Evil: Its Nature and Demise (1)
James Spencer, C.S.B., of Boston, Massachusetts
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
"None of us need fear evil," James
Spencer, a Christian Science lecturer, said yesterday in The Mother Church, The
First Church of Christ, Scientist,
The lecturer, from
The lecture was sponsored by the members of The Mother Church, and Mr. Spencer was introduced by David Driver, the First Reader.
An abridged text follows:
When I was in
As I stood at the foot of the falls, I couldn't help but feel the power of the thundering water all around me. It reminded me of God's ever-present, inexhaustible power. God's power is never used up. It never runs out. It's always right here, available for us to feel and respond to.
Later I climbed to the top of the falls and walked along little bridges right at the edge. When I wound around the backwaters, I saw peaceful lakes on one side and torrents of water catapulting over the edge on the other side.
It was then that I began to see that the waterfall might also symbolize the apparent power of evil. I thought about how calm the water was until it started rushing downhill. And I thought about how many people must feel that life often seems tranquil and happy until, for some reason seemingly beyond their control, everything starts rushing downhill, and they're drawn into stronger currents that pull them further and further along in a predetermined way.
But we're not like mindless globules of water sucked along under some gravitational pull. And a spiritually scientific knowledge of God can enable our thought to flow in a more spiritual direction under the impulsion of divine Love, or God Himself.
Stagnant pools of thought that have been muddied up by unhappy experiences, by cultural or educational development, by chance or accident, even by directed hate or hypnotic projection - all these phases of evil thinking can be washed away by the broad rivers of pure thought that flow directly to us from God. These rivers, or channels of thought, feed us with spiritual ideas which sustain us, and protect us, and heal us.
Allness rules out nothingness
Today many different phases of evil confront us - violence, crime, sickness, want, loneliness, boredom. The list goes on and on. To many people, evil appears very real, quite inevitable, and often stronger than good.
Now with all that we see around us, if I were to
say, "There's no evil," you'd probably come right back with,
"Boy! Those Christian Scientists! They sure live in a
Well, I want to assure you that Christian Scientists don't ignore evil. We don't close our eyes to it. We don't turn our backs on it. We don't pretend it isn't there, or just hope it'll go away. We recognize the awful effect of evil when left unopposed.
However, we have found a radically different way of confronting evil. We turn the laser beam of spiritual understanding on evil, cutting it right down to its core, exposing it for what it is, uncovering its methods, and negating its operation. We literally obliterate it by understanding God's allness and evil's nothingness.
Here's a very brief illustration of how this
happens. Several years ago I was in the
Finally, I really tried to see what I needed to know to be freed from that heavy lethargic sense. I began to see that I had come under a very subtle influence of absorption that was trying to swallow up my identity and individuality.
Isn't this something that slips up on each of us at various times? Have you ever felt completely absorbed by another person, or by a sticky business or financial problem? Have you ever felt so swept up by sickness that it was all you could think about? How about just having fun? Has it ever grabbed hold and become more important than anything else?
Well, this pressure of an absorbing influence is what had gotten to me in that Far Eastern country. But once I'd recognized it, I was alert to it. And a spiritual impulsion began to break its influence.
That spiritual impulsion came by way of a statement from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy. It reads, "Man is not absorbed in Deity, and man cannot lose his individuality, for he reflects eternal Life; nor is he an isolated, solitary idea, for he represents infinite Mind, the sum of all substance" (p. 259). Mrs. Eddy, who discovered Christian Science and founded it as a religion, clearly saw this eternal Life, this infinite Mind, as the Supreme Being, God Himself.
From this statement, I caught a glimpse of the fact that my identity and individuality were always sustained and maintained by God, ever-conscious divine Mind. Could all-knowing Mind, or God, become unconscious of its own creation? Impossible! Could I, as a specific expression of divine Mind, lose my true selfhood, my true individuality? Impossible!
This understanding began to operate in my consciousness. It was an irresistible divine law that quickly freed me from a depressed, hypnotized sense. Before I knew it, I was buoyant and inspired again.
