What Is Life?
Martin N. Heafer, C.S.B., of
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
The lecturer spoke substantially as follows:
This is the day of protest. Almost everyone is protesting against something. But there are some things we've all against. I think we can say we're all against sickness, unhappiness, injustice, poverty, decrepitude, death. But how can we make our protests effective? How can we get rid of these blights? Well, striking out blindly at effects won't help. We have to get down to the causes of these problems to eliminate them. For basic solutions we need to know the true nature of life.
You know, there aren't many things in human experience we can be sure of. But of one thing we're all certain. We know that we live! We're not in doubt about this. Each one of us can say with authority, "I live, I exist, I am." This we can all agree on. But there may be considerable diversity of opinion as to what life really is.
Men have sought to know the meaning of life through the centuries. Alfred Tennyson describes this search in this verse:
"Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower - but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is."
Like this English poet, many of us have wondered what life is and how it originates. And if we knew more of its true nature we could make our protests against the evils that beset life more effective.
So tonight I'd like to go beyond mere protest and see how we can make our protests effective. To do this we must get to the fundamentals of what life really is. We shall find that it is good and that, like all which is truly good, it is spiritual and eternal.
Discovering What Is Real In Life
Now let's talk about this first fundamental - that life is good.
There are times when we know that life is good, completely good. But at other times it seems to be evil, pretty miserable and wretched, full of cruelty and hatred. So our first question to settle is: which is the reality, the good or the evil in life? Or can both be real?
Just how can we determine what is real? We have two Christianly scientific tests: is it permanent? is it perfect? First, is it permanent? Unless it's permanent, unless it lasts, it's not real. That's how we use this word "real" in Christian Science, in its deepest sense. So what about evil? Is evil permanent and therefore real? We think not.
For example, suppose someone is
dreaming and believes he's in a rowboat about to go over
This is what we mean in Christian Science when we say that the suffering and evil in human life are unreal. They certainly seem to be true, and we don't shut our eyes and hope they'll go away! We all suffer or are swept along in what Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, calls the "waking dream of mortal existence." But when we're roused to see what life really is, we find that suffering and evil are no more a real part of it than are the experiences of a nightmare. They're not real, because, like the nightmare, they're illusions. They don't last.
But there must be something that's real, and to be real it has to pass the test - is it permanent? It mustn't disappear like a dream. So what about the good in life? Is the good in life permanent and therefore real? Yes, true good is good all the time, under every condition.
It never turns into evil or produces evil results. It's good to start with, stays good, and ends up good. And it's good because, as we understand it, God is good - not merely a good God, but good itself - and He is the creator of all that truly exists. Then, since every effect resembles its cause, God's creation must be good, like its Maker. So the good in life is the real, and the only real.
Now, not everything that looks good is really good. Sometimes it's actually bad, masquerading as good. When, for instance, we eat more than we should, there's a temporary sense of pleasure; but the end result is bad. We get too fat! When we become angry at some aggressive driver who nearly runs us off the road, we get what seems like a good feeling of righteous indignation. But anger, whether self-justified or not, has a bad effect on us; it can even make us ill, as well as depressed or guilty. Such conditions as the pleasure of overeating or the indulgence of anger, though apparently good, aren't true good at all; their seeming pleasure doesn't last, so they aren't real.
But when we express the good that is God, the good that is spiritual and eternal, when we're loving, intelligent, self-controlled, we find real lasting good in our experience. We continue to feel satisfied and happy. This good doesn't disappoint us. It isn't followed by misery or disease - has no mixture of unhappiness, guilt, fear, or shame. It doesn't bring good to one person and misery to another. It's always good and produces nothing but good.
The truly satisfying, meaningful good of life comes to the businessman who even at great personal risk and against selfish and cynical opposition, supports ethical rules in business. To the mother who teaches her children the value of high moral spiritual ideals, knowing they will prove far more valuable than all the material wealth she could bestow upon them. To the children who practice sound moral precepts and unselfish ideals instead of seeking happiness in popularity at any cost, through the rationale of competitive, aggressive, self-seeking ways.
