Evil: Its Nature and Demise (2)
James Spencer, C.S.B., of
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
When I was in South America recently, I had the good fortune to see what's probably the most outstanding natural wonder in that continent - the magnificent waterfalls at Iguazu on the border between Brazil and Argentina. There are more than 270 separate falls making up this one scene known as Das Cataratas.
As I stood at the bottom of them, 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 waiting for us to feel it and respond to it.
Later I climbed to the top of the falls and walked along little bridges right at the edge of them. I wound around the backwaters and saw peaceful lakes on one side and torrents of water catapulted over the edge on the other. Then I began to see that the waterfall might also symbolize the apparent power of evil.
It was interesting to see how calm the water was until it started rushing downhill. And I thought about how many people feel that life often seems tranquil and happy until for
some reason seemingly beyond their control they start rushing downhill, drawn into tighter crevices that push them further and further along in a predetermined way.
But we're really not like mindless globules of water sucked along under some gravitational pull. And tonight we're going to look at how 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.
Old crevices of thought that have been etched by unhappy experiences, cultural or educational development, chance or accident, crevices cut by directed hate or hypnotic projection - we'll see how these phases of evil can be removed and replaced by the broad riverbeds 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.
Evil Appears to Be Real
Today many different phases of evil seem to confront us - violence, crime, sickness, want, loneliness, boredom. And the string continues 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: "Boy! Those Christian Scientists! They sure live in a
Instead, he's found a radically different way of confronting it. He turns 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. Literally obliterating it by the presence and action of God's spiritual law.
Here's a very brief illustration of this. Several years ago I was in an Eastern country. Shortly after I arrived, I found myself drained of all inspiration. I felt as if I couldn't pray, or commune with God. What was worse, I didn't even want to. I was just kind of floating along. I knew this wasn't like me, but I couldn't seem to do anything about it.
One day I really tried to see what I needed to know to be freed from the heavy lethargic sense. I began to see I had come under a very subtle influence of absorption. This had seemed to swallow up my identity and individuality. It was like a hammer being struck into a pillow. The pillow's so massive that it just swallows up the hammer. In effect, I had taken in a very aggressive mental suggestion that literally swallowed me up.
And isn't this something that slips up on each of us at different 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 seemed to grab hold and become more important than anything else? This pressure of an absorbing influence is what had gotten to me. But now I was alert to it. A spiritual impulsion was breaking that influence of absorption that had to a degree hypnotized me.
That spiritual impulsion came by way of a statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy - "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" (Science and Health, 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.
I caught a glimpse of the fact that my identity and individuality were always sustained and maintained by this ever-conscious, divine Mind. Could all-knowing Mind, or God, become unconscious of its own creation? Impossible! Could I lose my true selfhood, my true individuality as a specific expression of divine Mind? Impossible!
This understanding operated in my consciousness. It was an irresistible divine law that freed me from a depressed, hypnotized sense. I was buoyant and inspired again.
Evil Is Mental, Not Physical
What had gotten me into that unhealthy state of thought? Mrs. Eddy calls it aggressive mental suggestion. Why call evil aggressive mental suggestion?
It's aggressive because it intrudes. It pushes. It presses for acceptance. We've all seen that in our experience: fear, worry, pressure, burden. It's a mental suggestion because it operates as thought and on thought until we think we've thought it. And this is a very important point that's not generally understood. And because it's not understood, that's one of the reasons evil isn't more fearlessly and effectively confronted. It's mental, not physical. Although it often appears to be physical.
I think I can make this even clearer by using the present-day illustration of subliminal advertising to show how outside suggestions often tempt us to believe they're our own inward thoughts.
Subliminal perception means to perceive something below the level of the conscious mind. For instance, an image can be projected on a television screen so quickly that it can't be seen consciously, but it's taken in unconsciously.
This is illegal in the
"I want 'X' brand cereal." That's the projected message. Now you're not aware that the suggestion's originating externally. You're likely to believe it's your own thought and buy the cereal. First you think the suggestion's coming from within yourself. Then you believe it's your own thinking. When all the time it's only projected thought.