What brought about my healing? It was the knowledge that God is total good, divine Love itself, and that man is forever held as His specific spiritual creating, individual and enduring.
Rejecting intrusion on thought
What had gotten me into that unhealthy state of thought? Mrs. Eddy calls it aggressive mental suggestion. Why call it that?
It's aggressive because it intrudess. It pushes. It presses for acceptance. We've all seen it in our own lives - the intrusion of fear, worry, pressure, burden. It's a mental suggestion because it operates as thought and on thought until we think we've thought it. This is a very important point that is not generally understood. And it's because it's not understood that evil isn't more fearlessly and effectively confronted. The nature of evil is always mental, never physical, although it often appears to be physical.
Perhaps I can make this clearer by using the illustration of subliminal advertising. This kind of advertising is based on a subliminal perception, which means to perceive something below the level of the conscious mind. In subliminal advertising, an image can be projected on a television screen so quickly that it can't be seen consciously, but it can be taken in unconsciously.
This is illegal in
Like subliminal advertising, aggressive mental suggestion is constantly bombarding us with suggestions from every side. I'm sick. I lack. I'm afraid. I'm lonely. I'm unhappy. I'm deprived. I'm depraved. I'm too old. I'm too young. I'm too fat. I'm too thin. All of these, and countless others, are evil's aggressive mental suggestions knocking at the door of our thought for our own acceptance.
What can we do when we hear evil knocking?
Martha Wilcox, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher who worked in Mrs. Eddy's home, and later wrote about her experience there, recalled how she was taught to disarm this type of mental suggestion (see "We Knew Mary Baker Eddy," Fourth Series; Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1972, p. 91). Mrs. Eddy told her in effect that sometimes evil personalities arise before our thought and lead us to believe that they're something outside of our thought, something separate from it that can harm us. But Mrs. Eddy pointed out that the real danger is never outside of thought.
Evil always tries to operate within our thought as a mental image formed from within or accepted from without. It appears to have shape, conditions, and laws of its own. But not one solitary suggestion of this supposititious evil is true. Why? Because evil can't exist in the totality of good.
Mrs. Eddy told Mrs.Wilcox that she must be alert to detect all these phenomena as aggressive mental suggestion coming to her for her to adopt as her own thought. Because the suggestion is mental, the only place to meet it is within one's own mentality. And the only way to meet it is to give up the belief in a power and presence apart from God.
No power apart from good
This belief in a power apart from God, a presence opposed to the infinite goodness of God, is what Christian Scientists call mortal mind. It's just a term we use to indicate the supposed opposite of divine Mind. It's another name for what Christ Jesus called the devil or Satan - a suggestive force, but not an actual person.
When Jesus said to
his disciple Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan" (Matt. ), I feel he was targeting the
nature of this manipulative opposing force. Paul in his letter to the Romans
called it the carnal mind, and indicated that it actually hated God (see
This false, supposititious, mentally suggestive force we call evil would try to turn our thoughts and acts inward and downward. Inhumanity expressed in crime and war is a downward tendency. So are hate, envy, jealousy, prejudice, and destructive criticism. Greed, sensualism, dishonesty, pride - these are all things that pull us inward and downward.
But evil can only touch us if we respond to its false suggestion. Our safety, our protection from evil - whether it's sickness, violence, or lack - is established as we recognize that evil is only a mental suggestion that we can denounce and reject. After all, Jesus said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John ). Evil had no way to bind Jesus because he didn't respond to it.
To me, Jesus' life and healing works were proof that evil isn't something to be feared, but to be destroyed. John tells us in the Bible that Jesus came to "destroy the works of the devil" (I John 3:8).
But Jesus said, "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matt. ). Is this a contradiction? No. Because the destruction of evil works is the fulfillment of a God-ordained promise. God has truly created everything good and has made man in His own image. That's why man is good. God has made man to express His own perfection. He's given him dominion over all the earth.
Then evil is nothing to fear as we understand its true nature. It's the opposite of the real. It's actually unreal. It's impersonal.
