God’s Love Doesn’t Take Sides

 

Ann C. Stewart, C.S.B.

Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts

 

If I were to ask you for a definition of peace I think most everyone would agree that "peace" means no one is at war anywhere. Among nations, peace represents order and stability, security and concord. But how about peace from a personal point of view? At the individual level we might get as many definitions as we have people. "Peace is watching a sunset from my balcony," or, "Peace will be when a certain relative moves out of the house" or, "Peace is whenever my parents have stopped fighting."

In other words, peace at an individual level is pretty subjective. Perhaps we might agree that for most of us peace is the way things would be if everyone else would behave themselves. If the neighbors would get their dog to quit barking, if the people across the hall would stop having noisy parties – if the people on the other side of the fence, the other side of town, the other side of the border, the other side of the world, would just behave themselves!

It all seems to come down to human relationships, doesn't it? They can be so marvelous, and they can be so awful! It's amazing at times how easily friendship and love can slip into indifference, even harden into animosity and hatred. How quickly genuine communion and communication can degenerate into misunderstanding and conflict, sometimes endless rounds of conflict – bitter cycles of action and reaction, action and reaction.

We hear about it all the time, don't we? We experience it in our own lives – in our families, our communities. And, of course, we see it all around us in our world today – the ancient religious war in northern Ireland; the bitter ethnic feuds in the former Yugoslavia, tribal wars in various countries in Africa.

Is it ever going to end? Is it possible for us, for humanity, to break cut of these cycles of conflict once and for all? Actually put an end to them? Heal them? Many are trying, from the United Nations right down to local mediation boards and family counselors. There are books you can read, even courses you can take, on conflict resolution.

But I'd like to talk this evening about an entirely different approach to the resolution of conflict, a healing approach, and that is prayer, and specifically, individual prayer. I'm emphasizing individual prayer because that's the way most of us pray most of the time –and we often find ourselves wondering how one person's prayer could make a difference, particularly when we're considering community conflicts or world problems. How could my little prayer help a problem of such magnitude, a situation involving so many people, filled with so many complications?

But prayer, one person's prayer, can make a difference! Let me give you an example out of my own experience. I once got all caught up in one of these action-reaction cycles I just mentioned. This was a community affair, and like so many of these things, once it got started it seemed to take on a life of its own.

It all began peacefully enough. A group of parents and teachers in our school district asked the school board to set some goals for the schools, academic and social goals. The board agreed and invited the community to participate through a series of public meetings. There were to be three meetings with two week intervals in between. This would allow for workshops to help hammer out specific goals.

The first meeting was a big success – about 100 people turned out, and everyone went home happy and eager to participate in the interim workshops.

Then several things happened – an incident in one of the schools, some heated arguments in the workshops – that showed a deep division in our community over what the goals for the schools ought to be. On one side we had those whom one would generally categorize as humanist, secular, and liberal and, naturally, they wanted the goals to reflect their philosophy, which was weighted towards social adjustment and humanist values. On the other side were those whom one would, again broadly speaking, call traditional, conservative, and religious. They wanted the goals to focus on academics, and if there were going to be any values taught, by George, they were going to be Christian!

By the time of the second meeting the battle lines were drawn! Some two hundred people showed up, all of them in high dudgeon, and in no time at all that meeting turned into an absolute shambles. People were shouting, shaking fists, getting red in the face. No one was listening to one word anyone else was saying. There was a complete polarization with virtually no one in the middle!

Now, I must confess I wasn't exactly neutral! But as I sat there listening to all the hubbub, I began to challenge my own thinking. "What's your real purpose here? To be part of the battle or to help to heal the situation?"

I knew that as a Christian and a Christian Scientist, my fundamental purpose in any situation was to heal. As I thought about praying, I quickly realized that a thought that's full of emotion and human opinion is not a thought that's prepared to pray. But perhaps someone is wondering why I would want to pray in the first place? What good would that do? The simplest answer I can give you is that I wanted to pray because prayer works, it's effective. I've seen all sorts of healings take place through prayer alone – broken bones (my own, as well as others), broken relationships (again, my own as well as others), drug addiction, disease, depression. . .