This happiness is lasting. It lives. It never disappoints. It's real. Mary Baker Eddy discerned this. In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" she writes: "When the real is attained, which is announced by Science, joy is no longer a trembler, nor is hope a cheat" (p. 298).
The Test of Perfection
In addition to the test "Is it permanent?" There's the second test for what is real and therefore good: Is it perfect?
According to dictionaries the meanings of perfect include faultless, correct, pure, absolutely complete. We're too often taught that we must learn to live with imperfection and that perfection is an ideal never to be attained. But the elements of perfection are in each one of us. We can see perfection in spiritual love, in wisdom, beauty, and so on. These qualities have no flaw, no impurity, no fault. We all express these perfect qualities to some extent, every day.
To be sure, we don't express them perfectly. But we do express them and these qualities themselves are perfect. And this perfection is true of life itself, however incomplete our expression of it may seem humanly. Life is perfect, and our just being aware that we live expresses something of life's perfection. Christ Jesus set up the standard for really living, for being really alive. This is his command: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. ).
By applying these two tests, then - is the good in life permanent? and is it perfect, whole, complete? - we determine the real nature of life to be good. And, as we learn that life is good, we begin step by step to be freed from the evil, from the illusions, from the transitory and imperfect. In this way we find the evil disappearing from our lives and the good remaining. So real life is good life. That's the first thing we need to know about life.
Life Is Spiritual
Now we've been talking about life as being good, permanently and perfectly good. There's just one kind of life which comes up to this criterion, which qualifies for our definition of true life. That's the life which is spiritual. By that, I mean life which is indestructible and not subject to the limitations of inert and unintelligent matter - life which is the individual expression of infinite Spirit, God.
Material life is about to be, or has been (I haven't seen today's newspapers) reproduced in the test tube. Humans may find that they can produce this kind of life. But is this valuable? Is it "real" - perfect and eternal? So is it the valid product of the one creator, God?
The computer, a robot, has been called an extension of the human brain. It can effectively store and evaluate information, and this can be very beneficial to mankind. But the robot doesn't know the difference between right and wrong - (some of us don't either!) - and thinking and living as if matter were the only reality is what causes the evils we're protesting about and want to get rid of. The material life expressed by the robot isn't intrinsically valuable. Can a robot be created which expresses honesty and morality? A computer that manifests integrity and courage? Who has ever seen or expects to see a test tube full of unselfish love?
But is it any more sensible to believe that we, you and I, possess physical awareness, that we think with a brain, feel with a nerve? Can we be sure that intelligence and life are in material flesh and blood?
The difficulty with regarding life
and intelligence as completely material is apparent to many medical men.
Professor Robert White, head of the Department of Neurosurgery at
"The brain of a genius doesn't show anything different from the brain of an idiot!" Where is the life that produces genius, morality, art, spiritual love? It hasn't been found in matter. Atomic energy can produce a beneficial utility plant or a holocaustic bomb. Who or what makes the decision? As we see it, what is needed is the realization that God, infinite Spirit, is not only a living God but is Life itself; and that our life, the individual expression of God, divine Life, in reality is completely spiritual. As we grasp this truth and begin to live it in our daily human experience, we can effectively direct the robot - and ourselves - with our God-bestowed moral and spiritual ideas. Then the disasters threatened by believing that life is completely material will be averted.
The spiritual qualities and attributes of integrity, purity, intelligence, mercy, justice, spiritual love and so on are the true manifestations of God, divine Life, and they are wholly spiritual, not found in a test tube or a brain, not perceived by the physical senses. God is their source and creator, and everyone of us through our spiritual consciousness manifests this Life which is Spirit. Our spiritual consciousness of good is the real life, and it's given to us by God. In the words of Science and Health, "Of what avail is it to investigate what is miscalled material life, which ends, even as it begins, in nameless nothingness? The true sense of being and its eternal perfection should appear now, even as it will hereafter" (p. 550).
