the way to forgiveness and reconciliation, the restoration of respectful relationship, that sense of wholeness of “salvation” presented by Jesus. The chain of connection that runs through the universe can never be utterly broken even when things go wrong. It is our choice, as often as not, whether we feel that connecting chain as a light and reassuring reminder of our oneness, or, whether we feel it as a heavy and inescapable burden on our wilfulness. In the story Jesus told, both the robbers and the men who ‘passed by on the other side’ represent the failure to love, the failure to realise the oneness that makes us kin as children of God and participants in the Divine Unity.
The Unitarian affirmation of the Divine Unity remains a constant throughout our tradition’s history. But it is more than just a theological position. It is a recognition that the God of whom we say, ‘God is One’, is the heart, soul, spirit, process and nature of the universe itself, manifest in all Creation and not least in human love and personality. The ethos and the values that we hold as rest on this foundation. We value tolerance, liberty of conscience, and openness of heart and mind because they recognise a oneness deeper than all the differences that we human beings have managed to elevate above their true significance.