Where is God when bad things happen? Part 4: Getting out of the mess we're in
with Deborah Huebsch
When it feels like the world is a mess, is it naive to think that God is still here ... or can somehow help? Our guest shares her own journey in getting to know—and experience—the divine power that, she says, is reliable help we can turn to and lean on no matter how big the problem
Deborah Huebsch: While I was in college, I had a really bad experience with the church that I was attending, and it was such a horrible moment for me because I thought if this is Christianity, I don’t want any part of it. If this is God, I don’t want any part of God either. And so I just opted out and became basically an agnostic and just sort of left any sense of deity or higher power. I just left it behind me.
Jenny Sawyer: That was Deborah Huebsch, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher from San Juan Capistrano, California. And you’re listening to Sentinel Watch. I’m Jenny Sawyer. It’s hard not to read the headlines on your phone or to turn on the TV without feeling like the world is a mess and the problems we’re facing are insurmountable. And for many, the events at home and globally raise the question of where is God when bad things are happening? So we’ve decided that question is our focus this month at Sentinel Watch. This week, we’re talking specifically about not just where God is, but also can God get us out of the mess we’re in? So, Deborah, after you left your belief in God behind, what happened?
It never occurred to me that there could be a power outside of myself. And so that’s where I was when Christian Science was introduced to me. And this woman said to me, “It’ll help.” And I was desperate. And I took Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. And I started to read it, and I thought it was, well, ridiculous. I thought it didn’t make any sense. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. But I kept reading and I came across two really incredible statements in the book. One was: “Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals” [p. 13]. And the other one was: “. . . Love supports the struggling heart until it ceases to sigh over the world and begins to unfold its wings for heaven” [p. 57]. And both of these statements somehow found my heart and I started reading with more attention. And gradually, by the time I finished the book, I was hooked. It was the truth. It was the truth of being, the truth of the universe, the truth that explains everything. And I recommend that anybody who needs help get a copy of this book Science and Health and read it. It’ll help you. It certainly did help me.
Yeah. Let’s go back to that moment when you’re given this copy of this book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Did you think that religion or spirituality or anything could in any way help you? I mean, did that seem absurd to you when you first got a copy of the book?
Well, yes. By this time I was a student at Cal Berkeley and I thought I was smart. And when she handed me this book, I said, “What is it?” She said, “It’s religion.” And I said, “I don’t need religion. I need help.” She said, “Well, this book will help you.” And I respected her and I wouldn’t want to be rude. So I took the book.
I love that phrase—I don’t need religion. I need help—because I think that’s how a lot of people feel that the two are not even connected.
I think that’s so true, Jenny, and I see it today more and more, because we’re so advanced in terms of technology that for some reason we think everything can be solved through technology. And what does that do to God or what does that do to a sense of a power outside of ourselves?
One of the things that really appealed to me about Christian Science was that it wasn’t all up to me and it wasn’t all about me—that there was something else, something bigger, better and more powerful that I could rely on. That was really appealing. And to be honest, it was a huge relief.
Yeah, I feel like looking at the world today, there are a lot of people I know who have that feeling that it is all up to them. You know, you look at these massive crises that we’re facing, and, you know, certainly people are doing amazing work and lots of different areas, be it climate change or helping to unify countries politically, deal with war, the aftermath of war, whatever it is. I mean, those efforts are amazing, but it seems like there’s also this underlying feeling of hopelessness or helplessness. Sometimes that kicks in because it just feels like the problems are so massive. You know, how much of a dent can we have in solving them?
I think, yes, I agree. And if we think it’s up to us, it does look pretty daunting.
How do we find that or recognize that if we don’t have any feeling of connection with it or even an understanding of what it would look like or feel?
I would say open up your thought. Just be open to something incredible, to a presence, a power, a force for good, an intelligence that exists way beyond any individual.
So how do we tap into that ourselves? What’s the process?
We’ll look at the universe. Don’t look at how we messed up the universe. Look, but look at the universe as it exists. Look at the intricate, delicate balance in nature. I find so many wonderful lessons from nature. I watch bluebirds nest in my backyard and watch the attention and the reliability and the exact thing needed for those birds to survive is there for them. And that, to me, is an example of God’s creation. It’s an example of intelligence at work. It’s an example of life being expressed, life that is full of promise. Full of good
Can you say a little bit more about that?
