Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Belief, Faith, and "That of God"

One of the difficulties I have with the question "What do Quakers believe?" is that it makes an automatic assumption about the nature of belief—that it is essentially the acceptance of some doctrinal statement. I tend to prefer the aspect of belief that has to do with putting one's faith or trust in something. While it may be that people are asking "What do Quakers put their trust in?", my experience has been that they are more often looking for doctrines that they can compare with their own set of accepted doctrines.

A common answer among liberal Friends today to the question "What do Quakers believe?" is "there is 'that of God' in every person". It often seems to me that this answer is given as an item of doctrine, and then one might say how other doctrines derive from it, such as "we believe in non-violence" because every person has 'that of God', we believe in equality because every person has 'that of God', etc. At the same time, people often express difficulty in trying to see 'that of God' in certain people.

My impression of Fox's writings is that 'that of God' played a more active role than being an item a doctrine, more than a reason to treat people equally or not war against them. For example, in one of his epistles he wrote:
So, when their minds are turned with the light and spirit of God towards God, then with it they shall know something of revelation and inspiration; as they are turned by that of God from the evil, and emptied of that, then there will be some room in them for something of God to be revealed and inspired into them.
Traditionally, Friends experience of the Light is that it would illuminate those shadowy places in us, and would lead us away from sin and evil. There was a change wrought in us by the Light. It was important that to wait to be rightly led: "And in the wisdom of God wait, that ye may answer that of God in every one" and "Nor any write, print, nor speak, (for God,) but as ye are moved of the Lord God; for that reacheth to that of God in others, and is effectual." To me this seems more as a matter of faith and trust than just a doctrine, because it is an active process around which Friends base their activities.

So that brings me to ask: Do Friends today have faith and trust in 'that of God' in every person? Are we striving to answer 'that of God' in others, and do we have the faith that doing so may eventually bring them away from evil? I ask this because much of the discourse today seems to ignore this. It seems to me that people think it is okay to speak badly of someone, to be rude, condescending, insulting to someone advocating some oppressive policy. As long as one has the votes to force one's will on a minority of people, there is little concern for answering 'that of God' in them. Is there an expectation that a particular law will answer 'that of God' in someone?

Do Friends blend in with the crowd when it comes to politics? Are we carrying the same signs, saying the same things as everyone else? Are we waiting in the wisdom of God so that what we write, print, and speak answers 'that of God' in others? I wrestle with this frequently, and most of the time the result is me not doing something because I feel a stop from it. I feel a general pull towards finding ways to effect change while answering 'that of God' in others, while not yet having concrete leadings. For now, I am striving to walk in the Light as best I can and manifest the fruit of the Spirit in my interactions with people.


  1. The basic Quaker belief is that every person can hear from God directly. From that all other beliefs flow.

    1. I agree that our hearing from God directly is at the core, and it is why we do things the way we do. I think when it comes to things like equality and peace, I appreciate that they are referred to as "testimonies" in that the use of that word implies that they are things that we are guided to do by God, not just doctrines that one must assent to. It's not so much that we are peaceable because we believe in peace, but because dwelling in the Spirit of God makes us peaceful.