Many people today are talking more openly about the tougher questions of human existence. One of those more difficult questions may be what to think when a truly good and spiritually illumined person unexpectedly passes on. Perhaps one's first impulse is to feel the very heavens should open and weep at the magnitude of the human loss.
I remember one instance when that was my feeling. But I also recall that, as I reached out to God for help, this initial feeling was soon followed by a flood of spiritual inspiration and conviction—so much so that grief was irresistibly taken away. It was simply no longer there; it had been replaced by a recognition of the definite presence of spiritual light and truth. And in this strong sense of spiritual order, there could be no doubt that God maintains the life and individuality of man, regardless of the appearance of death. It was obvious, in fact, that to hold on to the emotions one had first felt would have been to insist on gripping something less worthy and less real than what was being freely given by Spirit, God.
There is healing at hand if we're willing to admit what is already present and answering our prayer. The Master, Christ Jesus, said to his disciples: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14:27. This same Christ, Truth, or spirit of Life, lifts us, if we'll let it, into the undeniable perception of spiritual reality, the order and presence of the kingdom of God here with us.
But a self-centered, personal sense sometimes seems to get in the way of our recognizing the presence of Christ. Perhaps the argument persists in thought, "Well, if this spiritually-minded person can fail to be healed through prayer, what hope is there for me?"
If we stand back and examine the question, we realize it is based on a conception of personal capacity—or the lack of it. There is help in a chapter called "Is There no Death?" in Mary Baker Eddy's book Unity of Good. Our Leader writes forthrightly: "I have by no means spoken of myself, I cannot speak of myself as 'sufficient for these things.' I insist only upon the fact, as it exists in divine Science, that man dies not, and on the words of the Master in support of this verity,—words which can never 'pass away till all be fulfilled.'" Un., p. 43.
We can see that Mrs. Eddy's assurance rested in the power of what she had seen to command her allegiance and her life. For each of us as well, it is the nature of God's all-inclusive spiritual reality dawning on thought that brings us healing and assurance. Our need is to receive this new wonder and go forward with it, not limit its appearing with questions based on our old impressions of mortal existence.
We are learning in hundreds of ways that the physical senses deceive. Every healing, however small, teaches that fact by teaching the spiritual rather than the material nature of life —and so is a step toward understanding that mortality is illusion. Man cannot die, because God is Life, entirely contrary to what the world has come to define as life. All our spiritual experience bears this out, and our honesty to what we are learning helps to protect us from the world's mesmeric insistence on conventional error.
We can give up what amounts to a false faith in death—and we'll progress more rapidly in this direction through our honesty and increased spiritual integrity. Mrs. Eddy indicates why this progress is so important, not just for ourselves but for humanity, when she writes: "The relinquishment of all faith in death and also of the fear of its sting would raise the standard of health and morals far beyond its present elevation, and would enable us to hold the banner of Christianity aloft with unflinching faith in God, in Life eternal." Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 426.
God has and holds forever man's spiritual perfection. If we are finding in association with someone the convincing views of spiritual truth that we so much cherish, we are in fact learning something about man as the reflection of the Life that is God. Therefore the passing of a mortal person does not and cannot say that the power of God is a fiction. Nor does it limit the ongoing immortal life of the individual being of whom we had seen barely an outline in this world.
There are no exalted, perfect mortals; but there can be an exaltation of Christ in human consciousness. Each human being is working out his own salvation, and often as onlookers we do not have an accurate knowledge either of the challenges he or she may be facing in human consciousness or of the tremendous spiritual victories already achieved.
Another suggestion that may come to thought is that one might lead a safer, longer life if one were to remain invisible and uncommitted. Who can help thinking of Jesus' words in connection with this devilish attempt to hold all humanity in timid bondage: "Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it"? Luke 17:33.
Safety cannot be found in any unaltered sense of mortal living. There is only one way to have more security and more life, and that is to proceed in discovering and proving that God really is the source of man's life.
Mrs. Eddy deals with the superstition that it is ultimately harmful to be and do good when she writes in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health: "That man does not pay the severest penalty who does the most good. By adhering to the realities of eternal existence,—instead of reading disquisitions on the inconsistent supposition that death comes in obedience to the law of life, and that God punishes man for doing good,—one cannot suffer as the result of any labor of love, but grows stronger because of it." Science and Health, p. 387. And through trial after trial that certainly looked extremely threatening, this adherence to eternal realities enabled Mrs. Eddy to move forward to complete her mission.
How shall we think of those who have passed on? Correctly, honestly, and with great love. We know they disbelieve in death more fully than ever before, that they live. We know that they expected us to pick up the standard, not let it fall in the dust.
We can honor the real meaning of their lives only through our own allegiance to the Life that is God, not through subservience to what our Leader terms "the drear subtlety of death." No and Yes, p. 35. And we can, like Elisha standing with Elijah, pray with all our heart to see truly what is happening—to see the events of human existence in the context of the spiritual understanding that God gives—and so receive "a double portion" II Kings 2:9. of the spirit of those who have been faithful.
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