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Forsake Evil!  Our Destiny Is Not Punishment, but Heaven!
Lesson Application Ideas for: “Everlasting Punishment,” April 28-May 4, 2008
by Craig L. Ghislin, C.S. Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Editor’s Note: The following application ideas for this week and Possible Sunday School Topics that follow are offered primarily to help CEDARS campers and staff (as well as friends) see and demonstrate the great value of daily study and application of the Christian Science Bible lessons year-round, not just at camp! You can sign up to have them emailed to you free — in English by Monday or Tuesday each week, or by each Wednesday you can get a FREE TRANSLATION in French from Pascal, in Spanish from Ana or in German by Gabriele. JUST SIGN UP at www.cedarscamps.org/newsletters.

Have you ever been caught doing something wrong and then found yourself getting mad at the person for catching you, and then blaming them for your punishment? That’s the kind of reasoning we find going on in human consciousness all the time. In an effort to deflect responsibility for his condition, mankind has concocted the theory that he can’t really be blamed because as a sinful, fallen, cousin of Adam, we have no choice. God made it that way. God puts obstacles in our way, and then punishes us for what we can’t help doing. In essence, both our sin and our punishment are ultimately God’s doing and there’s nothing we can do to change it.

While the teachings of Christian Science certainly consider the punishment of sin, it is understood that man’s destiny is not everlasting punishment, but an awakening to understand that God is everlasting Love and has nothing to do with sin or suffering. As this week’s Lesson explains, sin brings its own punishment. It’s up to us to forsake sin and “return unto the Lord” as the Golden Text points out. The prophet’s call is for repentance-“not to wails and tears as too often the modern man is disposed to define repentance, but to an entirely new life…Upon man must come the burden of action, and the action required is to forsake the old sinful ways and the old sinful thoughts” (The Abingdon Bible Commentary).

The Responsive Reading clearly states that our belief in sin causes us to feel separated from God. We are admonished to wash away the evil of our doings and learn to do well. Reasoning from the higher standpoint of perfect God and perfect man, we can expect to be fully purified from all evil. Contrary to the traditional theological view that some are saved and some are doomed to eternal hellfire, all according to God’s law, we find the higher view in 2nd Peter which promises that it is not God’s will for anyone to perish, “but that all should come to repentance.”

Section 1: Right Reasoning Starts with a Right Understanding of God
As mentioned before, the generally accepted model for human behavior and consequences is that God either implicitly or explicitly made man capable of sin and then punishes him for it. This is based on the mistaken notion that God behaves as mortals do. It’s a view that makes God manlike. It’s common to get taken in by this. Often when things go wrong in one’s life, there is a temptation to think the trouble is the effect of God’s punishment. Have you ever felt that way? Christian Science operates on a Biblical model that is totally different.

In context, Habakkuk (B1) was in a situation in which the people he thought were the answer to his prayers turned out to be a nightmare. He couldn’t believe how God would permit such a thing. He questions how it could be that so pure and holy a God could “tolerate the wicked oppressing the righteous even for a moment” (The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible). In Jeremiah we read that without God, man is incapable of choosing the right direction in life (B2). Man doesn’t create himself, God does. And everything God makes is “very good” (B3). The man God made is only satisfied in finding fellowship with God and in obedience to His eternal laws.

Christian Science reasons from a spiritual model. We start with perfect God and perfect man. God creates and governs His universe. His ideas are obedient to Him (S1). The citations from Science and Health are very straightforward. They present a logical sequence reasoning that if God is good and All, all must be good. Evil can’t possibly come from God (S2). In the same way, Habakkuk couldn’t believe God capable of beholding evil, Mrs. Eddy considers it totally illogical to believe that God punishes man for sins He made him capable of committing (S3). She insists that God “never made man capable of sin” (S4). The mortal way of thinking has good men in a state of fear-helpless against an indwelling sinful nature. But the spiritual way frees us from bondage to sin and opens the door to the possibility of infinite good.

