Shaking off the Beast

After Paul's notable shipwreck while on his journey to Rome, the natives of the island of Melita received him kindly, kindling a fire because of the rain and the cold. When Paul had gathered a bundle of fuel to throw on the fire, a viper came "out of the heat, and fastened on his hand." He shook off "the venomous beast" into the fire, and betrayed no concern for his own safety. Those standing around him had expected that "he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly;" but after they had waited a long time and seen no evil result, they changed their opinion and thought Paul must be a god!

Paul handled the error by shaking off the beast. This meant more than a merely physical act. Statements and narratives in the Bible often bear a metaphysical interpretation beyond the literal fact. It makes no difference that the error was named "viper"; it might just as well have been called "hate" or "murder." Paul, the practical Christian, had put on what he called the "whole armour of God;" and he met the error with the efficient use of spiritual weapons.

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It is notable that the viper struck at Paul while he was doing good and useful work. He had just come safely through a terrifying experience of cold and exposure, of hunger and shipwreck, an experience that had filled with despair his companions, who were not animated by the faith that sustained the apostle. When all about him were fallen into distress, this man of action had stepped forward, handling the situation on lines of practical good sense. In this moment of success error struck at him. It appears that men in Paul's time were very much like those of our own day; for they looked to see him fall down. When he did not succumb, but showed power over the error by shaking off the beast without harm, they acclaimed him "a god," "after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him."

Paul not only got rid of a venomous foe, but gave a lesson in divine protection. We know from the Glossary of our textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy, that "fire" stands for destruction (see p. 586). But "fire" also indicates "affliction purifying and elevating man" (ibid.); and so it presents the thought of demonstration. Again, it makes no difference what name the beast or error may bear. Call it by any name, or describe it by any symptom, still there always remains the opportunity for a right demonstration over the belief.

It is noteworthy that those who witnessed Paul's handling of the error perceived a power or ability which they did not possess and did not understand. This perception of healing power is not unfamiliar to those who approach Christian Science with generous desire to appreciate and obtain whatever is good; but there is no mystery in this Christianly scientific process of healing. Jesus declared that those who believed on him should do the works that he did. He sent forth his disciples with specific commands to heal the sick. In order that this power should not be considered as applying only to his own time and to his own followers, he expressly mentioned the signs which should follow, and by which divine authority should be vindicated.

This work of regeneration may be consummated in a moment, or it may require long and earnest effort to achieve. Our Leader speaks of meeting a difficulty immediately, "if Spirit or the power of divine Love bear witness to the truth" (Science and Health, p. 411). But she admonished us on page 495 of our textbook to "study thoroughly the letter and imbibe the spirit," if we would progress in the good work. In any case, the healing ministry requires a fitness to heal. This ability to apply goodness, gained from understanding and experience, is the result of spiritual growth and the cultivation of spiritual sense.

Healings in Christian Science should not be regarded as supernatural or unusual: they are divinely authorized, and are therefore to be expected. The wonder is that we do not accomplish more of them. If it be asked why more of them are not instantaneous, the answer perhaps is: Because of our lack of faith; as Jesus told the apostles after their failure to cure the lunatic boy. Our Saviour affirmed without reservation that "all things are possible to him that believeth." Indeed, it is not necessary to multiply examples of our Master's insistence on faith and understanding as being requisite to the healing work. His entire ministry emphasized the necessity for belief in God and reliance upon His goodness to men; that is, for belief which had become faith, made efficient by understanding. This faith is expressed in what James called the "effectual fervent prayer" which heals the sick. Happily, in even the public thought there is no longer much question of the efficacy of mental treatment as explained by Christian Science; though unfortunately for sick people the public has not yet accepted the undivided garment.

Students of Christianity know that the early followers of our Master taught and practiced Christian healing for about three hundred years. Nor is it forgotten that the church suffered, and yet prospered, under the persecution of ignorance and superstition. Then, enthroned with pomp and pride, sated by prosperity, and grown weak through popularity, it gradually lost those primitive virtues wherein lay the precious privilege of this ministry. In 1866 our Leader rediscovered this lost art of Christian healing, and made it available here and now, casting out fear and shaking off unbelief. Christian Science is rightly called Christian; and it is truly scientific, for it is based on the understanding of the reality and truth of Being, and is demonstrable. In this healing we attain "the substance of things hoped for;" but we achieve it only as we shake off the beast.

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