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Reach Out for the Divine Hand
Metaphysical Application Ideas for the Christian Science Quarterly Bible Lesson on:

“[N]Everlasting Punishment”
October 24 — 30, 2022

By Craig L. Ghislin, C.S.  Godfrey, Illinois
Craig.ghislincs@icloud.com / office 630-830-8683, cell 630-234-3987


Our Golden Text this week says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth with his hand (Ps. 37:23 (to :), 24).”

I have to confess that recently the first part of this citation bothered me. While it’s true that the psalm as a whole is aimed at letting good people know that the wicked, but seemingly prosperous will eventually pay for their misdeeds, that sure seems to me like an ancient, outdated view of God. After all, aren’t we all made in God’s image? Didn’t Jesus come to save everyone, good and bad alike? Who hasn’t made mistakes?

Upon digging a little deeper, I find that many commentaries tell us that the word “good” doesn’t appear in the original Hebrew of Psalm 37. According to Adam Clarke (c1760-1832) the original word that King James translates as good, “properly signifies a strong man, a conqueror or hero, and it appears to be used here to show that even the most powerful must be supported by the Lord, otherwise their strength will be of little avail.” So, to get a clearer understanding of the phrase, we could say, “The steps of all those who realize they must be supported by God are ordered by the Lord. Even if they fall short, or fail, God will uphold them with His mighty hand.”

Do you consider yourself a “conqueror, or hero?” This Lesson reveals that true heroes aren’t designated as such by virtue of their own power, but by the degree they trust in God. Also, that “being good” doesn’t mean you’ll live a charmed life free of challenges. We all face challenges, and the ability to overcome these challenges is commensurate with our trust in God’s saving hand.


The Responsive Reading provides an overview of what it takes to heroically trust in God’s hand. Psalm 117 begins by acknowledging God’s power and mercy (Ps. 117:1, 2 (to:). Several verses from Psalm 118 continue to illustrate the psalmist’s process of orienting his thoughts and actions to God. He…

  • Gives thanks for God’s mercy (verse 1).
  • Is humble enough to call on God when he’s in distress (verse 5).
  • Isn’t afraid of what men can do (verse 6).
  • Puts confidence in God not in men (verse 8).
  • Rejoices in the Lord (verse 15).
  • Trusts the power of God’s hand to save (verses 15, 16).
  • Resolves to live (verse 17).
  • Praises and thanks God again (verses 21, 24, 29).

SECTION 1: BEGINNING FROM A BETTER PREMISE

Though psalms often begin with lament, the psalmist sets the standard for focusing on God’s saving power. Languishing in lamentation is like living in a dark, dank basement. Why do we feel depressed and distressed? Often it comes from the negative false impressions of worthlessness, that we don’t deserve anything good, that our problems are natural to us and there’s no way out or around them because “that’s just the way we are.” We might wallow in those thoughts because of inherited traits, or an imbalanced chemistry, but thinking of ourselves in such negative ways is a remnant of the old theological belief that man is inherently a sinner.

In Psalm 18, the psalmist speaks of his deep distress that the sorrows of hell are surrounding him (citation B1—Ps. 18:1, 5 (to:), 6, 16, 25, 35). There are many types of distress: pain, fear, illness, danger. But in the context of this Lesson, we also have the distress of shame, guilt, worthlessness, and so on. —Have you ever felt consumed by the darkness of guilt? It’s possible that the psalmist here is consumed by deep regret over stealing Bathsheba and having her husband killed in battle.

He’s well acquainted with fear and remorse for sin. But he also knows God’s mercy and kindness. He is open to a better premise. He sees a glimmer of sunshine through the dirty basement window, closed curtains, and piles of garbage surrounding him. He remembers there’s a place of light and freedom.

Mary Baker Eddy asks a question that gets mortal man out of the basement:  “Does divine Love commit a fraud on humanity by making man inclined to sin, and then punishing him for it?” (citation S1—SH 356:25–27 2nd Does).

If we think the answer is, “yes” we’re living in the basement!— believing that man is created to be a sinner, and then punished for it. Does that really make sense? What if God is not like that? If God is good and made us good, then we aren’t sinners at all. And God doesn’t punish us for our misdeeds but saves us from them.

As Science and Health declares, “Good is not, cannot be, the author of experimental sins” (cit. S2—230:11-16).

Beginning from the premise that God is all good, and therefore, we as His creation are also inherently good—not born as pre-determined sinners—we need fear sin no longer (cit. S3—405:18). We can rise above basement thinking, and through the power of God’s hand, step out into the light.


