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Healing and the nature of God

From the April 1989 issue of The Christian Science Journal

The understanding that it is a specific theology which makes possible the practice of Christian Science healing seems to dawn slowly for many of us. We're willing to turn to God, Spirit, for healing in time of physical need, but we're often more impressed with what we are doing than with the nature of the God to whom we are turning. Yet the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writing of Christ Jesus, states: "It was this theology of Jesus which healed the sick and the sinning. It is his theology in this book [Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures] and the spiritual meaning of this theology, which heals the sick and causes the wicked to 'forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.'" Science and Health, pp. 138-139

Surprising as it might seem, growing up in Christian Science doesn't necessarily guarantee making a connection between theology and healing. Occasionally, as I recall, a Sunday School study assignment prodded my thought in the right direction. One that stands out was an assignment to memorize two sentences in Science and Health, the denominational textbook of Christian Science by Mrs. Eddy. The sentences were "There is but one primal cause. Therefore there can be no effect from any other cause, and there can be no reality in aught which does not proceed from this great and only cause." Ibid., p. 207

Perhaps the reason that I and my best friend from across the street succeeded in this formidable memorization project may have been that our teacher had told us of her own healing of tuberculosis through Christian Science. She explained how these sentences had played a major part in her own spiritual study and prayer and ultimate healing.

Christian Science healing in our family was certainly quiet—nothing showy about it, nothing dramatic, just warm and reassuring and fairly frequent. It didn't feel like a risk or straining to have "enough faith." It felt normal and right, the way a God who is Love would be expected to help when you made room in your thought and life for Him.

My best friend's mother, for example, was healed of paralysis of her legs. I was healed of longstanding bouts of asthma so severe that from time to time I would be propped up in bed and fighting for breath. My father was healed of a tumor on the head, a visibly smashed toe, a painful leg that had made it necessary for him to use a cane for a few months. My dog's slipped disk, which was diagnosed by a veterinarian as something likely to become worse, was healed through Christian Science.

My great-grandmother had been a Christian Science practitioner. My father's sister and brother-in-law were practitioners, and so accounts of healing were sometimes shared matter of factly in the course of conversation when we got together for holidays. We were likely to hear retold at such times the stories of the healings that first acquainted the family with Christian Science—my aunt's healing of hemorrhaging, my father's healing of a general debility so extensive that the medicines poured into him affected his teeth. He was taken to the seashore for long summers in hopes that it would somehow help. It didn't, but Christian Science healed him.

In a time of what has occasionally been referred to as post-theistic thinking, however, the most pressing question may be not whether such healings actually happened as supposed, but why God should be thought to be involved in the minutiae of the life of one middle-class, eastern seaboard, American family, when billions of other mortals around the globe were experiencing starvation, holocaust, and disaster. It is a question that turns us back to the theology of Christian Science.

Underlying the question, perhaps, is a deeper concern about whether anyone can expect answered prayer in the midst of so much evil—evil that is more graphically known than ever before in history. Does the young child of a comparatively comfortable family deserve to be healed of earache, for example, when someone on the other side of the world doesn't have enough food and is dying?

If God is the creator of the material universe, and if one is calling on Him out of a self-interested expectation of special treatment to fix something in His universe, then the process could seem morally dubious. And if evil is as powerful and real as it seems, it would also appear natural that good is weak, that God is forced to coexist with evil and suffer along with humanity, as much scholastic theology now suggests. If this line of thought were to be followed, even prayer that reaches out for healing would come to seem less and less natural.

But according to the theology of Christian Science, God does not decide to help one and not another, does not intervene in response to one prayer and not another, as though it were a matter of the acuteness of His hearing and His personal judgment of who deserves assistance. God provides only good for His children equally. As the Psalmist writes: "How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings—For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light." Ps. 36:7, 9

Prayer can remove human blindness to this true character of God. It touches us with His reality; it takes away fear and relieves suffering. The real work of prayer is not to get God to act properly but to empower us to live more fully in the light of His very real goodness. On this basis, it isn't a question of who deserves relief from suffering; the fact is that all of God's creation "deserves," and already has, the love, goodness, and grace with which the creator inevitably embraces it.

If this seems to defy common experience, it seems to the Christian Scientist to fulfill moral and spiritual reason far more satisfactorily than does the conception of a God who would create a world capable of terrible suffering and then be selective in His relief of it. God, for the Christian Scientist, is divine Love. What we feel in the presence of human goodness and love is only a very small indication of the meaning of divine Love. God's will is surely for good, never for sickness or death or destruction. Every genuine spiritual healing is therefore a sign not of some personal deserving but of the immense goodness that is present and belongs to everyone.

It is plain enough that human beings do not perceive very much of this divine perfection and reality. However, the implicit teaching of Christ Jesus is that we need to grow into the spirituality that does discern God. If we refuse to live morally and spiritually, our conceptions of God can't help being delimited by immature and sinful perceptions that are responsive primarily to the impressiveness of matter and evil.

As the author of I John says, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." I John 1:5 The essential truth about evil, Christian Science explains, is that no matter how subtly hidden or openly horrible, it is uncreated by God and so not something found to have the quality of realness as we go forward into the light of His infinite goodness.

