Humanity has been trying to resolve what philosophers call “the problem of the one and the many” ever since the dawn of time. Is all reality ultimately one, or is it a mere jumble of objects and beings? How can we reconcile the predictability and order found in the universe with the evident complexity of the world around us?
Those who have embraced postmodern relativism wholesale would exalt diversity at the expense of unity, denying that any one comprehensive story or metanarrative can explain everything. Eastern religions affirm unity at the expense of diversity, saying that everything is ultimately one and that all distinctions are merely illusions. Few on either side hold their view consistently. Some people see counselors to integrate the social, biological, and emotional dimensions of their humanity and to learn how to live fulfilled lives. Others praise diversity even as they hope all the different cultures in their country can be united in love for their nation. Ultimately, human beings live as if unity and diversity are not finally opposed.
Orthodox Christianity alone answers the problem of the one and the many. In Genesis 1:26a, the Hebrew plural noun Elohim is translated as “God.” The word can be rendered as “gods,” but the context demands otherwise. Scriptural monotheism, the use of singular verbs for the subject Elohim, and more all show that the Bible affirms the existence of only one God, even if one of His names is a plural.
The biblical authors use the plural noun Elohim to point us to the fact that the Lord’s character and attributes are multifaceted, that His being is rich indeed. In this way, Elohim serves as a plural of intensity to emphasize His creative authorship of the world’s diversity. Elohim is also used as a plural of majesty to draw attention to God’s oneness. He is the “Most High God” because everything ascribed to deity is found only and fully in Him. Moreover, the orderly creation reveals the order in Himself.
This principle is seen most fully in the Trinity — three distinct persons exist harmoniously within God’s one essence. An orderly, diverse creation manifests His glorious unity and complexity. The word Elohim by itself does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity, but it was not written down haphazardly, for it hints at both the Lord’s complexity and His unity.