So for me the real question wasn't, "why pray?" but, "what are you going to pray for? Are you going to pray that your side wins?"

That can be pretty tempting! "Well, of course I'm going to pray that we win – we should win, we're right!" Or to take it a step further, "We're going to win, because we're the Christians; God is on our side." But all too often, the other side is Christian, too! And certainly we can all think of situations in other areas of the world where there could be people thinking, with just as much internal logic, "We're going to win! After all, we're the Muslims, so Allah is on our side. . ." or, "We're the Jews, so the Lord. . ." You see what I mean!

But that sort of one-sided, selective petitioning isn't true prayer. It's just wishful thinking. True prayer means putting everything in God's care, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, Muslim nor Christian, male nor female, bond nor free, humanist nor atheist. . .

That evening, then, as I sat there in that contentious meeting, I could see that I needed to pray exactly the way Jesus teaches us to pray, "Thy will be done." God's will. Isn't that the safest prayer of all? God's will is an extension of God's love, and God loves all His children equally, impartially. God's love never takes sides.

In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, puts this fact so beautifully: "Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals."1

During the next couple of weeks I kept going back in my prayers to that simple truth, that God's love is impartial, universal – just knowing that from this perfect Love would come the perfect answer, an answer that would take away all the bitterness and animosity and leave everyone feeling blessed and satisfied.

I also found something that Paul says in Philippians that was very helpful:

"The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."2

"The Lord is at hand." In working with these verses I learned that this was a popular phrase with the early Christians, that they often greeted one another with it. They had a very clear understanding that God is right here with us, right now, and so it was the most natural thing in the world for them to turn to God for guidance and help. Then Paul advises. "Be careful for nothing." The NEB translates that, "Have no anxiety." But so often that's exactly what we do have! We're anxious because we're afraid things won't go the way we want them to, according to our personal outline. This makes us fearful; fear is a sure sign we're not putting the situation in God's care.

And we're to pray with thanksgiving, with gratitude – we're to thank God before we get our answer, our healing. Then, having done all this we receive "the peace of God which passeth all understanding." The New English Bible gives as an alternative translation of that last phrase, "which is of far more worth than human reason." And it is, isn't it! The peace of God doesn't come from human reason, it comes from God.

Well, one of the first results that came from my own feeling of peace was a sudden insight into the problem our community was struggling with. The real problem wasn't who was going to win, the real problem was why we weren't communicating. I realized that the reason we were so bitterly divided was that the two sides had no shared values, no shared assumptions.

When I was growing up, I realized, I was taught the same basic set of moral principles or ethics wherever I went – school, home, Sunday school. What we know as the Judeo-Christian ethic. This wasn't true just for me. Religious historians and writers generally agree that it held true for most everyone growing up in this country right through the 1950's. But since then things have changed dramatically and today we live in a very secular, pluralistic society. The Judeo-Christian ethic is no longer shared or even considered valid by many people. I could see then that our community uproar was a local manifestation of this national phenomenon of secularism and pluralism.

By the time of the next meeting, I was sure I had the basic problem figured out, but I certainly didn't have the solution. However, I just kept trusting that the praying I'd been doing – and I was sure others had also been praying – would bring forth the right answer for all of us.

The last meeting, our third, was jammed – some three hundred people had turned out, and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. People had brought tape recorders and were holding them high in the air, or in someone's face, taping what "the other side" said.

I remember at one point an earnest young man in the front of the room stood up and more or less shouted. "Every human being has dignity!" And the moment he sat down a man in the back jumped up yelling, "Oh yeah? What about Adolph Hitler?" And away we went.

