Reject the pull of the past
It is one of the most famous last lines in all of American fiction. Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, it speaks to the seeming pull of mortal thinking that would keep us from getting beyond past mistakes or failures and rising to spiritual heights: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Elegant prose—but still fiction. The fact, as revealed in the teachings of Christian Science, is that error pushes in vain against what Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, describes in her textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, as “the current running heavenward” (p. 106)—the spiritual premises that bear man upward, impel spiritual progress, and counteract the gravitational pull of mortal thinking.
To human sense, man is governed by conflicting impulses: the tendency, on the one hand, toward things spiritual and uplifting, and an equal tendency, on the other, toward things material and debasing—an echo of the axiom in physics that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
This is something the Apostle Paul understood full well: “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:21–23).
The sins of Paul’s past were expunged when he encountered and accepted the light of the Christ on the road to Damascus.
But Paul also knew the source of deliverance from the negative influence—“the law of sin”—that would claim the power to draw backward and retard forward progress. Of all people, Paul would know. His early career, marked by a history of brutal persecution directed toward Christians, would seem likely to have imposed a heavy debt on his future. But the sins of his past were expunged when he encountered and accepted the light of the Christ on the road to Damascus. And when he was healed of his temporary blindness by Ananias, the very scales—symbolizing perhaps the pride that had characterized his past behavior—fell from his eyes (see Acts 9:1–18). The result was to open the door to a future of nearly unprecedented service to God. So thorough was his transformation that his very name, representing his nature, was changed—from Saul to Paul.
The spiritual law that Christ Jesus taught and demonstrated, and that Paul came to understand, enables man “to walk over, not into or with, the currents of matter, or mortal mind” (Unity of Good, p. 11), to use Mrs. Eddy’s words. The Christ, Truth, elucidated in the teachings of Christian Science, contradicts the suggestion that error has the power to contest, contend with, or counteract Truth.
In Science, God and man are inseparable. God’s irresistible spiritual laws of “adhesion, cohesion, and attraction” (Science and Health, p. 124) bind man in unbreakable unity with God. Between God and man no error can enter in. There can be no void for error to fill and thereby find lodgment in human consciousness, or blunt the irresistible attraction of Spirit. With the primacy of Truth established in human consciousness, man is purified and sanctified, which not only enables him but causes him to progress Spiritward.
Paul understood, as he expressed it to the Philippians, that the key is not to look back, not to be held in the grip of old modes of thinking, not to be fascinated by past errors or misfortunes. It lies in “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.” This enabled him, he says, to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).
Through the transforming power of Spirit, the tendency of the past to dictate our future is thoroughly eradicated.
The old saying that a watched pot never boils may have derived from the habit of repeatedly lifting the lid to see if the water is boiling—which, of course, delays the heating process. And so it is that the more often we look back with regret to “those things which are behind”; the more we divert our attention from prayer to the contemplation of some past misdeed or injustice; the more we contemplate perceived shortcomings in our prayers or in ourselves; the more often we look to matter to see if healing is taking place—the more we do these things—the longer it will take for the pot to boil, for the healing work to be accomplished, and for our forward progress to be assured.
In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy notes that “the materialism and sensualism of the age” are “struggling against the advancing spiritual era” (p. 65). It’s noteworthy that it is the spiritual era that is doing the advancing, and that the materialism and sensualism of the age are doing the struggling.
Thus it is that every tendency to be drawn backward—like the longing of the children of Israel to return to the fleshpots of Egypt—is counteracted by the Moses-like vision of the Promised Land of spiritual regeneration and healing. It is this vision, premised on spiritual truth, that draws us irresistibly forward. It expunges the unhappy human record and releases us from the bondage of memories of past disappointments and destructive patterns of thought and behavior. Through the transforming power of Spirit, the tendency of the past to dictate our future is thoroughly eradicated. Man thereby escapes the fatalism that God’s children are merely, in Fitzgerald’s words, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
“Error has no power but to destroy itself,” Mrs. Eddy writes. “It cannot harm you; it cannot stop the eternal currents of Truth” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 157).