Section 2: Seeking Pleasure in the Senses Only Brings Pain
Although the spiritual fact is established that God has nothing to do with making man sinful and punishing him for it, we nevertheless find ourselves sometimes drawn into doing things we shouldn’t. It’s easy to relate to the prodigal son. He’s a young guy with his whole life ahead of him. He probably felt pretty hemmed in at home and was eager to get out and “go for the gusto” as the old slogan goes. Most commentaries say that the boy leaving home is representative of man forsaking the law of God and going to a place where God is forgotten. The boy ends up in servitude to evil, and when he realizes his sinful ways are more painful than pleasurable, he goes back home to the father-God. Notice that the boy squanders his father’s estate.  We could think of that as wasting our God-given talents and abilities.

The word “prodigal” means: given to extravagant expenditures; expending money or other things without necessity; profuse; wasteful; not frugal or economical (Student’s Reference Dictionary). The pursuit of nothing but pleasure seems to be an epidemic in much of modern American society. Many of the financial woes facing our country are the result of extravagant, unnecessary spending-often of borrowed funds. It’s a gross materialism that seeks pleasure through the senses.

Mrs. Eddy rightly asks, “Who will stop the practice of sin so long as he believes in the pleasures of sin?” (S8). Sensual pleasures do not bring bliss. They bring bondage (S9). Sometimes people balk at the idea that sin should bring consequences. But the textbook clearly shows that indulgence in sin brings suffering. For some, suffering is the only condition by which they will stop sinning. It is a key point in Christian Science that there is no pleasure in sin (S10). Looking for satisfaction through the senses is like trying to fill a colander with water. It can’t be done. As hard as it may be, we are taught: “the pains of sense are salutary, if they wrench away the false pleasurable beliefs…” (S12). “Salutary” means: wholesome; healthful; promoting health (SRD). So if suffering results in turning us away from sin and replacing false appetites with obedience to God and love for that which is good, that’s more of a blessing than a punishment. In my chaplain work over the last sixteen years what I hear most often from inmates is that they are grateful that they were caught, because they know God was saving them from going down a fruitless path.

Section 3:  Animalistic Pride Is Broken through Spiritual Reason
The case of Nebuchadnezzar is an interesting one. It is an example of human pride brought down through suffering. In this case Nebuchadnezzar was warned. He had time to repent, but he remained obsessed with pride in his own power. Interpreter’s sums it up: “…some men cannot be saved until their pride is broken. Only then can they recognize the truth about themselves and experience the love of God.” Nebuchadnezzar was a classic example of the “alpha male.”  Not surprisingly, he lost his reason and devolved into animal behavior. His reason returned only when he lifted up his eyes to heaven and acknowledged God’s rule. The details of this story seem pretty extreme and push the envelope of credibility. But true or not, the purpose of the story is clear. “It [is] to teach the futility of human pride and of opposition to the will of God. He will humble those who exalt themselves in pride and oppress His people” (Abingdon).

Mrs. Eddy agrees with the moral of the story. She writes, “Pride and fear are unfit to bear the standard of Truth, and God will never place it in such hands” (S13). The spiritual must “have ascendency over the animal” (S14). PBS aired an episode of Nova a while ago entitled “Ape Genius.” They were doing experiments comparing chimpanzee behavior with that of young children. Although the chimps could do many of the things children did, the chimps always behaved selfishly. They were not interested in sharing or reasoning far enough ahead to know that if they were patient, they might receive a bigger reward than the one in front of them. The children were tempted to be selfish, but they could thoughtfully reason things through and most resisted the temptation. They were also willing to share experiences unselfishly. Mrs. Eddy called reason “the most active human faculty” (S18). She didn’t experiment with chimps, but she knew that the spiritual and moral had to overcome the animal tendencies in human behavior. She says, “all must rise superior to materiality” (S15) She adds the caveat that the task often includes suffering. In fact, she calls suffering a “divine agent.” This might put some people on edge. But she tells us the “divine method of paying sin’s wages involves unwinding one’s snarls” (S16). Once again, these passages don’t mean that God is up there just waiting to punish us. They just mean that sin brings it’s own punishment. As we learn that sin does us no good, we can forsake it and turn only to God for every need.