Well, for me, I look at the pictures of the earth that were taken from the moon, and here is this beautiful blue ball hanging. Just hanging there in space! And I think of the power that keeps that blue ball going, and it rotates and it’s got this wonderful system that is beneficial and that is inclusive and encouraging of life itself. And to me, that makes me get out of me and more into God.
And I know the word God is not even on people’s thought these days. So I like to think about God and in different ways. And Mary Baker Eddy and Science and Health asks the question, What is God? For me, the very very beginning of my study of Christian Science was, It’s not who is God? Because I thought God was a who, but God is a what.
Can you say a little bit more about that? The difference between the who and the what?
God isn’t a big person. And I always thought of God as an old man in the sky with a white robe and a white beard and that. And I always thought that’s what God was, that God sort of sat around somewhere out there in space and made decisions that affected me or not. But to discover that God was something totally different than that, an infinite presence, an infinite source of good and infinite intelligence. And I began to realize that there was a universe of Spirit, of spiritual reality that was so much bigger than anything I could see with my eyes or touch with my hands that the spiritual sense was an exquisite expression of the Divine that’s there for all of us. We just need to discover it.
It’s funny as you’re talking, Deborah, I was thinking about an experience I had a long time ago when I was at the airport, of all places. And, you know, airports can just seem so chaotic and busy. And you think about all those hundreds or thousands of pieces of luggage that are moving through, having to go to all the different planes and the people, people to the different terminals. And it’s actually rather overwhelming to think about how it could all possibly be orchestrated.
And as I was in the airport waiting in the security line and just kind of marveling like how is everything going to get to where it needs to go and your planes taking off at the right time and not crashing in mid-air. And it was the first time I felt I glimpsed that there had to be something bigger going on than just a bunch of people working really hard at keeping order because it felt like something beyond just, you know, getting the pieces just right on the chessboard. It felt like there was an actual principle of order, a law that superseded any sense or kind of human machinations that had to be at work. And that was a really awe-inspiring moment for me. I mean, again, who would have thought I would be so inspired at the airport, but it was just this amazing moment of really having a conscious recognition that there was something outside these human efforts that was at work, that I was actually seeing reflected in what was going on around me. And maybe we can talk a little bit more about what is it; about your understanding of God as you’ve learned about God and Christian Science. And we can use many other words, as you said, good or intelligence. What have you learned about this divine being that has helped you see the world more from that divine perspective?
That’s a really good question. One of the things that I attribute to God, to the Divine, is power. And that’s a power of good.
I can tell you a story that happened years ago where this power was really clearly discerned, clearly felt. We were living at the time at the very edge of a big wilderness preserve. And it was fire season in California. The Santa Ana winds were kicking up. And I got a call from somebody who lived across town who said, “The hill behind you is on fire!” And it was and the fire trucks were just starting to arrive. We lived three houses from this preserve.
And my husband and I put the cat in the carrier and I grabbed my phone and we ran down the street with the embers flying through the air, smoke billowing, and somebody picked us up. A friend picked us up and took us to his house. And we talked about the power of God in the face of what looked like an impending disaster and that this power of God is omnipotent. It is the only power, and if it’s the, if the good is really the ultimate only power, then it does win out over anything else. And while we were sitting in that house, the wind changed, totally reversed itself, blew the fire back; it didn’t touch a single house in this community. And the paper the next day said it was a miracle. But it was the recognition of God’s power, and this power is available to us wherever we are, whether we’re driving a car, whether we’re in a difficult situation in a battlefield. I know of people who have felt this power in the middle of impending disaster.
So there is a power—greater than the individual—that formed this universe, that sustains this universe and is reliable and can be trusted to continue to sustain this universe. This gives me hope in light of global, the climate change situation.
You know, I think a lot of people would say: “OK, that’s great. You experienced that in that particular situation. But, you know, look at all the examples of fires that have just burned and burned and burned and burned. How can we deal with that? How can we think about that in a way that’s actually helpful to our earth?”
