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Symbols versus Substance

From the May 26, 1934 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


WHEN one seeker for a more satisfying religious teaching attended a Christian Science service for the first time, he was startled by the revolutionary declaration of "the scientific statement of being," which begins, "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mrs. Eddy, p. 468). He soon discovered, however, that this is a pivotal point in the divergence of this teaching from other religious doctrines, a point on the understanding of which the healing of disease and other discords depends. He found that the challenging and changing of a material concept of creation is the first necessary step towards the demonstration of that freedom which is the natural heritage of spiritual man.

He became increasingly grateful for the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, who has given to the world a religion free from superstition and emotionalism, a spiritual teaching that is indeed Science, and that yields demonstrable knowledge in proportion as the study of it is pursued. In the Christian Science textbook he found scientific definitions of true creation and intelligent answers to Scriptural questions that had often perplexed him. How gratifying to study a theology so logical in its statement that the growing understanding of it might be compared with the progress of a child in the study of mathematics! Although the child learns the rules of arithmetic from written groups of numbers, he is taught that these symbols merely represent certain useful ideas which exist under the protection of mathematical law.

The student of Christian Science learns to regard the transitory forms of material creation as symbols which may hint the existence of spiritual ideas. In God's kingdom temporal symbols are unknown, and in order to enter this perfect, eternal realm, one must look beyond the symbol, and gain, step by step, the substance or spiritual understanding of reality. Mrs. Eddy says in "Unity of Good" (p. 61), "Our highest sense of infinite good in this mortal sphere is but the sign and symbol, not the substance of good."

The errors called sin, sickness, poverty, and sorrow appear only in the material illusions which the false senses accept in place of God's spiritual ideas. To these senses they seem as real as goodness, health, prosperity, or joy. But an understanding of Truth brings the realization that no discordant condition can possibly exist under the law of the all-wise, all-loving creator. As truly as the schoolboy's mistakes indicate the limitations of his knowledge, so discords are the outward signs of an ignorance of the truth of being. These disappear in proportion as spiritual thinking displaces the ignorance of mortal mind.

It is natural and right for the Christian Scientist to improve and beautify his material surroundings, but he should guard against the temptation of acquiring unnecessary material things, for they will eventually become a burden that hinders his progress toward the kingdom of heaven. He must learn that the substance of good is not in the symbol, is never subject to time or space, and is forever inseparable from God. It is sometimes said of one who surrounds himself with many evidences of material wealth that he is a man of substance, but this may indicate no true knowledge of what constitutes true substance. "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!"

To work sums in mental arithmetic may seem more difficult than to refer to written tables, but these lessons, when learned, insure success for the student. Those who have felt the loss of material things can utilize this seeming deprivation to "look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." Thus what seems to be a hard lesson may be the means of turning thought to God and thus gaining a realization of unlimited spiritual substance, from which the real man never is separated.

Jesus, our great Master, was so conscious of the everpresence of spiritual ideas meeting all needs that he knew the accumulation of material possessions was unnecessary. Yet he was compassionate enough to realize and meet human needs in ways that could be appreciated. His understanding of the infinitude of spiritual substance enabled him to multiply the loaves and fishes to satisfy the hunger of a great multitude. A spiritual idea can never be touched by time or destruction. As the unlimited use of numerical facts can never deplete them, so the utilization of good cannot deprive another of its use, or interfere with the manifestation of God's law of impartial bounty for all His children.

It is interesting to observe that since the revelation in Christian Science of the true nature of man and the universe, human methods have advanced. As ignorance retreats before the light of knowledge, there appear better ways of achieving some phase of good that has always been present.

The gradual gaining of dominion over the beliefs of time and space and the refining of material means and methods may in a degree symbolize the natural and orderly coming of God's kingdom on earth, through the growth of spiritual understanding in the general consciousness. This is indicated in these words from Science and Health (p. 502), "Even thus the crude forms of human thought take on higher symbols and significations, when scientifically Christian views of the universe appear, illuminating time with the glory of eternity."

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