Section 4: Forgiveness Means Having Nothing Left to Be Sorry About
To my sense, the first three citations (B10-12) establish that Jesus’ mission was to bring redemption to everyone. In context, the phrase those who “were far off” is a reference to the Gentiles (Interpreter’s). In John we read that God “gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (B11). Everlasting life is available to whoever believes on him. Jesus’ healing ministry “went throughout all Syria” and “all sick people” were healed (B12).

The story of the woman taken in adultery (B13) shows that Jesus not only came to heal sickness, but also to heal sin. This story can be approached from different angles. You have the woman who was caught in the act, those who accused her, and those tagging along. And then you have Jesus. Have you taken the time to imagine yourself in each of these positions? J. R. Dummelow points out that in fact, the accusers had neither a moral nor a legal right to condemn the woman. Technically, that was the duty of her husband and the judges. But as we all know, human nature often has us sticking our noses were they don’t belong. In addition, the accusers were actually more concerned with entrapping Jesus than the woman. They thought they had him either way. If he agreed with the mob, he’d be breaking Roman law. If he didn’t, he’d be going against the Law of Moses. Jesus’ response was brilliant to say the least. He raised the question to a higher level.

The story says he wrote on the ground. This was an ancient custom that indicated he’d rather not deal with it (Dummelow). When they kept pushing for an answer he said, “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” He returned to writing on the ground. There is an interesting tradition that says each man saw his own sin written in the ground. Whatever the case, each one left being convicted by his own conscience. When they had all left, Jesus told her to “go, and sin no more.”

Mrs. Eddy saw these words of Jesus as a key to forgiveness. Sin is not forgiven until it is destroyed. This is strong meat to chew on, yet Science and Health emphasizes it over and over. “Sin is forgiven only as it is destroyed” (S19); “divine Principle never pardons our sins or mistakes till they are corrected…Truth bestows no pardon upon error, but wipes it out…sin brings inevitable suffering” (S20). Why do you suppose she spent so much time trying to get this point across?

Traditional Christian theology teaches that Jesus died for our sins and that we are redeemed from sin through his suffering. This leaves the impression that if we accept that Jesus died for our sins, we have nothing left to do. Jesus’ blood doesn’t get us off the hook (S21, 22). We have to work out our own salvation. “Justice requires reformation of the sinner.” Yes, we have work to do. The third tenet of Christian Science (S23) acknowledges that sin is forgiven only as it is destroyed.  Sin is destroyed by understanding that evil is not real. If we understand that sin is not real we will stop believing in it and stop sinning. Only then is the punishment over.

Section 5: Redemption from Sin Is Available to All
So does that mean we all should be shaking in our boots? Not at all. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (B14). The RSV substitutes “steadfast love” for mercies. The Hebrew word used is hesed and indicates a committed, loving loyalty to a covenant obligation (Interpreter’s). God’s love is not only steadfast, it’s also impartial. God’s love is active and available to all men (B15), “regardless of their moral worth or their attitude toward God” (Ibid.). If anyone should have been “shaking in his boots” it should have been Paul. He is the “poster boy” for turning one’s life around. He once referred to himself as “chief” of sinners (I Tim. 1:15). As a former persecutor of Christians he considered himself “least of the apostles” and even unfit to be called one (B16). Yet, the grace of God saved him as it does everyone else. God’s purpose isn’t to punish, but to bless us (B17).  As Christians, we are raised to a new life. “In love He has willed that man should be holy and blameless…and attain full stature as a son of the heavenly Father.” (Interpreter’s)  Although Paul viewed grace as an unearned gift of God, we are created “unto good works” (B18). Good works are a necessary part of Christian experience. On the surface, it would appear that the citation in James (B19) contradicts Paul’s declaration that we are saved through faith and not works. But this merely shows that the works do not originate in man, but are a natural outcome of one’s faith. Considering James’ standpoint Interpreter’s explains, “Surely the notion that faith is mere belief which excuses a person from action and responsibility is far from Paul’s understanding.” Dummelow adds, “If you have ‘faith’ without active piety to be its evidence, it is impossible for any one to be sure that you have faith at all.”