Why Does Life Seem Material?
Then why does the belief persist that life is material? That we possess physical awareness, feel anything through matter? Could it be because we've "accepted" this as true since we were taught it in infancy? Because our thought has been conditioned to believe it? We've heard that it's true and continue to hear it on all sides.
I read in the paper the other day an interview with a psychologist. He was talking about how city dogs have it easy compared with country dogs. They're well cared for and don't have to forage for food. They're not even called pets any more. They're "companion animals"! He went on to say that the city dog "obtained at a young age" even thinks he's a human. He doesn't have a dog's problems! As far as he's concerned he's a human and well-off.
Now you and I know that a dog is a dog. He's not a human, no matter what he thinks. But just consider this for a moment, could we be leading a "dog's life," a material life with all its aches and pains, because we, like the city dog, think we're someone we're not? Because we think we're partly material when we're actually wholly spiritual?
Could it be that since we were "obtained at an early age" in a world whose citizens believe life is material, we're influenced to believe it is, and think and act as if it were? But in the same way that a dog is a dog and not a human, the fact is that our life is spiritual, not material.
Science and Health states, "You command the situation if you understand that mortal existence is a state of self-deception and not the truth of being" (p. 403). What all of us need is the consciousness of life as spiritual, something beyond and above physical perception. Even if only vaguely realized at first, it enables us to begin to make our protests against evil of every kind progressively effective.
Spiritual Consciousness Heals
Take sickness, for instance. When disease develops in the body, what takes place? Say, for example, a cold with its morbid symptoms appears. Then what happens? The body apparently begins to send its healing agents into action and cure the infection. But are flesh and blood really life agents? Can matter in the form of so-called curative physical substances, activate itself and perform the functions which repel the invading disease materials and bring recovery? Health-giving matter is a better belief than disease-causing matter; but both are only beliefs of so-called material consciousness or mortal mind. They aren't facts of Spirit, God, the divine Mind. There's no security in health that is dependent on material belief, better or worse.
As we see it, Spirit, God, is the true source of all healing action that's dependable and permanent. There's no partnership between Spirit and matter. They're opposites and never mingle at all.
Yet the power of Spirit does appear in human experience, in the flesh. This we understand to be the activity of the Christ, which Mrs. Eddy defines as "the divine manifestation of God, which comes to the flesh to destroy incarnate error" (Science and Health, p. 583). It may appear that flesh and blood operate in and of themselves and that chemical changes bring healing, but these changes are only the by-products of our realizing to some extent that life is wholly spiritual.
In divine healing it's not inert, lifeless, mindless elements of matter that bring healing. These material elements are powerless to do anything good or bad, to make sick or well. It's the powerful Christly forces of Spirit, of divine Life and Love, that bring healing.
Through Christian Science we can learn how to align ourselves with these active healing forces of Spirit deliberately, intentionally, scientifically. Then we get a concept of real health, a spiritual quality of Life. This has a good physical effect. We lose the sense of disease and healing takes place. Whether or not we yet know it, we can all reach out through the Christ to Spirit, God, and find true health. Life, God is present in the consciousness of us all. His power is an irresistible spiritual impulsion toward health, toward good. Some medical doctors are now saying there's no such thing as an incurable disease, only an incurable patient.
A Growth Is Healed
The value of recognizing that life is spiritual was illustrated by the healing of a Christian Scientist I know. He had an ugly growth on his body. It seemed to be getting larger and he became afraid. Certain medical advertisements on TV aggravated his fear. If you've seen these ads, you can understand why. But my friend resisted this. As a Christian Scientist, he knew that his life was spiritual and infinite; that true health was spiritual not chemical; that it couldn't be turned into disease.