In other words, evil isn't a person. It isn't a place. It isn't a thing. Then what is it? A lie! Its first and greatest lie is: "I exist." Once accept that lie and we've given evil the only life it can have. We've given it vocal cords. We've given it an embodiment.
But Jesus never did that. He spoke of the devil, again, the symbol of evil, in this way: "He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it" (John ).
Jesus showed that evil isn't something to be feared, ignored, or played with. It's something to impersonalize and "nothingize." And we're told that Jesus cast out devils, destroyed evil's lies, with the word of Truth.
For centuries philosophy and theology have taught that God causes evil, or that He allows evil, or even that He uses it to enforce obedience. This has caused people to fear God, to turn from Him, to try to placate Him, and to implore Him - but seldom to love Him.
Mrs. Eddy challenged the foundations of contemporary thought when she discovered that God is divine Principle - changeless, perfect, and universal. She discovered that God is divine Love, the changeless, tender Love that John called God centuries before. Mrs. Eddy also discovered that God is the one supreme, all-knowing Mind, and that there is no other Mind. She concluded that God, divine Mind, could know only Himself, because He is all there is. God couldn't know evil.
God contains within Himself all reality, all creation, including man and the universe. And since God knows only His own beauty and perfection, wouldn't the image of God have to be good? Isn't that what the first chapter of the Bible is telling us? That God made man in His own image and that he's completely good? (See Gen 1:26,31.)
Mrs. Eddy held tenaciously to the spiritual fact of the oneness and goodness of God, divine Mind. She said; "The first thing I do in the morning when I awake is to declare I shall have no other mind before divine Mind, and become fully conscious of this, and adhere to it throughout the entire day, then the evil cannot touch me" ("We Knew Mary Baker Eddy," Third Series, 1953, p. 42). Mrs. Eddy added that she wasn't always successful in doing this, but she continued to work at it persistently.
No basis for evil
Now let's stop for a minute and see how we've been reasoning, and where we are. I've said that Mrs. Eddy defined the nature of evil as aggressive mental suggestion, a downward drag, a lie. Most important, I've said that God, divine Mind, the all good, is universal - leaving no space for even the suggestion of evil.
Still, when we look around our world, we see some pretty evil things happening. So how do we explain them?
Well, that's a question that's been around for a long time, and it requires a thoughtful answer. To help answer it, perhaps I could tell you a story Mrs. Eddy used to tell about a man who had a fox (see "We Knew Mary Baker Eddy," Second Series, 1950, p. 33). He put the fox inside his house one day and proceeded to cut a small hole in the door of his house. Then he stuck the tail of the fox through the door from the inside. After a while a crowd began to gather outside. They were trying to figure out how such a big fox could get through such a little hole! They couldn't figure it out, of course. You can't give a satisfying explanation for something that never happened.
Similarly, I can't give you a satisfying human answer to the question of the origin of evil because if I could logically explain the somethingness of nothing, we'd have an anomaly, a complete contradiction.
I can explain evil to a point by illustrations - such as the nothingness of darkness, which is only the absence of light. But every human illustration eventually breaks down. There finally comes a point when we must use a different kind of logic, a reasoning based on spiritual sense. This spiritual sense breaks through human arguments and illustrations and enables us to start with the perpetual exactness of God's perfect creation. When we reason from the basis of what spiritual sense tells us, the nothingness of evil is obvious and its demise becomes inevitable.
In the universality of good there is no evil. No space or place for it. No cause to create it or law to support it. In divine Mind there's no limited mind to believe evil and no hypnotized sense to even suggest it. The result of this spiritual knowing is physical healing and protection.
A prompt healing of sickness
Here's how it works. One night I woke up very ill. I felt quite miserable. So I prayed earnestly to God to understand that aggressive mental suggestion couldn't project an image of sickness into my thought. I tried to see that my health was maintained by the natural law of divine Principle. I tried to see that nothing could rebel against that law and cause unnatural fever, pain, or inflammation. But after some time I still didn't feel any better.
