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Feel the Loving Embrace of the Everlasting Arms!

Application Ideas for the Christian Science Lesson on


“Everlasting Punishment”

for October 28—November 3, 2013

by Craig L. Ghislin, C.S.  Glen Ellyn, Illinois (Bartlett)

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

[Bracketed inserts are by CedarS Director, Warren Huff, who trusts that readers will
help CedarS meet a year-end, $25,000 “Maintenance Musts” Challenge Grant!]

As the tiny jet prepared for take-off, the woman next to me warned me that she was terrified of small aircraft, and wished she had taken medication. I assured her that all was well, and offered her a Bible verse—“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” She expressed some surprise that she immediately felt better, and thus began a conversation about God that lasted the length of the flight.

This beautiful verse begins our Lesson this week on Everlasting Punishment. The confidence inspired by this verse has a well-proven history. The verse is thought to be a portion of the blessing given to the children of Israel by Moses. According to Methodist theologian and scholar, Adam Clarke, “The arm is the emblem of power, and of power in a state of exertion, the words here state that an unlimited and unconquerable power shall be eternally exerted in the defense of God’s church, and in behalf of all those who trust in Him.” Clarke’s Presbyterian contemporary Matthew Henry, adds, “Never were a people so well supported and borne up. How low soever the people of God are at any time brought, everlasting arms are underneath them, to keep their spirit from sinking, from fainting, and their faith from failing. Divine grace is sufficient for them.”

While it’s comforting to apply these thoughts to situations like airplane flights, it’s also extremely helpful to know that whatever the situation might be, or as Henry suggests, “how low soever” we may be brought, God is always there to embrace us and lift us up. Quite a bit of this Lesson deals with those who need lifting up in one way or another. The title, “Everlasting Punishment” addresses the old theological belief that sinners face eternal punishment, which leaves us with the impression that God is capable of doing us as much harm as good.  But we’ll see how the “everlasting arms” lift us to eternal glory.

The Responsive Reading gives us the point of view of those who are struggling. Acknowledging that God had been a help in the past (of old), now it appears that God has forsaken them. It’s almost like saying, “God, you promised you’d love me for ever, but now it seems I’ve lost you.” It’s clear that the psalmist, though speaking on behalf of the nation, is aware of why God seems far from him. He is earnestly requesting pardon for his sins. Acknowledging transgressions, he counts on integrity and uprightness to set him straight. God being good, the psalmist can expect not mere justice, but mercy, and that mercy to be everlasting.

Sometimes it takes a hard lesson to get us back on track if we’ve strayed from the path. Some might feel they’re too far gone. But we can have hope in God to save us, and if our hearts are honestly yearning and openly striving to find the right path and follow it, we’ll always find the support we need.

Section 1: God Is Good
As always, we begin with the facts of reality. The opening citation, (B1), is a recognition of God as the source of all mercy, from everlasting to everlasting. That means—throughout all eternity in every age, past, present, and future. In case anyone might doubt it, we can be sure that there is no limit to God’s goodness. I love the way Clarke puts it: “There is not a soul out of hell that is not continually under his most merciful regards.” God certainly is good to all (B2). God isn’t passive either. His tender mercies—His bowels of compassion—are over all His works. Like a mother yearning for her children, God is actively on our side at all times. Kingdoms come and go, but God is forever. God sustains all that fall—those who have no power to go it on their own, and would fail without support. God raises up those who are bowed down—those bent low under cares, trials and burdens. He always does right, and all His works are holy.

Citation B3 is thought to refer to the Israelite’s deliverance from Egypt. Imagine how difficult such a journey would be, wandering a desert without a map. These days, we need a GPS to find a donut shop! The children of Israel had a rough time, and as they learned to trust in God, so must we. Sometimes it can seem that we are wandering in a desert wilderness, especially, if we stop paying attention to our moral compass. I find it curious that Matthew Henry’s commentary on these verses observes that “If we knew no sin, we should know no sickness.” Those who know the saving grace of God, are encouraged to share their story, and praise God for his goodness. As you read these words, take the time to contemplate the wonder of God’s unconditional love for us. It’s really a marvelous thing.

Our textbook gets right to it: “God is good” (S1). Mary Baker Eddy reasons that because God is good, and He made all, everything He made is good as well (S2). Where most people also believe that God also made evil, Mrs. Eddy teaches that anything opposing God or good is erroneous, and has no creator at all (S3). This may seem like a given to those of us familiar with Christian Science, but to the rest of the world, it’s a remarkable proposition. Since mortals have an imperfect sense of good, they can’t really fully comprehend the nothingness of evil (S4). The only way to truly overcome evil of any kind—sin, sickness or death—is to understand that since God is only good, He neither creates, nor allows, any evil. We should understand that this isn’t just positive “happy think.” Our Leader declares that if we really understood that God is infinite eternal good, every single problem in our individual and societal experience would be rectified (S5). This includes the annulment of the old theological curse that dooms “unworthy sinners” to everlasting punishment. If everything and everyone is good, there’s nothing to punish.

