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THE ABSOLUTE AND THE RELATIVE

From the December 1911 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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IT is of the utmost importance in the study of the Bible and the Christian Science text-book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mrs. Eddy, that clear distinction be made between those statements which are absolute in their meaning, which express the spiritual fact, and those which are relative, which express the human sense, the material point of view. The word absolute is a final term, the strongest term known to any language, and it admits of no degrees whatever. Many of the statements of the Bible and our text-book are absolute. They express unqualified Science, or divine Truth. The relative terms are such as refer to the material sense of things, that state of which we have to take cognizance because mankind cling so tenaciously to a belief of materiality.

When it is stated in our text-book that there is no sin, we understand that an absolute statement of fact is made, because in the realm of divine Truth where all is pure and holy there is and can be no sin. When our text-book declares that sin must be destroyed, we are not to see an inconsistency between the one declaration and the other, but we are to know that the former statement is a statement of absolute truth, while the latter is only relative; that is, that the first relates to divine Truth, and the latter to human error. The concept of sin held by the author of our text-book, broadly stated, is simply the difference between divine Truth and human or mortal belief. In the measure in which thought is not in harmony with divine Truth, it is under the dominion of error or sin. Hence when our text-book seems to recognize the existence of sin, it refers to mortal belief, that great delusion which asserts that to be which in reality is not. Likewise, when our text-book speaks of sickness it refers to mortal belief, for in the realm of divine Truth there is no sickness. When our text-book speaks of Life it refers to the eternal Life which is God, and its repeated assertion that all is Life, is the affirmation of the absolute fact which constitutes the reality of the universe.

When it is affirmed that there is no death, this is another, but somewhat negative way of saying that all is Life, for if the latter is true, the former must also be true. When it is said that death is an enemy to be destroyed, this is a relative statement, referring to mortal belief, and not to divine fact. We are not to understand that, because in the realm of absolute spiritual Truth there is and can be no death, the phenomenon of death does not exist as a mortal belief.

We may illustrate the Bible statements by taking as an example the first commandment of the Mosaic decalogue: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." This is an absolute declaration of divine Truth, for in reality it is not possible to have other gods than the one and only God, as no other gods can or do really exist. We cannot have or possess that which does not exist except it be as a false belief. If God is indeed almighty, that is, all powerful, He must be accepted as the only God and the only power. If other gods really exist, each god must be a power unto himself, or must at least possess some power, in which case there would be as many powers as there are gods. If this were true, what would become of the almighty or all-powerful God who is one? As an absolute fact, then, in order to be logical and consistent we must hold to the position that there is but one God and therefore but one power.

But what of the relative? To mortal-sense there are gods many and powers many. That is to say, mortal sense would have us believe that there is an infinite variety of powers beside or apart from God. To the extent that we accept the evidence of the material senses, to that extent we must believe in gods many. How can we reconcile the fact that God is almighty or all powerful with the evidence of the mortal, material senses, except by denying the correctness of these senses? There is no other way of knowing God's almightiness than by knowing also that the evidence of the mortal senses is untrue. Yet this untruth, this false view of God and man, believed, is the basis of all error.

Every sin which to mortal sense ever was committed is the result of this false belief. Every crime which has been perpetrated since the world began is due to this false belief. Every wrong enacted by nations and by individuals comes from this false concept of God and the universe. There is not one single false condition of mankind that is not traceable to this negative cause. It follows, therefore, that every sin, every wrong, every falsity in the world is the result of delusion, the consequence of a wrong or erroneous conception of the almighty One and His relation to His creatures. This is made plain by our text-book: "Tyranny, intolerance, and bloodshed, wherever found, arise from the belief that the infinite is formed after the pattern of mortal personality, passion, and impulse" (Science and Health, p. 94). All this delusion, of course, is on the relative side. The only relationship between the absolute and the relative is that Truth destroys error and good overcomes evil. This is the plain but wonderful teaching of the Christian Science text-book, and when we see its entire reasonableness and incontrovertible logic, we are amazed that the world has so long remained blind to it.

We have thus far generalized. Let us be more specific. It is right for us to declare that there is no sin, provided we are clear in our understanding of the sense in which we make the statement; but, if we ignore the claim of sin, we are ourselves committing sin, for this very attitude makes us the victims of sin and subject to its pains and penalties in the realm of false belief. It is this false attitude which brings all the sickness and suffering to which mortals are subject. All these conditions are the outcome of a failure to know the full meaning of the commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." This great declaration is the absolute truth. All that is not in harmony with it is the relative untruth. In this connection we shall do well to study the closing paragraph of the chapter Science of Being (Science and Health, p. 340). Let us now note some examples of the absolute and the relative statements of our text-book.

