The old prophet, the man of God, and spiritual obedience

Almost hidden away in the book of I Kings  See I Kings, chap. 13 . is a gem of a story. It is self-contained in just one chapter, but its masterful telling and unusual irony give it powerful impact. And like more familiar Bible stories, it is capable of teaching us some key spiritual lessons.

An unnamed minor prophet prophesies against King Jeroboam's policies. The king hears it and stretches forth his hand against the prophet, and immediately his hand becomes dried-up and useless. The king then turns to this man of God for help, and he heals the king's hand. We see that this prophet has the power of both prophecy and healing. He is not so "minor" after all. And something about the way the story is told begins to convey his genuine purity.

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The king wants to reward the man of God and invites him back to the palace for "refreshments" and hospitality. But the man of God in no uncertain terms rejects the offer: "If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place: for so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest."

Next the man of God meets an old prophet who has heard of his holy deeds. The old prophet wants to bring him home to dinner. The man of God responds with essentially the same message he gave the king. But the stranger persists. He says that he has had an angel message from God telling him to bring the man of God back to his house to eat. So the man of God gives in and accepts the invitation. But before they have even finished the meal, the old prophet holds forth in a way that must be a record high for unpleasant dinner-table conversation! He foretells the destruction of the man of God because he has disobeyed the word of the Lord, interrupting his mission to accept the old prophet's hospitality.

The prediction comes to pass, and the man of God is slain by a lion. When the old prophet is told, he says in a coolly offhand way: "It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord: therefore the Lord hath delivered him unto the lion."

On the simplest level the story is obviously about the importance of undeviating obedience to God and the protection this affords in our experience. The story touches on the familiar Biblical theme of worldly temptation. But here temptation takes a particularly subtle form, since it comes through someone who is supposedly holy, a prophet with an "angel message" from God. We can see that we must take moral responsibility for our own actions regardless of how mesmerically misleading the temptation may be. Christ Jesus warned the disciples: "Take heed lest any man deceive you: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." Mark 13:5, 6.

At a deeper level the story could be said to be teaching a lesson about the radical nature of spiritual obedience. The human mind generally wants spirituality to conform to—fit in with—the niceties of human conventions. Even a prophet ought to be willing to take a break for a little refreshment and conviviality! (It's the thing to do: if you meet a prophet, and he's doing well, take him out to dinner!)

I recall that as a young man, not long after I had had Christian Science class instruction, I called my teacher and casually suggested lunch, since I was passing through. His kindly but firm answer carried a lesson. He explained that he wasn't going out for lunch on that particular day because his healing practice was quite busy. The quality of his life and his love came through in his brief comments. It lifted the curtain on another world for me—a world of spirituality. Though I did on other occasions happen to talk with my teacher over lunch, the lesson was the one needed at that stage.

Spiritual obedience isn't designed to "fit in" with the conventionality of material life. Spirituality can't help apprehending the larger—infinitely larger—universe of Spirit, which simply doesn't fit into the framework of typical human assumptions. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, writes: "What seems to be of human origin is the counterfeit of the divine,—even human concepts, mortal shadows flitting across the dial of time." Miscellaneous Writings, p. 71. And she says elsewhere, " ... the curtain of human life should be lifted on reality, on that which outweighs time...." Message to The Mother Church for 1902, p. 17.

The man of God—the person who is devoted to obeying the leadings and the demands of divine Spirit—is beginning to understand that he lives not in the world of human appearances but in the kingdom of God. He sees that he gains everything and loses nothing through the radical quality of his obedience to all that his God is expressing in man. This doesn't make him impractical and otherworldly. It makes him effective in this world.

Not only does this kind of obedience give more safety, healing, increased individuality, and capacity to help others; most important, it opens thought to the divine reality, or Science of being, which makes possible these human improvements. We refuse to settle for a slightly improved but nonetheless finite and mortal sense of life, and we learn of the Life that is God. Our moral obedience, then, is transformed into something much more than conforming dutifully to what we know is required. It proceeds from the perception that spiritual man—our true individuality—actually does move entirely in accord with divine Principle, that man is nothing less than the exact image of divine Mind.

There is nothing static, nothing restrictive, about this obedience. It is pure freedom and fulfillment. It is the Christliness that makes us not only servants but sons of the living God.


Christian Science, not human will, heals
September 30, 1985

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