I think atmosphere of thought has a lot to do with what happens externally, and I think the atmosphere of thought that starts wars, for example; it’s thought that starts it. And the thought then if there’s anger or if there is intergenerational trauma that hasn’t been worked out, that tends to be carried forth and carried out. It can be stopped and let it start with me. And that’s a big job to be doing, of course. But because the mental atmosphere is key to everything in the world, it all starts with thought. That’s where I think the solutions lie.
Well, it is interesting when you think about some of the words that can be used to describe people’s demeanor or way of relating like somebody being stormy or having a short fuse. Maybe those start to point us in the direction of how these mental elements that are at play aren’t just kind of held within like a brain or a human consciousness, but they’re actually expressed in an externalized fashion. And of course, that could be maybe, you know, an explosion between two people in a relationship. You’re taking it even a step further than that, though, and saying our actual climate is made up of these thought-forces in a way. Do I have that right?
Yes, I think that’s right. I think, “What is climate, but the outward expression of thought?” There’s a rock concert and we’re done with COVID and people are really enjoying the rock concert. They’re jumping around. They’re thrilled. There’s a feeling in the air of joy, of exuberance. There’s ,and so I think this is catching.
I think consciousness is something that communicates, and there is a larger consciousness called world thought or world consciousness. We talk about globalization. What is that but a conscious awareness of a need to work together or, and that’s probably not a very politically correct thing to say for some people who don’t believe in globalization. But treaties, peace treaties, where do they start? What are they? A peace treaty starts with some place in someone’s thought that yearns for peace, and then that gets transmitted, communicated, and pretty soon it happens and it becomes outwardly expressed in a cease-fire. Maybe that’s where it starts. And then it goes from there, hopefully to a more secure sense of peace, perhaps a treaty where people sit down and negotiate and try to work things out. It all has to start with the individual, and each one of us contributes to the climate of the planet.
And what are we contributing? Are we contributing thoughts of peace, thoughts of harmony, thoughts of trust in each other? And then to take that a little further, to trust that there is a divine tent that embraces and includes everyone.
How do you think our understanding of (we’ll just call God God for the moment) relates to all of this?
I think that the individual opening up to the possibilities of the infinite. Enlarge, expand. It creates an atmosphere of the awareness of good that is more, much more universal, and we sort of tap into this sense of universal good, which means that we then can express it. But it’s the understanding of the bigger than me that gives me, that empowers me to be able to do more good. It enables me to be more loving, to be more considerate.
It also expands the sense of the individual’s ability because of, let’s say, the IQ. I mean, I was told when I graduated from high school that I didn’t have the IQ to go to a four-year school and I should go to a two-year college and just get a trade. Like being a secretary is what I was told. And then when I learned of, and I was not doing well in school before, I discovered that there is this universal intelligence that is available to everyone. And so when I understood a little bit about that and I knew that I wasn’t limited by myself, I was not a limited person that had a limited IQ that would determine what I did and how I did. I began to see that this is a universal, incredibly infinite sense of intelligence that was there available for me to use in my own experience.
Well, and I think that’s another really unique aspect, I think, of the way Christian Science defines reality is our relation to this divine being that we’re not over here. I mean, as much as I think language fails us to a large degree when we talk about this, because it’s hard to talk about this concept of oneness. That is central to our relationship with God, because it can feel like we’re over here accessing something of the infinite, but I think it’s a different relationship than that
We are part of the infinite. We’re not outside of the infinite. How could we be outside the infinite if the infinite is infinite? You know, we are not; we are part of it. We are an integral expression of the infinite; each one of us has that ability in that relationship. And so we all together make up God’s creation, and it’s a beautiful, wonderful, expansive thing. And as we are able to align our thought and our conscious awareness with that, we are able then to be more effective in our own individual lives. In other words, it goes beyond the individual limits and opens up the infinite, which is just totally amazing.
It feels to me, Deborah, like there’s a different perspective you start to get on things, a different perspective. You start to have the universe in terms of what your starting point is. And I know I can only speak for myself here. But, you know, sometimes when I read the news, I feel like I’m just one little person drowning under this Niagara Falls of problems, which is a very me-centric, me-oriented perspective. It’s well-meaning because I want to do something to help, but it still feels like I am this one small being. What am I supposed to do with all of this? But it sounds like you approach things from a different vantage point.