SECTION 2: WICKEDNESS DESTROYED

If we begin from the premise that God is all-good, and therefore, His creation is also good, what do we reckon about evil? Well, logically if God is good and creates only good, there is no room for evil. So, what would happen to evil if it actually tried to exist? God wouldn’t allow it! Evil would be destroyed. Does that mean God is vengeful or can turn upon creation with anger? Not at all. Evil is destroyed because if God is all good, evil has no chance to exist.

Though evil claims to exist, righteousness prevails (cit. B2—Prov. 13:6). Noah and the ark is a representation of good destroying wickedness. Let’s look at some of the symbolic references within this narrative. Although it’s still debated by scholars, the number 40 often appears in biblical accounts of testing or judgement. Note that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. 40 years was also considered to be a generation. We also see the number 7. Noah had a warning of 7 days before the rains came. There were 7 pairs of each of the clean beasts in the ark (Gen. 7:2). And after the dove returned, Noah waited another 7 days before sending it out again.

Moreover, Mary Baker Eddy discussed significance of the number 7. Explaining the need to march seven times around the walls of Jericho, she writes: “They went seven times around these walls, the seven times corresponding to the seven days of creation: the six days are to find out the nothingness of matter; the seventh is the day of rest, when it is found that evil is naught and good is all” (Misc. Writ., p. 279:16). Scholars agree that in Scripture the number 7 often signifies divine completion, perfection, and wholeness.

As the waters receded, God covenants with Noah to send no more floods. All of this represents the cleansing of evil.  Is that a bad thing? Our textbook explains these seemingly harsh judgments, referred to in Scripture, as “the anger of the Lord” like this: “In reality, they show the self-destruction of error or matter and point to matter’s opposite, the strength and permanency of Spirit” (cit. S4—293:24). Our textbook also defines the Ark as representing “safety…the understanding of Spirit destroying matter…” (cit. S5—581:8-14).

Noah “found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” He was obedient to God, and he was chosen to play a part in preserving that which was good in the Lord’s sight. We could say he was “with the Lord”—that is, he lived “in obedience to the law of God, to be absolutely governed by divine Love…” (cit. S7—14:9).

Science and Health tells us that the “calm strong currents of Truth” deepen our experience until we see the beliefs of material existence as “a bald imposition,” and those beliefs get washed away (cit. S8–99:23). This may look to human sense like a destructive process, but only the good is real, and only the good remains.


SECTION 3: BUT WHAT IF I’VE BEEN GOOD?

You may have heard the cynical comment, “No good deed goes unpunished.” This attitude may seem to be supported by all the biblical stories of prophets’ persecution. But in this Lesson, we have a persecuted prophet who is saved.

More than persecuted, Jeremiah has been imprisoned more than once, and now, he’s been lowered into a cistern-like dungeon with no water and a miry floor. Why had this happened? Because Jeremiah warned that anyone remaining in the city during the invasion would not survive. The princes saw this as treason and demanded Jeremiah be executed. King Zedekiah, who had secretly consulted with the prophet, allows Jeremiah’s arrest. As we enter the story, someone speaks up for Jeremiah and entreats the king to have him lifted out of the miry pit (cit. B12—Jer. 38:7-10, 13 (to :)). They succeed, but he is still confined in the prison courtyard until Jerusalem falls.

What we don’t read in the Lesson, is that several times the king, looking for hopeful results, asks Jeremiah’s prediction of an impending conflict with the Chaldeans. Each time, Jeremiah’s message suggests the king surrender or meet his doom.

Think for a moment of the moral courage it took for Jeremiah to deliver a message that he knows the king doesn’t want to hear. As a young man, Jeremiah had been ordained by God to speak His word. Jeremiah didn’t think anyone would listen to him. Many people didn’t, and his prophesies were often filled with doom even when on the surface things looked bright. The prophet could have caved in to the king’s imposing requests. In those days one didn’t dare say things the king didn’t like, because those pronouncements might make him look bad. But Jeremiah stood firmly with moral courage against the king.

An interesting side effect of moral courage is that once somebody takes a moral stand, others are inspired to do so as well. Jeremiah made his stand, and Ebedmelech went straight to the king and spoke against the injustice done to Jeremiah. Incidentally, Zedekiah refused to leave, and eventually the Babylonians besieged and took the city. Zedekiah fled but was captured as Jeremiah foretold.

