This audio lecture was a conversation between Heloísa Gelber Rivas, Co-Manager of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship, and Alessandra Colombini, a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science who lives in São Paulo, Brazil. Alessandra has also been a Christian Science lecturer.
Alessandra, tell us a little bit about your journey as you began to read the Bible from childhood and how that led you to find Christian Science, and tell us about your spiritual search and how that came to a beautiful development of understanding.
Well, it started as a child when I learned how to read. I loved to read, and I was given a book with stories from the Bible, so I fell in love with the Bible as a small child. I was in a religious school, and I had a very strict religious upbringing in my primary school, but not much Bible teaching. Then in my teens, I could study the Bible more within a Protestant denomination. There I found people who spoke about the Bible, who taught me more from the Bible, and I was very grateful for that. Despite this religious upbringing, though, I didn’t feel I really understood the Bible.
When was it that the Bible became clearer to you—that you began to really find the logic in the Bible?
When I was 20 years old. I was in college and my boyfriend, who later became my husband, introduced me to Christian Science and gave me the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, and I started to read it. When it came to the chapter “Atonement and Eucharist,” I found it so logical, because it explained Jesus’ mission, Jesus’ purpose, in a way that really caught my attention, and I thought: “Well, this is it! Now I can really understand the Gospels much better.”
Together with this different concept of Jesus’ mission in this chapter, it became clear to me that Jesus and Christ were not exactly synonyms. Jesus was the man who manifested the Christ, who showed us what the Christ is. The Christ is eternal, it is God’s ideal. It is what God knows of man in His image and likeness, and Jesus was the human manifestation—the practical manifestation—of this Christ. So, this opened up the Bible to me in a way that I could understand, I came to see that there is a spiritual way of understanding the words. I saw that many words in the Bible have a spiritual meaning. Because of this I could better understand what the Gospels were saying and what Jesus meant when he said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), or when he said, I can do nothing of myself and the works that I do, it’s the Father that does them (see John 5:30 and 14:10). The whole subject of Jesus and Christ, which is basic to Christianity, became clear to me.
Through all his teachings and works, Jesus revealed our oneness with God.
Before that, I thought there was some mystery in the Bible that we were not entitled to understand. But that is not true—we are entitled to understand everything Jesus taught. We are entitled to understand everything that’s in the Bible. So, this was a very different approach right from the beginning when I met Christian Science.
Is there a particular parable that is a good example for you of a new understanding of what Jesus taught?
I could speak for hours and hours about the Bible and how many spiritual lessons I gathered from it, but I would like to point out one specifically, which is a parable of Jesus’. Many of his parables start with the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is like ….” He was explaining the kingdom of God in words that people of his day could understand, and one of these parables says that a certain king “would take account of his servants” (see Matthew 18:23–35). One servant was called to pay his debt to this king, and the Bible says that this servant owed him ten thousand talents.
This was a huge debt. In a commentary I found an explanation of how much that was. One talent was already a big amount, but ten thousand talents was something so huge that nobody could ever pay such a debt. Perhaps this king was not really expecting this debt to be paid back by the servant. This is something interesting to know, because it throws light on the real nature of this debt. If I owe you ten dollars it’s because you first gave me ten dollars, or you first gave me something worth ten dollars. So, if this servant owed this huge amount to the king, it’s because he had received something worth this amount before. And the king forgave him this debt.
Now, if Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like king so and so,” we can understand that this king represents God, and God has given us a huge amount of good, which we can’t ever pay back, and we are not expected to pay back—we are just expected to receive it and be grateful. You see how wonderful this is, to realize that we have received a huge amount of good from God, that we constantly receive this good, and it is something enormous.
And we don’t owe it back.
Right. Jesus told this parable before he was crucified and gave the clear message that there was no debt to be paid. The king, God, has already forgiven it. Therefore the doctrinal notion that Jesus “paid” God for our sins through his death, through his crucifixion, misunderstands God’s love for all of us in giving us all good. I mean, Jesus was saying that there was no debt to be paid.
So it doesn’t make sense to think that he had to sacrifice himself on our behalf, so that God could forgive us.