Finally there was a lull in the proceedings, and I took that opportunity to share what I'd figured out about our problem. . . that we had to recognize that we lived in a very pluralistic society and that we weren't understanding each other because we were coming from such different viewpoints – we had too few shared values or assumptions. Surely the first thing we needed to do was find something we could all agree on.

And then, right as I was saying this, I realized what that something might be. "You know, there is something everyone here agrees about. We're all here because we love our children and we want the best for them. Everyone here shares that common purpose and it's a good one. So if we can love our children, and we do, then that means that everyone in this room knows how to love. And if we know how to love, then we are quite capable of loving each other. So that's something we can all do together right now. We can just sit here quietly and love each other."

And I sat down. There was a long, long silence – it seemed like half an hour, though I'm sure it was only a couple of minutes. Finally, the president of the school board asked. "Does anyone have anything to add to that?"

Another long silence. "Well, neither have I. This meeting is adjourned."

As we were breaking up, quite a few people came up and thanked me for my remarks. I remember one woman in particular who said. "You know, I was sitting over by the wall, next to a window, and when you sat down I could just see all the hate going out that window!"

There was one more meeting, but somehow goals didn't seem to be all that important anymore – only about 40 people showed up. It was all very amicable, we set some broad-based goals everyone liked and we parted in peace.

Now, what happened at that last large meeting that adjourned so suddenly? One minute we were at each other's throats and the next minute there we all sat in a peaceful silence.

I think what happened is that each one of us in that room just suddenly caught a glimpse of our own real nature as children, children of God. And that real nature is love because God Himself is Love. I don't mean to say that everyone in that room suddenly said to themselves, "Hey, I'm a child of God." I know they didn't because many of them were avowed atheists. But they did say to themselves, "Hey, its true, I do know how to love." And then did it.

What we experienced together that evening, the love we shared in that deep silence, I think that was the spiritual reality of our shared nature as children of God. I say spiritual because one of the specific things Jesus teaches us about God is that God is Spirit. He also tells us over and over again that God is our Father, so it follows that the children of God, Spirit, are, must be, spiritual. This is a fundamental truth about man's actual nature that Christian Science recognizes and teaches. Man's real identity – yours and mine – is spiritual.

This is so important because it means that the love we express as children of God is spiritual, it comes from God, Spirit. That's what makes it so powerful – and so harmless. Spiritual love never takes sides, it loves everyone equally. That's why it heals, why it's so effective in resolving conflict.


Human love is personal. It just can't help it, that's its nature. It has likes and dislikes. It takes sides, as we just saw! It can also turn sour, become vindictive, possessive, jealous. That's why it's so totally inadequate when it comes to resolving conflict, to bringing healing and peace.

One final question. What enabled everyone on that particular evening to suddenly drop this personal sense of love and love with God's love, real love? I honestly think it was the direct result of prayer, my own prayer and no doubt many others as well.

What does prayer do? The first thing it does is turn us away from self and towards God. Away from self-centered thinking, from self-concern, self-pity, self-righteousness, self-will, self-justification, self-love – and towards God-centered thinking, towards goodness, grace, compassion, love, kindness, fairness, unselfishness.

Prayer begins to lift the dark, limited, material mindedness that Paul calls the carnal mind and which Christian Science often refers to as mortal mind. Prayer lifts the darkness and lets in the light, the light of Spirit, the light of Truth and Love. In Christian Science this spiritual light is understood to be the Christ, and it's recognized and cherished as a divine influence – and I'm quoting here from Science and Health – "a divine influence ever present in human consciousness."3

John's gospel calls Christ the ". . . true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."4 And John also assures us, "The darkness has never mastered it."5

In human history, this spiritual light, the Christ, found its perfect expression in Jesus. It suffused his entire being, guided his every thought and act. So much so that he was recognized in his own day as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy: "The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up."6

