What is the reach of divinity?         

This is an odd, new question to me, and perhaps odd and new to you, too.  As I reflect on it, however, I realize it is not a new question, and it is related to many questions that have been important to Christians over two millenia.  It is related even to how we read those five Bible snippets that seem to be about homosexuality. 

How far do the special powers of God extend -- the way-beyond-human powers, including perfection? Does divinity extend to human beings?  Can it extend to particular places, times, or objects?  That’s the question. 

Jesus was divine: on that we Christians agree (or at least nearly all).  We should recognize, however, that this was a heated topic in the earliest centuries of Christianity, a question that gave rise to important heresies.  On the one hand, there were some who claimed Jesus was entirely a divine being, that He had no human body, and that his appearance as a human being was simply a kind of divine trick.  That heresy was called Docetism (from the Greek word dokesis, meaning "to seem"). 

On the other end of a spectrum, the Arian heresy considered Jesus completely human, not divine at all.  (It’s named after Arius, c. 250 - c. 336, a priest in Alexandria.) 

Christians came to agree that Jesus was one of three aspects (or persons) of God that share one essence: the trinity included God the Father/Creator, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was one person, both fully human and fully divine.  Nevertheless, these heresies (Docetism and Arianism) reappear frequently in various guises.  Quakers have mostly accepted the trinity even as they hold the term at arm’s length.  The Richmond Declaration, for example, doesn’t use the word but seems to endorse the idea in saying “these three are one in the eternal Godhead.”

Does divinity extend to other human beings?  If Jesus was divine, some wonder was Mary, his mother, or how else could she have given birth to One divine?  Even without a Bible basis (unless Revelations 12?) Roman Catholics believe there is special divinity to Mary; they believe even that she was taken bodily into heaven at the end of her earthly life, an event they call the Assumption.  Some Christians (Roman Catholics, the Orthodox) also believe in identifying saints who have a special quality of divinity to them, proven by the performance of miracles. 

In accepting the full divinity of Christ, Quakers believe also there is ‘something of God’ in each and every human being.  But we are reluctant to extend thoroughgoing special divinity to other human beings (Mary, the saints), even as we recognize that some human beings have a stronger ability to hear or to know the Light within. 

Similarly, Quakers have been distinctively reluctant to ascribe greater divinity to specific places.  While some Christians ascribe special divinity to specific churches or miracle sites, Quakers believe no place is more sacred than any other in God’s creation.  Quakers have been reluctant to see some special divinity in certain days.  Most 18th and 19th century Friends didn’t have a special celebration for Christmas, that day being no more sacred than any other.  (Yes, we are less punctilious about this today, but not because we recognize any special divinity in the day.)  And Quakers have refused to acknowledge divinity to objects while some Christians see special power in various relics (pieces of the true cross, the shroud in which Jesus was wrapped, etc.).  

So how about the Bible?  Should we ascribe special divinity to the Bible?  If so, why?  Let’s affirm that the Bible is an indispensable source for knowing of Jesus, His ministry, His crucifixion and His resurrection.  We have hardly any other source for knowing of these shattering events that transpired in Judea centuries ago.  The Bible is essential and profound.  But to say it is essential and to say it is profound is not necessarily to say that the Bible itself is specially divine.  Quakers have generally insisted, as Barclay put it, “the scriptures are only a declaration of the source, and not the source itself.”  

I recently heard Micah Bales (Ohio Yearly Meeting) speak of this in a talk posted on YouTube.  He says: “We hear Christians today talking a lot about “believing the Bible,” and being ‘Bible believing Christians.’ That’s kind of a phrase, “Bible believing Christians.”  I trust the Scriptures.  I believe the Scriptures have great authority.  They are extremely important in my walk with the Lord.  But ultimately, I believe in Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.  He is sovereign over all things, over heaven and earth, over that which is under the earth, and over the Bible.  Jesus Christ is Lord and sovereign over the Scriptures themselves.  He is the One who we must go to to be able to understand the Scriptures.  So I don’t think the Scriptures of themselves, without the Spirit, without Jesus Christ, have any power.  I believe it is only as we listen to Jesus Christ as He is present with us today through the power of His Holy Spirit that we can understand the Scriptures and truly follow Him.”  (The transcription is mine.  The clip is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULWQ8-p6EjY&feature=player_detai....) 

