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Discover God’s Everlasting Tenderness
Application Ideas for The Christian Science Quarterly Bible Lesson on

Everlasting Punishment
April 24—30, 2023

by Craig L. Ghislin, C.S.  of Godfrey, Illinois / office 630-830-8683, cell 630-234-3987

One year when I was a child, one of my aunts was not home on Halloween. She told us she left a bowl of candy on her porch with a handwritten sign that read: “Take ONE–God is WATCHING!” I never found out whether her amusing tactic was successful, but she was relying on the assumption that trick-or-treaters believed that if God catches you sinning, He will punish you. Some of us may find that assumption itself humorous. But it reveals a general belief that still holds sway in traditional religious thought.

The Golden Text opens with a concise statement from Psalm 100:5 about God’s nature. Our God is benevolent, merciful, and His truth endures throughout all time. Why does this need mentioning? Well, I’ve driven past more than one highway billboard reading “Hell is real.” Hence, the current relevance of this week’s Lesson. Where did the belief in God as a punisher come from? The mythic gods of the ancient world were basically magnified mortals. Their actions were unreliable, chaotic, and sometimes malevolent. Even as humanity embraced monotheism, they still retained thoughts of God with human characteristics. Even after Christ Jesus described God as all-loving and tender, traditional theology still held to the notion that God was capable of wrath, retribution, and punishment.

Given these entrenched religious beliefs, it’s somewhat remarkable that long before Jesus brought his good news of God’s love for mankind, the psalmist emphasized God’s goodness so strongly. In Christian Science, while acknowledging that sin requires correction, we reason from the standpoint that a God who is eternally good, has nothing whatever to do with evil. To some, this view may seem naïve, to others it may seem hopelessly optimistic, and some might disagree altogether. This Lesson addresses the biblically based rationale behind Mary Baker Eddy’s firm position, that God is eternally good and merciful, hence, God never made evil, or man capable of evil.

In the Responsive Reading Isaiah begins with an appeal: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). By using the simile of sins like scarlet or crimson, Isaiah isn’t referring to occasional sins or minor infractions. The Hebrew word means “twice dipped, or double dyed.” Isaiah is talking about sins that have been oft repeated and are deeply engrained. He’s appealing to what we might call “hardened sinners.” So, we see that even the worst sinners have the opportunity for redemption.

The call to redemption continues in Isaiah 55. Redemption begins with not only hearing, but listening (Isa. 55:3). Hearing is simply noticing sound. Listening is digesting it. After listening, the prophet urges us to “seek…the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6). Now there’s a saying that, “an open door may not remain open forever.” But it’s not like that with God. God can always be found if we seek Him with our whole heart. Isaiah 55:7 tells us that if we forsake wickedness and unrighteous thoughts, and turn to God, we will find mercy and be “abundantly pardoned.” No matter how big the sin, God’s forgiveness is bigger. So much so, that the mountains and hills will “break forth into singing,” and the trees applaud your deliverance! (v.12). Such a transformation is complete, and enduring (v.13).

The psalmist maintains a similar expectation—that our transgressions will be as far removed from us as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). And in verse 17, there is a key promise:  freedom from that generational curse described in the 2nd Commandment, that the sins of the fathers would be visited unto the third and fourth generations. In this verse, God’s righteousness is everlasting even unto “children’s children.” Our work is to keep the covenant with God–to remember the commandments “and do them” (Ps. 103:18).

Section 1: The Covenant

 The first two citations from Jeremiah are a reminder of our covenant with God. In citation B1—(Jer.31:3) God promises to hold us in His everlasting love. In citation B2— (Jer. 32:15 (to ;), 38-40 they (to ;), 41) we’re reminded that our relationship with God is reciprocal, with nothing ambiguous about it. We will have “one heart, and one way,” so that we’ll respect God’s law forever, for the good of ourselves and for future generations.