I’m sharing these contextual details because the citations from Science and Health highlight several lessons within the full story. In citation S9 Mary Baker Eddy challenges those cynical comments I mentioned earlier with full force: “That man does not pay the severest penalty who does the most good. … one cannot suffer as the result of any labor of love, but grows stronger because of it” (cit. S9—387:18-24).

She also tackles the claim that man can be shackled by anything. “The enslavement of man is not legitimate” (cit. S10–228:11-15). It is more than likely that almost everyone is challenged by some form of restriction or limitation of one type or another. Take the time to reflect on your experience, and ask yourself in what ways do you seem to be hindered or restricted in progress or movement? How might you best “assert your freedom in the name of Almighty God”? (cit. S10).

Our textbook also takes aim at injustice. Often, we see something happening to us or another that isn’t right. We may feel we have the perfect solution, or that we should do something to correct the situation. It may be our place to do so, or it may not be. In either case, our best course is to follow this direction: “Let Truth uncover and destroy error in God’s own way, and let human justice pattern the divine” (cit. S11–542:19-21). When witnessing injustice, we also can tend to get all wound up in evidence proving one thing or another. But here again, we’re reminded that the material evidence is not totally reliable. “Material sense does not unfold the facts of existence; but spiritual sense lifts human consciousness into eternal Truth” (cit. S12–95:30-32).

We also have to recognize that sometimes our perception is inaccurate or incomplete. Here Mary Baker Eddy reminds us we can put our trust in “the unlimited and divine Mind [which] is the immortal law of justice as well as of mercy” (cit. S13–36:19-21). She further reminds us that it’s safe to leave things in God’s hands. God is the only One in charge, and in Science (that is, in reality) “man reflects God’s government” (cit. S14–393:16-18). This is applicable to every apparent injustice in every arena—families, courtrooms, battlefields, minds, and bodies.


SECTION 4: THE DIVINE HAND

Receiving his commission and authorization to heal directly from God, Jesus exercised the hand of God’s power more than anyone before or since. It didn’t matter whether he was healing the sick, or stilling a storm, he exercised this power to overrule every material law he encountered. Each of the Bible citations in this section includes a reference to use of the hand. In citation B14—John 3:34, 35 John mentions God “had given all things into his (Jesus’) hand.” In citation B15 (Matthew 8:14, 15) Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law with the touch of his hand; and in citation B16 (Matthew 14:14, 22, 25–31) Jesus reaches forth his hand to rescue Peter from sinking into the sea.

Each of these instances demonstrated Jesus’ authority over material conditions. Mary Baker Eddy points out that, “Christ Jesus overruled the error which would impose penalties for transgressions of the physical laws of health; he annulled supposed laws of matter, opposed to the harmonies of Spirit, lacking divine authority and having only human approval for their sanction.” (cit. S16–381:31)

She also explains that in Scripture, the word “hands” is a metaphor for the exercise of spiritual power (cit. S17—38:10-18). To those holding to the belief that matter makes its own laws, healing the sick through prayer is as far outside the realm of possibility as walking on water. It seems like there’s nothing we can do but yield to these laws. This is indeed a discouraging, “basement” outlook (cit. S18—394:10). However, in Christian Science we not only challenge, but break these so-called laws through the exercise of spiritual power and understanding.

The author of Science and Health encourages us to challenge these so-called laws, without fear of penalty. Following Jesus’ example, we conquer these errors through divine Mind, God. She tells us to “exercise” this authority; to “take possession” of our body and govern it; and to “rise in the strength of Spirit.” (cit. S19–393:8). Not only does she say we have this power, but that nothing can take it away from us!

The final Section 4 citation in Science and Health (cit. S20—22:6) evokes the image of Jesus reaching out to save Peter from sinking into the sea. Sometimes we seem overwhelmed by challenges we’re facing. Usually that’s because we feel we’re in way over our heads, and we don’t have what it takes to survive. But it’s not really about what we know, it’s about what God knows. Jesus’ performed “miracles” because God was the source of his healing power. Peter had the initial impulse to step onto the sea, but he got impressed with the waves. Naturally, he cried out for help. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you find yourself sinking, open your heart to God. The divine hand will reach you and pull you to safety.


SECTION 5: REVERSING IRONY AND INJUSTICE

Like Jeremiah, Tabitha (Dorcas) was gifted in her craft. It seems that she was very productive and talented—doing all the right things. Yet she died. While there’s no indication in Scripture that this was a punishment, it can seem like an irony that someone does good work, lives well, and still dies too soon. Such situations certainly feel unjust.

