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Five smooth stones

How the Bible, Science and Health, the Church Manual, Mary Baker Eddy’s other writings, and the periodicals help us topple our Goliaths.

From the December 2011 issue of The Christian Science Journal

We all know David wallops Goliath in the end. But how exactly did a young shepherd boy triumph over a menacing man of war? 

It struck me recently that the key to the whole story—including its healing relevance to our lives—is in one little phrase: “five smooth stones.” Without them (and really good aim) David never would have brought the giant crashing down (see First Samuel 17 for the whole story).

Since the Bible is full of symbolism, what exactly do these stones represent? Consider the possibilities:

David scooped the stones out of a stream of water. In many places in the Bible water is symbolic of the word of God (see, for example, Ephesians 5:26, which mentions “the washing of water by the word”). Perhaps David’s stones represent more than mere material rocks. Maybe they’re symbolic of the power of God’s word.

Mary Baker Eddy tells us in Science and Health, “Spiritually interpreted, rocks . . . stand for solid and grand ideas” (p. 511). In a spiritual sense, perhaps David’s stones represent the “solid and grand ideas” of the Word.

The most “solid and grand ideas” I know are found in the Bible, Science and Health, the Manual of The Mother Church, Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 (and other shorter works by Mrs. Eddy), as well as the Christian Science periodicals—The Christian Science Journal, the Christian Science Sentinel, The Herald of Christian Science, the Christian Science Quarterly, and The Christian Science Monitor.

What if the most powerful weapons for our battles against all sorts of daily Goliaths—our very own “five smooth stones”—are the Bible, Mrs. Eddy’s published works, and the periodicals? After all, don’t they explain and illustrate how God is supreme—and why we have nothing to fear from Goliath-like challenges that march into our lives?

You might ask, What exactly are the Goliaths we’re fighting?

Goliath's goal: slavery for all

Goliath’s basic aim was to enslave the Israelites. He proclaimed that if he triumphed over their chosen warrior, “then shall ye be our servants” (I Sam. 17:9). They’d be slaves in the five Philistine provinces: Ashdod, Gaza, Askelon, Gath, and Ekron. According to Strong’s Concordance, the original Hebrew meanings of these words confirm they probably aren’t places any of us would want to live: Ashdod comes from a root that means “to oppress”; Gaza means “harsh” or “greedy”; Askelon comes from the word “to spend”; Gath comes from a word that means “treading” or “a vat where grapes are pressed” and under significant pressure; and Ekron means “to hamstring” or “to exterminate.” 

Goliath wanted to subject the Israelites to lives of bondage, full of oppression, greed, over-spending, pressure, and feeling hamstrung. 

Isn’t this how many of us often feel? Maybe we’re oppressed by sickness, office politics, or family drama. Or we feel a never-ending need to make more and more money. And in our efforts to do right we might feel hamstrung by lack of money, education, time, or opportunity. 

So what does it take to begin confronting these challenges with spiritual might—to be willing to grab the five smooth stones and charge out on the field? David’s attitude was key. 

David's indignation

All the other Israelites, even King Saul, were petrified by Goliath. But David wasn’t impressed by the warrior’s massive height, booming voice, or gilded armor. Instead, David asked indignantly, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (I Sam. 17:26).

How did David have such confidence? During his shepherd days he must have come to know two things: God was more powerful than anything else around; and God loved him and would protect him.

After all, God had helped David slay two of the earth’s most menacing beasts—a lion and a bear. That meant God was certainly stronger than them. David reasoned that if God had been on his side then, He would help him now: “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (I Sam. 17:37). 

David’s confidence in God spurred his indignation at Goliath. He was sticking up for the God he knew with absolute certainty to be all-powerful.

David’s confidence led him to lay aside the helmet and shield Saul offered him. These were human forms of armor, but David opted for a divine approach. He did what the book of Ephesians counsels: “Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13). Now, David was ready to prove he had the best weapons around: the understanding of God’s all-power, as symbolized by five smooth stones.

Strong weapon: the word of God

By picking up the “five stones,” what exactly are we plucking out of the brook? And how do they help? 

The Pastor: portable divine wisdom

David didn’t just pick up jagged rocks. He chose smooth stones. 

The Bible is like a gemstone that’s been polished in a tumbler for centuries. Compilation, revision, and translation have “smoothed” it and turned it into the collected wisdom of the ages—the divinely inspired knowledge from scores of generations about how to avoid human pitfalls and build a satisfying life. In fact, Mrs. Eddy’s discovery of the spiritual sense of the Bible—as detailed in Science and Health—is the ultimate spiritual strength of this holy text.

As for Science and Health itself, its author, Mary Baker Eddy, was a “scribe under orders” from God (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 311). She undertook hundreds of revisions to her book—refining the wording of the divinely revealed truth that had come to her so as to be understandable to readers. The result: the definitive rules and explanation for how anyone can demonstrate the Science Jesus lived and showed to his students.  

Together, these two books are the powerful, portable pastor of Christian Science. Their wisdom is “uncontaminated and unfettered by human hypotheses, and divinely authorized” (Explanatory Note, Christian Science Quarterly). They’re more useful than hit-or-miss human advice. They’re more accessible than personal pastors, who might be napping when we need them. Readers of these books have also found the spiritual ideas in them more curative than materially based medicine, as seen in more than a century of verified Christian Science healings, including many of diagnosed incurable diseases. And these books can go with us anywhere.