The prophet Habakkuk reasons similarly: God is everlasting and “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (cit. B3—Hab. 1:12 (to ?), 13 (to :)). In Psalm 25:6 (cit. B4), it may seem like the psalmist is asking God not to forget about him. But theologian Albert Barnes (1798-1870) understands this verse to be more of a reminder to us than to God. He writes: “If we saw and fully understood all that has happened to us, we would need to offer no other prayer than that God might deal with us in the future as He has done in the past.”

In Science and Health, we have the foundation laid for our reasoning that God, being all good, has no connection at all to anything evil.

The section begins with a summary of God’s attributes that parallel Scripture—”justice, mercy, wisdom, goodness, and so on” (citation S1—SH 465:14). Next, we have the foundational recognition that God is already more than we could ask Him to be, and that He certainly doesn’t need reminding of His part of the covenant (cit. S2—2: 23 (only, to?), 31-2 God). Then, we have the logic of our position: the author presents her ideas through a series of questions (cit. S3—356:25-5 2nd Does). Look at these questions carefully. If we presume that God is good, does it follow that God could create us capable of sinning so he could punish us? Is God only a devious “dungeon master” creating a maze meant to confuse and defeat us?

Under the marginal heading “Only one standard” Mary Baker Eddy states her position plainly. “God could never impart an element of evil, and man possesses nothing he has not derived from God. How then has man a basis for wrong-doing?” (cit. S4—539:10-13). The simple answer is, “He doesn’t!” The section concludes with our part of the covenant: Our whole duty is to, “love God and keep His commandments” (cit. S5—340:4).

Section 2: God’s Justice—Penalty or Reform?

As simple as our part of the covenant sounds, we know that in practice it isn’t always easy. Here’s where Christian Scientists must pay close attention. Yes, God made us perfect in His image and likeness. But this is the spiritual ideal. We do need to take an honest look at how our lives measure up to that ideal. This is challenging and seldom pleasing. In fact, if we are totally honest, it’s downright difficult to face our sins. Yes… I said sins. There’s no use in pretending that’s not what we’re talking about. So, what to do?

Fortunately, the Scriptures provide guidance. The psalmist is fully aware of his deviations from God’s laws, so he faces up to admitting them and asking for God’s help. He turns to God for mercy; and counting on God’s goodness and tenderness, he invites God to “blot out” his transgressions and cleanse him completely (cit. B5—Ps. 51:1, 2). He gives himself over to God without reservation, trusting that God will judge him justly (cit. B6—Ps. 89:1 (to :), 13, 14). He invites God to fully examine his life, desiring to reach the point where he can walk uprightly in innocence, integrity, and truth (cit. B7—Ps. 26:2, 3, 6, 11 as).

Again, allowing God to wash us clean sounds simple, but then we must conform our lives to demonstrate that cleanness. Here’s another area where Christian Science takes a different view from traditional Christianity. In Christian Science saying you’re sorry isn’t enough. We have to prove our repentance by changing our lives. The point of divine justice is not merely to forgive, but to reform (cit. S7—391:17 (only)). Our textbook bluntly declares, “Escape from punishment is not in accordance with God’s government…” (cit. S8—36:6). On the other hand, God is not working against us, but for us. It’s sort of an “open book test.” This brings us to another way Christian Science differs from a traditional perspective. Science and Health reads, “Whosoever believeth that wrath is righteous or that divinity is appeased by human suffering, does not understand God” (cit. S9—22:11-12, 27-30). Sometimes people seek comfort after a serious crime by thinking somehow God will severely punish the perpetrator. But God doesn’t destroy the so-called sinner; He destroys the sin.

The word punishment comes from a root word meaning “doomed to be repeated.” While traditional religion emphasizes punishment for sin, Christian Science emphasizes Love’s design “to reform the sinner” (cit. S11—35:30 (only)).

Section 3: Is Sickness a Penalty for Sin?

