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What cannot be lost

From the September 2015 issue of The Christian Science Journal

The title of a critically praised movie from a couple of years ago, All Is Lost, might seem a fitting summary of human experience at times. What a reliable theme loss is—for screenwriters and poets, reporters and politicians. Loss of joy, promise, innocence, wealth, peace of mind, life, freedom—so pervasive are these themes that loss almost seems the defining characteristic of what it means to be human. It may feel as though loss is a universal, irresistible force.

It’s no wonder we feel our heart lifted at moments when we witness how little it sometimes takes to elevate so bleak an outlook. A scarlet cardinal catching our peripheral vision, a loved pet greeting us with irrepressible enthusiasm, a resistless impulsion to lend a hand to a neighbor or pray for a friend even though our own to-do list may feel daunting—at moments like these we find ourselves responding without reservation. We don’t have to talk ourselves into knowing that something genuine, however modest, is taking place, something broader and more permanent than a passing distraction. Even the recollection of such moments has power to challenge a sense of decline and loss.

The Bible overflows with such moments. It is peopled with those who, like Moses glimpsing the bush burning but not consumed, “turned aside to see” (Exodus 3:4). For Moses, this simple turning was a crucial step toward a radically new view of himself and his people—no longer destined for slavery, but free and noble, servants of Almighty God. Or think of Hagar with her child, Abraham’s son, alone and without water in the wilderness. She heeded the voice of her preserving God, and saw a well of water right where she was. Right where all had seemed lost, Hagar caught a first clear glimpse that her child’s life was not precarious and second-class but destined to bring forward “a great nation” of historic scope (see Genesis 21:14–19).

Deeply pervading Christ Jesus’ teachings and healing works is the continual assurance that the good God gives can never be lost. To the socially marginalized publican Zacchæus, Jesus framed his mission in terms of the restoration of man’s rightful place as God’s offspring, even when that true status appeared to be gone forever: “The Son of man is come,” Jesus explained, “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

‘Thy brother … was lost, and is found’

Alone among the four biblical biographies of Christ Jesus, the Gospel of Luke preserves what is perhaps Jesus’ best-known parable, the story of the prodigal son. This vivid narrative has themes as contemporary in the 21st century as they were in the first: the impulsive search for fleeting excitement, the wasting elements of sensuality and selfish living, jealousy, despair, dysfunctional family relations. On one level it sounds more like a soap opera than a sacred text!

But the restorative power at the heart of the parable—the father’s unfailing love—is the reason we are still reading it, pondering it, and being changed by it today. “The parable of ‘the prodigal son’ is rightly called ‘the pearl of parables,’ …” wrote Mary Baker Eddy, a deep, lifelong student of the Bible, and the discoverer of Christian Science (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 91).

Though custom titles the story “the prodigal son,” there are, of course, two sons. “A certain man had two sons,” the story begins. And as the tale unfolds, we see that in very different ways, both sons are lost. The father interacts with the two sons quite differently. His perfect love takes the form each son is best able to understand at the moment.

Within Jesus’ parable, the father never speaks to his younger boy. Instead, the father communicates with the young man through the tender gestures, gifts, and familiar customs of the day that expressed affection and respect—the unhesitating embrace, the honorific robe and ring, the shoes, and the special banquet. One cannot help reading between the lines of the parable: The father’s wise words of guidance and exemplary life had been disregarded and abandoned in the past by the younger son. Now, in the young man’s starvation and humiliation, the father’s undiminished love is all gentleness, feeding his boy’s desperate need of self-respect.

In contrast, to the older son the father speaks face to face, his few words building upon the son’s demonstrated desire to do what is right and consistently honorable. The older son’s self-indulgence was leagues from his brother’s “riotous living.” But the older boy had apparently indulged in years of smoldering self-righteousness, which burst into flames of bitterness at his brother’s restoration to full sonship.

“He restoreth my soul” (Psalms 23:3), writes the Psalmist in the beautiful and best-known psalm. And we watch the father in the parable of the prodigal doing just that with each of his beloved children. His words to the elder son—“All that I have is thine”—assure the young man that God’s love and goodness are not diminished but fully intact, no matter how complex, heart-rending, or often-rehearsed one’s individual circumstances may seem to be (see Luke 15:11–32).

Jesus’ divine method of healing never diminished

The underlying permanence and actuality of God, divine Love, enabled every step of Jesus’ ministry. For Christ Jesus, this Love was far more than some external benevolent guiding hand. It was the very Principle of his being, enabling him to explain frankly, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17); Jesus’ lifework—outwardly popular one moment, maligned and targeted for eradication the next—rested on something utterly distinct from fluctuating human hopes. Only his living conviction of the supremacy and permanence of divine goodness could have given rise to his assurance “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Conviction of the permanence of divine Love was also the basis of the Church established by the founder of this magazine to honor Christ Jesus’ lifework and to restore its full potential in the modern era, including that which had seemed largely lost over the centuries. The Church of Christ, Scientist, wrote Mrs. Eddy more than a century ago, was founded “to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing” (Church Manual, p. 17).

It was a startlingly bold statement for a tiny, fledgling group of New England Christians. For those who took note, Christian healings were the group’s only bona fides in making such a claim. There could never possibly be any other.

Underlying all Christian healing, underlying the restoration of that which seemed to be lost, is the demonstrable realness and permanence of divine Love, God—the Love that Christ Jesus tenderly illustrated for mankind. Mrs. Eddy writes, “Nothing is lost that God gives: …” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 111), echoing the great declaration of God’s creation recorded in Ecclesiastes: “Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever” (3:14).

Each Christianly scientific healing is living affirmation that the good God imparts can never actually be lost sight of. Each healing—no matter how large or small, no matter whether it is a healing of illness, sorrow, or wrongdoing—challenges and redefines the whole concept of loss. Within man’s God-bestowed consciousness of divine Truth’s allness and ever-presence, the term lost fades to obsolescence.

Referring to Christ Jesus’ cautionary words on the danger of clinging to belief in a mortal existence apart from God—“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it” (Matthew 16:25)—Mrs. Eddy writes, “He risks nothing who obeys the law of God, and shall find the Life that cannot be lost” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 211). Opening thought humbly to learn more of this Life, which Christ Jesus demonstrated for all of us, we find ourselves assured that loss of any good was never our history, could never be our destiny, is nothing real to be feared, nor ever crosses into the realm of the possible in divine Love’s ever-present spiritual universe, our only home.

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