In an early sermon called The People's Idea of God, Mrs. Eddy made the point simply: "As the finite sense of Deity, based on material conceptions of spiritual being, yields its grosser elements, we shall learn what God is, and what God does." Peo., p. 2 She spoke of coming into a higher sense of Christianity. She did not think in terms of altering Christianity but of awakening from soothing religious cliches to the thunderclap of what had actually been going on in original Christianity as Jesus was living it. She saw that the meaning of God had been foreclosed through the centuries by an increasingly restrictive conviction of material reality.

God can't be some element like weak electromagnetism, playing over the surface of human life and giving it a sad poetry and beauty. If the Word of God is to have any meaning at all, then God must entirely define life, and not the other way around. Christian Science says that we have to begin with God in order to understand life and the universe. And as we do, we break out of the conventional imagination of what constitutes our life.

But the extent of this change of viewpoint, and what is involved in reaching it, we only gradually comprehend. The full force and urgency of the new recognition is described in a passage in an article titled "The New Birth" by Mrs. Eddy. She writes: "Here, then, is the awakening from the dream of life in matter, to the great fact that God is the only Life; that, therefore, we must entertain a higher sense of both God and man. We must learn that God is infinitely more than a person, or finite form, can contain; that God is a divine Whole, and All, an all-pervading intelligence and Love, a divine, infinite Principle; and that Christianity is a divine Science. This newly awakened consciousness is wholly spiritual; it emanates from Soul instead of body, and is the new birth begun in Christian Science." Miscellaneous Writings, p. 16

It is this revelation of God as All-in-all and totally good that so thoroughly ties healing to the theology of Christian Science. The nature of God is such that healing is what one would reasonably expect to happen as we come into closer relationship to Him. It may be a seven-year-old's healing of earache or it may be a seventy-year-old's healing of a medically diagnosed loss of hearing. It might have its outcome in a political prisoner's withstanding mental and physical torture or in a nuclear arms treaty negotiator's breakthrough that helps to reduce weapons. But concrete healing is the right name for our human sense of real action by the real God, who is unlimited and All-in-all.

The point of physical healing through spiritual means is not to make us more comfortable in material life but to wake us from this so-called world, to show us the actual presence of God and of His kingdom, where there has seemed only a material world. As Christ Jesus told those he was sending out as healers, "Heal the sick ... and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you." Luke 10:9 Christian Science healing takes this viewpoint as the place to begin prayer. And those who have experienced such healing usually feel a far deeper conviction of God's active presence contradicting the habitual impressions of the workaday world.

For many it may take more than one healing encounter with divine Principle, however potent, to get the human being headed in the right direction. One of the most difficult paradoxes of Jesus' time or our own is that of the person whose life has been literally restored and yet who returns to an ordinary, more or less spiritless existence. This may serve to underscore the reason why it is the healing of sin (the central sin of thinking it is possible to live without the God-principle) that Christian Science holds to be its primary purpose.

Yet healing the sick is never a selfish or minor exercise, as should be clear enough from Jesus' own acts and his instructions to his followers. It is the indispensable school for learning spiritual reality. Mrs. Eddy spoke of the need for having "the heavenly law of health" thoroughly grounded and for having Christian Scientists "drilled in the plainer manual of their spiritual armament." See Unity of Good, p. 6 This provides the solid base for expectancy and effectiveness in healing much larger social challenges. As a friend of mine once asked, "Who would you rather have praying for the dissolution of a nuclear threat, someone who had healed a cold through prayer or someone who hadn't?"

Without the theology, or Science, of God's allness underlying it, healing of illness could perhaps be a minor and fading Christian option. But the discovery of the Science of Christianity shows how and why healing is so inseparable from Christian life. Theology that expresses the actuality of the All-God, rather than human speculation about Deity, brings healing now as it did in Jesus' time.

To consider the Christian healing of disease as merely one element among a number of others would be to retreat from the Science of Christ that Mrs. Eddy discovered and so to lose once again the vitality of religion and the possibility of renewed Christianity.

Without its theology, healing becomes a dangerous manipulation of human thought, a desire to have spiritual health and wholeness without the regeneration of self that is so basic to Christianity. This explains why the theology of Christian Science cannot be a matter of academic schooling. It has to be lived. When it is, and we are healed, we have God's revealing of Himself. We learn that true theology is not so much something we should believe about God as what God is causing us to know of Him.

But without healing, theology is vulnerable to the charge of being self-deluding theory. And without specific evidence of Christian healing, the march of materialism would go on essentially unopposed. Talk of love is by no means strong enough to withstand the chilling effect on the human heart of the assertions of biological materialism. Healing works, not theory, are what will most help humanity now.

Christian healing that has Jesus' theology as its impulsion is opening up again the dimension and aliveness of original Christianity. Far from being a fading phenomenon, it is the leading edge of human thought. It answers, as nothing else can, people's hope for a cosmos-grounded, eternal meaning to the best of human values. It feeds the world's increasing hunger for spiritual experience and divine reality. It is the outcome of scientific Christianity, which is parting with superstition and is leading thought toward the twenty-first century.

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