This concept of being “one with God” can be interpreted two main ways:
(1) Undifferentiated oneness and sameness,
(2) Differentiated oneness: union with uniqueness, marriage by merging, blending but not the banishing of individuality.
In this latter view, oneness does not mean sameness. The traditional metaphor, used in Hinduism and New Age thought, is the drop of water being immersed in the ocean. The droplet of water is atman (the soul); the ocean is Brahman (the impersonal Oversoul). At the moment of complete absorption into God the ‘droplet of water’ cannot be differentiated from the ‘ocean’ into which it is immersed. This symbol fits in with the idea that man in his present ignorance is in the process of realizing that he is God, on a journey that ends in actually ‘becoming’ God. After the cycle of reincarnation is finally over, the soul completely loses its connection with ‘self-consciousness,’ dropping all human personalities in which it was encased through the cycle of rebirths. Unrestrained, the latent divinity in man becomes fully expressed.
To the philosophical Hindu, and to most yogis and swamis, this is the ultimate meaning of being “one with God.” Progress in life depends on realizing this oneness now and living in the higher consciousness and divine direction provided by the ‘higher Self’ (which is identical with Brahman).This view in Indian philosophy is referred to as Advaita-Vedanta. (The word advaita means “non-dualism”.) Its main proponent was Sankara (c.700-750). He taught that man and God are one and the same. We only perceive separate selves and existences because of maya (illusion). Actually, the world and everything in it is a manifestation of Brahman and will ultimately return to its original state. This interpretation is based on a monistic and pantheistic view of the universe and its Maker.
An opposing view within the boundaries of Hinduism is called Dvaita-Vedanta. (The word dvaita means “dualism.”) One of its main promoters, Madhva (13th century), taught that Vishnu is the supreme god, and that an evolved soul’s ultimate destiny is relational: the final realization of an unhindered, unrestricted relationship or union with a personal God. According to this view, the world is real, not an illusion; and souls, though dependent upon God, are distinct and separate from him.
It is interesting to note that Madhva’s followers considered him an incarnation of the wind god Vayu, sent by Vishnu to bring deliverance to those who are good, while they described Sankara (who promoted Advaita-Vedanta) as being sent by the powers of evil. Madhva’s view is structured somewhat similar to Christian doctrine. However, while proposing man’s destiny of relational ‘oneness with God,’ it fails to supply the correct means of making this happen or the correct revelation of the “One” with whom union is sought. Jesus definitely promised present and ultimate oneness with God for those who follow his teachings. However, the means of accessing this oneness is much different than the methods offered by Far Eastern religions.
In his great intercessory prayer for the church (John 17), Jesus revealed how this oneness can be received (not achieved): “Father…I have given to them the words which You have given Me…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us…and the glory which You have given me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.” (John 17:1, 8, 21–22)
So, through the impartation of the words Jesus spoke (the Word of God) and the glory that rested upon him (the Holy Spirit) believers can experience this gift of oneness with the Father. Such a state of being can be actualized during this life, then finalized and perfected at the loss of this mortal body. So what’s the difference? Far Eastern religions teach that this state of being comes through the removal of ignorance and the attaining of higher states of consciousness through various means (meditation, chanting, pilgrimages, devotion, etc). It is considered an inward potential that all human beings possess. It must only be awakened.
Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that oneness with God is not an internal possession, latent within all men. It is the product of an external influence, an impartation from God. As a promised gift of God, it is granted only to those who seek it according to his directions. In Christianity, God is a transcendent God. Mankind is separated from God by sin. It is impossible, therefore, for unredeemed men to be one with the very God from whom they have been separated. This sorrowful condition of soul is wonderfully rectified by the spiritual rebirth Jesus promised. This happens when the Spirit of God enters a person’s heart once it is cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus. This is the only means by which human beings can be reconciled to a right relationship with God. Prior to this experience any claim to ‘oneness with God’ may be philosophically correct (as a gift that seekers can acquire), but not experientially correct (as an experience that seekers possess).
When I was a teacher of yoga, I sincerely believed that I had oneness with God, but I never actually possessed that oneness. I never truly experienced union with the Divine until I approached God according to the words of Jesus and until I received his Spirit (his glory) into my heart. This difference becomes most evident when the comparison is between Christianity and the monistic, pantheistic view of philosophical Hinduism. This vein of thought in Hinduism deifies all men. All are manifestations of God. The biblical view, though, is that man is not God and will never be God. Oneness does not mean sameness. Adam and Eve became one in marriage in the beginning, but Eve did not become Adam. Later on, Paul used this marriage analogy explaining, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31–32 KJV)
Some of the Far Eastern viewpoints on this issue are like a house that’s been framed up, but not boxed in and furnished. The framework of truth is there (God desires us to experience oneness with him), but the actual means of experiencing that oneness is absent. Of course, I often meet deeply sincere students of yoga and Far Eastern religions who are very godly and loving persons. In living ethical, honorable and self-denying lives, I admit, they have come into harmony with the divine will to a great degree. Usually, their daily goal is to live according to the intuitive promptings of what many of them would term their ‘higher Self.” I believe this inner influence is often the conscience, that subliminal sense of what is morally right and morally wrong. The conscience is a gift from God, but it is not evidence of the actual presence of God within the heart. Those who yield to this inner influence may achieve oneness with God in a very limited and qualified sense, by becoming one with his moral demands. But there is a huge difference between keeping God’s rules and being filled with his personal presence.
I deeply admire people of various religions who live such devoted lives. My heart hurts deeply for them—for I see such consecration, such realness, such thirst for God evidenced in their lives. O, that they could take the next step and discover the Fountainhead of all the joy, peace, and fulfillment they seek: the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, it should be mentioned that the Bible forecasts a time when the sons and daughters of God will shine brilliantly in the Kingdom of God. They will reflect the image of God in absolute perfection. These redeemed individuals will experience union with God to a superlative, perfected degree. However, those who inherit eternal life will never become formless, omnipresent spirits filling the universe, nor will they merge into undifferentiated oneness with the Oversoul. The heirs of everlasting life will always have a distinct form (an eternal, glorified body) and they will always exist as individual, independent personalities. They will be distinct from God, yet enjoy everlasting, blissful oneness in their relationship with him. Yes, I agree with the apostle Paul—this is a great mystery!