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Recognize Your Need for Redemption and Feel God’s Tender Mercies

Metaphysical Application Ideas the Christian Science Bible Lesson for:

Everlasting Punishment

April 29—May 5, 2013


by Craig L. Ghislin, C.S.

Glen Ellyn, Illinois (Bartlett)

craig.ghislincs@icloud.com / (630) 830-8683

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How do you feel about your prospects for entering the kingdom of heaven?  In last week’s Lesson we learned that we can’t be sinners here, and expect to get a free pass to eternal bliss.  But many Christian Scientists will point out that Mrs. Eddy says we’re not sinners because we’re spiritual.  Nobody likes the concept of “Everlasting Punishment” and over the years, in many Lessons on this subject the theme was more about everlasting love, forgiveness, mercy and so on.  While this week’s Lesson addresses God’s mercy, it also faces head on our need for mercy.

In the Golden Text, the psalmist is asking for God to plead his cause, because he recognizes his need of redemption.  He’s trying to be good, but detractors surround him.  We often use the analogy in Christian Science of an attorney pleading a case based on innocence.  But what if we’ve done things we know we shouldn’t have?  What if we don’t feel we deserve to have anyone on our side, or that our challenges are too overwhelming?  Everyone wants an advocate—someone to watch their backs, stand up for them, defend, and support them.  But here the petitioner is looking for more than a buddy to support him even though he may make bad decisions. He expects God to reform him as well—to release, and preserve him from sin. How is that done?

The tenor of the psalmist’s plea to God indicates that he is not looking for justice based on any particular personal merit but, on the contrary, he feels undeserving because he knows he’s fallen short, and needs forgiveness.  As we consider the Responsive Reading, we can’t help but think that the writer of this Psalm is not a stranger to struggles.  He recounts that in the past, God has saved him from the “lowest hell.”  The only peace and comfort he can find is in God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Nobody gets to that point, unless he acknowledges his mistakes and how much he needs God’s help.  This shows humility, and a deep willingness to improve one’s self.  The psalmist fully trusts that the Lord will make things right.

In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy observes that the “maternal affection lives on under whatever difficulties” (S&H 60:10).  Isaiah promises that God will comfort us as a mother.  No matter how bad things get, the mother-love is always willing to see the best in her children and do everything possible to protect, defend, nurture, and support them.  Our heavenly Mother, infinite Love, is always supporting us and giving us exactly what we need.

Section 1: Divine Justice Requires Reformation, But that’s a Good Thing
For centuries much of the traditional Christian world centered their eschatology on the real possibility of a literal heaven and hell. In fact, a bumper sticker I’ve seen recently warning people that “Hell is real,” indicates that some still hold to the old beliefs.  Christian Scientists however, do not believe in a literal physical location of heaven or hell.  Historically, both the Roman and Protestant churches have used the threat of hell-fire and brimstone to encourage good behavior in their adherents.  With no threat of an actual “hell” being an issue for Christian Scientists, and Mrs. Eddy’s teaching that “fear of punishment never made a man truly honest” (S&H 327:22), Christian Scientists may feel a less than urgent need to behave themselves.  The citations in this Lesson serve to correct that shortcoming.

The Scriptures unapologetically state that divine justice will demand everyone be equally responsible for maintaining uprightness.  The Book of Proverbs uses the image of the weights in a balance (B1) as a symbol for God’s justice.  There is also a very certain sense that punishment for wrongdoing is akin to the purification of precious metals (B2).  This has been interpreted by old theology to mean God sends afflictions to separate the gold from the dross of human character.  Through it all, the refining process is a just one, and God is trusted to be fair, kind, and just, doing everything for our good to the end that we happily live in accordance with divine law (B4).