Section 2: Man Is Made In His Likeness
Once we’ve established that God is good, it reasonably follows that man, made in God’s image (B4), is also good. Again Clarke puts it nicely: “God is holy, just, wise, good, and perfect; so must be the soul that sprang from him: there could be in it nothing impure, unjust, ignorant, evil, low, base, mean, or vile.” This essential understanding of man as the likeness of his Maker is echoed in the New Testament through the words of John, “Whosoever is born of God…cannot sin, because he is born of God” (B5). Theologians have tried to massage this statement by confining the meaning of “born of God” to imply only those Christians “born again” in Christ. Also, they rationalize that the text doesn’t really mean they cannot sin, but that they are much less likely to. Well Christian Science takes the statement all the way. Man cannot exist unless he be born of God, and in fact, all that exists is born of God, and being such, it is impossible for the real man to sin. But human experience appears to deny this. Humans sin and make mistakes. So then what? Well, if we think we’re in that situation, Christ shows us the way out (B6). Jesus was the sinner’s advocate. Though the English translation “advocate” of the Greek word parakletos is used only once in the King James Version, its alternate meaning is better known as “the Comforter.” In Jesus’ time, there was a general expectancy that the children of Israel were trying to behave as righteously as possible—they wanted to be good. Those who disregarded the laws of God were openly scorned. In our times, it’s almost expected that everyone has something sinful of one sort or another going on in their lives. Having a guilty conscience is bad enough; imagine being an object of public ridicule over your sins. Such was the environment in those days, and Jesus was the one to come to the rescue. He illustrated the act of saving sinners in the parable of the lost sheep (B7). The self-righteous Pharisees, and those like them would rather have the sinner condemned and persecuted, but Jesus came to save those lost in sin.

How could Jesus look past the picture of a sinner to see the lost sheep in need of saving?  First of all, he knew that the belief of a sinner had nothing to do with God (S7, S8). It would make no sense at all for an all-loving God to put man into a situation in which he couldn’t help sinning, and then punish him for it. Here the teachings of Christian Science step in to make a distinction between the mortal sinner and God’s man.  Most believe the mortal sinner to be a fallen version of God’s good man, whereas the fact is that the so-called mortal sinner was never made by God, and is actually a product of the evil belief that man can exist in matter (S9). This picture of a man capable of sinning is only a product of the belief that there is a mind separate from God called evil, that has the ability to re-create a man apart from God. But our textbook explains that “In Science, God and the real man are inseparable as divine Principle and idea.”

Section 3: “Ya Pays Your Money; Ya Takes Your Chances”
The first two citations of this section (B8, B9) have spawned several old sayings that make the same point: “What goes around comes around;” “You get what you pay for;” “You reap what you sow.” However we put it, the idea is the same: Your thoughts and actions determine your circumstance.  This is more than a sense of moral justice. It’s also a promise that even though sin certainly brings suffering, lifting ourselves out of sin can sweeten our experience.  While there is still scholarly debate over the authorship of the well known Psalm 51 (B10), it depicts someone who is intensely aware of his own wrongdoing.  If David was indeed the author, his confession was not done lightly. For a king to publicly recognize his sin, and to do so in such a way that the confession would survive through the ages, shows a deeply repentant heart.  More than a request to mend his heart, he wants to be completely re-born. The word rendered “create” is the same word used when God made man in His image.  It means to “cause something to exist where there was nothing before” (Barnes). This is so much more than simply turning over a new leaf.  It’s asking for a clean slate altogether. Have you ever felt like that?

In the New Testament, Paul expects that Christians approximate that depth of sincere repentance (B11).  Aside from the obvious avoidance of sensuality, to “flee youthful lusts” could also be a warning against impetuosity, rash self-confidence, hastiness, strife, and vainglory.  In short, we want to transform our lives in every way, and overcome evil with good (B12).

Mary Baker Eddy was known to be one of the most loving people ever to walk the earth, but she was blunt about sin.  The only way to stop suffering for sin is to stop sinning (S10).  Notice that while in the previous section of the Lesson, it’s made clear that God wouldn’t punish man for what He made Him capable of doing, in this section, it’s made clear that punishment for evil can’t be avoided (S11).  God forgives sin by destroying it. If we believe in sin, we will suffer as long as the belief lasts (S12).  Old theology insists that God knows your sin and punishes for it.  But, in Christian Science, it’s understood that sin punishes itself (S13).  Love yearns to reform, not punish (S14).  This should give us confidence and enable us to stand up to sin on the basis of our God-given, spiritual nature (S15).

