When I was a child, there was a religious tradition that when children reached a certain age—around seven or eight—they would have a ceremony that was considered an important occasion. Relatives and close friends would be invited to a small party, and all would give a gift in gold: a piece of jewelry such as a ring, a pin, earrings.
In the poor European country where I lived before I moved to Brazil, these gifts had a very practical purpose. They were meant to be like a reserve fund for a child. If he or she were ever to need money for survival or for an emergency, some piece of jewelry could be sold.
When my turn came, I also got my share: a bracelet, a pin with my name engraved on it, and some other smaller things. However, a dear uncle of mine could not afford any gold, not even a tiny medal. He gave me a book. Its title was The Bible for Children. It featured almost the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments, reworded in a simpler language. It was a thick book, with small print and very few sepia illustrations. It didn't seem attractive at all for a second-grader. However, I read it through in a few weeks, which was certainly a feat for a child of that age. I could hardly put it down until I had finished. Why did that book have such appeal to me?
Let me explain. When I was born, my country had recently been devastated by war. My first recollections as a child were sights of bombed areas and homeless people. Neighbors and relatives frequently spoke about members of their families who had not survived. I was really scared by the world as I was getting to know it. People around me considered themselves helpless victims. They felt victimized by circumstances, other nations, poverty, even God. Now, in those Bible stories I came to know of people who faced all sorts of difficulties and overcame them. They were not victims. And the Bible showed also how they had overcome difficulties: through trust in God as a friend and helper, and through faithfulness to Him. ...
I remember vividly the impression Joseph's story made on me. The Bible tells us in the book of Genesis that he had been sold by his brothers to be a slave and had been taken to Egypt. He was young at the time, around seventeen. His father Jacob loved him more than the other sons. In an outburst of hate and envy, his brothers first conspire to kill him and then decide to sell him as a slave to some merchants. Wouldn't we call this a traumatic experience? He was cut off from the love of his father and younger brother Benjamin, from his familiar surroundings, and from his probably easy life. Now he had to live in a strange land, surrounded by strangers, and almost certainly doing odd jobs he had never done before; after all, he was a slave.
Yet, he did not act as a poor victim of fate. He did well the duties that were given to him. So much so that "his master saw that the Lord was with him." In other words, Joseph expressed God's qualities in what he did, and these divine qualities were evident to others around him. Surely the qualities that he expressed and that had such beautiful results were not self-pity, resentment, vengeance-planning, and the like. We may even think that these kinds of feelings would be understandable after the experience he had been through, but they would not have brought the results the Bible tells us about. He must have expressed God-derived qualities such as joy, goodwill, carefulness in his job, honesty, alertness, and so on. By expressing these qualities Joseph was not acting as a "victim," so he was not one.
Later, he had to face slander and unjust imprisonment. However, even in prison, the Bible says, "The Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison." The natural results were that everybody trusted him, and he could enjoy useful activity and friendships. Even during the lowest points of his life, as a slave and as a prisoner, Joseph did not give up the ability and the willingness to express good. This is why he was never a victim.
Although I was a child, it was so clear to me that I could do as Joseph had done. That is, I could express good qualities no matter what the circumstances were. I had been feeling humiliated at school for being the poorest pupil in my class. However, instead of mulling over this as I had been doing, I started to concentrate on being a good pupil, on being helpful to my classmates and to the teachers. Nothing great, no big deal, but it had the lasting effect of removing that awful "victim" feeling. Joseph's example had a lasting effect on my life.
This is how I started to discover the Bible and the power of good, the power of God. Later, in my early teens, when I could obtain a complete Bible, it was only natural for me to delve into it more deeply. I have never needed the jewelry I received as a child. But the gift my uncle gave me, that is, acquaintance with the Bible, has been a reserve fund I have been drawing from every day. And it's never been overdrawn.
When I found Christian Science as a young woman, and started reading Science and Health by Mrs. Eddy, this reserve fund suddenly multiplied. I began to discover the logic, that is, the rules, or laws, that were inherent in the Bible's events. That is why Science and Health is invaluable as a help in understanding and putting into practice the Bible's message. For instance, Mrs. Eddy writes, "The good you do and embody gives you the only power obtainable." This good she refers to is the reflection of God. It explains what Joseph did. He was reflecting good from God, which is the only power there is. This is how he lifted his life above circumstances, brought harmony back into his family, and saved a whole nation, as well as neighboring people, from famine.
Knowing good is fundamental to our ability to do good. Christian Science teaches us that God is good, so it is basic that we know God first. And this is what the Bible is all about: God and His all-power, His all goodness, His ever-presence, and man as reflecting Him.
Some may say: "OK, but the Bible is too difficult to understand. There are so many interpretations—how can I know which is right?"
The gift my uncle gave me, that is, acquaintance with the Bible, has been a reserve fund I have been drawing from every day. And it's never been overdrawn.
We must remember that the Bible's message is spiritual, not material. Therefore, it is not understood simply through human reasoning and analysis. Mrs. Eddy writes in Science and Health: "The Scriptures are very sacred. Our aim must be to have them understood spiritually, for only by this understanding can truth be gained." And further on she says, "It is this spiritual perception of Scripture, which lifts humanity out of disease and death and inspires faith." Therefore we must use our spiritual sense in order to understand the Bible.
Christian Science teaches us that spiritual sense is the opposite of material sense; it is the capacity to discern the "things of Spirit" and understand spiritual good. We all have spiritual sense. Actually, it is a natural way of thinking because we are children of God and God is Spirit. Therefore, by reflecting God, we can understand things spiritually; we can discern the divine message of the Bible.
Mrs. Eddy says in Science and Health that "spiritual sense is a conscious, constant capacity to understand God." So, this capacity is conscious and constant; it doesn't fail us. Now, we have to practice it. The reading and study of Science and Health help us to develop our spiritual sense, because by doing that our thought is spiritualized; that is, it becomes more focused on the things of Spirit.
Christ Jesus, the central character of the New Testament, is a tremendous example of spiritual sense. His thought was always so centered on God that he could quickly and naturally regard any situation or any issue from a spiritual point of view. It was this spiritual vision that enabled him to heal the sick instantly and do all his other marvelous works. For instance, when he felt that the multitudes should receive some food before being sent away, his disciples, with their thought based on material sense, could only see a few fishes and loaves. But Jesus "gave thanks"—he recognized God as the source of man's good, his supply, and knew that whatever might bless a few must also bless everyone. And the little food was enough for over four thousand.
Sometimes we hear people say: "Well, the Bible is such an old book! How can those stories have any meaning for us today? The world has changed so much!" Certainly the world has changed a great deal; the city where I live, Sāo Paulo in Brazil, has gone through many and profound changes over the years. But, first and foremost, God has not changed a bit. He is still supreme over His creation, He still loves His creation and still cares for His child, man. Therefore, His laws are still the same. The same divine laws that were in operation in Biblical times are in operation today.
I have to admit it is unlikely that most people will be sold as slaves nowadays the way Joseph was. But we may find ourselves among strangers in a new school, or in a new job, and maybe with feelings of inferiority, as I had felt. Or we may face an unjust punishment for something and feel resentful. We may even feel "imprisoned" by a dull or menial job while we think we deserve better. What can we do? We can express God's qualities, as Joseph did. We can persevere in that, with joy and anticipation of good. We know what the result was in Joseph's case. We can expect good results, too, because the same divine law of good that was in operation in Joseph's case is in operation today, and that law is, God has all power and He is good.
Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
Matthew 13:16, 17
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