While disagreeing with the theory that God sends punishment, Mrs. Eddy does not avoid the question of “just punishment” for sin.  She says those who either avoid, or refuse to come “face to face with their wickedness” have “little hope” (S1).  Rather than her followers believing themselves to be sinless, because in truth there is no sin, Mrs. Eddy fully expected them to honestly assess their thoughts and actions and admit their shortcomings.  Beyond that, she states, “Without punishment, sin would multiply” (S2).  There is a distinction here though between general Christian thought and Christian Science.  General religious thought believes God to be the one who knows our sins and punishes us, and even those who don’t necessarily believe in God, have accepted the belief of karma—the oriental version of “what goes around comes around.”  By contrast, Christian Science states, “Sin is its own punishment” (S3).

In her own way, Mrs. Eddy agrees with the necessity of suffering for sin.  She says that restitution for sin is a moral demand, and a necessary part of progress (S4).  Much of traditional Christianity thinks that man is nothing more than a sinful mortal, and that God’s mercy means forgiving man because he has no hope of being anything other than a sinner.  But Christian Science states, “Truth bestows no pardon upon error” (S4), and “Escape from punishment is not in accordance with God’s government…” (S5).  These statements intimate that punishment for sin cannot be avoided.  God does not pardon sin until it is forsaken, and destroyed (S6).  In Christian Science man absolutely has the ability to be perfect and sinless because that’s how God made him.  As we understand that, and set aside the belief that we are doomed to be sinners, we begin to see that we can achieve a life of spirituality (S6).  Even though some might feel this is a rather harsh and unforgiving view of sin and punishment, Mrs. Eddy adds an abundance motherly love to it, acknowledging that the “poor suffering heart”—the heart that is honestly facing the struggle with sin—needs to feel comforted in tribulation and feel “a priceless sense of the dear Father’s lovingkindness” (S7).  So while we do need to acknowledge our need to improve, the good news is God’s tender mercies are ready when we are.

Section 2: Correction Is for Our Good, but God Doesn’t Punish with Sickness
As mentioned, traditional theology embraces the idea of God knowingly punishing man for the purpose of bringing him back into compliance with divine law.  This belief is a remnant of mythology in which the gods, often acting much like humans themselves, purposefully place or allow obstacles and challenges in the lives of men in order to prove their loyalty, worth, or true character.  The book of Job follows this format and in it, Job’s friends urge him to be happy about the trials he’s facing (B5).  That these views remain in modern times is borne out in the comment from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible referring to how we should accept trials, “the consideration of the righteousness of Him [God] who sends it, and the end for which it is sent, make it a cause for thankfulness, not for complaints…”  This clearly indicates the belief that God sends afflictions.  Jeremiah takes a higher view stating that God only sends thoughts of peace and expects only goodness (B6).  We see a remnant of the old belief that God punishes with sickness in the New Testament account of Jesus’ healing of a man born blind (B7).  The last time we looked at this story, it was in reference to heredity, but this time, the emphasis is on punishment for sin.  Whose sin caused this man to be blind?  Jesus answered definitively that neither the sins of the man, nor of his parents had anything to do with it.  It was just a lie, and Jesus used it as an opportunity to prove the healing power of Truth.  In this case, the man himself may have been under the false impression that he or his parents had done something that caused him to be born blind; but, Jesus through healing power relieved him from such an imposition.  God’s law delivers from sickness, sin, and every oppressive suggestion that opposes His Allness (B8).

Our textbook clearly explains that God is all good and “exempt from all evil” (S8).  God never sends sickness.  He neither causes nor allows man to sin, to be sick, or to die (S9).  Addressing the issue logically, Mrs. Eddy explains that if God caused sickness, sickness would be good—which is an absurd conclusion.  God doesn’t cause sickness, mortal mind does (S11).  Sickness and sin are illusions, and the remedy is to wake up from these illusions.  The Bible presents God as totally just and righteous; therefore, it is inconceivable that He could set man up for inevitable failure by making him capable of sinning and then punishing him for it (S12).  In direct opposition to traditional theology our Leader states that “discords have no support from nature or divine law” (S13).  Just as Jesus healed the man both of his false beliefs and physical ailment, we too, can begin our work by destroying the fear of sickness which is often associated with a concern that the sufferer must have done something to deserve becoming sick.  We destroy such fear based on the fact that God is Love and only punishes sin.  And remember that He punishes sin by destroying it.