That’s right! This gave me a completely different view of what we call “atonement”—a completely different view of Jesus’ mission and God’s plan. God’s plan was not that Jesus should suffer, that Jesus should be a sacrifice, like an “offering to God,” much like livestock were offered in the temple. God’s plan was for Jesus to manifest Him, to manifest good.
To manifest Love.
Yes. Mary Baker Eddy writes of Jesus in Science and Health, “Out of the amplitude of his pure affection, he defined Love. With the affluence of Truth, he vanquished error. The world acknowledged not his righteousness, seeing it not; but earth received the harmony his glorified example introduced.”
Then she goes on to describe our part in the atonement. “Who is ready to follow his teaching and example? All must sooner or later plant themselves in Christ, the true idea of God. That he might liberally pour his dear-bought treasures into empty or sin-filled human storehouses, was the inspiration of Jesus’ intense human sacrifice” (p. 54). It became clear to me what Jesus’ real mission was, and it was so freeing to obtain a logical sense of the atonement. I could understand why Mary Baker Eddy breaks this word into at-one-ment. Through all his teachings and works, Jesus revealed our oneness with God.
Yes, that shows the role of Jesus from a completely different angle, too.
That’s right. Jesus was revealing that we have no debts, that the good we receive from God is enormous, and we don’t need to think of paying back.
Going on with this parable Jesus says that this same servant, after being forgiven such a huge debt, would not forgive a small debt of a fellow servant. If we see the amount Jesus mentions, we see it was a small amount compared to ten thousand talents. But this servant would not forgive such a small amount. I found in this parable an instruction for human relations. You see, we receive so much good from God, we have no debt to God, but we do think many times, erroneously, that people owe us something, in the sense that they are supposed to act or do something in accordance with our opinions. You know, when we think that such and such a person should be doing this and not that, because we are sure they should be acting differently.
You’re not talking about owing money.
Sure, it’s not merely about money. It’s about attitudes, it’s about how people act toward us or even how other people’s attitudes affect us.
It comes down to what we think of other people.
That’s right. Many times we think that someone should be different, should do things differently because we are being affected.
Yes, we mentally criticize.
This mental criticism, it’s like thinking that the other person owes us something. To correct this way of thinking is important in human relations. It is important to realize that there is no “debt” because all goodness comes from God, not necessarily from this or that person. I realized this fact early in my marriage. I loved my husband, but it seemed so natural to think: “Oh wow, he should be doing this differently. He should say that another way,” or, “He should do this and that but he doesn’t”—simply mental criticism. I wouldn’t say anything, I wouldn’t argue, but I realized that whenever I entertained this kind of thinking, something would go wrong in our relationship.
When we say “to accept Jesus,” it means to accept his teachings in every detail of our daily life.
Through the study of Christian Science I realized how important thought is, and analyzing what I was thinking, I saw that this mental criticism was really bad for my relationship with my husband. I recalled something that is read the first Sunday of every month in church—something that is in The Manual of The Mother Church, which Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “A Rule for Motive and Acts.” In this By-Law, we read, “In Science, divine Love alone governs man; …” (p. 40). I realized that this is what I had to think about my husband. Only divine Love governs him, and if divine Love governs him, I don’t have to worry, I don’t have to think he should be doing this or that. I could see that he was not my “debtor.” And this was wonderful, really, because it gave me the key to harmonious marriage.
Of course, through the years (we were married for 35 years) we had other problems, but we overcame them every time with the right thinking we learned in Christian Science and as we learned more about Jesus’ teachings and Jesus’ way of relating to people. Now, I think this is what it means to accept Jesus.
“We have to accept Jesus” is not just a statement and that’s all. It requires action.
That’s right, so when we say “to accept Jesus,” it means to accept his teachings in every detail of our daily life.
Yes, and not to try to collect debts when we think that people should have done something differently and that we are entitled to judge and condemn them. This would be different from what Jesus taught.
How can we accept Jesus when we blame somebody and think they owe us something for the wrong they’ve done, whatever it may be—and it may be something very minor. Little things that are annoying, that we think should be done in a different way, and we try to “collect this debt.” That’s not accepting Jesus.
And, it’s interesting to note that when we do that, in reality, we are the ones who suffer.
This is just what happened in this parable to the servant that tried to collect the other’s debt—he ended up in prison. And so, this is what happens to us when we really do not follow Jesus’ teachings—we end up in the prison of our own wrong thinking, be it rage, resentment, or even just feeling annoyed.
