Protest and progress
Protests against injustice around the globe have often brought progress despite stiff resistance from entrenched and corrupt interests. Many that moved the public heart are remembered for simple but powerful messages, such as the 1968 march of black sanitation collectors in the United States protesting for better working conditions. They wore signs that said, “I am a man.”
Human beings aren’t commodities to be used and thrown away. Each has worth and intelligence to respect. The protest “I am a man” is even more potent when you consider a spiritual meaning of the word man. The Bible’s opening chapter says, “God created man in his own image …; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27).
Lasting progress comes from understanding what man in God’s image is, and yet too often people don’t probe the revolutionary meaning of that idea. The word God essentially means good. Good isn’t a material commodity, but a spiritual reality, present and knowable by everyone, particularly as love. Man as the image of God is innately spiritual, expressing male and female qualities of goodness, such as strength, wisdom, and kindness.
Christian Science is a protest movement in the most basic sense. It uncovers and opposes the material reductionism that would make us regard and treat people in ways that make one less able or valued than another. Its goal is to bring justice and well-being to all in the way Christ Jesus did—by bringing to light the image of God each one truly is. Jesus stopped a mob from stoning a woman, called out corruption, and healed people of diseases considered incurable. He didn’t do this by personal force, but by the power of Truth that filled his consciousness and governed his actions.
In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures Mary Baker Eddy wrote that Jesus’ “humble prayers were deep and conscientious protests of Truth,—of man’s likeness to God, and of man’s unity with Truth and Love” (p. 12).
It’s enlightening to look for prayers of protest in Jesus’ sayings. Here’s one example: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus said that after he’d spent many days alone praying and struggling with feelings of evil’s power. He was hungry. The obvious prayer might have been to ask God for food. Instead, in the face of the threat that his life depended on physical sustenance, he protested that a purely spiritual power, always present, sustains man. And without knowing more details, we know he was sustained.
Jesus addressed suffering on a deeper level than temporary fixes. He understood the primacy of thought to governing experience and that the enemy to overcome is the belief that material conditions form and control life. Rejecting this belief in his own consciousness day after day proved practical. It enabled Jesus to provide food for many when it didn’t look possible and restore strength to many weakened by disabilities.
Prayer affirming man’s likeness to God can free people from all sorts of trouble. At a testimony meeting I attended in a Christian Science church, a woman told how a man had entered the Reading Room where she worked and threatened to kill her. As he held a bat over her head she asked him how she could help him. After she repeated that the Reading Room was there to help him, he put the bat down and left. I have no doubt that her daily efforts to see man as the image of God kept her from panic and helped the man regain his right mind in that instance.
Jesus progressively gained power over the big injustices of sin, sickness, and death by the protests he made for man’s original goodness and immortality: “Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven”; “Before Abraham was, I am”; “He that believeth on me [not just who he was, but also the truth he lived and taught] hath everlasting life” (Matthew 23:9, John 8:58, John 6:47).
Prayer affirming man’s likeness to God can free people from all sorts of trouble.
Like an athlete lifting progressively heavier weights, these deep, conscientious declarations strengthened him to finally overcome death. How long it will take us to reach his level of understanding, purity, and power, we don’t know. But claiming our eternal, spiritual life as the image of God helps us now, to protest, instead of resign to, limiting circumstances of birth as well as those believed to lead to death. Protest brings progress, and God’s infinite love helps us to freedom even as it helped Jesus.
One more protest Jesus made that’s as important to the world’s progress now as it was then is that hell itself couldn’t stop his church, the community of humble people that would spread his way of living. That wouldn’t have been easy to believe if you consider what was in front of him—a few followers who often got afraid, didn’t understand him a lot of the time, and argued with each other.
Instead of being discouraged by their limitations or daunted by the fierce opposition they would face in carrying on his work, Jesus’ prayer of protest was that they were in fact the light of the world. Each individual’s prayers are important, but even two or three who come together with protests of Truth are a city of light that dead-end materialism can’t hide.
Prayer is many things in addition to protest. It’s desiring to be more kind, generous, and self-forgetful; thanking God for blessings; witnessing to the beauty and goodness of the universe and man.
What’s crucial about prayers of protest is that they expose and denounce the fundamental injustice that underlies all others: that man is material and sinful, rather than the all-good image of God.
“I am a man” (God’s image) is the basis of progress for all creation.
Member of the Christian Science Board of Directors