Section 3: Hypocrisy Uncovered
Throughout history it has appeared that men can sin but still get away with it.  Even worse, men can pretend to be good when in fact, they are not.  When someone obtains something through theft or trickery, he may be happy for a while, but it cannot last.  Evil has no connection to goodness, therefore no evil deed can make anyone genuinely happy (B9).  Neither can one forever succeed in deception.  Eventually error is uncovered.  The Pharisees were hypocrites.  Their deeds were contrary to their words.  Jesus exposed their disingenuousness (B10).  Jesus said that to hide their own sin they in effect, shut the doors of the kingdom in men’s faces and hide the key, yet they themselves also remain outside.  While telling others how to live their lives, they do everything to stop spiritual progress.  Jesus asks, “…how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”  That’s pretty severe.

The Old Testament also emphasizes obedience to, not merely lip service to God (B11).  God’s goodness and His mercy never end (B12).  This not only helps sustain those who are good, but also assures us that the wicked cannot forever be concealed.

Mrs. Eddy addressed hypocrisy confidently stating that the hypocrite cannot “escape the penalty due” (S15).  She reminds us that Jesus sternly condemned false piety (S16).  She cautions all of us to be sincere, knowing that we cannot succeed if we aren’t genuinely striving to be spiritual.  Recall that it’s the “poor suffering heart”—the genuine, repentant seeker—that yearns for and earns God’s tender mercies.  To be free of hypocrisy, we want to make sure that we are consistent.  We may say we’re grateful, but are we?  We may say we love our neighbor, but do we?  Eventually all hypocrisy is exposed (S17).  We may all know an awful lot of the letter, but are we living and practicing what we know?  Calling one’s self a Christian Scientist is not the same as being one.  It’s very tempting to show off what you “know” and judge others based on theory, but Mrs. Eddy pulls no punches in condemning such a false practice (S19).  She flatly states, “A dishonest position is far from Christianly scientific.”  I don’t find anything “unscientific” about acknowledging one’s sin.  Our Leader tells us we need to.  So don’t try to hide your sin.  Confront it and correct it.

Section 4: Conquering Selfishness by Serving Others
Some people respond well to rules, and others do not.  The Old Testament is loaded with rules, many of which were detailed instructions in ritual.  When the focus of religious practice becomes the letter rather than the spirit, progress slows.  Too many people view religious practice as the “don’ts” of life—don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t steal, and so on.  Even Christian Science is seen by many as the religion that “doesn’t go to doctors.”  Wouldn’t it be great if we were known instead as the religion that loves and heals?

In Deuteronomy, all the rules of religious practice are distilled into four areas: Fear (revere) God; walk in His ways instead of your own; love God with all your heart; serve God by keeping His commandments (B13).  Notice that these aren’t prohibitory, but rather are calls to action.  Christian Scientists are often accused of being aloof and disinterested in the basic needs of humanity.  This is countered by the ostensibly “metaphysical position” that prayer is the best form of aid or assistance.  It’s true that Mrs. Eddy tells us that prayer is more effective than busy work.  But, prayer doesn’t make the news.  It’s usually action resulting from the prayer that gets noticed.  Recently more emphasis has been focused on taking an active role in civic duties.  Many Christian Science church volunteers are contributing to local food pantries, visiting jails, prisons, and even hospitals.

While not in the Mother Church Manual, these activities are called for in the Bible.  Jesus makes it clear that doing good works in a practical way is a very important element of our Christian practice (B14).  He predicts that when held accountable, both those who have done good works and those who haven’t will become incredulous saying, “when saw we the hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison?”  He replies, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  Those lacking in good works, offer the same words as their counterparts, but in self-justification.  They are judged not by what they have done, but by what they have neglected to do.  Notice that in our translation, Jesus actually uses the term “everlasting punishment.”  That’s not for doing bad things, but for neglecting to do good things.

