Monday, August 1, 2016

That Which Is Not Of God

The phrase "that of God in every person" is common among Friends. In the last century it has come to be, for some, the foundation of the Quaker testimonies (e.g. we don't believe in war because other people have "that of God" in them). But, an older usage that continues today among some Friends is the idea that there is "that of God" in us that guides us, illuminates the shadows in our hearts, and transforms us. The peace testimony in this case comes from being transformed into a life in which war and violence are no longer options. I often quote this phrase from Fox's journal in explaining the peace testimony: "I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars".

"That of God" in others was something to be answered. Here is one way that George Fox expressed it:
So all Friends, of what calling soever, that dwell in the power of God, and feel the power of God, and the light of Christ Jesus: dwell in that, act in that; that ye may answer that of God in every one upon the earth with your actions, and by your conversations, and by your words, being right, just, and true. This goes over the unjust, untrue, unholy, and unrighteous in the whole world; and reacheth to the good and true principle of God in all people, which tells them when they do not do equally, justly, righteously, and holily.
The idea here is that when we dwell in the Spirit and we act from the leadings of that Spirit, it resonates with "that of God" in others, and perhaps brings them to a new awareness of "that of God" within themselves. What this brings me to is the consideration of the opposite - in what ways do we answer that which is not of God in others? Take anger, for example, which is one of the "works of the flesh" that the Apostle Paul listed (along with its cousins enmities, strife, quarrels, dissensions, and factions) before he listed the "fruit of the Spirit". Anger seems to be one of those things that feeds itself, and it can almost be an addiction for some people. I think that when we knowingly and intentionally anger someone we are answering that which is not of God in them. That is not to say that there aren't things we may be led by the Spirit to do that may anger people, but that there are things we do that are not directly of God that feed those things that are not of God.

There is also something of a mob mentality that we can trigger. Someone may have some desire to do or say something but deep down they know they shouldn't, but then we say or do that thing and then they feel it is okay because we did it. On the positive side, I should also say that one person stepping forward and speaking up about something can give other people the courage to speak. The negative side can also feed on itself, since you may affect one person, and they in turn affect another and so forth (and in the Internet age, it can affect hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions).

One aspect of the idea of not answering "that which is not of God" in others might be the first part of query #9 from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative):
Are we mindful of Friends testimonies against alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and other harmful drugs; and do we refrain from using them or dealing in them, realizing that abstinence is the clearest witness against overindulgence?
I bring this one up because it seems to me to be a perpetual struggle for the monthly meetings to answer. Some people, especially those who have personal experience with substance abuse, seem to prefer a hard line on this, while others don't see a problem with an occasional glass of wine. It will be a shame if queries like this go by the wayside in the future, because I think it is good for us to wrestle with these questions, and acknowledge that we aren't isolated individuals - what we do or don't do can have an effect on people.

I took up plain dress about 6 years ago and one of the reasons was as a spiritual discipline in which I became more aware that people were watching me, so that perhaps I would be more aware and deliberate about what I do. I think my success in that area has been mixed. I think it has helped me in many ways, but perhaps I have also developed an ability to not see people staring at me. While this kind of discipline can be helpful, it seems like it could be particularly harmful if I am not watchful. When I do something that answers that which is not of God in someone, does the way I dress make it worse (i.e. "well, if HE can do it...")? Along that same line, do those of us who have various positions of leadership in our meetings have that same potential to make things worse?

My hope is that the consideration of whether we are answering that which is not of God can be a useful tool in discerning the difference between our own wants and desires and what "that of God" is telling us to do.

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