Then I just tried to feel how much God loved me. My thought quieted and I felt a sense of comfort and safety. And something suddenly occurred to me. Someone had been unhappy with me earlier that day. This person, a spiritualist, believed that she could influence other people's thoughts while they slept, and could help or hurt them in this way.
When I remembered this, I felt that divine wisdom was indicating to me just what I needed to know for my healing. I had to deny that anyone, anywhere, could have the power, capacity, or desire to harm God or His creation. I knew that divine Mind is the only true Mind, and that this precludes the presence or power of any other so-called mind. I understood that no phase of evil could project itself into my thought, or produce an image in my thought, to be reproduced in my experience or on my body.
I fully accepted that my thoughts come directly to me from God, divine Mind. That good alone is expressed in my experience and that there's no lapse between a spiritual fact clearly understood and its practical expression in my experience. I saw that divine Mind is continually revealing itself to me and that God's ideas are the only images that can be reproduced in my thought. These ideas are good and their effect is good.
It's important to see that this type of prayer, or spiritual realization, wasn't some intellectual exercise. That wouldn't have done any good; it wouldn't have had the power to heal. And I wasn't trying to use autosuggestion on myself, either. My healing was the result of deep spiritual knowing. It was divine power reaching my thought and bringing spiritual facts to light. And it was effective, too, because within half an hour I was well.
God the only Mind
The point behind my healing is highlighted by a conversation Mrs. Eddy had with one of her secretaries. It went substantially like this. Mrs. Eddy asked him, "What is disease?" He replied that disease wasn't genuine; it was a counterfeit. Mrs. Eddy then said: "Yes, disease is but the image of a lie. It is not matter or a part of matter. It is but the result of a falsehood. . . . There is no truth in it. Disease, sickness, and sin are to be recognized as the image of wrong thought, and seeing it thus, it is destroyed" (Irving C. Tomlinson, "Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy"; Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1945, p.73).
I had realized something of the power and presence of God's love, and felt how deeply God cared for me. I knew that I couldn't form an image of sickness from within or accept one that was projected from without. And that healed me.
The basis of aggressive mental suggestion is that there are many minds. It's the concept of one mind consciously controlling another, or being influenced unconsciously. But the basis of Christian Science is the oneness and onliness, the totality, of God, divine Mind. God is good and controls man. The influence of divine Mind, divine Love, is always helpful and healthful.
I know of a woman who asked a Christian Scientist to pray for her because she was feeling a great sense of burden at home. One night she had even dreamed that she was standing in the kitchen about to kill herself with a sharp knife. In her dream she'd heard herself saying, "It's all right; it'll be very quick and easy. Just end it all right now." When she'd awakened, she was actually standing in the kitchen holding the knife in her hand.
That certainly was an aggressive mental suggestion influencing her. But Christian Science treatment awakened her to the influence of the Christ. It awakened her to know that God's will was operating in her consciousness to counteract evil's hypnotic suggestions. Morbid blindness to her danger was replaced by a more enlightened sense of God's care. Not only was she protected, but she found release from that burden and a new alertness and joy.
The Christ always present
The Christ, the voice of Truth, can never be hushed by the whisper of evil. The Christ is always speaking to each of us. It shows us that man in his true nature is always good and free. That he's safe in divine Love's care. That he's held continually by the protecting law of good, God. That there is nothing to oppose God's might. That there's no void to His presence, since God is present everywhere. And we have the divine right to know that nothing can keep anyone from hearing the impulsion of the Christ and from responding to it. Everyone is able to feel the power of God's Word in any situation.
Mrs. Eddy wrote a poem that has helped me understand how this divine power influences mankind and reduces evil to nothing. It begins ("Poems," p. 75):
Saw ye my Saviour ? Heard ye the glad sound ?
Felt ye the power of the Word?
'Twas the Truth that made us free,
And was found by you and me
In the life and the love of our Lord.
As I've thought about this verse of the poem, I've gained a clearer sense of what it means to know the Christ, Truth, as my Saviour. Each of us can see this Truth clearly and understand the vital and yet tender presence of the Word.
The key to unlocking this treasure is understanding the life and the love of Christ Jesus. His words and works showed that all phases of evil must eventually be overcome. Isn't that the key to evil's demise?
