Disclaimer: Christian Quaker language assumed.
My last post described how I believe the Spirit informs people who choose to have faith in God. I have struggled, however, with the phrase that Quakers use quite often: “that of God in every man”. It confuses me. Having begun my faith life with a particular interpretation of the bible, it is very, very difficult to adjust to the Quaker idea that this same Spirit of God enables all human beings regardless of their faith focus or regardless of having faith in anything at all. In my understanding, Quakers describe “that of God in every man” to simply mean man’s own spirit within him. Since we are all deeply formed by our previous experiences and beliefs, I’m sure I can’t be the only one having this struggle.
Some believe George Fox originated the phrase “that of God”. I have gotten the impression, and correct me Friends if I am wrong, that Quaker Faith and Practice and many Quakers following in testimony use the phrase to mean that which we should be able to see as the creation aspect of God in every person. This seems to be a great, non-judgmental way of meeting others where they are and encouraging listening to them without prejudice. However, this only creates more problems for me than solves them. I am not saying my belief is the better or worse way. I am simply describing the struggles I have with my spiritual life because of this view.
Questions I have are numerous. How is one to determine Spiritual Truth when one hears it, especially if it comes from someone or some group that we feel does NOT speak for God? What of the Christian who believes Christ is the only way to God? What of the Muslim who believes Muhammad is the last prophet? What about the atheist who believes this talk of God informs nothing and no one? Many claim to speak to and for and some even against God. Some religions claim to have a supreme representative that stands in for God here on earth! Does “that of God” mean that the graces of God are already with that person or group, informing them and working through them regardless of their personal beliefs? Or is it just a recognition that we all come from the same source and we all have access to what the Spirit God offers? What if someone actively chooses to reject God and a Spirit of God? Is “that of God” still apropos as a description? If God speaks equally to all, why do we all have differing views about what God is saying?
Lewis Benson writes in his excellent article “That of God in Every Man; What Did George Fox Mean By It”?:
That Fox saw “that of God in every man” in the context of Romans 1 is evident from the following passage written in 1658: “So that which may be known of God is manifest within people, which God hath showed unto them…and to that of God in them all must they come before they do hold the truth in righteousness, or retain God in their knowledge, or retain his covenant of light.”4
In context, Romans 1 reads this way in the King James Version:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened (emphasis mine, Verses 18-21)
In my own readings of Fox’s journal I find this passage,
Now the Lord God opened to me by His invisible power that every man was enlightened by the divine Light of Christ, and I saw it shine through all… (pg 27)
The book of John opens with the assertion that Christ enlightens every man (John 1:9-13). This and the Romans passage further illustrates that God has left in everyone a witness to himself (perhaps this Light of Christ?) and there is no one that can claim they do not know of God, whether through man’s own inner workings or through nature itself. The work of God in nature, and man as part of nature, is self-evident. So that, when men act unrighteously, they cannot claim they do not know what is right. They do know. They just choose not to act as if they know. I would be more surprised if the phrase “that of God” was NOT used by Fox in his exhortations to communities he preached to. It would fit his language, his understanding of the relationship of the believer with God, and his penchant for scriptural references.
In Quakerism, we are asked to discern for ourselves the Truth we see in what others speak and how others act. We are supposed to do this without the measuring stick of written revelation except that which has been already handed down through others. I am concerned that as a born and bred evangelical woman, I hold the Scriptures in too much esteem and yet I am equally concerned that British Quakers and some American Quakers do not esteem the witness of the Scriptures enough! After all, the centuries of religious writings have nourished the souls of Christians throughout more years than the Quakers have existed.
Even more disturbing to me is that there are Quakers who are actively opposed to any reference to God, Christ, or any Christian language at all in their meetings. I find this odd in that the founder of Quakerism was so steeped in biblical and Christological language. On what, then, do such Quakers base their testimony? The human spirit alone; what some Christians would call the “natural” man? Why should I be compelled to adjust my faith in light of those opposed to the God I believe in? Equally, I understand that they should also not be compelled to adjust their lack of faith in light of my belief in such a God. What’s interesting is that we all co-exist together in the same fellowship!
I suppose this struggle will be an ongoing one for me and will not easily be resolved in my own Spirit. Christians down through the years have all struggled themselves with what the Gospel means for their and future generations. I am not claiming to solve any of it. This testimony is merely my story, my background, and my ground for faith in the Light.
UPDATE: The source for George Fox and “that of God” is found in Quaker Faith and Practice 19.32.
- Day 328: What is…. “That of God”? Part 1 (findinggod365.com)
- Living The Quaker Way By: Philip Gulley (wildthunder48.wordpress.com)
- Furtado, “Quakers” (clrforum.org)
- Outline of Quaker Beliefs (bobcardwell.wordpress.com)
- Faith Without Belief? (dish.andrewsullivan.com)
- Conscience and Joy: On Becoming A Quaker ‘Attender’. (lutonquakers.wordpress.com)
- Ask God to Refresh you! (crosbyp12003.wordpress.com)