We aren’t doomed to give in to sin, but it’s pretty clear that we have to overcome it, and Christian Science helps us do that (S16).  The way is fairly straightforward—we overcome all the evil inclinations with their spiritual counter-facts. Some might say that they don’t always know or agree that they’re doing something sinful; but on this score, we need to yield to scriptural wisdom. The Bible spells out the things we need to avoid, and we can win the battle if we embrace the good in our hearts, and chose to live rightly.

Section 4: The Christ Seeks to Save the Sinner
There are several levels to the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (B13). The Jews and Samaritans were said to hate each other, and avoided any interaction.  Yet, Jesus asked her to give him a drink.  This opened a conversation that ended up changing her life.  Let’s think about this from the woman’s perspective.  In the context of this story, the woman is to be thought of as a sinner and an unlikely type of person someone as holy as Jesus would interact with.  Presumably she was living “in sin” and had been for some time.  She was just going about her business when she found herself face-to-face with a person she would normally avoid for cultural reasons.  Not even thinking about her sinful lifestyle, she began a verbal sparring match in which she at first held on to her own prejudices.  Yet the person she spoke with wasn’t disrespectful or unkind.  He was courteous, yet he clearly participated in the joust.  Once her curiosity was piqued and she was ready to see what this stranger had to offer, her sin was exposed.  She tried to get out of it, but again, the stranger made his point without being offensive.  As the conversation openly turned to religion, she unexpectedly realized she was in the presence of the Christ.  She immediately dropped what she had been doing, and went to share her story and brought others with her.

Peter’s acknowledgment that God is “no respecter of persons” (B14) signals to us the lesson of being willing to see that no one can be denied the opportunity for redemption.

The citations from Science and Health approach the themes of the story from what we might think of as Jesus’ point of view.  While Jesus was totally aware of what he was doing, how might we react if we were in his shoes?  Would we even think to breach a societal taboo for the purpose of saving someone from sin?  Would we instead, judge such an “undesirable” to be unworthy of salvation?  Our textbook teaches that the open fount is free to all (S17).  Are we alert enough to take advantage of the healing opportunities that come our way?  Do we make use of the circumstances at hand?  Our textbook says there’s no limit to the ways in which we can share the comfort of Christ’s table (S18).  When we perceive that someone is in need of repentance, would we become judgmental?  Or would we correct the evils through love? (S19)  Would our words be critical and injurious in a display of moral superiority?  Or would we uncover sin in order to bless? (S20)  Would we hesitate to share for fear of being rejected?  Are we too accustomed to pre-judging people to be swine?  We’re told that “millions of unprejudiced minds” are ready, “waiting and watching” for help (S21).

The opportunity for salvation from sin can come in totally unexpected ways.  If we’re in the role of the sinner, like the woman at the well, we can know that the Christ is not out to condemn us, but is seeking opportunity to save us.  If we’re in the role of helper, let’s be ready to respond with love to those who need it—not judging and condemning, but kindly and understandingly, with the wisdom to know what to say, and with the certainty that we never need fear the consequences of a genuine desire to heal and save.

Section 5: We Can’t Be Punished with Sickness Either
While traditional theology accepts the possibility that those who are repentant can be saved from sin, there is less expectation that God can save from sickness.  Some religious people even think that God sends sickness to teach us a lesson or to punish us for something we’ve done.  In Christian Science, both sin and sickness are opportunities for healing.

The man at the pool of Bethesda had been suffering for almost four decades (B15).  As we’ve seen before when considering this story, the man was in a rut.  He made his bed in a place for sufferers.  We talked in previous CedarS “Mets” about the five porches representing the five physical senses, and that the porches were basically infirmaries built for those waiting at the pool.  The man was full of excuses as to why he was in his condition, and Jesus challenged him to take responsibility and do something about it.  It’s no wonder the man didn’t balk at Jesus’ command because it was the Sabbath —that would have been a good excuse too!  (After the man is healed, the Pharisees reprimand him for carrying his bed on the Sabbath.)  Apparently, there was some sin involved with the man’s condition because Jesus warns him not to sin further lest he run into worse trouble.  The man needed to be roused from his cycle of expectancy of disappointment.  Jesus held the man accountable and gave him a choice.  Fortunately the man accepted the challenge and was healed.

The words of 1st Peter in citation B16 challenge us to “gird up the loins of [our] mind.”  To “gird up” means to tuck your clothing into your belt so you can do some work. We’re told to be obedient and to be holy.  That doesn’t mean to wait around; it means to do itnow!

