We are used to confessing that the Son of God is of “one substance” with the Father – meaning that the persons of the Holy Trinity are of one “essence” or “being.” It is also true, however, the all human beings are of “one substance” with all other human beings. That is to say there is only one human nature, essence or being, and that each of us as persons share in that one being.
It is part of the theological understanding that makes it possible to understand how it is that when “one of us suffers, we all suffer.” We are created in the image of God – but in Genesis it makes it quite clear that we (Adam and Eve, male and female) are in the image of God. To exist in God’s image is to exist as a personal being – that is to exist in relation to others.
We are not alone, nor were we created to be alone. Much of what constitutes the “fall” of man is manifested in our existence as individuals. We do not perceive ourselves as existing in communion with others – rather we tend to understand our existence as something that stands or falls on its own.
This is a very deep cultural perception – and thus not something that is easily addressed or corrected. I frequently think that it is less learning not to do something, and more learning to do something (thus being positive rather than negative). Learning to live with love as the center of our being – not money, not time, not hobby, not something else – but love for the other (whichever “others” we live with or work with or share the planet with at any given time).
I think it quite significant that the prayer Christ taught us to pray begins with the plural “Our Father”. It presumes that when I am praying I am not praying as a mere individual. It also means that you are not my problem in the sense that the problem has nothing to do with me. To bear one anothers’ burdens, as the Apostle enjoins upon us, includes bearing one anothers’ sins to some degree. I am taught “not to judge my brother” which includes praying for one another and being solutions for one another when we can or a balm or an encouragement.
Dostoevsky spoke of this as each man being responsible for the sins of all men. To live this means, at the very least, not viewing one another and our sins as legal or forensic problems, but as existential and communal. From the earliest times we have run from this reality, saying to God such things as, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Apparently God thinks we are.
Indeed, being of one substance with the human race, we are far more than keepers.