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Working through ‘the problem of evil’

From the Christian Science Sentinel - April 1, 2019

Another headline, another mass attack against the innocent. And in the wake of it, a remarkable, powerful response of love and compassion and forgiveness. Again and again, an individual act of hate impels a global outpouring of caring for each other.

But with each incident, there is a yearning to know how to prevent instead of simply console. Discussions revolve around restricting weapons or increasing defensive measures or shutting down social media sites that promote violence. And while these steps may have their place, the more pressing need is to remove the hatred lodged in the thoughts of those who’ve planned and initiated these attacks. Is that even possible?

Those communities of faith where many of these tragedies have occurred are confronting the dilemma: If God is good and loving, how can these acts of violence be explained? It is the age-old wrestling with “the problem of evil,” as several individuals shared with a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor after their own worshipers were targeted (“After New Zealand terror, the faithful grapple with big question: Why?”

These are deeply wrenching questions. But from both the small and the significant healing experiences in my own life gained through the study and practice of Christian Science, I’ve come to have real hope that we can face the problem of evil and begin to work through it. 

Evil must be redefined not as a reality but as a mesmeric distortion of reality.

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the healing system of Christian Science, was no stranger to the immense tragedies of the human condition. She endured years of chronic illness and personal loss herself while the wider community around her wrestled with polarizing politics that plunged the United States into the devastation of civil war. She knew firsthand that ignoring evil is not an option. 

Going to the Bible as a time-tested resource for consolation and inspiration, she found that the healing of both physical disease and moral depravity requires questioning the entire way we look at reality. Yes, God is good, is loving, is all-inclusive, and says, “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6). This spiritual revelation is the baseline of reality—everything in and of an all-loving God, who is infinite and ever-present Spirit.

Then what is evil? Logically, it doesn’t fit into the universe that an all-loving God creates, which is eternally and purely good. We can’t have something beyond God’s allness. So evil must be redefined not as a reality but as a mesmeric distortion of reality. The limited, human perspective on life accepts that distortion as real, with us as mortal, fragile, and vulnerable. So the way to effectively and decisively eliminate evil is to break its appearance of reality—to see beyond the surface view of life in and of matter and discover more of our real life in and of God.

This is the province of Christian Science, where reason and revelation coincide to bring redemption and restoration across the entire spectrum of human suffering. What Jesus practiced in his healing ministry is based on spiritual laws that all of us can apply. Doing so requires rejecting the obnoxious and aggressive boasts of evil that it is real and inevitable, and understanding more of God’s allness—and our safety and wholeness within that allness.

But we can’t just think it; we need to live it. Setting aside time with God each day in prayer and study of these laws allows us to feel the reality of God’s goodness in the core of our being. We glimpse the magnitude of God’s goodness and our nature as God’s children, which Jesus told us we are. We look at our neighbors and those we meet on the street and recognize their spiritual nature expressed in spontaneous kindnesses and generous responses. This feels natural and right. Whatever may cross our path that contradicts good is entirely unnatural and inherently unworthy of any of us. And we can help one another rebel against such injustices with the laws of God, overruling any claim against our safety or health or integrity. These divine laws are the basis of the Science of Christian healing.

With this radically different understanding of evil as a mental deception concealing what is good and true, Mary Baker Eddy takes a deep dive into the topic of mesmerism in the chapter “Animal Magnetism Unmasked” in the textbook of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Although only seven pages long, this chapter represents some of the most demanding concepts foundational to spiritual healing. For instance, it affirms: “Mankind must learn that evil is not power. Its so-called despotism is but a phase of nothingness” (p. 102).

More and more, as we recognize God’s goodness as the fundamental reality, we learn to see through evil’s claim to power and effectively resist it. Whatever needs correction in human consciousness is brought to light by prayer and healed through divine Love. This is the Science of Christianity, neutralizing the effects of evil in society and promoting instead “affection and virtue in families and therefore in the community” (Science and Health, p. 103). 

On the final page of this chapter is a spiritual “Declaration of Independence.” It proclaims our universal freedom from these mesmeric influences. Each of us is endowed by God “with inalienable rights, among which are self-government, reason, and conscience” (p. 106). This is what we must claim for ourselves and for everyone else as well. 

Self-government, reason, and conscience. These inalienable rights antidote the senseless violence being perpetrated against many by a few. Self-government from a spiritual perspective begins with a mental yielding to the spiritual fact that God is at the center and circumference of all we are, all we think, all we do. No one is ever outside of God’s jurisdiction and governing power.

No one is outside the boundless circle of divine Love, and evil was never within it.

Reason sees through the manipulating pull of personal agendas and perceived injustices to the actuality of God’s love uniting each of us with one another in a mutually beneficial way—all children of the same universal Parent, one family of eternal Love.

Conscience speaks loudly and irresistibly to restrain us from all that would tempt us to believe in more than one God, more than one Mind. Not many minds, many egos, many human wills, but one inclusive, spiritual intelligence informing all of us what is right and impelling us to do it. 

Human effort is insufficient to break through the mental nature of evil. We can’t do this on our own. What Jesus taught and lived so effectively is the eternal Christ—that is, “the divine image and likeness, dispelling the illusions of the senses; the Way, the Truth, and the Life, healing the sick and casting out evils, destroying sin, disease, and death” (Science and Health, p. 332). Christ enables us to see more of God’s nature defining all of us. It penetrates the mesmeric assertions claiming that some are evil or capable of it. No. No lost souls. No angry young men. No vulnerable citizens. Each of us has the inalienable rights of self-government, reason, and conscience. This is a powerful basis for our persistent prayer, day by day, until these violent events come to an end worldwide. 

As we recognize our true rights derived from God, we recognize and honor them in each other. We see through what divides to what unites. Then it is easy to love with a Christ-power that steamrolls hatred and delusion. We’re no longer just responding with comfort in the wake of an incident, but are proactive in disarming an evil intent beforehand. 

Whether we begin with the friction in our homes or offices, or pause as we read headlines of tragedy to take a stand against it, our prayer and effort to see good as the reality for all of us has impact. It encourages us; it strengthens us; it alerts us to take whatever actions may be needed. We begin to discover that no one is outside the boundless circle of divine Love, and that evil was never within it. God’s infinite goodness is not a distant aspiration but—moment by moment, thought by thought—a practical, provable truth that is able to heal and redeem here and now.

A version of this article was published in The Christian Science Monitor’s Christian Science Perspective column, March 25, 2019.

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