“What if God was one of us?” Joan Osborne sang in a popular song some 20 years ago, “just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home?”
Of course, the whole of Christian faith is based on the premise that God was one of us: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
He was likely a slob from time to time as well, for he was subject to the same bodily functions as the rest of us while he dwelt among us on earth. We don’t like to think of Jesus in those terms, but to accept the Incarnation is to accept that Jesus belched occasionally after a good meal, and like everyone else he was, as Shakespeare wrote centuries later, subject to “the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Jesus, too, “grunted and sweated under this weary life.”
“If God had a name,” the song continues, “what would it be, and would you call it to his face if you were faced with him in all his glory? What would you ask if you had just one question?”
Moses had a question, to which God answered, “I am Who I Am” (Exod 3:14): Ehyeh asher ehyeh. It is one of the seven names of God, according to Rabbinic Judaism — seven names so holy that, once written, should not be erased. YHWH, or Yahweh, is the one most familiar to Christians.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell, a vocal atheist, was once asked what he would say if, when he died, he was, against all his expectations, confronted by God in all his glory. Russell replied: “ ‘Sir,’ I would say, ‘why did you not make yourself more apparent?’ ”
Only Bertrand Russell has the answer to what he really did say on that occasion, but I suspect that he was so overcome with awe that he forgot to say anything at all. For God is apparent everywhere, even in pop songs from the 1990s.
“If God had a face,” the song continues, “what would it look like, and would you want to see, if seeing meant that you would have to believe in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?”
I would suspect that, once seeing God’s face, the saints and the prophets would be a foregone conclusion. The angels in heaven look continually upon the face of God, Jesus tells his disciples (Mt 18:10), but “my face shall not be seen,” God says to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exod 33:23). Some say that only the dead in glory can see the face of God. Yet the Gospel tells us that God is indeed “a slob like one of us.” He is the stranger on the bus. He is the priest celebrating mass. He is the prisoner, the homeless, the mentally ill. He is the neighbour and the friend. He is everywhere and he is always. “We do not walk alone,” says Pope Francis. His face is your face.