Tag Archives: revelation

A is for ‘Answering that of God in everyone’

This is listed first in the index of well-loved phrases in ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’; not only because it starts with ‘A’, but rightly so as it is one of the things Quakers – at least in my experience – most often say when asked about what Quakerism is about.
Indeed, in my time working for a Quaker organisation for 10 years, I had occasion to interview many dozens of young people for paid internships; the question: what about Quakerism is important to you was part of every single one of these interviews. And most of the candidates, whether practising Quakers or not, listed this as one of the most important aspects of Quakerism for them.
But what do we actually mean by this phrase?
First, of course, it is important to note that where there are 4 Quakers there will be 5 answers to this question (you can multiply this up to any number you choose); and many will answer the question with further questions: what to you mean by God? What to you mean by ‘answering’? What, in fact, do you mean by everyone?
And so it is incredibly easy to spend the few minutes you have in conversation with someone who is mildly interested in Quakers and Quakerism (or in being Quaker) in recitation of rhetorical questions and saying what Quakers aren’t, rather than actually getting somewhere in terms of answering any of them.
Now why is that so? My own perception is that because Quakers worship in a manner that is based on silence, it’s easy not to address these questions collectively and therefore it becomes more difficult to do so; because by saying what we actually think/believe in this context is risky; it’s putting your head above the parapet.
I have just written 6 paragraphs and nearly 300 words demonstrating this general failing. And of course, that is the only reason I have done so: to show what happens.
There is, thus, no further hiding from the question.
Let’s start by what I mean by God; there are some Quakers who have a concept of God, which in my perception is quite traditional and rests in the Bible; it is a personal God with whom (not the personal pronoun) one can engage in a sort of conversation (prayer?). There is the expectation of an answer. And there are some Quakers who would describe themselves as non-theist. Having looked at the website of non-theist Quakers I can’t find any good definition of the term.
I stand somewhere between these two poles, though given the fact that it’s quite difficult to ascertain where these two poles are, it’s quite difficult to be sure where ‘somewhere between them’ might be. I do believe there is something beyond humans in the universe/world that connects us (and other parts of the living world) in some way. I believe this is a force for good rather than evil. And I believe that each of us is able to connect to this in some way if we are prepared to pay attention to it.
So to me, ‘that of God in everyone’ is the capacity of everyone to connect to this something. I am quite sure that this cannot be boxed into an idea of a ‘being’ with superhuman (or more generally, very human) qualities and characteristics.
I also believe that paying attention to this and trying to see it manifested in other people is what is meant by ‘answering to’ in the quote above. It is about seeing the best in people; about encouraging the best in them, and about ensuring (insofar as is possible given the world we live in) that there is peace and justice. Only when there is peace and justice will it be possible for everyone to be attentive to this something rather than paying attention on how to get their own back or how to make more money than the next guy or how to simply survive.
This may not be an elegant definition of what I understand this phrase to mean; it may also not be an approximation of what George Fox (who is credited with coming up with the phrase) meant by it. But we are, of course, fortunate in also believing in continuing revelation; that means we don’t have to be bound by what either the Bible or George Fox says as the last word. But that’s for another post; I can’t decide whether that will come under ‘c’ or ‘r’.