A look at Joan Osborne's What if God Was One of us
Photos of Joan Osborne
About One of Us
What if God was one of us? Joan Osborne’s hit is not merely musical in nature; it will be one of my eternal music favorites owing to its ethereal rhythm and haunting, thought provoking words. This lovely song issues us a bold challenge to reassess our own relationships with God and to keep ourselves in check with some reflection. It has generated much debate; I do not speak for Joan’s or songwriter Eric Bazilian’s perspectives but humbly offer my own interpretation of this great song, which I was always wanting to deliver. So this is my offering for the many fans of Joan Osborne, including myself.
.The profound song won Grammies for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop vocal. Though songwriter Rick Bazillian states that he was not pointing anyone to any form of thinking, the song leaves much for us to consider; the thought-provoking lyrics of the s point to the things that all of us must remember in our relationships with God These are reminders that we are often given in many a sermon or homily but fail to take into account. Bazillian, in penning these lyrics, offers all of us a push in the correct direction, advising us to do what we should - touch base with ourselves.
The first poignant question “If God had a face what would it be like” really encourages one to wonder if we make the effort to, or manage to, recognize God in our lives. All of us groan and gripe about the obstacles and unfortunate events placed in our paths; we are consumed by negativity and often fail to see that God has always answered our prayers, rendering help if only we would ask. We see only one pair of footprints in the sand, thinking of them as our own; God has always carried us through the toughest of times and those footprints are His. We should accept it if says No to our requests; He meant us for better things.
We are asked what we would do if God was a “stranger on the bus.” To many of us, God is indeed a stranger; we often fail to recognize him in our lives. We do not appreciate the loved ones and friends who have given us a hand at various points in our existence; we are professionals at taking things for granted, grumbling when we are not given enough or think that we are not being cared for. We overlook the fact that He is always there for us whether we notice it or not. The little line prompts us to remember to notice God in the less obvious and overlooked.
The same line asks us if we would care if God was an inconsequential stranger; or if we would be disappointed to find that God was just a Nobody, an unrecognizable face amongst the common.We all have expectations of God; finding that he does not answer our prayers can be grating. Many of us also expect him to be a great but inaccessible being; we are surprised, flabbergasted and thus ignore him when we find that He embraces the ordinary in our lives. That He is present in our friends and family is something that we do not want to acknowledge because our image of Him can be something so ethereal and distant. We have high standards, and rightly so, of God and it is hard not to shirk Him when we find that He is not the powerful, celestial being we imagine him to be. Consequently, we often fear God unnecessarily; remembering that he is in the common people around us should quell that fear.
We have to question the status of our own relationship with God; Joan asks “what would it be like if you had just one question” for him. It suggests that we have difficulties speaking to him; that we have such difficulties points to definite flaws in communication.. Drawing closer to God, we would be less dumbfounded and be more comfortable asking Him the questions we have to.
We are asked if we “want to see his face”, a question that points to our own desire to seek God in our lives. We should want to discover God, He should not inspire fear because He is in everything we see; in all the people who have, in some way touched our lives, even those who have done so negatively. Therefore, looking at the next person would be looking at God himself.
A line questions if we are ready to believe in the prophets or the saints; my own understanding of this is that faith is subjective but certainly requires that we have the readiness to adjust to certain beliefs. Many of us, whether we like to or not, would have to admit that there are aspects of our faith we would like to question.
No one is on the phone with God; being Him must be a rather lonely affair. We always forget his existence in the midst of our busy day; we find excuses to avoid our relationship with Him because we are simply too indolent. This is a poignant reminder to reconnect. Our relationship with him can be rather unsettling; hence the description of him as a “rolling stone” that simply cannot stay in one place. We question the place of God in our hearts.
Belief in God is about acceptance; readiness to accept who He is and perhaps adjust our beliefs. Lyrics in the song ask if we are ready to believe in the prophets and the saints; faith equals readiness and the willingness to accept some of the things we may not agree with when we embrace Him. We ask ourselves if we know what we are in for.
God has the great misfortune of being misunderstood; we form our own impressions of Him, believing him to be a grand, untouchable being but are disappointed when He does not turn out to be what we expect and turn away in anger, leaving Him be. To myself, the song is indeed a plea to rediscover God.
To myself, the most important of the question then, we have to ask ourselves when we listen to the song is if we pray enough; if we make the effort to connect with and understand God a little better. He is around if only we spend time looking.
How should we answer some of the questions in the song?
If God had a name, what would it be?
God should be called by any number of names; this being because he is present in so many people in our lives! A notion that is difficult to accept - these people include those who have hurt us in one way or another and our challenging task is to be able to see God present in them as well.
Would I call it to his face?
God deserves our every acknowledgement. However, like many of us, I would probably be too afraid to face Him directly if I did so; that is, if we see God as a distant, awesome being. However, if we recognize that “God is one of us”, we should not be afraid to face him; he is ever present in everyone and engaged with us.
If God had a face, what would it look like?
This is an interesting question to pause and ponder over. Some of us ask if God is present and would look like anything at all; He would look like everybody and anybody; He is, after all, ever-present in us. We see his face when we look at anyone.
Would I want to see it?
Seeing God would be an overwhelming event for some, especially if we think that He is Almighty and detached. Where I am concerned, God gives us the many blessings in our lives; we should not look at him with a sense of fear and instead seek him in all things.
Are we ready to believe in the saints and prophets?
Again, an interesting and subjective question that challenges our faith. Faith requires our readiness to accept the new: it is not surprising that many would accept God with a little discomfort because faith implies the acceptance of some beliefs that are uncomfortable.
So, finally, what if God was one of us?
God IS in all of us. The song suggests that it is up to us to choose to see Him; he is everywhere, and goes home, alone, disappointed because many of us do not realize that he is there, in the everyday people and things in life.
Many thanks to Joan Osborne for a thought provoking rendition; indeed it has made me consider new perspectives in my own relationship with God. The song is highly recommended as one to play for a healthy dose of reflection. For myself, there is only one answer to the question What if God was One of Us - He is.