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NOT 'IF' OR 'WHEN'

From the September 5, 2005 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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"When will terrorists detonate a nuclear device in the United States?" This question, which for years lurked unspoken beneath numberless discussions on terrorism, now regularly vaults into the public discourse. A recent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by Pakistani professor of nuclear and high-energy physics, Pervez Hoodbhoy, was simply titled "When?" The image of a mushroom cloud filled the page behind the title. As if anticipating that some anxious readers would want to retitle his piece "If," he noted soberly, "Some nuclear weapons experts say privately that it is not a question of if but when the attack will happen" ("When?" by Pervez Hoodbhoy, www.latimes.com, July 10, 2005).

"THE DIVINE LOVE, which made harmless the poisonous viper, which delivered men from the boiling oil, from the fiery furnace, from the jaws of the lion, ... can heal the sick in every age and triumph over sin and death." — Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scripturesp. 243

Hoodbhoy, encouragingly, does not share that nightmare outlook. He sees hope for ratcheting down the danger level, diminishing the acrimony on the international scene, joining forces with others intent on preserving the peace and safety of humanity, and dissipating the fear. He sees ways of effectively reducing nuclear stockpiles, as well as shutting down avenues through which terrorists might acquire them. Despite the title of his piece, for him it's still a question of if not when.

I found comfort in that.

But not enough. Hearing about "If a nuclear disaster . . ." rather than "When a nuclear disaster . . ." seemed nowhere near acceptable. If was looking like a cheerless term. When was looking a lot worse.

Instead of replacing the word when or erasing it, I tried running at it head-on. I looked up every use of when in the Bible, all 2,672 of them. You know what I found? Powerfully healing promises. I found assurances that when one turns to the Almighty, light and guidance and safety — and most of all, a life without fear — begin to appear. Consider just a few of these examples, culled from the thousands of possibilities:

• "When I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me" (Mic. 7:8).

• "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none . . . I the God of Israel will not forsake them" (Isa. 41:17).

• "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned" (Isa. 43:2).

• "When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).

As I considered these divine promises, along with others from the Scriptures, my outlook brightened. Here were spiritual insights, powerful facts that I knew from experience had a transforming effect. I began to get it. I could do something to make a difference. I could pray. The prophets of disaster don't have the final word; they don't have the divinely inspired Word. The true and lasting verdict about today and tomorrow comes only from the God who is immortal Mind, who knows and governs all through His benign and certain law. I could acknowledge this. When that acknowledgment, which is pure prayer, fills one's thought, it does make a difference. Fear begins to lessen.

It's curious. As words, when and fear are about as common as mud on a riverbank. But they share an uncommon link that I hadn't noticed before. When refers to a moment in time, often a moment in the future. Fear anticipates in time, but it's always a moment in the future. You and I are seldom fearful of something happening right now. It's always the dread of something in the future that triggers fear, even if the future is just a split-second away. But when people look forward to a future unfolding under the rule of divine law, the culture of fear recedes. It concedes space to a culture of confidence in God's presence. The future, like the present, really is within the jurisdiction of divine rule.

That's it, I realized. When my expectation for tomorrow is framed by promises from God, rather than by prophecies of terrorism, I help defeat the culture of fear. I increase the reasons to feel assured. I usher into human consciousness more of the Spirit of truth, more of the conviction that one God, one Mind, is here to guide all people toward saner solutions.

Everyone benefits: you, me, even a would-be terrorist. That's right. A less fearful person is a person less likely to take irrational or self-destructive action. A less fearful person is one who is a bit more flexible and therefore more open to negotiation. It's not normal for anyone to drift toward committing terrorist acts. But it is normal for all of humanity to drift toward the Mind that is God, and toward the laws through which He governs. When you and I realize this, it favorably alters the mental climate. Now, and tomorrow; here, and elsewhere. When our expectations for tomorrow grow from our glimpses of the one divine Mind that we all share, reasons for fear erode. Fanaticism, which is never native to humanity, becomes less persuasive. The basis for calm expands. Fellowship becomes more the norm.

When we understand that divine law is in force in tangible, practical ways, the world becomes a safer place. Our normal drift Godward breaks the tethers of selfish, matter-based thinking.

When we understand that divine law is in force in tangible, practical ways, the world becomes a safer place. Our normal drift Godward breaks the tethers of selfish, matter-based thinking. We move more in the realm of His law — a law that preserves harmony, preserves brotherhood and peace. Even if the gains at first seem modest and circumstances still call out for further healing, we will glimpse that we're trending rightly. Fear continues to lessen.

To be absolutely precise about it, the knowing of pure Mind is above the reach of time. That means that in the realm of Mind there is no future threat, no fear-inducing possibility down the road. From God's perspective, His is the only realm there is. There is no future moment in which to spawn fear of any kind. There is just Mind knowing and loving, throughout timeless existence, its own ideas, its own deep contents, its own reflection — that's you and me. In the Mind that is God, all ideas exist in unthreatened harmony. Security stands undisputed. Fearlessness is an absolute, a universal.

Mary Baker Eddy discovered what could be termed the divine Science of safety. She also spelled out its application to the human condition. In a passage that is both an invaluable assurance and an alert to potential hindrances, she said, "When we realize that there is one Mind, the divine law of loving our neighbor as ourselves is unfolded; whereas a belief in many ruling minds hinders man's normal drift towards the one Mind, one God, and leads human thought into opposite channels where selfishness reigns" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 205).

"When we realize that there is one Mind." That's not too tough an assignment for you and for me. And the rewards are enormous — rewards such as peace on earth, a life without terror, no more culture of fear. Pure Mind is at hand and in control. This Mind perpetually makes itself known, keeps its power available and accessible to us, and delivers us from harm. When? Right now. Each moment. The divine Mind provides safety and peace of mind for every one of us.

Channing Walker is a contributing editor and Christian Science practitioner. He lives in Glendora, California.

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