The Psalms suggest that one reason people avoid helping those less fortunate than themselves is because they are more interested in their own welfare, rather than in others, and trust in riches more than in God (B15).  In today’s world many feel justified putting themselves before others, but Jesus taught the opposite.  Christians aren’t the only ones who teach about the importance of helping others.  The Bhagvat Geeta teaches, “Those who dress their meat but for themselves, eat the bread of sin.”

The Founder of Christian Science pointedly warns her church about selfishness.  She writes that no matter how beautiful our churches might be, if we “turn the poor and the stranger from the gate, they at the same time shut the door on progress” (S20).  Do we pay attention to this?  Mrs. Eddy links selfishness with sensualism (S21).  So it may seem like a harmless thing to neglect others, but it really slows our spiritual progress.  Christians are charged to be better than the Pharisees were.  We can’t merely act like we’re doing good or think we’re “too spiritual” to give someone practical help.

When I was a boy in the 1960s, I lived in Chicago with my grandma.  In those days, there were those whom were called “bums” or “hobos” who would on occasion walk up to a house, knock on the door and ask for food.  This practice may have been a remnant of the first Great Depression.  But, my grandma would always make them a sandwich and give them a drink.  They would sit down and eat it right on our porch, and then thank us and head on their way.  That sort of thing doesn’t happen much any more, but it left an impression on me.  Mrs. Eddy writes, “The test of all prayer lies in the answer to these questions: Do we love our neighbor better because of this asking? Do we pursue the old selfishness, satisfied with having prayed for something better…?” (S22).  She concludes her questions with the reminder that asking for holiness isn’t enough.  We have to practice it.

People often mistake “absolute Science” as being totally unrelated to our present experience.  This runs the risk of being so spiritual that we are of no earthly good.  The absolute reality is that the kingdom of heaven is here, so we should act like it.  Our theme at CedarS Camps this year is “Put your whole self in.”  That’s what we need to do in Christian Science.  We’re told that we need to do the work “without timidity or dissimulation” (S23).  That’s an interesting word—dissimulation.  It means “hiding under a false appearance; a feigning; false pretension; hypocrisy” (Student’s Reference Dictionary).  If we expect to progress we have to put our “whole self in.”  We’re promised that unselfed love gives us divine power (S24).  Our “unselfishness, goodness, mercy, health holiness, love” (S25) is the kingdom of heaven—it is absolute Science, so let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it!

Section 5: God’s Mercy Accepts Repentance without Delay
Redemption is possible.  In spite of all the wrongs a man might do, God is merciful and it is always possible for a man to change his ways and get back on the right track.  As we saw in the beginning of this Lesson, God is just, kind, and merciful (B16).  In citation B17, the psalmist expresses the desire to follow all of God’s commandments.  He won’t choose only the ones that suit him, but will obey all of them equally.  Also, he declares that only when he is following God’s law in its entirety, will he truly be able to say he is unashamed.  The fact that he feels shame at all for not fully obeying God’s law shows that he has enough moral sense to be redeemed.

Although Zacchaeus was said to be “little of stature” (B18), he wasn’t a “low profile” sinner.  His whole town seemed to have a pretty low opinion of him.  But something in him responded to the Christ, and he made the effort to make immediate restitution for his sin.  Jesus rewarded his willingness to accept accountability.  Jesus didn’t play games with him, and make him jump through hoops to be forgiven.  He accepted his repentance and invited him to proceed forward in a new direction.  We should remember this.  So often, those who’ve done wrong are constantly being reminded of it.  That wasn’t Jesus’ method.  Remember God is merciful (B19).  If the sinner repents, the punishment is over.  Even though the world may revel in seeing the sinner get his due, God is always on the side of righteousness.  He doesn’t punish forever, but loves and upholds us in our true natures (B20).