That light is still with us. It will be, as Jesus promised, till the end of the world. You know, sometimes that statement is interpreted as meaning the literal end of the world, that it prophesies some sort of cosmic holocaust in which a select few will be saved and everyone else will be destroyed! But that is so out of keeping with Jesus' life, with his teaching and healing! It seems far more likely Jesus was referring to the end of the world in individual consciousness – till the end of limited, selfish, material thinking, till the end of worldly thinking. I will be with you until you can say as I say, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me."7

How do we come to this enlightened consciousness? Through prayer. What does prayer do? It let's in the light. What does the light show us? The truth about ourselves – the truth that we are children of God, children of light, not children of darkness. It seems to me that this Christly view of man as spiritual, as possessing here and now a God-derived nature of intelligence and love, is essential to this business of resolving conflict, of finding permanent peace, of healing.

I really don't see how, for example, we could possibly live up to Jesus' instructions in the Sermon on the Mount without this understanding of man's actual spiritual nature. I'm thinking here of those specific verses where Jesus sets up standards on how we're to handle aggressive behavior from others. How we're to respond to provocative acts, unreasonable demands, persecution, injustice. When I first read these commands, I remember thinking, "Well if that's what it takes to be a Christian, I'm not sure I'm going to make it!"

Just listen to these verses and imagine yourself doing this, keeping up these standards day in and day out:

"Ye have heard that it hath been said. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

"But I say unto you. That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

"And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

"And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

"Ye have heard it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you:

"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. . ." 8

In doing some research on those verses I discovered that the people of Jesus' day were very familiar with the examples he used. A slap on the cheek was considered the ultimate insult. It was delivered first with the back of the hand across one cheek, then with the palm of the hand back across the other. And Jesus is saying, "Get that other cheek ready."

The coat refers to an inner tunic and the cloak is the outer garment which also served as a blanket at night. If someone sues you for one, Jesus says, give him both – give everything.

A Roman soldier could order a citizen to carry whatever the soldier demanded for one Roman mile. What does Jesus say? "Go two miles!"

Well, I must say, I didn't think – even if I could manage to live up to the spirit of those commands – that I would wind up feeling like a child of God. I thought, "I'm going to wind up feeling like a doormat – maybe a Christian doormat, but still, a doormat!"

Really, it seemed to me it would be absolutely impossible to live up to those standards. That the response they called for would simply exhaust the human capacity for love or forgiveness.

A few years ago I read a book called Bible and Sword by the historian, Barbara Tuchman, and in it the author makes a comment that coincides exactly with my own thought. Having observed that "The only trouble with Christian morality is that so few Christians practice it," she goes on to say, "Whereas the Ten Commandments represent a code that men can follow if they try, the Sermon on the Mount has been, so far, a code beyond the grasp of society."9

Why is this so? Isn't it because the Ten Commandments represent a moral code, a code that can be achieved through human effort, through self-discipline and a strong desire to do right? A moral code appeals to human reason. It appears reasonable. It provides for restitution, reciprocity, even revenge. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. If not literally, then through the courts.

But the demands of the Sermon on the Mount aren't at all reasonable. Human reason rebels at them. "I'd be a doormat!"

But then, as I thought about it, I realized that Jesus must have known that. He was such a marvelous judge of human nature, he must have known that what he was asking for was a lot more than human effort, than good will or good intentions could achieve.

So he must have expected those demands to force us – to force Christians – to dig deeper, or perhaps I should say, to go up higher. To find the spiritual capacity that he had; a capacity that would enable us, as it enabled him, to love and to go right on loving in the face of malice, animosity, injustice, hate.

What is this spiritual capacity? Isn't it just what we've been discussing? The Christly view of man that enables us to see what God is seeing – the child of God, spiritual and perfect, innocent, good and pure – right now. In the book of John, Jesus tells us not to judge according to appearances, but to judge righteous judgment. In other words, to see past the appearance presented by the carnal mind and find the child of God. Isn't this what he did? Jesus' righteous judgment looked past the material appearance and found man innocent – innocent of sin, innocent of disease.