Yes, I think of the Niagara Falls of the problems. Put that in the infinite. What does that look like? The infinite good, the infinite source of life and of joy and of beauty. I think the way to solve the problems, even the huge global problems, is to get the sense of even bigger than global as infinite. And that helps me a lot.
So let’s imagine a scenario in which somebody is wanting to pray more effectively about any number of things in the world. Speaking from your perspective, as someone who’s been praying about things for a while now, what’s a good starting point? Where to begin?
I think defining or letting God be defined to us individually is key here. What is God? Starting there and recognizing that God is divine, that God is all-powerful, that God is intelligence, that God is a presence, a universal presence for good. Not praying in a formulaic way where you always have to do a certain prayer or taking something that we’ve loved, like the Lord’s Prayer, and letting that prayer expand in our thought.
For example, the Lord’s Prayer starts with Our Father. Oh, my word. Our Father. Well, that takes it right out of a personal sense, a limited sense of me, me, me, me-centric, as you said. It takes it to universal, a universal sense of fathering, a fatherhood and Father. Oh, my word. Just letting that unfold. What does that mean? That means that we have a protector, not a person, but a power that protects. We have a guide, again not a person, but a sense of intelligence that guides. So to me, let my thinking just sort of open up to the infinite; open up to the amazing whole all big thing called God. It’s what works for me, and sometimes in my own prayer for myself, I say, “OK, God, show me You. Introduce me to You. Let me see more of You. This infinite presence that is surrounding, embracing, and caring for each of us.”
As you were talking, I was thinking about—just a phrase came to mind—Let God take center stage. And I love that as a switch because I feel so often it’s the problems that want to take center stage. They want to just completely occupy and consume our thoughts.
And some of that may be because we want to help solve them. You know, we want to find solutions. And some of that may just be complete fear and consternation and paralysis because we have no idea what to do.
But I know in my own life those moments when I feel, you know, either frozen because I just, I don’t even know where to begin dealing with something or praying about something. Or maybe like apathy is kicking in to a certain degree or something because it just feels like, “Oh, what can I even do,” to realize that I have this starting point of God that can be defined in so many ways, and that’s one thing that I love about Christian Science is, you know, between the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy’s book Science and Health, there are just so many concrete ways to get more of a sense of God. You know, I mean, you can’t take something infinite and make it finite. So each of these things only gets at some of the aspects of God’s nature. But when you put them all together, you start to have this really robust sense of what God is and that there is, that all these aspects of God and qualities of what God is, are there to be kind of counter facts to or solutions to whatever the problem is that’s presenting itself.
Right. I love to think about the fact that thinking out of the box is an expression we all know about. And sometimes we get so used to thinking in a certain way that we’ve sort of put it in a box. And for me, not only thinking out of the box, but recognizing there is no box, just opens everything up and enables me to almost hear, I don’t hear in a voice but I feel I hear, I have a spiritual quickening that happens because I’m out of me and my circumscribed little life. And I touch the heart of the infinite just a little bit, but because it’s infinite, it is always going to be expansive. It feels like an exploration; it becomes an absolute joy to open up to this wonderful sense of God and God’s presence and power and goodness,
I’m wondering if there’s anything, any way you’ve come to know God, that has been particularly helpful to you or maybe brought healing in some situation.
I had a skin cancer on my arm. It was never diagnosed as cancer, but I have seen other people who have had diagnoses and this looked very much like that. And finally a friend looked at this and said, “What is that?” And that sort of galvanized me. And I remember thinking that this couldn’t be from God. And I really believe that God does fill all space and that anything that is ungodlike doesn’t have ultimate reality to it. And because of that, when we see the ultimate reality of something, what isn’t real disappears.
When you say it couldn’t be from God, what do you mean?
God is good. And so God can’t be anything other than what God is, and so God can’t be anything but good. And we know from the first chapter of Genesis that God saw all that He had made. And behold, it was very good. So this couldn’t be from God. It couldn’t be part of God. Therefore, because God created me, I couldn’t have anything that God didn’t have either, and in no time at all, it was gone.