Aggressive mental suggestion doesn't need a TV or electric wires. We're all constantly being bombarded 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.
Martha Wilcox, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher who worked in Mrs. Eddy's home, recalled being taught how 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 suppositious evil is true.
Mrs. Eddy told Mrs. Wilcox that she must be alert to detect all this phenomena as aggressive mental suggestion coming to her for her to adopt as her own thought. To see that because the suggestion's mental, the only place to meet it is within one's own mentality. And the way to do it is to give up the belief in a power and presence apart from God.
Evil Attempts to Act as a Downward Drag
This belief in some power apart from God, in a presence opposed to the infinite goodness of God, is what we call mortal mind. This is just a term 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 he said to his disciple, Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan" (Matt. ), I feel he was targeting this manipulative opposing force. Paul called it the carnal mind, and he indicated that it actually hated God (See Romans 8:7). He felt this opposite as a drag against his spiritual progress. He said (and we can almost feel his frustration because we've all gone through it ourselves): "The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Romans ).
Let me put it another way. When I come in out of the rain, I shake the water off my umbrella by giving it a sharp spin. The water flies up and out. That's called centrifugal force, moving out from the center. The opposite, moving in toward the center, is called centripetal force. Mrs. Eddy takes these terms from physics and uses them to explain mental forces that touch each of us. And it's vital to our welfare to know which way we're going. She writes: "Between the centripetal [inward and downward pushing] and centrifugal [outward and upward flowing] mental forces of material and spiritual gravitations, we go into or we go out of materialism or sin, and choose our course and its results" (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 19).
Well, 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 downward. But so are hate, envy, jealousy, prejudice - even destructive criticism. Greed, sensualism, dishonesty, pride - these are things that pull us downward and inward.
But the beautiful thing is that evils only touch us when we respond to that false suggestion we've accepted. Christian Science teaches that sickness, violence, lack - all evil - is only a mental suggestion. And our safety, our protection, is established as we recognize evil for what it is. As we denounce it. As we reject it. The Master said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John ). Evil had no way to bind Jesus because it found no response in him.
Evil's Suggestions Are Lies
It seems to me that Jesus' life and works were a constant statement that evil isn't something to be feared. It's to be put aside by spiritual power. John said 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 couldn't we say that 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 he's 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. As we see that it's the opposite of the real. That it's actually unreal. That 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 ). He showed that evil isn't something to be feared, ignored, or played with. It's something to impersonalize and "nothingize." And we're told Jesus cast out devils, destroyed evil's lies, with his word, the word of Truth.
Putting it differently, 2 + 2 = 5. That's a lie. It's not the truth. But accept the lie and it works in our thought and influences our acts. Build a bridge on the basis of that lie, or mistake, and the bridge may fall and be destroyed as a result of the lie. But 2 + 2 = 5 isn't a fact in the totality of mathematics. The realization of the fact doesn't change the mistake (although it appears to). It doesn't break apart the mistake and remake it. It doesn't slowly whittle it down to 4¾, 4½, 4¼, and finally 4. It annihilates it by the fact of its own presence. Just so, the denial of evil's lies is important to alert us to their falsity. But correction comes from realizing the spiritual fact.
Divine Mind Is the Only Mind
For centuries philosophical and theological concepts have taught that God causes evil, that He uses it to enforce good, or, at least, that He allows it. This causes some people to fear God, to turn from Him, to try to placate Him, to implore Him, but seldom to love Him.
Mrs. Eddy challenged the foundations of contemporary thought when she discovered God as Principle - changeless, perfect, universal. She discovered that this Principle is divine Love. The changeless, tender Love John called God centuries before. Mrs. Eddy discovered that this divine Principle, Love, is the one supreme, all-knowing Mind and that there's no other Mind. That this compassionate, changeless, loving Mind could never know evil or imperfection because it could only know its own unrestricted selfhood. Could anything exist beyond infinity? Beyond ever-presence? Then this all-knowing Mind, divine Love, must know only itself because it's all there is. And it contains within itself all reality, all creation, man and the universe. And since Mind knows only its own beauty and perfection wouldn't the image of that Mind 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 Mind, God. 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 [Boston, The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1953], p.42). Mrs. Eddy added that she wasn't always successful in doing this, but she continued to work at it persistently.