Our Leader characterizes our sufferings and challenges to overcome sin as “wholesome chastisements of Love” (S24). She says we need to practice what we know in order to grow. Our faith has to be more than mere belief. True faith is active in rebuking sin and in doing that which is good (S25). We can’t succeed in Christian Science without being willing to follow Jesus’ direction in every way (S26). The Christian Science model for salvation is not through pardon, but through reform (S27). No matter at what point we are in our experience, we can begin to demonstrate our sinless nature. When we’ve demonstrated it we know it is ours and nothing can take it away. As we forsake evil and love that which is holy and good, we will find that as God’s children, we are sinless. We will cast off the sinful mortal because we will be attracted only to good things. We will be fully obedient to the law of God and as the textbook says (S28), we “will be as the angels in heaven.” So our destiny is not punishment but sinless freedom in the kingdom of heaven.
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Camp Director’s Note: This sharing is the latest in an ongoing, seven-year series of CedarS Bible Lesson “mets” (metaphysical application ideas) contributed weekly by a rotation of CedarS Resident Practitioners and occasionally by other metaphysicians. (To keep the flow of the practitioner’s ideas intact and to allow for more selective printing I put my “Possible Sunday School Topics” and Homework options on the following page – after the practitioner’s application ideas.) This weekly email (and website posting) is 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 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” 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, background and new angles on daily applicability to 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. B1 and S28) from this week’s Bible Lesson in the “met” (metaphysical application ideas) are taken from the King James Version of the Bible (B1-24) and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. (S1-30) 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 these ideas helpful in your daily spiritual journey, in your deeper digging in the books and in closer bonding with your Comforter and Pastor. Have fun unwrapping, cherishing and sharing your special, spiritual gift(s)!
Enjoy!
Warren Huff, Camp Director, director@cedarscamps.org (636) 394-6162

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Possible Sunday School Topics, Homework & Application Ideas by Warren Huff for the 5/4/08 Christian Science Bible Lesson: “Everlasting Punishment”

 

Possible Sunday School Topics [P.S.S.T. -Golden Text] Isaiah’s call to repentance is “to an entirely new life…Upon man must come the burden of action, and the action required is to forsake (abandon, renounce, disown) the old sinful ways and the old sinful thoughts” (The Abingdon Bible Commentary, quoted in Craig’s met for GT). What action can you take today “to abandon as fast a practical the material, and to work out the spiritual which determines the outward and actual?” (S&H 254:21)

Possible Uplifting Sunday School Homework (P.U.S.S.H.) “In an effort to deflect responsibility for his condition, mankind has concocted the theory that he can’t really be blamed because as a sinful, fallen, cousin of Adam, we have no choice.” (Craig’s met. 1st paragraph) List all your actions that appear to be involuntary — against your will or choice. Some commonly-accepted beliefs of involuntary action (that are healed by divine Mind when put on a falsely mental basis) include: allergic reactions to pollen; loss or degradation of abilities due to disease, accident or aging; gender preferences that are believed to be due to genetics; … One of the invariable laws of Christian Science is: “There is no involuntary action.” (S&H 187:22) Stop accepting that any single part of your identity or situation can be involuntary, and you will strengthen your ability to “meet every adverse circumstance as its master.” (S&H 419:22)

Possible Sunday School Topics (P.S.S.T. – Responsive Reading) – Ask yourself: In what ways am I being a “slacker” (loafer) concerning my promise? (“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise” II Peter 3:9) Am I keeping my promises and honoring my word in all ways — little and big? Am I living up to my unlimited potential (promise) as a spiritual idea, the very image and likeness of God? If not, why not?