One account of why the Bible includes the books that it does (and no others) is that the early church leaders decided to include books written only by those who knew someone who, in turn, had know Jesus while he lived.  (We don’t have any books written by anyone who knew Jesus himself directly.)  That semi-direct connection with Jesus, some might say, conferred divinity on those authors, and that, in turn, conferred divinity on what they wrote. 

But that’s precisely a step Quakers have refused to take.  What’s the reach of divinity for Quakers?  In some measure, divinity extends to everything: it is the Light Within all persons (all, not just some), and there is a quality of sacredness to all places, times and objects in God’s creation.  Semi-divine, yes, and yet not fully divine, not perfect.  There is not a special divinity to any persons other than Jesus, and no special divinity that sets apart any places, times or objects. 

We would not claim any other book to be inerrant.  To claim the Bible as the “inerrant” word of God as some Christians do is to take that step to ascribing special divinity to a particular thing (in this case the Bible), and Quakers have refused to falsely stretch divinity that far.  We have refused that step because it pulls our focus away from the Holy Spirit, the Christ Within, to which we should stay attuned.

We can and should acknowledge the Bible to be divinely inspired, full of deep and essential truths for us today.  But in doing so we can also acknowledge that, having been written by humans, it can contain errors, for example about slavery, about male superiority, and about homosexuality. 

Views: 338

Comment by James C Schultz on 5th mo. 18, 2012 at 1:42pm

Acts 8:26 to 8:39 basicly shows how it works.  The Holy Spirit opens the scriptures to those who seek the truth.  Most people want them to prove they are right.  It doesn't work that way.  I know people used the bible to justify slavery and depriving women of rights but when I pray that's not what the Holy Spirit leads me to.  He leads me to Paul asking a slave owner to set a slave free because of the slave onwer's love for Paul and to Paul saying there's neither Male nor Female in Christ.  But the Holy Spirit does lead me to Homosexuality being sin.  When the Holy Spirit leads me elsewhere I'll accept it but it hasn't happened yet and I pray that I not be deceived either way.  Putting homosexuality on the same level as slavery and woman's rights doesn't work for me.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 18, 2012 at 1:45pm

The four books we've got-- are very likely the oldest. Attribution to authors 'who knew someone who'd known' would have applied to the books that were thrown out as well, and doesn't have much basis in the case of our four either. They factually contradict each other on some pretty basic info. They're just what we've been given, probably containing genuine quotes (Who else could have said, or even imagined, some of these!) but likely also misunderstandings and later reflections.

There was no gospel written by Jesus. We weren't supposed to have one. People would have imagined they understood him perfectly-- and would have imposed their misunderstandings as insistently and harshly as the historical Church (and churches!) we remember. With no wiggle-room for growth, debate, realization that it takes effort to understand and apply what God is telling us through any particular book.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 18, 2012 at 5:47pm

Paul wouldn't have known, "Neither straight nor gay in Christ." But we can.

Something that isn't a direction for us, personally-- may be the only direction conceivable to some other person. People are generally such messes, growing up amid such confusion and pain from the people we're born counting on to sort life out for us-- that no one knows what range of sexual attractions are truly natural for human beings.

What people self-described as gay do tell us-- is that homosexual relations feel natural to them; while efforts to behave hetrosexually feel like an assault on the only nature they recognize as themselves!

For me-- If we had a Bible that called heterosexuality an abomination, something to be done only for emergencies (like an immediate intention to have kids)-- it would have made my life difficult. Needlessly so, I would say.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 20, 2012 at 1:51am

My dear friend James... I think that homosexual behavior would likely be "a sin" for either of us. But other people's  inclinations in that direction-- might or might not be "sinful." (Of course I can't fault anyone with such an inclination for doing the best he/she can with it.)

"Might be sinful"?-- Okay, to what extent are any of our loves and attractions really about something else? That is: to what extent are they inspired by a love of and desire for the qualities we think are embodied in some form.

From that perspective, it is not as odd as it seems for a man to be attracted to another man. It may well be a mistake, in that it might not be a very good to achieve such qualities. (Some Greeks evidently thought it was, ie believing that a pair of warrior/lovers would show more courage in battle than a couple not so bound.) Heterosexual couples are often formed by precisely that kind of attraction: She sees something in him that she would like to have, & vice versa. But then they'll often go back to being the way they always were, letting the spouse handle whatever talent or quality they'd once yearned to emulate. While whatever stopped her from showing his good qualities, whatever stopped him from showing hers-- may well be turned against the other partner. (and I see no reason this process shouldn't operate within gay couples in much the same way.)