Case in point: While traveling with my wife several years ago in Southern Africa, in the country of Namibia, I began showing symptoms of malaria. We were miles from help. My cellphone didn’t work, so I couldn’t call a Christian Science practitioner (or anyone else!). As my wife and I began praying, I opened Science and Health to the chapter on Genesis and read about how God created every creature good. I realized from my reading that good is, and always has been, a law of God. And that law applies to “me, and mine, and all” (Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science Hymnal, No. 207).

After about an hour of praying to know the innate spiritual goodness and perfection of all of God’s creation, including me and even the mosquito believed to be the carrier of the disease, I was healed. The symptoms vanished. Right there in the middle of nowhere, the smooth stones—the “grand ideas” of the Bible and Science and Health—had enabled me to triumph over a Goliath of disease.

Church Manual: armor of protection

The Church Manual is another smooth spiritual stone. Mrs. Eddy wrote that “it stands alone, uniquely adapted to form the budding thought and hedge it about with divine Love” (Church Manual, p. 104). The word “hedge” implies protection, like armor. The Manual protects us by keeping our thoughts focused in productive directions—and by outlining a church structure that supports us. 

Mrs. Eddy wrote that “each Rule and By-law in this Manual will increase the spirituality of him who obeys it, invigorate his capacity to heal the sick, to comfort such as mourn, and to awaken the sinner” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 230). Isn’t the Manual a crucial stone to sling at our Goliaths?

Miscellaneous Writings: a spiritual map 

For any battle, a map that shows the position of enemies and allies can help lead to victory.
 Miscellaneous Writings (and other shorter works by Mary Baker Eddy) can do just that for our spiritual battles, by teaching us new lessons about God that enable us to overcome any form of evil we may face in our lives. Mrs. Eddy wrote in the introduction: “May this volume be to the reader a graphic guidebook, pointing the path . . . and enabling him to walk the untrodden in the hitherto unexplored fields of Science” (p. xi).

Mrs. Eddy considered this book so important to Christian Science practice that, at its debut, she asked her students to stop teaching and focus on its guidance for an entire year. This would, she promised, “lift my readers above the smoke of conflict into light and liberty” (p. xii). What a valuable stone to have in our arsenal.

Church periodicals: inspiring victory

One of the most important benefits of the Christian Science periodicals is their ongoing reassurance that others around the world are fighting and defeating their Goliaths. Through testimonies, articles, and news stories, we read the success stories of “Davids” just like us.

Each publication serves a unique purpose that aids our overcoming evil in whatever form it appears. In the article “Something in a Name” (Miscellany, p. 353), Mrs. Eddy spells out each periodical’s role.

What if the most powerful weapons for our battles against all sorts of daily Goliaths—our very own “five smooth stones”—are the Bible, Mrs. Eddy’s published works, and the periodicals?

The Journal records: In legal battles, credible witnesses with verifiable testimony are essential to victory. By putting “on record the divine Science of Truth”—through powerful articles, confirmed testimonies, and listings of Christian Science practitioners, teachers, and nurses—the Journal is like a legal transcript of testimony by unimpeachable witnesses for God, good.

The Sentinel guards: As it holds “guard over Truth, Life, and Love,” the Sentinel is like an armed guard protecting against evil thoughts. Its spiritually anchored analysis of current issues helps us discern good and cast aside error. 

The Herald proclaims: In battle, trumpets can be heard for miles. Likewise, the Heralds “proclaim the universal activity and availability of Truth.” Aren’t they trumpeting the destruction of Goliaths the world over? 

The Monitor spreads: The mission of The Christian Science Monitor is to “spread undivided the Science that operates unspent.” If Science is “the laws of God” (Science and Health, p. 128), then an “undivided” view of these laws is this: Contrary to popular belief, the world is not divided between people who have access to God, Truth, and those who don’t—or between places where God, good, is in action and those where good is not. As a news organization dedicated to “improving the world by uncovering good everywhere” (as it proclaimed during its centennial), the Monitor showcases the idea that good is in action at all times in all places—no matter how distant or dire. Furthermore, God, good, is never “spent.” Davids everywhere can take heart: The truth in their “stones” can help in every situation. 

Finish the battle before it begins

A final thought about David’s battle with Goliath: It was over before it began. Imagine how dumbstruck all the onlookers were when David’s stone knocked out Goliath, whose armor proved useless and whose spear never got thrown. Despite all his bluster, Goliath never hurt anyone.

Wherever we are in the world, no matter what the trouble is, our “five smooth stones” are our portable weapons for any struggle. When we grab hold of a “solid and grand idea” and run to meet the problem with David-like indignation, the battle ends before it even begins. And the promise Mrs. Eddy gave us is again fulfilled: “Truth is always the victor” (Science and Health, p. 380).

The incredible inheritance of truth we’ve received in the form of these “five smooth stones” gives us the understanding and confidence to bring down all our Goliaths. So whenever a Goliath appears, grab a “solid and grand” idea out of one of these precious books or periodicals—and start slinging.

Abraham McLaughlin works at The Christian Science Monitor and lives in Boston with his wife, Jen.

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