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"But if not..."

From the October 1981 issue of The Christian Science Journal


Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego! How many there are who treasure the well-known Bible story of the three Hebrews whose love for God and faith in His power led them to publicly refuse to worship an image of gold set up by King Nebuchadnezzar—even after they were threatened with death in a fiery furnace.

Their adventure has always been a great source of inspiration to me. The main theme is richly seasoned with spiritual insights and glimpses of the Christ, God's eternal idea of all real being.

One day, as I was again reading the account of the three Hebrews, something arrested my attention. It was their reply to the king's remark, "Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" They said: "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."Dan. 3:15, 17. 18.

"But if not ..." The words echoed as I moved on to the next few passages. I stopped and went back. "But if not..."! Suddenly I saw something fresh—a higher expression of courage that was not only inspiring but scientific. These three men seemed to have a natural understanding of God as Spirit and of an unchangeable relationship to Him that overcame any personal concern for relief from danger, pain, or even death. Faced with the threat of extermination, they seemed to me to say, "Our fidelity to our divine origin, the Principle of our being, transcends any desire to guarantee our life in matter. Our trust in what we know God to be overrides any concern about what might or might not be our own capacity to prove this reality of being."

I perceived their statement to the king as one of unreserved, unconditional love for God.

This theme of unconditional love was carried through in what they didn't say as well. They didn't admit that failure to be saved from the fiery furnace would prove that God was not the omnipotent and omnipresent preserver of His children. Nothing, however tragic-seeming, could divert their pure love for God or their desire to glorify God. Their ultimate deliverance from the flames proved that such unconditional love for God was scientific and the source of their protection from evil.

The example they set might seem a difficult one to follow, but its implications in the lives of Christian Scientists are inestimably significant. No one can practice any science successfully without an unadulterated respect for truth and law and a commitment to scientific principles. Christian Science is no different. Its rule of practice is unreserved love for God, the Principle of all real Science. In response to the question, "What are the demands of the Science of Soul?" Mary Baker Eddy writes: "The first demand of this Science is, 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.' This me is Spirit. Therefore the command means this: Thou shalt have no intelligence, no life, no substance, no truth, no love, but that which is spiritual." Science and Health, p. 467. Elsewhere she writes: "Divine Mind rightly demands man's entire obedience, affection, and strength. No reservation is made for any lesser loyalty."Ibid., p. 183.

If we are Scientists as truly as we are Christians, we are bound to ask ourselves whether our trust in God is unconditional or dependent to some degree on how things turn out when we pray. Is our prayer perhaps result-oriented, even geared to the speed with which the results can be seen? Are appearances, physical comfort, satisfaction in matter, more important to us than sticking unwaveringly to the truth of being?

If we decide to rely on God for healing when faced with the "fiery furnace" of some physical illness, do we have tucked away in a corner of thought the mental reservation that we will abandon God and His laws for material remedies if we don't get our healing in some predetermined period of time? Or will we say with the three Hebrews, "'But if not . . .' I will not turn to medical means but will humbly and persistently work with the laws of Truth, no matter what"? If we've chosen to rely on God to work out problems of lack, will we turn to questionable ethics if we don't see results? Or can we say to mortal mind from the outset, "'But if not . . .' I will not 'worship the golden image which thou hast set up'"?

This doesn't mean that divine Truth, Life, and Love are ineffective and that we have to prepare in advance for inadequate results. Or that the Almighty isn't always reliable, even while demanding our whole heart. It is not for God's benefit that we need to smoke out and destroy mental reservations concerning His allness, but for the benefit of human thought striving through the Christ to rise to the real man's natural consciousness and expression of sinless being. The effectiveness of Spirit, Soul, to destroy illness, lack, abnormality, distortion; of divine Love to destroy fear; of Mind to destroy ignorance, mental illness, retardation; of Life to banish death, is eternally unchanged. The reliability of God's own law, divine Science, is indisputable.

No, the "But if not . . ." approach doesn't belittle God's infinite ability to accomplish all good, does not minimize the need for visible proof of God's power, does not constitute a resignation to evil. Absolute fidelity is a necessary compact for a human being to make with himself to indicate his acceptance of the law of unconditional love for God—the law of divine Science that must be obeyed if we are to progressively demonstrate harmony in our earthly experience. The "But if not . . ." approach helps us to establish our priorities, placing the first and highest priority on obeying and glorifying the one God, who alone should command our obedience.

While humanly we may grow slowly in our ability to yield to the requirements of divine Principle, fidelity to Truth remains the basis of scientific practice. And divine Principle, which is also infinite Love, will gently guide us into this attitude of complete trust and loyalty. After all, the demand for fidelity to Truth is not a law of condemnation but a scientific requirement of our demonstration of spiritual being, wherein man is the obedient idea of Mind.

Gaining a consistent conviction of Spirit's allness does require mental discipline—daily prayer, sometimes even moment-by-moment affirmations of the truth. Mortal mind, the counterfeit of real intelligence, is limited and full of the seeds of its limitation; and if accepted as real, this false mind can plant the seeds of compromise with spiritual reality in very subtle ways. We need love for God that both inspires and empowers us to instantly turn out the lie and to keep turning it out with its every presentation to thought. The Christ, which reveals all truth to humanity, meets all individual needs and quiets all doubts and fears while problems are being worked out.

Truth, Spirit, is real. Error, matter, is unreal. That's it—simple, scientific truth. And because it is Science, there's no compromise with truth as the basis for all scientific reasoning and practice. The decision of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to stand with God, even if their ability to prove His protection should fail, showed a pure reverence for Truth that was in itself free of the smell of smoke, free of material trusts, even before they had to face the fiery furnace that was heated "seven times more than it was wont to be heated."Dan. 3:19.The Hebrews' deliverance from the flames made them a timeless example of the nothingness of matter and its conditions. They proved the powerlessness of evil to touch the real man and the ability of humanity to prove the power of the Christ, Truth, to preserve and heal human minds and bodies. And what they did was for all mankind and for all time.

When we, too, stand with God without reservations, we do it not for ourselves alone but for all mankind. Our fidelity is an act of unselfed love that helps to break down the belief of life, substance, and mind in matter. We help others gain the courage to turn unreservedly to God in the face of any impending "fiery furnace."

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