He didn't try to change the physical evidence of an ugly growth. He knew the remedy lay in correcting his own thought through prayer. He knew God, infinite Life, was the source of his individual life; that it was spiritual, not material; well, not sick; and that as the expression of God, Life, he couldn't be robbed of his health or his life. He prayerfully declared to himself that he was willing to make any correction in his own thinking, or character, that was needed to accomplish the healing.
Well, he didn't get anywhere. There had been no pain at first, but now pain and discomfort appeared, and his physical situation grew steadily worse. But he continued praying, demanding of himself that he accept what he knew to be true - that his real life was completely spiritual, healthy, diseaseless.
Then a wonderful revelation came to him. He saw an important point he had been overlooking in his prayers; that he needed to love God, spiritual good, more than his human life; he needed to be satisfied with his true spiritual life, and its true health; to love and trust it more than life in matter; to accept the fact that his life was spiritual, and only spiritual, and that he needed nothing else, no material consciousness of life. Science and Health states: "All nature teaches God's love to man, but man cannot love God supremely and set his whole affections on spiritual things, while loving the material or trusting in it more than in the spiritual" (p. 326). One day soon after this thought came to him, he found the growth had disappeared - without his even knowing about it.
He had realized that true health comes only through loving and trusting in God as Spirit and the source of all being, and this had saved his life.
This healing shows that, as we align ourselves with the spiritual forces of life which are always in action, we cease to believe in and unknowingly project disease upon the body by believing it to be dominant. We find it's not animal instinct that enables us to successfully fight against that which would weaken, make miserable, or take away our life from us. It's intuitive knowledge that life is the basic spiritual fact about each one of us. It's realization that true consciousness and true life are not material or chemical, but spiritual.
Learning to Know Life as Eternal
Now how will knowing that life is good and spiritual affect our daily experience? Well, it will enable us to prove right here something of the fact that life is immortal, to live useful, happy, healthy lives and to live them longer.
We hear a lot today about heart transplants. Men are seeking immortality today, as they have always done. But are they seeking it in the right way? They commonly think immortality to be a life which begins and then never ends - an unending material life. But material life is dying life. At the moment of birth, it starts on the road to death. This isn't the real life we've been talking about, the life which is wholly good and wholly spiritual, which goes on and on forever. Real life can't be found in matter any more than intelligence is in a brain.
Life, as we understand it, real life, is that which is, now and forever. It doesn't come into being.
It doesn't need time in which to manifest itself. It's basic, fundamental, irresistibly and inescapably true at all times and under all conditions. It can't be slowed down into inactivity, finitized into a physical form, subverted into death. It doesn't ebb and flow. Eternal Life is infinite Spirit or God. And the life of man, the real man, is the expression of this infinite divine Life, God, individually manifested. Man, then, isn't that through which Life is expressed. Man is that expression itself.
Christ Jesus said: "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). By knowing more of God as Life, we gain a better understanding of the real man, exemplified by Jesus Christ. And for this we need to understand clearly the distinction between Jesus and the Christ.
Christ is the spirit of God, the true, spiritual sense of Life. Jesus is the man who expressed and lived the Christ on earth as no other man has done before or since. In this sense Jesus and the Christ are inseparable.
Christ includes the truth that existence is immortal. It's through the Christ, Truth, that we become conscious, in human experience, of our true spiritual identity - immortal, indestructible, eternal - and begin to demonstrate this. It brings us the accurate awareness of all that's real. And it comes to the flesh, to human experience, to heal us.
Through the Christ, brought so clearly into human view by Jesus, we see man immortal and life eternal. Jesus raised from the dead three different human beings - Jairus' daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus. By his understanding that life is eternal, he restored these people to their human sense of life. Thus he has weakened the foundations of death beyond repair.
Death Is Not a Law
Oh, death is still with us. Paul called it the "last enemy" that would be overcome. But the idea of immortality has been more persistent and ineradicable than ever, since Jesus taught and proved that death hasn't the force of law. And central to the convictions of every Christian is the promise that eventually each one of us will prove death to be lawless, without foundation in spiritual or scientific fact.
