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To combat divisive thinking, consider Jonah

From the July 27, 2020 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


At this time of global public health concerns and potential economic depression, one would think that partisan divisions and other sources of conflict would be put aside. Yet this does not seem to be what is happening, and these types of conflict continue. What role does our thinking play in the divisions we see in the world, and what can we do to increase harmony? Answers came when I took a good look at the way I was thinking.

Driving in my city, I would see a variety of bumper stickers on cars and political signs in yards. When I saw one with a message that I agreed with or that supported a politician I liked, I would think, “The people in that car or house are like me.” When I saw a sticker with a message I disagreed with or that supported a politician I opposed, I would think: “Those are not good people. They are not part of my tribe.” Whoa! Where did those thoughts come from? How did I become part of a “tribe” that excludes, or perhaps even hates, others?

Many perceptions prevalent in world thought divide people by race, class, religion, nationality, or political party and foster division, conflict, and hatred. But the Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, taught that any thought that is not loving—that is, not coming from divine Love, or God—can only be a lie, and should be discarded. Hatred and conflict do not originate in God.

There are several stories in the Bible that speak to the need to overcome division and hatred. The story of Jonah (see Jonah 1–4) is sometimes thought to be somewhat “fishy” in terms of its authenticity. But to me it is more than a story of a man being swallowed by a big fish or of God saving Jonah from drowning at sea in a storm. It is a story about obedience to God and overcoming hatred.

The prophet Jonah is commanded by God to share the Word of God in Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians had conquered Israel, governing tyrannically, and they worshiped many gods. Jonah refused to believe that they deserved to have the Word of God preached to them. So he disobeyed God, traveling instead in the opposite direction. But unpleasant events drove him back to obedience. He went to Nineveh, and the residents, including the rulers, repented and accepted the Word of God.

One might think that this would have made Jonah see the wisdom of God’s direction and be satisfied with the results of his work. But Jonah had acted under compulsion, not out of love in his heart for the Assyrians. They had changed their ways, but Jonah had not. Then God showed Jonah that all of His creation—including all His children—was worthy of love, mercy, and forgiveness.

As God sees us, everyone reflects only the divine nature, unaffected by human opinions.

This message of man’s unity with God and with one another continued with Christ Jesus’ ministry. Jesus strongly opposed divisiveness. He said it was right instead to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27). And when Jesus was asked who should be considered one’s “neighbor,” he responded with a parable illustrating unity by showing a Samaritan expressing love to a stranger. To Jesus, loving all people equally was “like unto” loving God (see Matthew 22:37–39). (This theme is also picked up in First John—see, for example, 4:20, 21.) Jesus even went so far as to tell us to love our enemies—a lesson that Jonah had to learn.

Jesus illustrated this teaching in his actions when he taught and healed Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles alike (see, for example, John 4:3–30 and Matthew 8:5–10). One of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, had to learn this lesson when he was led to present the teachings of Christ to Cornelius and his non-Jewish family (see Acts 10:1–35). Peter came to understand that “God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”

As a follower of Jesus’ teachings, Mary Baker Eddy understood the importance of the First Commandment in preventing divisions. In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, she wrote: “The divine Principle of the First Commandment bases the Science of being, by which man demonstrates health, holiness, and life eternal. One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry,—whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed” (p. 340). 

Just as each whole number is individual, yet in harmony with all other numbers under the principle of number theory, or arithmetic, so too is everyone—each individual—in harmony with our divine Principle, God, and with each other. And we can never be divided by human opinions, which do not belong to God’s children because we all are spiritual ideas living in and governed by the one universal divine Mind. Properly seen—meaning seen as God sees us—everyone reflects only the divine nature, which is unaffected by human opinions, our own or those of others. As Eddy put it, “In Christian Science mere opinion is valueless” (Science and Health, p. 341). But the key here is to be loving. This is what Jonah had to learn—to do all things with love. 

Does this mean that I now can truly love those with different opinions? Well, yes, but we don’t have to love human opinions—ours or anyone else’s. As I work to understand that my personal opinions are valueless—and on more than a few occasions have been wrong—it has become easier for me to recognize that differences of human opinion are of no consequence, and I can continue to strive to love my global brothers and sisters as myself. As Eddy wisely noted, “Be of good cheer; the warfare with one’s self is grand; it gives one plenty of employment, and the divine Principle worketh with you,—and obedience crowns persistent effort with everlasting victory” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 118).

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