We end up having to pay a high price for our own thinking that’s less than loving.
And “paying the price” means putting our thinking straight by correcting it according to Jesus’ teachings.
Correcting our thinking sometimes comes very easily, and it’s a wonderful thing to do. Sometimes, we have a hard time in doing that, but it’s not God that’s making us suffer.
Yes, so this brings us to a different concept of accepting Jesus and a different concept of suffering. I mean, we don’t need to suffer. Suffering is not something that makes us holy by itself. Suffering is not God’s punishment. It is merely mortal mind’s resistance to correcting itself. Therefore, in the middle of suffering, we can think: “Well, I can do something about this. I can think differently, I can act differently.”
We can change the basis of our thinking.
Yes, because when Jesus did what he did, multiplying the bread and fishes or calming the storm or healing people, he was demonstrating, he was proving, that suffering was not something we have to put up with.
And demonstrating means proving, right? You said it very correctly, To demonstrate is to give evidence that suffering isn’t required.
Yes, so, you see, accepting Jesus, it’s something much, much wider than just saying, “Well, I love Jesus, I like Jesus, I like what he did,” as if that were all that is required of us.
I’ve heard people say, “I believe in Jesus, I believe in everything that is in the Bible.” Well, this belief doesn’t by itself transform character. A step beyond that is needed.
Yes, the New Testament speaks a lot about salvation and about Jesus being our Savior. What’s the meaning of that? Is salvation something so outside of God’s creation that it only happens after we are dead? No, salvation is something that is inherent to God’s creation, because in God’s creation we are free from evil, we are saved from everything bad. And, this is true right now—we don’t have to wait until we are dead to feel that we are saved from the slavery of matter. Thinking of everything Jesus did, what we call miracles, we see that in reality he was proving that God’s children are not slaves to matter. He had dominion over all that matter claimed to be. This is salvation—to have the same dominion over matter. And it’s so good to realize that we have this salvation as a divine right—now, as children of God!
Salvation is going on moment by moment when we realize that we can follow Jesus’ example of being less and less enslaved by the material condition.
We could say that salvation is freedom, actually.
Yes, not freedom to go and do whatever we want—it’s freedom from the enslavement of matter’s limitations, because matter is always measurable by limits, in whatever aspect. Well, we’re not destined to be enslaved by that and only following the teachings of Jesus frees us from it.
Another important aspect of Jesus’ teachings is the true concept of God which he conveyed to us. In Science and Health, the textbook of Christian Science, Mrs. Eddy says, “It is our ignorance of God, the divine Principle, which produces apparent discord, and the right understanding of Him restores harmony” (p. 390).
That ignorance may be merely not knowing what God is. Or, it’s mortal mind’s indifference to obtaining this knowledge about God. These are both forms of ignorance.
We could say that salvation is freedom, actually.
In general mankind is very much taken by increasing their material knowledge, not realizing how important it is to obtain a right understanding of God. But we certainly want to overcome discord in all its forms. And we can overcome discord with the right understanding of God—the Father—as Jesus proved. We can go through the Gospels and point out what Jesus said about the Father, how he showed that God is a powerful authority for good. Sometimes in his parables he represented the Father as “the king,” like in this parable we were talking about—the king …
A sovereign authority—a supreme authority.
The divine Principle, which Mrs. Eddy says is the divine Principle of everything that has been created. And, we can go through the Gospels, as I was saying, and see everything that Jesus taught about the Father, and go through Mrs. Eddy’s writings, as well, and then we can get a right understanding of God.
It’s important to see the role of Jesus in helping us understand who the Father is. And he never said he was the Father—he said he was the Son.
Yes, and he was always talking about the Father as someone else, not himself, so he gave no indication that he was God.
He never said that.
Sure, he always said he was the Son of God. Nevertheless, he said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), one but not the same. I mean, we are one because we are all one, and Mrs. Eddy puts it so beautifully when she says “As a drop of water is one with the ocean, a ray of light one with the sun, even so God and man, Father and son, are one in being” (Science and Health, p. 361).
Yes, think of what constitutes a drop of water, it’s water. What constitutes a ray of light—it’s light. You can’t separate it, it’s the same substance.