The absolute;—

"He [God] fills all space, and it is impossible to conceive of such omnipresence and individuality except as infinite Spirit or Mind. Hence all is Spirit and spiritual" (p.331)

The relative:—

"The so-called pleasures and pains of matter perish, and they must go out under the blaze of Truth, spiritual sense, and the actuality of being. Mortal belief must lose all satisfaction in error and sin in order to part with them" (p. 296).

Construed absolutely, if "all is Spirit and spiritual" there is no matter, error, or sin, even as a mortal belief; but relatively there is the belief in the pleasures and pains of matter, which belief must be recognized as a false claim and destroyed as such. So, too, in the above relative statement, read in the ordinary way, there is a recognition of matter, and only by reading this relative statement in the light of and in connection with the above absolute statement, do we get the correct understanding of the author's meaning. Absolutely there is neither error, sin, nor matter. Relatively these things are in mortal belief a terrible delusion, and they must be rooted out and destroyed in order that the great truth that "all is Spirit and spiritual" may be established in human consciousness.

Another absolute statement:—

"Evil is nothing, no thing, mind, nor power" (p. 330).

The relative:—

"Evil which obtains in the bodily senses, but which the heart condemns, has no foundation; but if evil is uncondemned, it is undenied and nurtured. Under such circumstances, to say that there is no evil, is an evil in itself" (p.448)

If we rested upon the first or absolute statement, we would be bound to conclude that evil, being no thing, does not exist even as a claim. If we rested upon the latter or relative statement, we would have to believe that evil is an actuality to be mastered and destroyed. We see, then, that only by reading and construing the absolute and the relative together, and keeping the distinction clearly in mind, can we correctly understand and apply the teaching of Science. We might continue such examples almost indefinitely, but the foregoing will suffice for our present purpose.

The distinction above indicated must also be kept clear in reference to personality and all that pertains to it. Speaking absolutely there is no such thing as personality, in the sense of "mortal personality" (Science and Health, p. 94). There is individuality, or individual entity, in the realm of the spiritually real, but no personality as mortal sense sees or defines personality. Relatively the world is filled with people, or persons, each person being, to mortal sense, a separate individual. Absolutely no individual man can do erroneous or sinful things, for individual as well as generic or universal man is in the image and likeness of God, and God's image and likeness can no more do wrong or commit sin than can God Himself do so. Relatively men do wrong things and do commit sin, so that in the mortal realm of belief there are both sin and sinners. Again let us illustrate.

The absolute:—

"Man is spiritual and perfect; and because he is spiritual and perfect, he must be so understood in Christian Science" (p. 475).

The relative:—

"Sin kills the sinner and will continue to kill him so long as he sins." "Understanding little about the divine Principle which saves and heals, mortals get rid of sin, sickness, and death only in belief. These errors are not thus really destroyed, and must therefore cling to mortals until, here or hereafter, they gain the true understanding of God in the Science which destroys human delusions about Him and reveals the grand realities of His allness" (pp. 203, 328).

If we accept the absolute declaration that "man is spiritual and perfect," ignoring the relative statement above given, we would be in error to admit for a moment that "sin kills the sinner and will continue to kill him so long as he sins." We would also be in error to admit that sin, sickness, and death "cling to mortals until, here or hereafter, they gain the true understanding of God in the Science which destroys human delusions about Him and reveals the grand realities of His allness" (p. 328).

Only by construing these statements together and in the light of the whole teaching of the text-book can we keep our thought clear. We cannot separate error or sin from the sinner if it be true, as our text-book says, that "sin kills the sinner and will continue to kill him so long as he sins" (p. 203). We cannot separate or detach sin, sickness, and death from the person so long as persons, that is, mortals, "get rid of sin, sickness, and death only in belief," and so long as these errors "cling to mortals until, here or hereafter, they gain the true understanding of God in the Science which destroys human delusions about Him and reveals the grand realities of His allness" (p. 328).

We are bound to say, in the light of the teaching of Christian Science, that it is impossible to detach the wrong acts of mortals from them until they have detached themselves therefrom by ceasing to do wrong. Therefore to maintain that we must not attach error in thought to personality— "mortal personality"—would be misleading and promulgating a dangerous doctrine. Such a position adhered to would give a person free license to commit sin whenever and however he pleased, and he could excuse his conduct by the specious plea that it did not belong to him and he was therefore not responsible for it.