A mistaken means for achieving a good end-- That seems an apt description for most of the sins I can think of.

Of course, it seems equally mistaken if a man and a woman marry, attracted by qualities they'd like to learn this way, but might not be able to believe possible-- or even tolerate-- in themselves.

So very very much of what we think of as "sinfulness", "character flaws", etc in ourselves & others-- looks to me like this sort of mistake. Some quality, good in its proper context, gets misapplied, ineptly expressed, blocked or exaggerated.

Note that "good in itself" phrase. Some basically good traits may have truly destructive expressions that need to be prevented-- but where a manifestation doesn't cause severe, immediate harm, calling it "a sin" doesn't do a whole lot of good. Because the real point is for that trait to find its appropriate, God-given place and means of use.

If I eat too much (and I do sometimes!) I can say I suffer from the sin of gluttony. This is a well-attested, traditionally recognized "sin". But it would do me more good to stop calling myself "greedy," let myself eat and enjoy a proper amount-- and get some insight into what scarfing up the cookie plate is doing for my psyche. & whether that's anything I truly want, or couldn't achieve some better way.

Comment by Olivia on 5th mo. 21, 2012 at 8:01pm

Hello all,

Interesting topic that seems likely to be gathering those who like REALLY DEEP topics. :-)   We're a small group so far but mighty....

Doug's original question seems very different from the interesting side-discussion on homosexualtiy.     The original question being:

"How far do the special powers of God extend -- the way-beyond-human powers, including perfection? Does divinity extend to human beings?  Can it extend to particular places, times, or objects?"

I think the only thought that comes to my mind with such a huge question as this is the incident between the Pharisees and Jesus about the coin -- whether the money is Caesar's or God's.  It's odd how many people I have heard over the years in casual conversation who seem very clear that in this passage Jesus is justifying the place of government and external authority and that we all have to pay our taxes, etc.    

Quietly I always thought "you're kidding!"  To me it had seemed 100% clear that Jesus was saying there IS nothing except that which is God's!   What's left after that which is God's?   Nothing.

So now with this question -- "How far do the special powers of God extend?"    I think similarly:  well how far do they not extend?   What does someone think is not God's?     Are there any human beings who are not God's right to claim, to own, to use as is?   Any mountains?   Any animals?    Any tofu?   Any money?   Just getting a bit arbitrary here to get your own brainstorms flowing....     I think God can lay claim on owning and thus moving freely through everything if God wants to.

It seems that it's not ours to decide if God wants to....but just to discuss how much of everything that is is allowed to be, in Christian faith, under God's command?

I am uncomfortable saying that anything just as it is is not already God's and pouring God through it.   Some people seem to me a little kinked up but even that which is kinked up is God-material.

One could extrapolate from this that I am a progressive and open to the Gayness of God, locally expressed through some of his children.   :-)  I have actually thought intermittently for some time that some of our most maligned citizens, transgender people, are in some ways closer to God's personhood than the rest of us because God is also trans-gender by definition....beyond gender, the creator of all that is and thus, like any artist God creates what God knows. 

(hello to all from woo-woo land, thanks for reading)

Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 21, 2012 at 11:59pm

I would say that making a hydrogen bomb is... a sin. Within God's parameters of "stuff people can do here" but far beyond "what's good for self & others."

What's within God's permission, then, isn't necessarily within God's approval. ("You should see what My kids blew up today, what a mess!") It certainly can't be 'accidental', not one thing on this Earth-- but what part anything plays in the divine choreography is open to lots of questions!

Neither "sin" nor "homosexuality" strike me as "side issues" in this piece. Both were evident concerns of the writer in posting it. We have good, kind people here who consider homosexuals and their ways intrinsically "sinful", who can't let their personal friendships override that belief-- which is bound to make for hurt feelings.

We've got the story of the woman who embraces Jesus' feet at a banquet. To the Pharisee host, this is "a bad woman" and "A real prophet ought to know how unclean she's making him!" The host is not a bad person, but is sincerely religious... and the fact that his beliefs are hurtful to her, seems to him 'just the way things have to be.'

For Jesus, it isn't. And he doesn't tell her, "Sin no more," but rather, "Go in peace."


I think we might talk more about "sin". About our tendency to think of "a sin" as a sort of "sacred crime," when [I'm sure we all know] the Greek word, at least, means something like "missing the target."

So is it Biblical prohibitions that identify something as sinful?-- or should it be more a question of: "Does this work for, or against, God's purposes as I understand them?" And "Is my understanding of those purposes distorted by prejudice [in any direction!]?"

