There is a question from ancient philosophy called “the one and the many” problem. Though most people recoil at the mention of philosophy, it is important because we are living through this question today. What is true? Are we many, divided as many different people with different experiences, or are we fundamentally one, as in one human race of people together?
Since this is not a new problem, we can get help from history in answering it. The apostle Paul wrote almost 2000 years ago to a local church that was fractured by this issue. They had all sorts of different heroes. They had different convictions and practices. Their income levels varied widely. With that kind of variety, you can imagine there were many disagreements. Paul wrote this to them:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
To a group of people who believed that they were ‘many’, Paul needed to remind them that they were one, united by God who created them all. As Christians He reminds them that their uniqueness was given to them as a blessing for the whole community. God made them different in order that together their unity would be rich and complementary. He gives the example of the body and how the whole body is richer for the diversity of its members – hands, eyes, mouth, feet and more. Each part can contribute uniquely to the whole.
So in a time where it seems like the differences are swallowing our one-ness, let’s remember some key unifying principles:
We are all one human race made by one God.
We are all made with dignity and value in the image of God.
We are all created for relationship with God and with others.
We are all fallen from perfection and under the burden and curse of sin.
We all need the one remedy for sin which God has made through the sacrifice of Jesus.
I know some read this list and think: these are Christian ideas, and I am not a Christian. Certainly it is true that not all agree with these ideas, but even if you do not, realize that these concepts are the very ground which create room for reasonable disagreement. I must respect you, because you, like me, are made in God’s image. You might ask whether other concepts of humanity such as Darwinism create room for respectful disagreement, or if they justify abuse and victimization of less “fit” members.
The triune God who is one God is expressed in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Many—yet one. I think this is a hint at the fabric of all of reality.
When we establish the real unity and common ground we have, then we have built a solid foundation upon which all our unique and varied experiences enrich our communities. Rather than fragment them – our differences as families, our churches, our businesses and neighborhoods can help and support each other. We are many – but we are also made to be one.