“I knew I was right!”
We live in a time when open-mindedness and willingness to humbly consider different ideas than we are used to seem to be in short supply. On so many issues, we somehow know that “we” are right and “they” are wrong.
I found myself in this situation many decades ago during a church business meeting. As the chair of a committee planning a public talk, I was making the case for holding the event in a segregated Black part of town. The opposition was intense. To me, this resistance was clearly racially motivated. My motion was voted down—and I was ready to leave the church for good. I knew that I was right and they were wrong—oh, so wrong!
Some compassionate friends persuaded me, just barely, to remain a church member.
Several years later, at another business meeting of the same church, the very person who had spearheaded the opposition to my motion moved to hold a talk in the same location as had been proposed for that earlier talk. Attitudes in the country had changed, and there seemed to be no memory among the church members of opposition to the previous plan.
My motion was voted down—and I was ready to leave the church for good.
It was at that later business meeting that I realized how God had been preparing the members of the church. They had gradually become less prejudiced and more open and loving. This then resulted in a harmonious and healing public talk on Christian Science, which might not have been possible when I made my original proposal, given the prevailing attitudes in our community at the time. It occurred to me that back then I had been trying to do things my way. Now I felt like the Psalmist, who sang, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1) The church had found a way to work together.
Our culture today places great value on being independent. The toddler, taking her or his first hesitant, independent steps, is cheered on by excited parents. Christ Jesus, though, leads us to a higher way of thinking about independence. Speaking of true, spiritual independence rather than what is commonly referred to as rugged individualism, he explains, “I’m telling you this straight. The Son can’t independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19, Eugene Peterson, The Message).
What we have here is a fascinating corollary. Jesus was recognizing that his total dependence on God rendered him independent of all else. For him, God was genuinely All. Jesus was living the First Commandment—recognizing no other god, no other cause, no other power or influence—and no other I or Ego than the great I am. Jesus clearly demonstrated how crucial humility was to his healing ministry—and is to our attempts to emulate his healing work today.
But humility can be a bit tricky. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, explains, “Praying for humility with whatever fervency of expression does not always mean a desire for it” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 8).
It took Saul having a life-changing experience before “he learned the wrong that he had done in persecuting Christians, whose religion he had not understood, and in humility he took the new name of Paul,” as Science and Health explains on page 326. Saul was sincerely trying to do what was right—at first egotistically, and blindly, pushing his own will. Yet the light of the Christ humbled him enough to listen for and hear God’s guidance, feel his own blindness, and be led to completely reverse his whole life.
That’s the radical kind of humility we all need. It’s a kind of self-sacrifice—getting rid of the thought of ourselves as separate from God. Jesus helps us to make that sacrifice by giving us a model of one who is so conscious of himself as inseparable from God that he is able to see himself as actually one with God. Not two separate entities. He showed us that it’s not God and you. Rather, it’s God and God’s expression: you.
As we lose the sense of a separate self and begin to recognize that we don’t know all the answers, we gain an ability to hear and feel divine Love’s guidance.
More than half a century ago, while segregated living facilities were still the norm at the university where I taught, I founded a multiracial living unit called The InterCultural House. Black and white students roomed together and explored the origins of racism while learning how to walk in the shoes of a person of another race. This environment enabled us to explore ways of healing the school—even the city—of racism. But, in retrospect, I see how I had been harboring an impression of the university and the city as racist institutions. And therefore, I was motivated by a self-righteous egotism in trying to overcome the many obstacles of racism in both. I knew what the real problems were, and I knew the best ways to overcome them.
While my cause was just, the way I went about it felt contrary to what I was learning as a Christian Scientist. And obstacles to the project were proving difficult to overcome. I saw that I was acting from what my mother called “perpendicular pronounitis”—the perpendicular pronoun was, of course, “I.” Yet, the more I recognized God as all-acting and all-knowing—and my own identity as God’s expression—the more clearly I could see that I was not a separate creator.
As I thought more about God’s allness, I thought less of myself as a separate and all-knowing being, and as a result, the obstacles to my efforts gradually lessened. Today, many years later, the project continues to bless the campus and larger community through greater equity among races and more harmonious relationships.
As we lose the sense of a separate self and begin to humbly recognize that we don’t know all the answers, we gain an ability to hear and feel that precious gift from God: divine Love’s guidance.
THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress, represented by Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.