Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

That of God in everyone

One of the more common one line definitions of what Friends believe is that “there is that of God in everyone.” Often there is no additional explanation as if this is totally self-evident and no elaboration is needed. Or if there is an elaboration it is along the lines of explaining how this is the foundation of the Quaker testimonies. Now, this summation is not exactly false but it hardly paints the entire picture. In fact, I have been known to say things myself. This approach is appealing for at least two reasons. The first is that it is simple and allows one to gloss over a host of things each of which would require an entire conversation. So it serves as a starting point from which to go on to whatever was the question you were really trying to answer. There is nothing wrong with that if you can, at some later time, get back to all of the parts you were so quick to pass over the first time.

The second reason this kind of formulation is appealing is because it is safe. Often it is used to describe Friends to visitors to our meetings. This statement is likely to not offend either the inquirer or any other Friend in our meeting who might overhear the conversation. Again, there may be times that this is appropriate, but there is a danger in its blandness and safety. It does not challenge the hearer but it also does not challenge the speaker. We are safe as long as we discuss this in terms of gross spiritual anatomy. “There is that of God within everyone, along with two lungs, a heart, a stomach, a large and a small intestine and a liver.” Where things get dicey is when we go from describing the spiritual organs and go on to describe their functions. Not only do we avoid speaking of this to newcomers, we avoid speaking of this to ourselves and to people who have been around for a while. Our meetings are poorer for this. We do a disservice to our visitors as well. People come to us because they have a spiritual hunger. If we only give them milk when they are craving strong meat, we are not meeting their needs and we should not be surprised if they pass right on through our meetings and do not stay and become involved.

So here is one of the things that Barclay says about that of God within (or the Christ within.):

But in regard Christ is in all men as in a seed, yea, and that he never is, nor can be separate from that holy pure Seed and Light which is in all men; therefore may it be said in a larger sense that he is in all, even as we observed before. The Scripture saith (Amos 2:13), God is pressed down as a cart under sheaves; and (Heb. 6:6) Christ is crucified in the ungodly; ... In this respect then, as he is in the seed, which is in all men, we have said "Christ is in all men," and have preached and directed all men to Christ in them; who lies crucified in them by their sins and iniquities, that they may "look upon him whom they have pierced," and repent: whereby he, that now lies, as it were slain and buried in them, may come to be raised, and have dominion in their hearts, over all.

This Light within is not something that we can take pride in or claim as our own as if it granted us some special merit. First of all, it is not a special merit because this same Light or Seed is in all. Can you claim special merit because you have a pineal gland? Why then for the Light within? More importantly, in our natural state, this Seed is pressed down, the Light is ignored. The Christ within lies crucified within us. What merit is there in that. This is neither comfortable nor safe. So we ignore this, which of course, only presses the Seed down further. But if we acknowledge that Christ is within us crucified, if “we look upon him whom we have pierced,” then we may come to repent our current state, only then is Christ resurrected within us, the Seed may start to grow, and Christ can come to have dominion in our hearts.

This is uncomfortable for us for many reasons. It requires us to admit our brokenness and unfaithfulness from the beginning. It requires humility. It runs counter to our culture of encouraging self-esteem. But if we deny the beginning, we cannot reach the end point, which is a life lived with Christ, or God, at our center, in our heart. The journey from crucifixion to resurrection is difficult but it is the journey to which we are called.

So our introductory sentence to Quakerism does not need a lot of work to be both more honest and more useful to the inquirer.

There is that of God in everyone, but it lies dormant in us like a seed that has been trampled underfoot. As Quakers we try to become nurturers of the seed and not tramplers of it. If nurtured, the seed will grow and give us new life. As we seek to follow the promptings of God, we will be called to live our lives in new ways. It is the attempt to live a life in obedience to God that gives rise to the Quaker testimonies.

It is still short and understandable, and much scarier to say out loud.


Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hi, Will.

I love the very last paragraph of this post:

There is that of God in everyone, but it lies dormant in us like a seed that has been trampled underfoot. As Quakers we try to become nurturers of the seed and not tramplers of it. If nurtured, the seed will grow and give us new life. As we seek to follow the promptings of God, we will be called to live our lives in new ways. It is the attempt to live a life in obedience to God that gives rise to the Quaker testimonies.

