"What if God was One of Us?" asks Joan Osborne in her song of the same name. What would the answer be? He is one of us. The second would be Jesus. But is this really so? To know God is to know His Essence-Who He really is. It's something that we humans will never know. As humans, we know His energies but not what He is. He is uncreated; we do not know His nature "but the things around [His] nature" (St. John of Damascus).
To know God's name is to be equal to God. Knowing His name would give us a sort of "power" equal to Him. Why? To know someone's name is to denote a form of intimacy with that person. For instance, in most cultures, knowing a person's name gives others a sort of ownership or control over that person's life. A parent has such control: when mom is really mad at you, does she use your nickname or does she use your first, middle and last name?
Another example of the power of names is when we're on the internet. Most people will use a handle or username that shows our interest in a particular area but not who we really are. If we use our real names on the internet, this would invite an intimacy with strangers who in some instances, can hurt us: identity theft, pedophiles, porn sites, etc.
In literature, names are a form of power. In Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea series, wizards who came of age were given their "secret" name in addition to their birth names. And a wizard is instructed not to give out his secret name for fear of giving control to others who would use the wizard's powers against him or for evil purposes.
As for Christianity, God gave Adam authority to name all that he sees thereby giving Man dominance over the flora and fauna. When we receive Communion, we say our name to the priest. His presence is more apparent at this moment than most other times in our Liturgical lives. To identify yourself to God makes you a person and not just a man, woman or child. To tell someone your name is to allow them into your soul. So when we are baptized, we are given a name that is heard throughout His kingdom. And which our souls will bear with love and respect to and for God and the saint or day that we were named for.
In Joan Osborne's song, God is shown as being someone Who has a name and is known to us. Yes, we know what God is not but we do not know Him like He knows us. It's ironic that His extreme knowledge of us allows us an intimacy that we can only experience through Him. But our knowledge of Him is extremely limited yet we choose to let Him into our hearts and souls.
But the irony in Joan Osborne's song talks about God as a "...stranger on the bus/Trying to make his way home" and that's because He's in each and every one of us. We might encounter Him on a bus (our neighbor) but He's never a stranger to us. But it is agape that we are to show this "...stranger on a bus." Agape is a love so deep and unconditional that we can never explain this in simple words. It is something that is felt so profoundly and deeply. Yet, we're to allow people into our lives who we don't really know; just like we allow God into our lives.
Love is intimate. And Love is God. Being intimate with God is what we are here for. By being intimate with Him, we are able to love the people and the world around us. It's been said that the absence of God or Love is Hell because without experiencing His Grace, we'd live in a very dark place. His Love shines within our hearts and thus gives us a Light to follow throughout our lives. Having His Light shine will stop the darkness from overtaking us even during the worst moments of our lives. And in those worst moments, "we know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit" (1 John 4:13).
Lia Lewis is a graduate of Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary She's also a member of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
in Westfield, NJ.