(P.S.S.T. -1) (1st section) This section features a reason for giving each Sunday School student a bar of D.I.A.L. soap as an outward, visible reminder of the inward, “unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15) of being God’s Divine Image And Likeness. (See B3, Gen. 1:27) Your students and you will be glad when they use D.I.A.L., — “satisfied when I awake with thy likeness” (B4, Ps. 17:15) Think and talk about the stress-busting humility of merely being a reflection, not having the burden to come up with any power or intelligence on your own. Discuss and emulate the empowering humility of Jesus. (“I can of mine own self do nothing” John 5:30) Like Jesus when you admit to yourself that you are “God’s own likeness,” you will set yourself and “man free to master the infinite idea.” (S7, S&H 90:24-25)

(P.S.S.T. -2) Put yourself in the position of each character in the Prodigal Son parable. (Maybe even try some role-playing.) Like the prodigal, hasn’t each of us been tempted to spend time and money seeking pleasure in matter where it cannot be found? In so doing we each have wasted some of our God-given abilities and have begun to feel in want. Like the Father, we each have given gifts that recipients have not fully appreciated, if not squandered. What is keeping you from being as unconditionally forgiving of them and as welcoming as the Father? Like the older brother (in citations just beyond B7, Luke 11-24), each of us might have felt a bit angry and jealous when we’ve been good and hard-working and those who messed up are being celebrated. How does our Father help heal our anger and jealousy?

(P.S.S.T. -3) Being fit includes being free from pride and from fear. (S13, S&H 31:1) Such metaphysical fitness is more important to one’s overall well-being than mere physical fitness or the impressive buildings that Nebuchadnezzar built. A couple of hands-on objects mentioned in 3rd section Science and Health passages could be helpful starting points for discussions. You could bring in a snarled-up bunch of string or yarn and discuss how it relates to “unwinding one’s snarls, and learning from experience how to divide between sense and Soul.” (S16, S&H 240: 29)   A mask could be another fun prop to launch discussion of why “we should loathe sin and rebuke it under every mask.” (S17, S&H 30:27) What masks have you seen sin try to hide behind? It’s your choice: Trick? Or (CS) Treatment?

(P.S.S.T. -4) This week how can you follow Jesus’ method to”pause, – wait on God” (S24, S&H 323:10) before facing a tough test or group? (B13, John 8:1-11). “the accusers were actually more concerned with entrapping Jesus than the woman. … Jesus’ response was brilliant to say the least. He raised the question to a higher level. The story says he wrote on the ground. This was an ancient custom that indicated he’d rather not deal with it (Dummelow). When they kept pushing for an answer he said, “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (Craig Ghislin’s 4th section ideas) This week what steps can you take to “work out your own salvation,” rather than focus on the shortcomings of others? Craig Ghislin brought out that the accusers of the adulterous woman had no moral or legal right to condemn her. (B13, John 8:1-11) “But as we all know, human nature often has us sticking our noses were they don’t belong.” (Craig Ghislin’s 4th section ideas)

(P.S.S.T. -5) “Paul … is the “poster boy” for turning one’s life around. He once referred to himself as “chief” of sinners (I Tim. 1:15). As a former persecutor of Christians he considered himself “least of the apostles” and even unfit to be called one (B16). Yet, the grace of God saved him as it does everyone else. God’s purpose isn’t to punish, but to bless us. (B17)” (Craig Ghislin’s 5th section ideas) It’s high time that we stop holding people (classmates, teachers, church members, coaches, parents, children, siblings, …) in positions that they have outgrown. (After all, we want to be released from all our false histories, labels and limits.) Think about each individual you have had conflicts and struggles with (and of yourself) as “on the road to Damascus,” like Saul/Paul was when God and “the wholesome chastisements of Love” (S24, S&H 323:6) got through to him. They and you will all feel much better – even “as the angels in heaven.” (S28, S&H 372:17)

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Go to www.myBibleLesson.com to check out this visually-oriented and very helpful study resource for the weekly Christian Science Bible Lesson. It’s being produced by The Christian Science Publishing Society. What a great auxiliary to lesson study – and to reading beyond citation markers using the handsome new student books now in Reading Rooms. MyBibleLesson contains word definitions, Bible background Notes, fun, topical cartoons, timelines and translations, plus many healing ideas to use. Why not check out this vehicle to help bring new meaning and life to each beloved Bible lesson and so bless the youthful thinker and Sunday School student (and teacher) in us all!

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