The next verse of Mrs. Eddy's poem goes like this:
Mourner, it calls you, — "Come to my bosom,
Love wipes your tears all a way,
And will lift the shade of gloom,
And for you make radiant room
Midst the glories of one endless day."
As I've thought about this verse, I've really begun to see and feel more clearly that the tender, loving, ever-present Christ reaches out to each of us at our moment of mourning. It finds us in the darkest corner of grief, or self-pity, or loneliness, or feeling of helplessness, or fear, or shock, or numbness. In other words, there's no wall of evil that the Christ can't penetrate. No distance is too far, because there's no space to ever-present Love. No wound is too deep, because the Christ is forever saying, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (II Cor. 12:9).
Traditional theology says, "Don't mourn, because your loved one has been called home to God." But through this poem I've come to see that divine Love is almost saying in effect: "Dear one, come to My bosom. Know that you're held so close to Me, right in the center of My being. Here you see your wholeness and completeness as My beloved child. This is where I hold you and your loved one. This is where you meet and never part because you see that all you are, and all you are, is My own self-expression of My complete, and beautiful, and whole self. I never lose an identity because all is held within My own omnipresent consciousness. And you can never lose your identity, or the identity of anyone else, because here you are and here you stay forever as My complete self-expression."
"Take heart. My dear child," says your God, "because you know that the same overflowing love that I have for you I have for your dear loved one also as My own self-expression. The good that I have for each of you isn't something abstract in some far-off 'then.' It's right here and right now because I'll continually make all My goodness pass before each of you."
A pure flow of cleansing good
This great love of God lifts the shade of gloom, our hypnotized thought condition. Then we feel the healing and sustaining power of the Word!
Mrs. Eddy's poem continues:
Sinner, it calls you. — "Come to this fountain,
Cleanse the foul senses within;
'Tis the Spirit that makes pure,
That exalts thee, and will cure
All thy sorrow and sickness and sin.''
From this I've seen that the wrongdoer, the wrong thinker, those of us who have been caught inadvertently in evil, or strayed innocently or curiously into materialism, and even those who have been willfully doing wrong, are all embraced by the gentle, tender, ever-loving and forgiving Christ. There's no pit so deep, no stench so bad, no stand so firmly taken that the Christ can't enter and sweeten and purify.
This ever-watchful Christ is like a flowing fountain of pure, cleansing water. It doesn't painfully scrape the mud away. It washes it away with the abundance of its own purity. The Christ dissolves evil, and so thoroughly removes it that it's gone forever. It's the Spirit that makes us pure by knowing that we're its own beloved expresssion and therefore without a single element of evil.
This is the demise of evil. It's the recognition of reality, the truth of being, the spiritual unity of God and man. And it's the cure for all our sorrow, and sickness, and sin.
The last verse of Mrs. Eddy's poem goes like this:
Strongest deliverer, friend of the friendless,
Life of all being divine:
Thou the Christ, and not the creed;
Thou the Truth in thought and deed;
Thou the water, the bread, and the wine.
Here we can begin to see that God is the strongest deliverer because He's all-power. He's supreme, All-in-all. So He's fully capable of delivering us from any claim of evil. We're never friendless because we always have our divine Friend. This truth heals loneliness, corrects injustice, neutralizes hate, adjusts misunderstandings. And it encourages us and sustains us.
The whole purpose of this lecture is to show us that none of us need fear evil. It's a negation, a lie, nothing suggesting itself as something. We can recognize it as such, deny it power or reality, and replace it with the understanding of God's allness, ever-presence, and goodness. There's no darkness of evil in the bright sunlight of divine Love's all-embracing infinitude.
We can turn to our dear Father-Mother Love, and be baptized and reborn in the pure, cleansing water of the Christ. We can eat of the bread of Life which sustains us and encourages us, and heals us. We can be prepared in God's own way for the wine of inspiration of the Christ, Truth, that exalts us above evil's hypnotic dream to the allness of God, good.
[Published in The Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 1981.]