Right, the same nature. So, this is how “I and my Father are one,” and we are one in God. And Jesus said that very clearly in John 17 when he prayed to the Father, on behalf of his disciples and those who would believe on him: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (verse 21).
What tenderness! He’s including all mankind in that oneness, not separating mankind—either from God or from himself.
So you can see why this new understanding was so important in my life. It made such a difference! Also, there is something else I would like to say. Every time we understand a little more about God, about Jesus’ mission, about church, about our life—every time we understand something more—it’s Christ coming to us. It’s the coming of Christ to our consciousness.
And that is constant—it’s not a one-time event, it’s not merely the birth of Jesus.
Yes, it’s an event that can happen every day; because we can learn something more every day, we can experience healing every day. We can take it as an aim to learn something new every day about God’s reality. I remember one healing I had. I was having very strong pain—abdominal pain—related to my being a woman, menstrual cramps, and it was very strong pain.
The Christ comes to us every time we understand some verity about our true nature.
But, at the moment I felt those cramps, I remembered this freedom from matter that we are entitled to. I remembered that I did not have to accept pain as part of my life, as something that is natural, and that goes away after one day or two. I realized that I could govern my life with the same authority that Jesus had in every event of his life. It was something so instantaneous. At the moment I thought that, I felt fine! Never again did I experience cramps, and that was many years ago. So, it was really the coming of Christ in the sense that the example of Jesus was so clear that it enabled me to feel free, to say no to pain, and to realize that I had this divine right that Jesus demonstrated. It was salvation made practical at that moment. It was a real acceptance of Jesus at that moment, and it was wonderful. The Christ comes to us every time we understand some verity about our true nature.
Mrs. Eddy talks about this when she says that it’s an awakening to the Christ. She says, “This awakening is the forever coming of Christ …” (Science and Health, p. 230). This forever coming of Christ is way beyond the baby that was born 2,000 years ago. That was just the announcement of the forever coming of Christ, which Jesus exemplified, but it didn’t stop then.
And this reminds me of how Matthew ends his Gospel, when he tells of Jesus before the ascension saying to the disciples, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). The Christ is with us always, even unto the end of the world. That may mean the end of material beliefs.
So, we know that this Christ is helping us, always, in every way.
All the way.
Yes, all the way—through all our human experience until it is so redeemed from material beliefs by the Redeemer, the Christ, that we completely realize spiritual reality, we realize heaven, we realize the reality of God’s creation, and that’s salvation.
And when we study Science and Health and other works by Mary Baker Eddy, we can feel that that makes sense. I think the role of Jesus and the role of the Science of Christianity that we know by studying Mrs. Eddy’s inspiration brings us to a logical understanding of this Science, which can be demonstrated, that is brought to a practical proof in a way that it improves the conditions of our lives.
Christ is helping us, always, in every way.
Yes, as I said before, I loved the Bible, I studied the Bible, but it didn’t have such an influence in my life. I mean, it was as if my human life were something, and then the study of the Bible were something separate, mainly intellectual, and I couldn’t see that these teachings of Jesus were completely practical. They were wonderful, I loved them. But aside from just being a good person, aside from being an honest person, well, it had no other bearing on my life, on my daily life. To be honest, to be a good person was all I could understand from the Bible.
Even following to that degree is conducive to a better society, so all that Christianity taught, even if only on the basis of accepting Jesus or believing that what the Bible says really happened, is better than not having it. It creates a better society, so I feel we have to be grateful for that—but when you go a step beyond that and you understand how it can transform our way of thinking and improve our personal behavior and save a relationship or save a sick person, then it is really transforming. It’s not only a code of behavior, it’s not only a code of “do’s and don’ts” or a code of abstaining from certain things in order to become pure, it is transforming us from inside—transforming our understanding of Jesus. Showing us what is the import of following his teachings and doing, in the measure of our understanding, the same works he did. That’s more than mere belief in Jesus.
Yes, and then we come to understand, really, the meaning of Jesus’ atonement—this unity with God which Jesus showed, which Jesus taught—being at one with God, realizing that we are one with God. This is the real atonement—this is the understanding we need to strive for. Jesus showed us how to do it, and we can do it!
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