Another traditional belief is that sickness is a punishment for sin. If one believes in a punishing God, this might sound reasonable, but if God knows nothing of evil, that means He knows nothing of sin or sickness either. God doesn’t use one evil to remedy another. On the contrary—sin is replaced with innocence and purity; and purity of thought is a protection against sickness. In fact, James implies that purity is the first effect of religious thought (cit. B9—James 3:17 the). Barnes writes:

… the first effect of [spiritual wisdom] on the mind is to make it pure. The influence on the man is to make him upright, sincere, candid, holy. …The meaning here is, that the first and immediate effect of religion is not on the intellect, to make it more enlightened; or on the imagination, to make it more discursive and brilliant; or on the memory and judgment, to make them clearer and stronger; but it is to purify the heart, to make the man upright, inoffensive, and good.

The psalmist aspires to maintain a relationship with God, relying on God’s mercy whenever he drifts from his spiritual aim. Once again, it’s worth noting that he doesn’t hide or deny his sins. He admits them and turns to God for help. To my sense, this exhibits an innate desire for purity, despite the ongoing challenge of straying.

An example of this is the story of Hezekiah who became very ill. The prophet tells him to prepare to die—presumably because he’d been disobedient to God. But Hezekiah models a contrite heart. He turns to God and affirms that he has maintained a “perfect heart” and done that which was good in God’s sight. Note that Hezekiah isn’t withholding anything. He bares his soul, and his prayer is answered (cit. B13—II Kings 20:1-5 (to 2nd:)). Afterward, he describes the healing, recognizing God’s great love for him. God has redeemed him and not held his sins against him (cit. B14—­Isa. 38:9, 17-19 (to :)).

Our textbook underscores the fact that a God who is omnipotent good, could not possibly allow sickness or sin. The author writes, “Good is not, cannot be, the author of experimental sins” (cit. S12—230:11-20). God’s is the only wisdom, truth, love, life, and goodness (cit. S13—275:17). With her characteristic frankness the Discoverer of Christian Science states, “God is as incapable of producing sin, sickness, and death as He is of experiencing these errors. How then is it possible for Him to create man subject to this triad of errors, — man who is made in the divine likeness?” (cit. S14—356:19). All her reasoning is based on perfect God, and therefore, perfect man as God’s reflection. How is this possible? The answer to that is another difference from traditional theology. In Christian Science, what we call a mortal sinner, is not the man God made (cit. S15—475:11-14, 28-1 The (to 1st.)). This is really the reasoning behind our expectation of spiritual healing. Contrary to the widely accepted belief that God made mortals and placed them on earth, in Christian Science a God who is Spirit can’t make anything unlike Himself. Therefore, God’s man–the real man is not material, but spiritual.

So, if God doesn’t allow disease, where does it come from? Mary Baker Eddy tells us, “Disease is always induced by a false sense mentally entertained, not destroyed. Disease is an image of thought externalized” (cit. S16—411:21-23, 27-4). The remedy is not found in irradicating a physical disease, but in eliminating the fear of it. Our metaphysical basis for this is that while sin is punished, God never punishes us through sickness. God could never use sickness as a deterrent from sin. If God doesn’t send sickness, then it has no legitimate origin and there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Section 4: So, How Is Sin Punished?

Of course, the Scriptures urge us to avoid sin (cit. B15—I John 2:1, 12). But if we happen to fall into sin, we have a way out through Jesus’ teachings. Saving sinners is a major part of Jesus’ mission (cit. B16—I Tim. 1:15 (to :)). Whereas the Pharisees, considered sinners unclean and to be avoided, Jesus welcomed the opportunity to spend time with them without fear of becoming contaminated. This was in part because Jesus was so secure in his own spiritual identity, that there was no chance of losing sight of who he was while he was in their company (cit. B17—Matt. 9:10-13). He modeled inclusiveness, love, compassion, and genuine concern for them. Rather than sinners pulling him down, he lifted them up. But this irritated the Pharisees who insisted that only God could forgive sins.