So would you say then that it was really your understanding of the goodness of God that was the foundation for your prayers, that was the rather than starting from the perspective of what a divine goodness make, what is it cause? What is the essence of divine goodness of which you are the expression? Would you say that it was that shift, that understanding of God, that brought the shift, that brought healing?
Yes. I realized that I could put the lens of prayer onto it, shine the light of prayer onto it, and in that prayer. Starting with God, as we’ve said, that God is the creator of this universe and God is good and so everything that’s real is good, so then what does that do with what isn’t good like disease?
Well, it can’t stand up to good, can’t stand up to that measure. And Jesus said the devil was a liar and the father of it. And so anything that isn’t good we would characterize as a lie; something that isn’t real isn’t true. Mrs. Eddy has defined God in part as Truth. This is a synonym that she uses, a name she uses, for God. And Truth is an incredibly powerful concept because truth wins every time. A lie can never destroy Truth, but Truth destroys lies. And in my own prayer, I could begin to see that this diseased condition on my arm had to be a lie because it wasn’t part of Truth or God, good. And it had no basis; it had no foundation. A lie is destroyed by Truth.
So in your experience, getting this fuller concept of the nature of divine good shifted your view, eliminated anything that would try to argue to the contrary that there could be something other than good, and the effect was your body changed. There was a tangible expression of that change of thought. So that must work for bigger issues, too, then, right?
Absolutely, absolutely. So if we can see some of the things that are going on, fires, for example, wildfires, dishonesty, war, ultimately, when seen through the lens of God’s goodness, they cannot have permanence. They can’t have any kind of ultimate reality. They can’t. God is bigger than war, God is—peace is more powerful than war. Health is more powerful than disease. These are aspects of God’s reality and Truth’s reality and Life’s reality—Life another term for God. And when we get in touch with these absolute facts of being, these spiritual facts, what doesn’t line up with them has no foothold.
What would you say to a younger person out there who wants to help, who wants to help heal the world, but doesn’t have a clear concept of God or even maybe a faith that there is a God?
Be open to the fact that there might be. Trust. Trust that good will prevail. And there have been examples throughout history where good has prevailed, maybe not every time and in every circumstance. But when the end of the day comes and we see a sunset, we think the sun has set; it appears very much like the sun has set. But looking at it from the sun’s point of view, there are no sunsets. The days don’t end, and so I think my prayer is an effort to see that the sun doesn’t set, and I would encourage anyone who feels helpless to trust that there is a bigger, a more powerful sense; this is available to mankind and we can pray and trust that these answers will come because it’s the nature of the divine to heal, to bless, to supply mankind. And wherever this young person or anybody who’s looking for a way to help, if they can just open their hearts and listen for what steps can be taken, that’s going to help. You ask hard question, Jenny!
Well, what I really like about that answer is, in a way to me it says, What alternative do we have? You know, I think for everyone who’s feeling hopeless or helpless and has reached the point of I don’t know what else to do, well try out God. There’s no downside.
Amen, that’s right.
Is there anything else that you want to share, Deborah?
I wish for everyone that they could find the confidence that good will prevail because good is a power that does overcome evil, war, hatred, selfishness; that that will predominate. And I would love if everyone could just open up their hearts to see that, that will help bring it about.
Well, Deborah, thank you so much for being here with us today.
Been a pleasure, Jenny. Thank you.
I’ve been speaking with Deborah Huebsch, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher from San Juan Capistrano, California. We’ve spent this month focused on one big question, “Where is God when bad things happen?” Be sure to check out our other programs in the series if you haven’t already and we’d also love to hear from you! Have you ever felt God’s presence right in the middle of something difficult? Let us know. Please send in your comments and questions right on the Sentinel Watch episode page where it says, Send a comment to the editors. We look forward to hearing from you. You’ve been listening to Sentinel Watch a weekly production of the Christian Science Sentinel. I’m Jenny Sawyer.
Please note, this transcript is an accurate representation of the podcast audio, it was not edited for print.