Is this Pollyanna, pie in the sky? Is it the ostrich approach: What I don't see won't hurt me? No. It's not hiding from mortal mind but subjugating it by the knowledge of the total oneness of divine Mind.
Evil Has No Origin
Now let's hold up a minute and see how we've been reasoning this out and where we are. Mrs. Eddy defined evil as aggressive mental suggestion. As a downward drag. We've been learning that it's impersonal and a lie. In effect, it's nothing - no thing! Most important, I've highlighted that God, divine Mind, the all good, is universal - leaving no space in reality for even the suggestion of evil.
Okay then, where did it come from? Where did it all begin? That's a question that's been around a lot longer than we have. The author of Job struggled with it theologically. Plato and Aristotle debated it philosophically. I wrestled with it until Mrs. Eddy's discovery gave me a satisfying answer. I saw that delving into evil's origin is like explaining why the earth is flat. And I asked myself, "What's asking that question?" Mortal mind - the false sense of mind that already presupposes evil's existence. Can you find the answer within that false sense of mind? Can you refute the mistake that the earth is flat from within the mistake? The liar can never tell anything about itself but a lie.
Mrs. Eddy used to tell a story about a man who had a fox (See We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, Second Series [Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1950], p. 33). He cut a small hole in the door of his house and stuck the tail of the fox through it from the inside. After a while a crowd gathered outside. They were trying to figure out how a big fox could get through such a little hole! You can't give a satisfying explanation of something that didn't happen.
I can't give you a satisfying human answer to the question of the origin of evil. Because if we could logically explain the somethingness of nothing, we'd have an anomaly, a complete contradiction. We can explain evil back to a point by illustrations - such as the nothingness of darkness which is only the absence of light. But every human illustration finally breaks down. There comes a point where we must use a different set of senses - spiritual sense. This spiritual sense breaks through human arguments. It enables us to start with the perpetual exactness of God's perfect creation.
In the universality of good there's no evil. No space or place for it. No cause to create it or law to support it. In the onliness of divine Mind there's no limited mind to believe evil or hypnotized sense to even suggest it. The result of this spiritual knowing is physical healing and protection.
Here's how it works. One night I woke up very ill. I felt quite miserable. So I turned earnestly to God to see 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. And that nothing could rebel against that law and cause unnatural fever, or pain, or inflammation. But after some time I 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. Then something suddenly occurred to me. Someone had been unhappy with me earlier that day. This person believed that individuals were capable of influencing other people's thoughts while they slept. That you could help or hurt them in this way.
When I saw this, I felt divine wisdom was indicating just what I needed to know for my healing. I denied that anyone anywhere could have the power, capacity, or desire to harm God or His creation. I knew that divine Mind was the only true Mind. And that this precluded the presence or power of any other so-called mind. I affirmed 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 was revealing itself to me and that the ideas of this Mind were the only images that could be reproduced in my thought. These ideas had to be good and their effect had to be 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 it wasn't trying to use autosuggestion on myself. It was the result of deep spiritual knowing. It was divine power reaching my thought and bringing spiritual facts to light. And it was effective, because within a half hour I was well.
The point behind my healing is clearly highlighted by a conversation between Mrs. Eddy and one of her secretaries. It went substantially like this. Mrs. Eddy asked him, "What is disease?" He said 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 how that cared for me. And I knew that I couldn't form an image of sickness from within or accept one that was projected from without. And I was well.
The Universe Is Filled with Infinite Good
The basis of aggressive mental suggestion is minds many. One mind controlling another consciously or being influenced unconsciously. But the basis of Christian Science is the oneness and onliness, the totality, of one Mind, God. This Mind is good and controls man. The influence of this Mind, divine Love, is always helpful and healthful.
This divine influence touches each of us. It's always speaking to our consciousness. We hear it and recognize it according to the quietness and spiritual sensitivity of our thought. This present, divine influence is the Christ, which had its fullest presentation in Jesus' life. He showed the Christ as timeless and always available. It's the might of the divine will. It subdues human will. It dehypnotizes our thought. This ever-present Christ comforts us and heals us. It's everywhere with everyone.