As we’ve said before, Mary Baker Eddy didn’t shy away from acknowledging the efficacy of chastening (S26).  Sin simply cannot exist in the kingdom of heaven.  It must be forsaken.  The real man made by God cannot sin.  What we see as a sinning mortal is not the man God made (S27).  But as we’ve said many times before, if we continue to sin, we are basically accepting the lie that we are mortals, and sinners too.  Such a course inevitably leads to punishment.  The only way to avoid punishment is to repent (S28).  There’s nothing unspiritual, or unfair about that.  We simply have to correct our lives and live in accordance with God’s law.  Sin is pardoned only when it is destroyed (S29).  Once destroyed, there’s nothing left to forgive.

This is really a wonderful thing.  Even if it seems pretty hard to comprehend, given our current situation, the time will come when we will be victorious over all sin (S30).  Then we will be unashamed, like the psalmist, because we will be living in complete harmony with God’s law.  When we’re turning away from sin, and opening our hearts humbly to God, His tender mercies will wash us clean.


[The application ideas above are from a Christian Science Practitioner who has served as a Resident Practitioner at CedarS Camps. They are provided primarily to help CedarS campers and staff (as well as friends) see and daily demonstrate the great value of study and application of the Christian Science Bible lessons throughout the year, not just at camp!  YOU CAN ALSO SIGN UP for weekly emails from past CedarS staff of possible ways to share Bible Lesson applications with older, as well as younger, Sunday School classes by clicking the "Subscribe Now" button (lower left) at http://www.cedarscamps.org/metaphysical/

Warren Huff, CedarS Director & editor of these notes & writer of its bracketed, italic additions.]

[Check out CedarS Camps in the beautiful Missouri Ozarks with Unique Features that transform lives through:

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[Additional Director's Note: You can sign up to have these application ideas emailed to you free — by Monday each week in English; or by each Wednesday you can get a FREE TRANSLATION: in German, thanks to Helga and Manfred; or in Spanish, thanks to a team of Ana, Erick, Claudia and Patricio.  A voluntary French translation by Pascal or Denise cannot be guaranteed due to their busy schedules. An "official" version of the weekly Portuguese translation is now available for CedarS Mets, thanks to helpers of Orlando Trentini in Brazil.  Go to http://www.cedarscamps.org/ and click "Newsletters" to sign-up for the Portuguese version.  This sharing is the latest in an ongoing, 13-year series of CedarS Bible Lesson "Mets" (Metaphysical application ideas) contributed weekly by a rotation of CedarS Resident Practitioners and occasionally by other metaphysicians.  (Ask and look for "Possible Sunday School Topics "and "Possible Younger Class Lessons" in subsequent emails.) These weekly offerings are intended to encourage further study and application of ideas in the lesson and to invigorate Sunday School participation by students and by the budding teachers on our staff. Originally sent JUST to my Sunday School students and to campers, staff and CedarS families who wanted to continue at home and in their home Sunday Schools the same type of focused Lesson study, application and inspiration they had felt at camp, CedarS lesson "mets "and Sunday School ideas are in no way meant to be definitive or conclusive or in any way a substitute for daily study of the lesson. The thoughts presented are the inspiration of the moment and are offered to give a bit more dimension and background as well as new angles (and angels) on the daily applicability of some of the ideas and passages being studied. The weekly Bible Lessons are copyrighted by the Christian Science Publishing Society and are printed in the Christian Science Quarterly as available at Christian Science Reading Rooms or online at eBibleLesson.com or myBibleLesson.com. The citations referenced (i.e.B-1 and S-28) from this week's Bible Lesson in the "Met" (Metaphysical application ideas) are taken from the Bible (B-1 thru B-24) and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy (S-1 thru S-30). The Bible and Science and Health are the ordained pastor of the Churches of Christ, Scientist. The Bible Lesson is the sermon read in Christian Science church services throughout the world. The Lesson-Sermon speaks individually through the Christ to everyone, providing unique insights and tailor-made applications for each one.  We are glad you requested this metaphysical sharing and hope that you find some of the ideas helpful in your daily spiritual journey, in your deeper digging in the books and in closer bonding with your Comforter and Pastor.]

 

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