Permanence of Identity
Universal belief in what is called death turns human thought inquiringly towards a hereafter. How is it with those who have left their places by our side? And ever the question recurs, Shall we meet and know them again? It were but a cruel mockery of friendship and affection if identity did not outlast the transient experiences of this fleeting world experience.
The joy of real companionship does not spring from personal association, however pleasant, but from the mental intercourse with those higher thoughts and ideals which distinguish the heavenly from the earthly. It is this divine element shining through the veil of materiality which we love in our friends, and which constitutes our real knowledge of one another; hence there is no ground for fearing that our true identity shall become less distinct to consciousness and recognition as the mask of physical personality becomes more transparent with spiritual progress.
The world of time and sense, the world of material trees and flowers and mountains, of sea and sky, of cities and people, is the background for the human drama of so-called physical life, in which death is represented as the closing incident; but life does not end there, for while God remains there can be no interruption in the individual continuity of life. The identity of each is preserved in Mind, and is not affected by the apparent interval of death any more than are the characters in a story as they pass from one chapter to another, or the performers in a play when the curtain falls between the acts.
In viewing the shifting phases of mortal existence one should keep before him the following unqualified statement, to be found on page 70 of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy: "The divine Mind maintains all identities, from a blade of grass to a star, as distinct and eternal." Changes may occur in one's belief about himself or others, according as he is influenced by material testimony, but these changes are only the product of human thought and cannot alter the relation of man to his divine source. To admit the possibility of change in the identity of God's reflections would imply the possibility of change in God Himself, a proposition which is not logically thinkable.
The physicality to which mortals cling as the embodiment of individual consciousness is certainly not the source of thought or feeling; it is incapable of realizing or expressing love, or gratitude, or any divine quality, and is not, therefore, the arbiter of human happiness. The loving fellowship of friends is not the outcome of merely material circumstances and conditions, nor is it at their disposal.
Were the continuity of individual being to be dependent upon physical conditions, the hope of eternal life would be baseless and the term "eternal life" a meaningless phrase; but in his resurrection Jesus illustrated the permanence of the true idea of man, and of all that makes life beautiful and harmonious. The return of Lazarus from the grave, to take his place in his former associations, proved the fact that true identity exists in Mind and cannot be destroyed.
The things which pertain to materiality, such as sin, disease, misfortune, poverty, and death, make up the mortal dream of physical life; while things spiritual—unselfish affection and friendship, with all that is honest, lovely, and pure—are identified with man in God's image, and neither die nor pass away. Holding thought to the corporeal concept of anyone imparts no abiding satisfaction, since its unreal and transient nature must sometime be recognized. We should do well to look more steadfastly towards the things which are spiritually enduring in our associations, and thus we may come to rejoice in the eternal existence and unchanging loveliness of all that God creates.
An individual's knowledge of himself, that is, his self-recognition, is not separate from his own thinking and ever abides with him. The understanding that Life is God, that we live in omnipresent Mind, assures us of the continuance of man's individual spiritual selfhood, unlimited by the erroneous belief of mortality.
St. Paul characterizes death as an enemy; but an enemy to be conquered, not feared. His statement that in God "we live, and move, and have our being" leaves no place or opportunity for death, or any ground for Christians to believe in it as real. To the so-called material senses mortals seem to come and go; but these senses do not bear witness to the reality of spiritual being, and can testify only of their own illusions. "Here" and "there" are merely terms relative to human experience.
Although loved friends may pass out of one's present vision, we may know that they are still all that they ever truly were. The only change which comes with progress is the outgrowing of imperfection. Inasmuch as our own love survives their seeming departure, should not theirs also continue? Spiritual selfhood, not the material counterfeit, embodies the unseen divinity of being, and is the substance of true lovableness, of which the physical concept is but the passing shadow; and this spiritual consciousness, rather than a physical organism, is the medium of thought and memory, and the primal and ultimate basis of identity and recognition.
Divine law, operating universally, governs all needed adjustments on account of changes in environment and association, and it does this without depriving anyone of his treasures of friendship and love. Because each individual receives directly from his divine Principle, God, all that constitutes the perfection of his being, finite personality cannot supply that which is really essential to happiness or fullness of life. This fact, however, does not belittle the joys of human companionship; rather does it enhance them by eliminating the dependence upon others for what one, as God's reflection, must realize within himself.
We read in "Miscellaneous Writings" (p. 42), "When we shall have passed the ordeal called death, or destroyed this last enemy, and shall have come upon the same plane of conscious existence with those gone before, then we shall be able to communicate with and to recognize them." Our Leader could say this because of her spiritual vision and understanding of the Science of Mind, the Science of Life, which knows no death.
It is only our false material beliefs which hide from us the undying realities of Life. Christian Science does not leave the sorrowing uncomforted. It brings the healing assurance of Love's all-embracing presence, in which not even a sparrow is "forgotten before God," as the Master said. It is our privilege to know that the Father's care shelters every one of His children everywhere, and that all is well with them.