Science and Health promises that sickness is healed by the same power that heals sin (S22).  It also calls upon us to be obedient and fulfill the demands made upon us (S23).  Our obedience gives us “power and strength.”  Giving in to error causes us to be weak.  Healing sickness isn’t a miracle; it’s a natural utilization of the power of divine Love.  Jesus demonstrated that power (S24).

The man at the pool was relying on superstition.  What do we rely on?  Do we think material methods can help us?  It is clear that the only real healing there is comes from God.  We have to “gird up our loins,”—roll up our sleeves—and prepare to do whatever it takes to heal and be healed.  Our Leader tells us that if we would put half the effort into study and healing, that we currently put into material pleasures and pains, we would turn the tide of suffering around.  We would grow progressively healthier and stronger, eventually bringing redemption to “the whole human family” (S26).  This is the result we’re looking for.  Jesus “lit a fire” under the man at the pool, and Christian Science is lighting a fire under us.

Section 6: God’s Chastening Shows His Loving Care
We often think of chastening as an unpleasant thing.  But here in citation B17, chastening means instruction, warning, and admonishment.  It seems that human nature, while it loves to discover laws of the physical universe, rebels at having to follow laws of morality.  People just don’t [seem to] like being told what to do or how they should think.  But the law of God should be welcomed.  We should strive to maintain obedience to the law and abide in its protective care at all times (B18).  When our thoughts are focused on, and resting in God, we will find a peace that cannot be disturbed (B19).  Christ Jesus spoke of God’s relationship to man, as a shepherd to his sheep.  Sheep don’t cower in fear when in the presence of the shepherd: they trust the shepherd to guide them safely, to protect, and provide for them. Just so, we need not fear, but look to God in complete confidence, and accept His care (B20).  Old theological traditions enforced obedience through fear of punishment, but the scriptures clearly show that God lovingly governs man, and that His laws aren’t punitive but protective.  God doesn’t dole out everlasting punishment; He imparts “everlasting consolation” through the Comforter (B21).  This is the advocate mentioned earlier in Section 2.

Law isn’t something to be feared: it’s something that we can take comfort in.  The laws of God as discovered in Christian Science are harmonious and overcome discord (S27).  This is a good thing.  God’s law doesn’t force us to do things contrary to our natural inclinations.  It guides us in the path of safety and power (S28).  A distinct advantage to understanding and obeying God’s law as explained in Christian Science is that we don’t have to wait for it to come in the distant future.  We’re not asked to be good in order to avoid, or shorten punishment, in hopes of eventually reaching heaven.  We can experience that salvation right now (S29).  Salvation from sin is an achievable goal.  As we accept the “chastisements of Love”—the instructions toward salvation—we will progress until we reach that heavenly goal (S30).**  It may seem challenging at times, but we can overcome our sins one by one.  We can expect that we will at some point overcome all sin, and we can rejoice in that (S31).  If we seem to fall, we know that those everlasting arms are right there to bear us up, and the shepherd brings us all home on His shoulders rejoicing!


** [Warren’s addendum for a possible citation S30 application idea:  An idea frequently shared by CedarS staff in teaching skiing and wakeboarding comes from citation S30, p. 323:9.  It is a perfect one to apply mentally and physically because when “we pause, — wait on God” the stage is set for the perfect timing that keeps us staying back and credits God with the “divine glory” of feeling “boundless… enraptured… unconfined… winged.”  See these expressed in CedarS latest 9-minute video put together by some of our 2013 Ski Instructors.]


The above application ideas are from a Christian Science Practitioner who has served as a Resident Practitioner at CedarS Camps. These ideas are provided primarily to help CedarS campers and staff (as well as friends) see and daily demonstrate the great value of studying and applying 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) athttp://www.cedarscamps.org/metaphysical/ ]

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

[Please support: CedarS Matched “Maintenance Musts Fund” where $25,000 is needed & will be matched for proper upkeep of mission-critical buildings & equipment; our Matched “Adopt the Herd” fund for year-round horse care; and/or our ongoing  FENCING NEEDS for our herd of wonderful horses that serves campers every day. Just write either “Maintenance Musts, Matched” , "Adopt the Herd, Matched" or “fencing for horses, pre-matched”]

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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, or in Portuguese, thanks to helpers of Orlando Trentini in Brazil.  A voluntary French translation by Rodger Glokpor, a Christian Scientist from Togo (West Africa) has been contributed.  Thank you, Rodger and all translators! Go to http://www.cedarscamps.org/ and click "Newsletters" to sign-up for a free translation into these languages.  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 emails to follow.) 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 serve as 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 and in a variety of useful formats 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-26) and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy (S-1 thru S-32). 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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