You're right that such a statement goes further than the nearly hollow, "There is that of God in everyone."

I also appreciate the focus becomes on how we awaken and nurture that seed in ourselves and in one another, and that there are consequences if we allow it to stay dormant.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

October 04, 2007 12:52 PM  
Blogger TRUTH-PAIN said...

Interesting post. I happened to link to it from Quaker Agitator's blog, and I'm glad I did. It educated me on Quaker-ism, a void I acknowledge needed to be filled.
Thank you!

October 05, 2007 10:10 AM  
Blogger Comrade Kevin said...

Indeed, there is a challenge in all of us to dare to strive to seek the divine spark that lies inside all human beings and not to take personal pride in oneself for the wisdom of the awareness of that knowledge.

Humility is a rare quality in humanity and rarer still in Western society, which as your post points out, we are taught to foster our own individual self-worth at the expense of everything else.

October 05, 2007 1:42 PM  
Anonymous kwix said...


Thank you, Friend, for this excellent post. You have voiced in a simple and direct way some thoughts that have been bothering me, but which I could not name.

Of course, there are many scholars who say that modern liberal Quakers put too much emphasis on what was, for Fox, just a throw-away line -- "that of God in every man" -- that he only used once or twice, not as a consistent or central theological concept.

This may be true. But given the Continual Revelation it is also right that each generation finds or emphasizes something different in Fox and in early Quakers. So I knew that it wasn't that which bothered me.

Your post helps me see that the real issue for me is the glib way we toss off this phrase, without fully owning all that goes with it. Thank you for giving us some ways of talking about that.


October 06, 2007 10:30 PM  
Blogger Craig Barnett said...

Thanks for this Will. I have been concerned for a while that the way we often use the 'that of God' expression is so vague as to render it virtually meaningless, and I am thankful for your graceful re-rendering.
It seems to me from reading Early Friends that the centre of their faith and preaching was Christ as the 'Inward Teacher'. It is this reliance on the guidance of God in daily life that is the heart of Quaker faith for me.

October 08, 2007 6:57 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

Not being a Quaker, I still like to think of the Light within. Your last paragraph expresses what I believe, and I so appreciate it being posted here.

October 10, 2007 5:59 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...


I really get what you are saying and I am looking for evidence to back it up, but I don't get it from the scriptures quoted in your quote. i have read a number of different commentaries on these scriptures and there is no outstanding evidence that they imply that God is in everyone. any other ideas will be greatly appreciated.

Kind regards


October 11, 2007 6:35 AM  
Blogger Craig Barnett said...

Hi Steve,
The scripture that Quakers have mostly turned to in support of the 'Inward Christ' is John 1:9 - 'The true light (ie Christ) that gives light to every man was coming into the world'.
Fundamentally though, for Quakers the principal test of spiritual Truth is personal revelation, by which Christ opens our understanding directly, tested in the communal discernment of the 'gathered' meeting community. Scriptural justifications are a supplementary aid to understanding rather than the main authority.

October 11, 2007 4:03 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

The Biblical citations in the quote from Barclay refer to God being pressed down as a cart under a load of sheaves and that Christ is crucified in the ungodly. As Craig Barnett pointed out, the main source would be John 1:9. I would add that Barclay in the passage I quoted referenced 2 Cor. 6:16 as support for the idea that God will walk with us and dwell with us. If you are interested in seeing the Biblical basis underlying Barclay's ideas, I refer you back to his text. Propositions 5 & 6 can be found here The portion I quoted is from section XV.

The Biblical citations are so thick in Barclay's Apology that I have sometimes thought that it could be approached as a Bible commentary.

Will T.

October 14, 2007 8:34 PM  
Blogger Judy Brutz said...

Hi Will,

"There is that of God in everyone, but it lies dormant in us like a seed that has been trampled underfoot."

Yes this is my experience. Now that I am living with Parkinson's, being still and listening to the Inner Voice is necessary for me to live.

As my abilities decline, I commit to living the way of blessing.

Blessings, Judy Brutz, Commit to Blessing

October 16, 2007 10:34 AM  
Blogger David Carl said...

And if "the Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21), then wouldn't this imply that God himself is within us?

October 16, 2007 1:49 PM  
Anonymous Allison said...

I think this post is great.

March 25, 2008 1:26 PM  

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