Peter isn’t impressed by the seeming finality of death, and he puts everyone out of the room [just as he saw Jesus do in raising Jairus’ daughter in last week’s Lesson.] He calls her name, and then offers his hand to lift her up. Here is another metaphorical possibility. Peter isn’t only helping her up, but also lifting her out of the belief of death (cit. B17—Acts 9:36-41).

The Bible promises that sadness is not the outcome of work well done. Instead of depletion and decay, gladness and joy hold the day, and “sorrow and mourning” shall “flee away” (cit. B18—Isa. 51:11 the).

The textbook of the Science of the Christ reminds us that the loving God “never punishes ought but sin” (cit. S21—412:1-4). Sometimes we can feel that all our good work is for nothing, or worse, that we will end up paying a heavy price for it. As Science and Health declares, that’s just not how God works— “God never punishes man for doing right, for honest labor, or for deeds of kindness, though they expose him to fatigue, cold, heat, contagion. If man seems to incur the penalty through matter, this is but a belief of mortal mind, not an enactment of wisdom…” (cit. S22—384:3).


SECTION 6: DIVINELY AUTHORIZED

As we’ve seen, Jeremiah, Jesus, Peter, and other biblical figures received their spiritual authority from God. In John’s vision (cit. B19—Rev. 10:1, 8, 10) an angel appears clothed in a cloud, and a voice bids him to take a little book out of his hand, open it, and eat it up. Here again, the use of hands plays a role in the illustration, representing God’s power and authority. Here John is offered a gift from the authoritative hand of an angel. Note that the angel doesn’t toss the book to John. He is told to take it with his own hand. He has to make the effort to reach out, grasp the book, and consume it.

Is it possible for us to be endowed with spiritual authority today? Mary Baker Eddy thought so. In fact, she tells us that, we too, should exercise our spiritual authority. She points out that in John’s vision, “the angel, clothed with a cloud, prefigures divine Science” (cit. S24—558:9-16). The cloud symbolizes that spiritual truths of Christian Science can seem obscure to mortal sense. But if received with an honest and earnest intention, these truths are fully understandable and demonstrable.


SECTION 7: DON’T FORGET GRATITUDE!

In the Psalms, we’re promised the hand of God is continually open to “every living thing.” Nothing is withheld (cit. B20—Ps. 145:9, 13, 16). We’re called upon to sing songs of rejoicing and gratitude for everything God has done, is doing, and will continue to do (cit. B21—Ps. 98:1).

There is an aphorism that states, for every “yes” there is a “no.” This is also true in our spiritual growth. Every step towards God and goodness is a step away from materially-based thinking (cit. S25— 213:11-12). Throughout the Psalms, we’re consistently reminded to acknowledge and to express gratitude for God’s goodness to us. Do you ever forget to be grateful?

Once our pre-school-aged son had a persistent cough. We prayed with several practitioners for over a year and a half with little results. Truthfully, listening to that cough was very unnerving. Neighbors were wary of letting their children play with him. One neighbor told us that he sounded just like her son, who had asthma. One Sunday morning, he looked peaked, and was listless. My wife was fearful and asked me to stay home from church and pray for him; and if he didn’t improve, to please call someone for help.

I prayed, but I needed support, so I called a different practitioner who accepted the case and asked me to call back in 45 minutes. I continued to pray, and our son became a little more energetic, and wanted to watch cartoons. I called back at the appointed time and as I told him of the slight progress, I guess I sounded a little bit pensive. He paused, and then asked, “Are you grateful?”

If I wasn’t then, I certainly became so. I gobbled up that morsel of spiritual wisdom, and by the time my wife returned from church, our son was visibly improved. The healing was complete in a couple of days. I’ll never forget the impact gratitude had on that situation. The author of Science and Health emphasizes gratitude as well. She says, for a single victory over sin we “give thanks and magnify the Lord of Hosts.” (cit. S26—568:24-30)

Why? Because the final victory necessarily implies that there is nothing left to accuse us. All the false accusations that condemn us, whether we think we deserve them or not, dissolve in the presence of God’s grace. Whatever challenge you might be facing, God’s hand is available to save you. We only need remember to reach out to the divine hand—to open our hands and heart to God with complete repentance and expectancy.


GEMs of BIBLE-BASED application ideas from COBBEY CRISLER & others should be POSTED and EMAILED by mid-week. Check the  current GEMs at CedarS INSPIRATION website, or later in your email, if you have  SUBSCRIBED on this webpage to receive this offering.


Ken Cooper is away on holiday, so do NOT expect his “POETIC POSTLUDE” contributions related to this Bible Lesson.


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