The author of Hebrews invokes the covenant in support of Jesus’ mission with this addition—the law of God is no longer consigned to stone but is written in our minds and hearts (cit. B18—Heb. 8:10 (to 1st :), 12). God’s mercy blots out our sins, as if they never existed. The text reads: “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more”. Though unrighteousness, sin, and iniquity may seem redundant, theologian Adam Clarke (c1760-1832), examining the Greek, explains the shades of difference between them:

  1. Unrighteousness, [means], injustice or wrong. This is against God, his neighbour, and himself.
  2. Sin, [means], deviation from the Divine law; MISSING THE MARK; aiming at happiness but never attaining it, because sought out of God, and in the breach of his laws.
  3. Iniquity, [means], lawlessness, not having, knowing, or acknowledging, a law; having no law written in their hearts, and restrained by none in the conduct of their lives.

All these are to be removed by God’s mercy; and this is to be understood of his mercy in Christ Jesus.

This agrees with the psalmist’s proposition that God is good and gracious, and that his tender mercies apply to everyone equally (cit. B19—Ps. 145:8, (to :), 9).

Some people assume that the emphasis on mercy and forgiveness implies that Christian Science is light on sin or that we imagine we are all sinless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mary Baker Eddy confronts sin boldly. In Christian Science we understand that God doesn’t forgive sin until it’s destroyed (cit. S18—497:9). Sin is punished as long as it lasts. Furthermore, “Sin is its own punishment” (cit. S19—537:14-15 Sin).

Jesus overruled sin, sickness and death through divine authority. Rather than focusing on mortals’ sinful nature, he emphasized man’s spiritual nature, and his relationship to a loving God (cit. S20—26:14). Rather than condemning mortals, Jesus showed us the way out of sin by modeling what a child of God looks like (cit. S21—315:32-7). The Pharisees avoided sinners as unclean for fear of being contaminated themselves. Jesus feared neither the sinner nor the sin, and our Leader tells us we should follow his example. There is an aphorism: Honor necessity. One such necessity is that sin doesn’t destroy us, it destroys itself. The man God made couldn’t sin if he tried (cit. S22—405:18). However, it’s up to us to demonstrate it.

Section 5: Sickness Is an Illusion

As mentioned earlier, it can sometimes feel like sickness is God’s punishment for sin. We’ve discussed already how Christian Science disputes that belief. Mary Baker Eddy noted that traditional theology generally accepts God’s power over sin but not over sickness. Where did the Founder of Christian Science get the idea that God could heal sickness as well as sin? In the Bible of course. The psalmist recognizes the record of God’s mercy and appeals to God for His “way”—His “saving health” to be “known among all nations” (cit. B20—Ps. 67:1, 2). Adam Clarke explains that God’s way includes the gracious design to the children of men to reconcile them to God, to justify them—that is to make them righteous in the sight of God, and to sanctify the unholy. Clarke continues by explaining that the phrase “thy saving health” comes from the Hebrew meaning “thy salvation.” He defines salvation like this:

The great work which is performed in God’s way, in destroying the power [of sin], pardoning the guilt, cleansing from the infection, of all sin; and filling the soul with holiness, with the mind that was in Christ. Let all nations – the whole Gentile world, know that way, and this salvation!

Throughout the Scriptures, Christ Jesus proved God’s healing power. In the story of Jesus healing the man with “the dropsy” the Pharisees are again looking on with indignation because, as they believed, it was unlawful to heal on the sabbath (cit. B22—Luke 14:1-4). Ignoring their criticism, Jesus healed the man. The Bible portion of this section concludes with a reaffirmation from the psalms that God forgives all our iniquities and heals all our diseases (cit. B23—Ps. 103:2-4).

