What do Quakers mean by the “Inner Light”?

We mentioned earlier that, from the beginning, Friends have believed there is “that of God in everyone.” In the earliest days of Quakerism, nearly four centuries ago, this was often thought of as an “inward light,” and was specifically associated with Jesus Christ, “the light of the world.” Silent worship came about because George Fox and other early Quakers believed that silence and stillness would enable people to apprehend the presence of the Inward Light, which would show them the unflinching truth about their lives, including what they ought to do to align themselves with God’s will.

As a concept, it was similar to what many Christian denominations think of as grace, and was often written and spoken about as synonymous with grace. The image was that of a divine light, powerful enough to illuminate the deepest corners of our souls; it was a light that shone on us and penetrated into us. A little over a century ago, Quakers, most notably Rufus Jones, rethought that image by speaking of an inner light, “something of God” that could be found within every human soul.

This has become one of the most popular interpretations of the “Inner Light” among Quakers today, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States. Some Friends, especially within a traditional Christian framework, see “that of God in everyone” as a recognition of our status as part of God’s creation; others, taking on a universalist perspective, might think of it as an actual spark of divinity within each of us. In any case, this notion that everyone has “that of God” within them has become one of the foundations of the Quaker belief in full equality among all people.

The phrase “to hold (someone/something) in the Light” has also become popular in recent decades, roughly synonymous with “to keep (someone/something) in one’s thoughts and prayers.” Like the Light itself, it’s an expression that can hold different meaning for Christians and non-Christians, as well as those who don’t believe in God but do believe in a universal force of one kind or another.

Next: How do Quakers worship?

Learn more at Friends Journal

To Hold in the Light,” Ruthanne Hackman

Inward Light and Outward Light,” Paul Buckley

Friends Within God’s Light,” Jnana Hodson

Seeing the Inner Light at Ananda Village,” Donald W. McCormick