Take it from the top

Where to look for a real makeover

The teachings of the Bible run very deep. Often, even the most familiar narratives include far more than what appears on the surface, and yield surprising insights when closely examined.

A good example of this is found in the third chapter of John's Gospel in the Bible. Here John relates the visit Christ Jesus received from Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish leader. Nicodemus came to Jesus under cover of darkness, perhaps to protect his reputation. But darkness may also represent the state of his thinking, enshrouded perhaps in tradition, pride, and intellectualism. In either case, something within Nicodemus must have wanted enlightenment. The light of the Christ—the healing and saving power of God—drew him to Jesus. Without waiting for Nicodemus to frame a question, Jesus announced to him, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

Exploring the Greek word anothen, translated here as "again," reveals some of the deeper significance of this narrative. Anothen has within it the preposition ana, which means "above." So the word literally means "from above." By extension it comes to mean "from the first," or "from the beginning"—and hence, "again."

What was Jesus asking of Nicodemus? In today's language, we might say that he was encouraging Nicodemus to "take it from the top"—to begin with God, instead of with human factors, to understand himself. Wasn't Jesus asking Nicodemus to start all over again in thinking through who he was, this time acknowledging God, Spirit—not flesh—as his origin?

To be sure, such a change of perspective would involve a major break with customary ways of thinking. It did in Nicodemus's time, and it does today. But it leads to a happy discovery: that each one of us is essentially spiritual, an idea of God expressing His perfection.

This discovery is "Square one" in the practice of Christian Science. Mary Baker Eddy, its Discoverer, says as much. She writes, "The starting-point of divine Science is that God, Spirit, is All-in-all, and that there is no other might nor Mind,— that God is Love, and therefore He is divine Principle." She continues farther along, "Hence all is in reality the manifestation of Mind" (Science and Health, p. 275). This "all" includes every single one of us. We are actually the "manifestation of Mind," the children of God.

Renewal that comes with this "from the top" spiritual perspective offers rewards far more valuable than material riches.

This insight clarifies the nature of new birth. Regeneration, a word that literally refers to being born again, is a hallmark of Christian discipleship. Jesus' further conversation with Nicodemus (see John 3:4-8) indicates that this new birth involves more than a ceremony. It demands a completely revised view of one's identity, based not from below—on human factors like culture, heredity, education, and reputation—but from above, on the premise of God, Spirit, as the origin and sustainer of all creation. This spiritual view of creation is backed by divine power, which transforms both individuals and society.

People sometimes feel burdened by a troubled past—a heritage of limitation or abuse, a tragic mistake, a missed opportunity—and long for a fresh start. Taking things "from the top"—from the basis of God, good, as the only cause and creator—brings freedom from regret. It brings a stirring sense of hope. It reveals the good that God is constantly pouring out to us. Even the most favorable human conditions afford but glimpses of God's infinite goodness, which never sours and knows no limits.

The rebirth, or renewal, that comes with this "from the top" spiritual perspective offers rewards far more valuable than material riches. In her book Miscellaneous Writings, Mrs. Eddy describes the effect of this new birth: "With the spiritual birth, man's primitive, sinless, spiritual existence dawns on human thought,—through the travail of mortal mind, hope deferred, the perishing pleasure and accumulating pains of sense,—by which one loses himself as matter, and gains a truer sense of Spirit and spiritual man" (p. 17).

Nothing can prevent this new birth, and everyone has the opportunity to experience it. What blessings are ours as we discern the Christ speaking to us, revealing the perfection that is our essence as God's creation. This happens as we open our hearts to a fresh, spiritual perspective on reality—as we "take it from the top."

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