I know of a woman who asked a Christian Scientist to pray with her because she was feeling a great sense of burden at home. One night she dreamed she was standing in the kitchen about to kill herself with a sharp knife. In her dream she heard herself saying, "It's all right; it'll be very quick and easy. Just end it all right now." When she woke up, 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. The divine 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 new alertness and joy.
The voice of Truth can never be hushed by the whisper of evil. The Christ is always speaking to each of us and to everyone. It rouses our thought from mortal mind's hypnotic dream. It tells us who we are and where we are, in reality. 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 God. That God is, and that there's no opposite to His might. There's no void to His presence. 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. That everyone is able to feel the power of God's Word.
The Power of the Christ, Truth
Mrs. Eddy wrote a poem that has helped me understand how this divine power influences mankind. How it reduces evil to nothing.
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.
(Poems, p. 75)
As I thought about this verse of the poem, I gained a clearer sense that for divine Mind to know is for that Mind to see. And for man to know because he reflects God is for man to see because he reflects God. Then you and I have the ability to know the Christ, Truth. To see this Truth clearly and understand the vital and yet tender presence of the Word.
When we "see" this Christ, Truth, and "hear" the glad message of freedom that it brings, and when we "feel" its power and strength, we find that this Truth makes us completely free from evil's suggestions. It's not our human thinking that makes us free. It's the Truth that does it, the absolute fact of the totality of God and the oneness of His creation with Him.
The key to unlock this whole treasure to us is the life and the love of Christ Jesus. His words and works showed that all phases of evil must eventually be overcome. He never lost sight of his unity with God. Isn't that the key to evil's demise? The next verse goes like this:
Mourner, it calls you, - "Come to my bosom,
Love wipes your tears all away,
And will lift the shade of gloom,
And for you make radiant room
Midst the glories of one endless day."
As I thought about this verse, I really began to see and feel more clearly that the tender, loving, ever-present Christ, Truth, 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 seeming 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 always 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 divine Love is saying: "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."
This great love of divine Love lifts the shade of gloom, our hypnotized thought condition. Then we feel the healing and sustaining power of the Word!
The 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 could see that the wrongdoer, the wrong thinker, those of us who have been caught inadvertently in the web of evil, or strayed innocently, or curiously, and toppled over the edge into the sticky molasses of materialism: and those who have been driving knowingly along the road of wrongdoing, pushed by selfishness, projected by self-will, thrust forward by malice - the gentle, tender, ever-loving and forgiving Christ calls them. 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 as a flowing fountain of pure, cleansing water. It doesn't painfully scrape the mud away. It flushes it away with the abundance of its own purity. The Christ dissolves it and so thoroughly removes it from us, that it's gone forever. It's the Spirit that makes us pure by knowing the reality that we're its own beloved expression and therefore without a single element of evil.
We're not left as penitent supplicants prostrated before the feet of a judging, stern Father. As in the parable of the prodigal son, we find there's no more a prodigal son - just the loved, exalted, clothed son. This is the demise of evil. It's the recognition of reality. And it's the cure for all our sorrow, and sickness, and sin.
The last verse:
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 all begin to see that God is the strongest deliverer because He's all-power. He's everything, the Only, the Supreme, the All-in-all. So He's fully capable of delivering us from any and every phase of evil. We're never friendless because we always have our divine friend (our Father-Mother Love). This heals loneliness. It corrects injustice. Neutralizes hate. Adjusts misunderstandings. And it encourages us and sustains us.
This divine Word is practical and present and active. It's not the letter of man-made creeds. It's the Christ, Truth. It's everywhere forever! It exposes evil's nothingness and establishes God's allness. We begin to know God's ever-presence, to hear the glad sound of His victory over evil, and to feel the supreme power of the Word.
None of us needs 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 and goodness. There's no darkness of evil in the bright sunlight of divine Love's 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. This exalts us above evil's hypnotic dream to the allness and onliness of God.