Our textbook reassures us that God has nothing to do with sin or sickness (cit. S23—127:16-19). The author reasons if God condones sickness, then health is an evil and there’s nothing we can do about it. But if Truth is real, disease is unreal. (cit. S24—229:23-25, 28-2). She confirms that if sickness and sin are illusions, then waking from that illusion will reveal our health. That process of awakening is referred to as “the coming of the Christ” (cit. S25—240:4). We can heal today just as Jesus did. Sin and sickness are erroneous mortal beliefs, not real material conditions. In the light of truth, evils disappear (cit. S26—xi:9-14). If we believe that sickness and death are real, and that man is condemned to sin only gaining pardon through Jesus’ sacrifice without taking any responsibility for his own reformation, and that God intends it to be that way, we’ll find ourselves in a perpetual cycle of trouble.

God has nothing to do with sickness. This confirms the fact that sickness and sin are errors that only Truth can destroy (cit. S27—251:13-27). Do we accept this? Or do we find ourselves distrusting God and turning to material methods for healing? As we reason spiritually that God is the only Mind, and the only healer, our understanding naturally improves. Notice from citation S28, that we don’t have to force this truth to make it so. As she does in several places throughout Science and Health, here, the author urges us to “Let…the kingdom of heaven reign within us,” [emphasis added] (cit. S28—248:29). This “letting” sweeps away human reasoning and invites in the reality of being until there’s nothing to counter it.

Section 6: God’s Way Is Tender

Human systems and methods change regularly. What’s helpful one day, might be harmful the next. But relying on God is always safe and this never changes. The world could fall apart, but God’s law is fixed forever (cit. B24—Isa. 54:8 with, 10). The psalmist, as always, leaves us with a song of praise and a full acknowledgment of the unwavering reliability of God’s tender care. (cit. B25—Ps. 59:17; cit. B26—Ps. 119:154, 156 (to :)).

God’s tenderness, spoken of so often by the psalmist seems to be something traditional theology has overlooked. As the Pharisees attempted to rule through intimidation, old theology attempts to govern behavior through fear and guilt. Correcting that view is the aim of this week’s Lesson. The closing citations in Science and Health underscore the point.

  • “Tenderness accompanies all the might imparted by Spirit” (cit. S29—514:18-19).
  • “God is Love” (cit. S30—302:25 (only)).
  • God’s chastisements aren’t brutal, but “wholesome” (cit. S31—323:6).

As we learn to take the time to “pause, — wait on God” we’ll learn to listen for divine direction in everything we do (cit. S31—323:6). The gods of the ancient world, were depicted as supernatural humans, playing with earthlings capriciously and viciously setting obstacles in our paths. But our God is Love—inspiring, illumining, designating and leading the way (cit. S32—SH 454:18-19). What else would we expect from our tender Father-Mother God?

Some of GEMs of BIBLE-BASED application ideas (from Cobbey Crisler & others) should be POSTED soon and others will be added to the string and EMAILED together later in the week.  You can always check  for current GEMs at CedarS INSPIRATION website, whether or not you’ve  SUBSCRIBED here for this free, inspirational offering.

Also later in the week, look for Ken Cooper’s
contributions related to this Bible Lesson.

Thank you for raising funds for over 100 new trees to be planted this fall at camp
— as well as bushes, shrubs, and native wildflowers.
Campers will benefit from your generosity and vision for generations to come!

Additional gifts: Campers and staff will also be blessed by the donations you made to additional areas of camp, including the horse program, activity equipment, camperships, and Christian Science nursing and practitioner services. If you haven’t had an opportunity to check out the GIVING TREE, there are still plenty of needs before summer!

We are deeply grateful for this latest outpouring of love and support,
The CedarS Team

P.S. For more about ways to keep CedarS operations ever more green and flourishing and/or to make a planned gift, a required IRA distribution or an ENDOWMENT GIFT (that will all be MATCHED), feel free anytime to call or text me (Warren Huff. Executive Director Emeritus and Project Manager) at 314-378-2574. I can put you in touch with our Financial Advisor/broker who donates all fee for stock transfers and sharing tailored, tax-advantageously giving approaches. 




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