Spiritual life doesn't come about through death. It comes through spiritualization of thought, through gradual education out of the belief of life in matter. Death is just another wrong turn along the crooked road of believing that life is material. In this sense it can be said that death isn't just the experience of the grave, the end of mortal life. It's the belief of life in matter, life which begins in birth and ends at the grave. But Life, spiritually understood, never begins or ends; for Life is God. And the Christ, ever-present and available in human consciousness, reveals how we may begin proving this.
Jesus showed us the way. After he had been crucified and presented the accepted evidences of death, he emerged from the tomb, with the same body, vigorously alive and active. His further spiritual advancement in the ascension showed us how the illusion of mortal life ends. Not in death, but in life, spiritual, immortal, eternal. The life which God has already bestowed on each one of us. We, too, can begin to find this eternal life through the Christ, as we turn away in thought from matter to Spirit, from mortal man to God's spiritual man, our true selfhood.
Now, maybe some of you will say, "How can you prove what Jesus and his disciples did? We don't have evidence that the Bible is true." The best evidence that the New Testament marvels actually took place is that divine healing is being practiced today. Lost sight of for centuries, the practice of spiritual healing, a standard activity in the early Christian church, has been restored to modern Christianity. This came about 100 years ago through the discovery that true Science and religion are one - Christian Science. Life has been rediscovered as good, spiritual, and as not leading to death, but immortal and eternal.
Mrs. Eddy, the Great Pioneer
Let me give you a concrete example of spiritual healing in modern times. This is how a man was shown the way to rediscover his life. This man had been bedridden for six months with an infected hip wound. He had fallen on a wooden spike when he was a child and the infected condition had remained since the injury. The attending physician had just probed the ulcer on the hip and found it carious for several inches. He pronounced the disease as terminal and predicted the man's impending death. Already the patient lay with eyes fixed and sightless, at death's door.
A woman had been called to visit him, and when she arrived, she went straight to his bedside. This woman had a firm conviction that God is Life. After she had been sitting there a few moments, the man's face changed. Healthy color replaced the death-hue. His eyelids closed gently, and he began to breathe normally. He went to sleep. In a few more moments he opened his eyes and said, "I feel like a new man. My suffering is all gone." He went to work in about two weeks, his life completely restored.
The woman who so tenderly administered this God-inspired healing was Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. Of this healing, recorded in Science and Health, she writes: "It has been demonstrated to me that Life is God and that the might of omnipotent Spirit shares not its strength with matter or with human will" (p. 193). And she comments further: "When one's false belief is corrected, Truth sends a report of health over the body" (p. 194).
The story of modern-day spiritual healing is continued in the chapter on "Fruitage," which constitutes the last hundred pages of Science and Health - and in a most interesting volume entitled "A Century of Christian Science Healing" published in 1966 to mark the centennial of the discovery of Christian Science. Finally, this story of healing is carried forward weekly and monthly in the testimonies printed in the Christian Science Sentinel, The Christian Science Journal, and the editions in some twelve languages of The Herald of Christian Science.
You know, pioneers are always much admired. Among the pioneers of today are the brave young men who venture into space, who explore the planets. They're much loved and respected, and rightly so. But there's a last frontier, yet to be explored by all mankind - the way into the awareness of the spiritual, unfleshly presence of divine Spirit or God, while we are yet in the flesh.
This way has been explored for us by others. Moses, Elijah, and the other prophets of Bible times found their way, to varying degrees, into this true concept of Life. Christ Jesus, known as the Way-shower, advanced completely beyond matter into eternal spiritual life. We too can be pioneers of Life. We can follow their example and find what Life truly is.
