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Idea or thought?

From The Christian Science Journal - August 7, 2013

When we’re doing some spiritual studying, perhaps reading something familiar, it can be tempting to get into an “I already know that” or “I’ve covered that concept before” mode of thinking. But I’ve found that blessings result when I stop myself from falling into that trap and dig deeper. This is important, especially when studying “huge” metaphysical and spiritual concepts. Mary Baker Eddy reminded us of how important deep study is in practicing Christian Science when she wrote, “The time for thinkers has come” on the first page of the preface of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (p. vii).

One day, while reading Science and Health, I ran across this sentence: “To attend properly the birth of the new child, or divine idea, you should so detach mortal thought from its material conceptions, that the birth will be natural and safe” (p. 463). I’d studied this passage countless times before and how it applies to new beginnings—whether it be the start of a new business, composing a song, or starting a relationship. I figured I already knew what it meant. But rather than being tempted to skip over the citation, I stopped to consider it a bit more.

What really struck me was Mrs. Eddy’s careful usage of the words idea and thought. As I dug further into Eddy’s writings, I found that she writes about idea as not having bodily connotations, but as a term to describe our relationship to God, Spirit. For example, Eddy uses phrases such as “idea of Spirit,” “spiritual idea,” or “idea of God,” but we don’t find phrases such as “mortal idea” or “material idea.” Instead, Eddy uses “mortal thought” or “material thought.” These thoughts are not divinely derived, but are the opposite of what Eddy describes as angels or “God’s thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect; the inspiration of goodness, purity, and immortality, counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality” (Science and Health, p. 581). This got me wondering—what is the difference between thought and idea?

I looked up these words in a few dictionaries and found idea to be more objective. It can be literally defined as “that which is seen” (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1828). An idea has within it a purpose and a plan and often represents understanding (such as “I get the idea”). An idea is “a rational conception” and represents “the complete conception of an object” (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913). One dictionary defines idea as “a transcendent entity that is a real pattern of which existing things are imperfect representations” (

On the other hand, I found thought to be defined as more subjective. Whether it be reflection, meditation, consideration, or contemplation, thought is an exercise of inward reasoning. Human thoughts are often based on opinion or judgment rather than fact. But Eddy points out that “God’s thoughts are perfect and eternal, are substance and Life. Material and temporal thoughts are human, involving error, and since God, Spirit, is the only cause, they lack a divine cause” (Science and Health, p. 286). Therefore, thought has no real substance unless it supports a complete, genuine, and spiritual idea.

Thought has no real substance unless it supports a complete and truthful idea.

In studying the deeper meanings of these words, I’ve come to value the concept of man as a divine idea of God. And this concept includes woman as well. I realized that because each of us is an idea of divine Mind, God, we are complete, full of purpose, and operate under God’s divine plan. Eddy wrote, “Spiritual man is the image or idea of God, an idea which cannot be lost nor separated from its divine Principle” (Science and Health, p. 303). So what does this mean for us here in the human condition where, “Absorbed in material selfhood we discern and reflect but faintly the substance of Life or Mind” (Science and Health, p. 91)?

Moment by moment, God is sending His divine message to human consciousness through the Christ, “the true idea voicing good” (Science and Health, p. 332), showing us how to demonstrate the blessings of being God’s idea. Through spiritual sense we can hear this divine message and gain confidence, peace, health, and harmony. We also have the example Christ Jesus gave us of how to represent God’s idea most clearly, by bringing compassion, healing, and comfort to the world.

And we have angels—“pure thoughts from God, winged with Truth and Love” (Science and Health, p. 298). These angels are a result of God’s deep self-awareness of His precious creation. We are never outside of the scope of this divine thought and awareness. 

So, when we feel lost in mortal thought, confusion and doubt, we can remember that God is always speaking to us and showing us the way. And, as Revelation 5:11 puts it, we have “many angels … ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” that protect us, nurture us, and show us God’s goodness here and now. 

Last winter, I was able to apply my new understanding of myself as a divine idea during a long road trip. Several problems came up during the trip. First, the “low oil” light came on when I was on the highway. Then I encountered an icy patch on a mountain road and slid into a ditch. Later my car battery died late in the night when I began my journey back home.

When each of these issues arose, I affirmed, “I am God’s idea, complete and protected.” I knew God was, and always is, with me, imparting everything I need to know in order be safe. Since I am an idea of divine Mind, my purpose is defined by that one and only Mind. It is my job simply to express God’s plan for me. At each step, I felt comfortable and confident in continuing the trip, because it was directed by divine Love and was ordered by divine Principle. 

I was easily able to find an auto parts store, where I purchased the exact type of oil that I needed. When I slid off the icy road, I found myself literally just across the road from a friend with a heavy pickup truck, who pulled my car out of the ditch. And when I needed a jump for the car battery, my brother was nearby and had jumper cables. He was available right at the necessary time to give my car a jump start. I was then able to drive for ten more hours to complete the trip, and made it home without any further problems.

As we move through life, we have daily opportunities to realize that we are ideas of the Divine. Relinquishing mortal thoughts such as fear, doubt, confusion, and worry makes way in consciousness for our spiritual sense to flourish. Naturally, this keeps us safe.

Sue Holzberlein is a Christian Science practitioner in Ashby, Massachusetts.

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