A great many things that aren't actual 'crimes against God' are still distortions of a person's true self-- and what belongs in that category, what doesn't-- isn't as clear as in my first example. There is something sacred about each person's integrity, even when mistaken! If you recognize that, you can't just call for an angelic traffic stop-- because we're talking about "fixing" God's workmanship here. What's needed is for each person to connect with the source of divine clarity Itself; and from that, such questions should answer themselves.

Comment by James C Schultz on 5th mo. 22, 2012 at 1:38am

I agree with Forest that if each of us was to concentrate on drawing closer to God and the clarity that we hope comes with such proximity, we will understand each other better.  However drawing closer to God involves loving those who we don't presently understand so we have a which comes first conundrum.  In my view sin is not evil.  Sin, as Forest wrote, is "missing the mark" and is the one trait we all share with each other for John says "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" excepting Jesus for those of us who so believe.  If by God's divinity we mean "anointing" we can have one opinion.  If we mean Holiness another.  If we mean Godly still another.  But that would mean another blog. :)

Comment by Olivia on 5th mo. 22, 2012 at 7:40am

Interesting concept of sin as "missing the mark."    

Another option -- I don't know where this one is from but when I was a little kid with environmentally-induced asperger's (self diagnosed), I hated the children's sunday school class and asked my mom to let me join the adults class with her.  Much better! They talked about stuff that mattered.     Anyway, the favorite Sunday School teacher there was always reminding us that sin was to be understood in this or that passage as "Separation from God."     I like that definition.

A third option I am aware of -- which may actually be another way of saying the 2nd one -- is what we studied in my Polarity Therapy studies (a combination of new agey stuff and learning about all different cultures ancient healing traditions -- and yes, God led me there too for some reason, just as clearly as a calling to seminary).

The way they find that there is a power for healing via hands on bodywork is through understandings such as this:  in our energy -- everything that makes up our body, self, spirit -- we tend to collect tensions and withholding, one way or another:  childhood trauma, car accident, bad romance, stories our parents or our churches told us about how the world works that maybe were limited, in all these and so many other cases we have a tendency to tighten around things, we don't breathe fully, we don't allow full freedom and flow of our energy through this or that part of our body.   Each of us have different things we tend to tighten around or compensate for or compensate with, but when these patterns are unkinked and energy is allowed to flow freely, health happens.   Spiritual freedom happens, our beliefs are gentle and grounded and Love happens.  I'm not saying that any Polarity Therapist can do this, but I have retained the idea that to the degree that all our energy flows freely, we are in a state of Divine health on all levels. I love this idea that the way God made us = perfect health and the ways we hold back (from God? from others, from ourselves?) create sickness.  So these holdings back are then our sin, our separation from the potential God actually gave us. 

Sin then is separation from God's freedom and free flow in our lives.  Evil then is what happens when we are kinked up.     

And sin, then is a tricky, tricky subject because the more we believe we are evil (= "I'm gay and can't help it so I'm innately sinful" or even just "I'm human and have been taught that this means I'm innately sinful") SOME OF US are going to take that information and feel shame and lodge stuff away somewhere inside us.  Feeling like a sinner doesn't help one to unkink and breathe freely and allow God access to everything.      Back to the coin incident with Jesus, if we feel and know the state of not parceling out ourselves and making judgements about who gets what, but instead "everything that is is God's!"... perhaps this equals full flowing of all that we are, not holding anything back from God even whatever we would otherwise feel shame about, not holding anything back from the world, just being what is innate to us, and that in this state (if one can ultimately achieve it) there is no sin.       ???

Comment by James C Schultz on 5th mo. 22, 2012 at 10:56am

I think of evil as taking pleasure in someone else's pain.

Comment by Olivia on 5th mo. 22, 2012 at 11:34am

Hello James,

M. Scott Peck defines evil as "militant ignorance."    That seems to account for a lot of situations.  So many people can do devastating things to others not with any thought of "i take pleasure in this" but simply because they will a certain outcome (such as for no Jewish people to exist or for there to be no pain in the world which they then mistakenly believe is because of Jewish people, etc, etc, to the end of time).  Does your definition have a way to account for the evil that is done by people who feel well-meaning?   

Or is your sense of it that it's not evil unless someone does it intentionally?   I guess underlying this question would be what your sense of the spirits behind evil actually are:  are there actual evil forces that can use us or is evil just a choice of behavior that we make, no forces behind it...




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