The trail has been clearly blazed by Mary Baker Eddy. She's the modern pioneer who has found the way to true Life and made it available to all mankind through her writings. Her discovery of Christian Science has brought to contemporary mankind the clear
correct scientific concept of what Life is. When this concept is understood and lived, it can free us from disease, from evil of every kind, and eventually from death itself.
Progress Is Step by Step
One of the things most misunderstood about Christian Science is the way in which we pray and work mentally from the basis of absolute Truth. Yet we prove this truth only to a degree.
Experienced Christian Scientists don't go around with their heads in the clouds dwelling on abstract statements. We believe the statement of absolute Truth that life is spiritual, good and eternal is correct but we're modest in our claims of how much of this Truth we've proven in our own human experience. But we try to live Truth as well as speak it.
So when we declare with conviction
the absolute Truth that life is good, when we maintain that life is spiritual
and eternal and the critic says, "Show me," we answer that we are
working at doing this. As the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Christians
It was true one hundred years ago that man could build and fly an airplane or a spaceship. But the thought of humanity had to be prepared, it had to become more free, before the discovery of the laws of aerodynamics could be made. We couldn't jump from the horse and buggy directly to the Apollo project. We had to first go through the cotton gin, steam engine and automobile stages. The child doesn't become an adult overnight, although he has within himself the ability to mature thought and attain full adult capacity, if he follows the rules of education.
So it is with the true sense of Life. This life is good, spiritual, and eternal. It isn't indefinitely prolonged physical life. It doesn't begin with the physical birth nor end when the physical is put off. It has existed forever, and it goes on forever. Time always ends - sometime. But real good is always good, real Life is always Life, it never begins nor ends, and it doesn't need matter to express itself. The good of eternal life is a spiritual fact right now; but we have to prove it step by step.
Consider, for instance, the commonly accepted handicaps of advancing years. The causes of senility are mental, not physical. The physical conditions of debility and decay are only the symptoms of old age. They result from the kind of thinking the individual is doing. Old age has been called the accumulation of unsolved problems.
And when we leave problems unsolved, sooner or later they catch up with us. We can't forever "sweep them under the rug." The solving of problems, the overcoming of false habits and patterns of thought, can be delayed, but not forever.
And this is good to know, for it enables us to get busy and solve our problems NOW. Old age isn't something that comes on us at an advanced stage. It's not a physical condition that gradually develops. It's something we seem to be born with. It's believing that birth, growth, maturity, decay and death are inevitable, and that we individually are at some stage in this process.
The time to deal with this kind of thinking is right now. We shouldn't wait until the time of old age. We shouldn't consent to "live with" some physical problem just because it isn't fatal, or some character weakness, just because it isn't putting us into jail! We should meet these problems head on, and solve them NOW, if we're to demonstrate a long, active and useful human experience as a step toward demonstrating the fruit of eternal and immortal life. But it's never too late to overcome the handicaps of old age and to make our advancing years fruitful and happy instead. Why? Because the belief that life is material can begin yielding to the true spiritual consciousness of life eternal at anytime - right now!
In the words of Science and Health: "Let us then shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight" (p. 246).
Living Is Today
Now we agreed at the start that we all live and that we know it. But we can know a great deal more. We can understand something right now of the true nature of life, that it's good, spiritual and eternal. We then see something of the spiritual fact that NOW is the only time, that there is no past to regret, no future to fear, only the present.
This is the day in which we all live. Just think of it! There never was a time and there never will be a time when we don't live! The stouthearted thinker who takes the correct spiritually scientific position that life is eternal finds his human experience becoming more active, useful and effective. And he finds this activity and usefulness lasting on into advanced years.
Again, in Paul's words: "I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, . . . I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13,14). Like Paul, we cannot count ourselves to have fully apprehended the goodness and eternality of spiritual life. But we can "press toward the mark". We can find out that life is good, spiritual, and eternal and begin the demonstration thereof; right now!
This is the way to really live!
© 1968 Martin N. Heafer
All rights reserved