If we say that we must not attach error or sin to true individuality, we are taking the absolute and therefore the truly scientific stand, and are in accord with the teaching of our text-book, but we must keep the distinction between the image and likeness of God and the sinning mortal constantly in mind. Who, in this age, will dare to claim that any mortal has gone so high as to be free from all error or sin? And of whom, then, can it be said that error or sin does not, in mortal belief, attach to him? The claim that one can be wholly sinless while yet in the trammels of mortal sense would be equivalent to saying that mortals can be spiritually whole or holy.

Note how clearly the distinction between the absolute and the relative is brought out in the following from our text-book: "Anybody, who is able to perceive the incongruity between God's idea and poor humanity, ought to be able to discern the distinction (made by Christian Science) between God's man, made in His image, and the sinning race of Adam" (p. 345). In all our thought and silent work we cannot too strongly hold to the true and real man, but at the same time we must avoid attempting to clothe the mortal sinning and dying man with the vestures which pertain only to the spiritual man in the image and likeness of God. The "old man" with his sins must be "put off," as Paul says, before the new man, made in the image and likeness of God, can be "put on."

The author of our text-book pertinently inquires: "Can God therefore overlook the law of righteousness which destroys the belief called sin? Does not Science show that sin brings suffering as much today as yesterday? They who sin must suffer" (p. 36). "They who sin must suffer." This means that the mortal person who sins must suffer until he is awakened from his sin and saved through Christ, Truth.

Again let us note how clearly our text-book makes the distinction between the absolute and the relative: "Man is incapable of sin, sickness, and death. The real man cannot depart from holiness, nor can God, by whom man is evolved, engender the capacity or freedom to sin. A mortal sinner is not God's man" (p. 475). Words could not be plainer. Yet if we say that we must not attach error to a person, in the sense of mortal personality, we are in effect declaring that a "mortal sinner" is God's man, thus reversing the teaching of our text-book.

This whole subject is concisely summed up in the article by our Leader which appeared in the Sentinel of Sept. 3, 1910, and this should be carefully studied, if it has not already been. If we study and understand this definition given by our Leader, we shall not go astray or become confused in our thought and work. As we separate our own errors from our own mortal concept of personality and strive to overcome them, we shall be able to judge righteous judgment in our estimate of others.

In further illustration of our thought, it may be said that in the absolute sense a monument is nothing. In the relative sense it is a token of love and respect for a person who has passed from earthly scenes of activity, a reminder of the usefulness of the human life that has closed, and a means of preserving the memory of good deeds. The derivation of the word—the Latin moneo—to remind, implies a calling of attention to the life and achievements of an individual, not to the death of a person.

When we visit Westminster abbey and look upon the monuments there, we are not reminded of the death, but of the illustrious lives, of those whose names are enrolled on the scroll of fame within that ancient pile. When we stand beside the tomb of Washington at Mt. Vernon, we do not think of Washington's death, but of Washington the soldier, the patriot, the statesman, and "the father of his country." When we stand beside the Lincoln monument at Springfield, we do not think of Lincoln's tragic death, but of his great character and life; we think of Lincoln the statesman and the emancipator. A monument, therefore, is not designed to remind us of death, but to emphasize the life-work of those who have wrought well and faithfully here on earth.

It goes without saying that Christian Scientists should not criticize and condemn others because they are yet manifesting some error in their lives; in other words, have not reached the absolute demonstration of the truth. Mankind are as yet in a belief of mortal conditions and are all therefore manifesting more or less imperfection in their lives, and only as we are growing out of these false conditions into spiritual understanding can we justly judge of others. We are none of us sufficiently advanced in the understanding of Spirit to be able to weigh our fellow beings in the scales of absolute justice. At the same time we must never forget that the spiritual and perfect alone is real, and is the standard by which all things are to be judged. Let us hearken to the words of our beloved Leader as we read them on page 280 of "Miscellaneous Writings": "There are not two,—Mind and matter. We must get rid of that notion. As we commonly think, we imagine all is well if we cast something into the scale of Mind, but we must realize that Mind is not put into the scales with matter; then only are we working on one side and in Science."

Such absolute statements of our teaching will keep us sufficiently reminded of the spiritual real on the one hand and the material unreal on the other if we carefully study and heed them and apply them in and to our daily life and conduct. Our safe and sane way of cognizing error is by knowing the allness of Truth.


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