Friday, June 17, 2011

Do "God" and "Spirit" equate?

Our brand of Quakers, liberal and “radically inclusive,” gives itself a lot of leeway when it comes to what many folks, including most Quakers, call “God.” Because some of us are uneasy with the word “God” and its associations, we variously substitute “the divine,” the “Light,” “the indwelling spirit,” or simply “the Spirit.” A smattering are Quaker agnostics or atheists.

I personally have trouble with “God” for oft-cited reasons. Most come from ingrained Biblical references to judgements, damnation, patriarchal superiority, cloud dwelling, gray beards and retribution.

To me, they make “God” hard to love. So I'm a "Spirit" person.

When I’ve talked with fellow Quakers about our varying terminology for something which is ultimately ineffable, I get assorted reactions. To be sure some welcome the discussion, but others signal discomfort with visual signals (a raised eye-brow, a hardening around the mouth, a blank stare). In effect, they are saying, “Don’t go there,” or “It’s irrelevant,” “Been there, done that” or “How much time do you have?”

One, long-time Friend abruptly dismissed the substituting of “Spirit” for “God.” “It isn’t the same thing,” she insisted. That comment has stayed with me and begs to be put to the test.

So here’s the test, or at least a test. I’ve taken several familiar references to “God” and substituted “Spirit” for them. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether “God” and the “Spirit” equate. Are we talking about the same thing? Can you read beyond the words to the meaning? Or do words fail us — literally?

“A mighty fortress is our God.”

A mighty fortress is our Spirit.

“God, the father.”

Spirit, the father.

“God — our rock and our salvation.”

Spirit — our rock and our salvation.

“Fear God and his Commandments.”

Fear the Spirit and its Commandments.

“The Kingdom of God is within you.”

The Kingdom of The Spirit is within you.

“With God, all things are possible.”

With the Spirit, all things are possible.

"In God we trust"

In the Spirit we trust.

“Our Father who art in heaven...”

Our Spirit which art in heaven...

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see the Spirit.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of the Spirit.

I’m tempted to launch into an analysis of what this little exercise reveals, but for now I’m more interested in where it takes you. For one thing, you might want to add your own quotations to the list of “God” references to see whether they meet the “spiritual” test.

Next, I’ll post some “Spirit” quotations and substitute “God” for “Spirit” to see where that takes us. (I have now posted it HERE)

Stay tuned.

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Blogger forrest said...

Art thou comfortable with the thought that "Spirit rules the [physical] universe"?

For many people, I believe, that is the issue that motivates this sort of question.

Can you trust this Mind and Soul of the universe... despite all the odd ideas people have picked up and spread about... to be Shiva as well as Brahma? Are you afraid She could possibly be less humane than what you find in yourself?

12:17 PM  
Blogger paula said...


This is my first visit to your blog. This post just came up at Quakerquaker. I would like to offer a concern from deep in my heart.

I have been struggling mightily with your description of "radically inclusive" Friends. I believe it is not radically inclusive to tell Christocentric Friends that you are uncomfortable with their language, and to demand that they alter their language so you to not have to step outside your comfort level. By asking others to change, you are being exclusive. That is not "radical inclusiveness" at all. You have merely swung the other way in your exclusion.

This is a concern many Friends have about Liberal Friends, judging by the posts at QuakerQuaker and by my own experiences in different Liberal Friends meetings. But I must say, my first Friends meeting was inclusive of ALL language. I arrived, uncomfortable with God language, but recognized that it was for me to be opened to uncomfortable language, not to request that everyone else walk on eggshells around me.

By being tolerant of all language that Friends bring to express the workings of the Divine in their lives, I have become deeply grounded in the Spirit. I could not have had the spiritual journey I have had if I had bristled at decent, loving people who are simply using the language that speaks to their condition. I would have merely demonstrated that my heart was not yet tendered enough to accept the Spirit and allow it to work through me.

I feel that the exercise of substituting the word "Spirit" for "God" in the Bible demonstrates just how silly it is to cherry-pick language. Using the word "Spirit" in our speech and our writing is perfectly acceptable, but substituting it for "God" impoverishes the language of the Bible. And I speak as one who has not read the entire Bible--only snippets of it. There was a recent tiff over a new version of Huckleberry Finn that was written to be "inoffensive," but it lost something critical in the original, something that sheds much more light on our understanding of history. And so it is with any writing. Editors must not be blinded by side issues that might keep them from seeing the entire picture.

In my life, I use "Spirit," "The Divine," "Truth," "the Eternal," "Light," and "God." You can call "God" what you like, but I hope you understand that we are a Faith Community, the Religious Society of Friends, welcome to ALL who wish to be with us, but that we must not tiptoe around the intolerant among us, be that intolerance of those who are squeamish of the "G" word, or intolerance of those who use the "G" word.

Yours in the Light, Paula

12:29 PM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...


I'm sorry if you read my post as being judgmental and intolerant of other Friends.

Where Friends are clearly one is in the world beyond words. In the stillness of worship. That should be our focus and our way to Truth.

Where we get into trouble, as I hope my "test" demonstrates, is with words. Indeed, I may be making things worse by relying on them now.

Here, I invite you, Friend, to pause with me in silence:

( )

Thank you, Paula, for sharing your concerns so candidly.

12:58 PM  
Blogger paula said...

(stepping into the open silence with thee)

I understand thee. I was once not comfortable with "God." And I am a retired editor.

I fervently believe in holding everyone lovingly (agape) in spirit. The love is possible through loving God with all our soul and might and heart. My fear is that we are so afraid of offending anyone, we are willing to be untrue to our own faith by avoiding speaking Truth in the language we experience in the Light. In doing so, we cut ourselves off from the Divine. This fear is what I see in this post--a suggestion for how we might dumb down our language so as not to offend. Let's be true to our spiritual paths with the Eternal, and let others be true to theirs as well, and listen deeply, beyond the mere words. Let's be open hearted and not look for ways to be offended.

Yours in the Light,

Paula (once a resident of Eugene, now in Ohio)

2:16 PM  
Blogger kishkumen said...

Going to be writing a book soon about the Substitute God. Whether it be Christ The Lord or the Holy Spirit. These make the Godhead. Many scriptures refer to their individual receptive duties and powers. There are also many that claim to be able for them to overlap each other and became a substitute of our spiritual creator, God the Father. All these things shall be examined with the whole interpretation thereof being to attracting the highest God of which we are able, could be God the Father (Elohim), his son Jehovah, and finally the Holy Spirit who is described as that the member of the Godhead whom is onmipresent. (Everywhere present)

4:04 AM  

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