In the book of Matthew, the first thing Jesus does following the Sermon on the Mount is to heal a leper. Isn't he showing us that the consciousness of the Sermon on the Mount is a healing consciousness? That thought emptied of self-interest and filled with God's love, real love, heals?

Let me give you an example here of how even a very partial understanding of this truth can bring real peace. This may seem like a small thing, and yet it isn't, because the provocations we all deal with in our daily lives are simply microcosms of the problems we're all dealing with in our world. It's in the small things that we practice peace, that we practice being Christians. If I'm involved in a neighborhood feud, for example, how can I pray honestly or effectively for peace in other neighborhoods? Neighborhoods like Yugoslavia, Ireland, Palestine or South Africa?

Well, a neighborhood feud is exactly what our family almost got into. Our two sons, Doug and Dirk, had spent the better part of a summer building a tree house. It was a magnificent tree house – two carpeted rooms, windows, even a shake roof. It was the pride and joy of our younger son, Dirk.

One Sunday afternoon we returned from an outing to discover that the tree house had been torn down – I mean totally demolished. The four of us just sat there in the car in a state of shock. And then everyone said almost simultaneously, "Kevin!"

Kevin was the boy next door and this was just the sort of thing he was famous for. That evening Dirk went next door and asked Kevin's grandfather, who was out watering the lawn, if he knew whether Kevin had torn the tree house down. He said he was afraid so, but that Kevin wasn't home. And there the matter rested.

The next day the boys went off to school, my husband went off to work, and mother stayed home, steaming. I was furious! Talk about being despitefully used and persecuted! How could anyone ever be asked to forgive such a wanton act of malicious destruction?

Of course, I knew I would have to forgive Kevin sooner or later – but not yet! Have you ever felt that way? It's silly, isn't it, because the longer you wait, the harder it gets. I also knew that what I needed more than anything else right then was a more Christian view of Kevin. Something a little more enlightened than the picture I was entertaining of a miserable little delinquent.

Obviously, human reason wasn't going to help; it just reinforced my anger. That's what human logic almost always does in these situations, digs you in deeper. All the friends and relatives agree with you: oh, you've been badly wronged, you have every right to be angry! And the next thing you know you're mired in the cycle of action and reaction, wedged in so deeply you can't move towards a solution, towards healing.

I realized that what I needed was that peace of God that is "of far more worth than human reason." And the way to find that peace was through the Christ, the spiritual light, the spiritual love, that would enable me to see what God was seeing: the real Kevin, the innocent child of God.

As I prayed this way, an interesting thing happened, I began to understand that the real culprit wasn't Kevin at all, it was hate. Plain vanilla hate. And the real attack wasn't on the tree house, the real attack was on love. The tree house didn't matter that much, because nothing of real substance had been lost. But love, love is something else!

Real substance isn't material, real substance is love. If something can get you to quit loving, it can get you to quit living. Love is life. Our right to life is our right to love. I realized I not only had a duty to love, I had a right to love. How could I exercise this right? Through the Christ, the Christly love that was mine as a child of God. What would it show me? What God was seeing – His child, innocent and good and pure and loveable!

When Dirk came home from school that day I discovered he was right there with me. "I really don't care about the tree house, Mom. And Kevin's OK, too. I figure," and these are his exact words because I wrote them down, "I figure if God can love that kid, so can we."

The family discussed all this at dinner that night and we agreed that the thing to do was to forget the tree house and love Kevin. Which was something we'd never been very good at.

About then the doorbell rang – and there he was, Kevin in person, come to confess and apologize. Kevin, who never confessed, Kevin, who never apologized. And then the doorbell rang again. It was Scott from across the street, dear sweet Scott. Scott was the same age as our older son, Doug. It turned out he'd been in on it, too. He couldn't stop apologizing for allowing himself to be pulled into such a stupid act.

Kevin and Scott offered to rebuild the tree house but it didn't seem necessary. Instead, Kevin and Dirk went off to dig a fort in our backyard and Doug and Scott went out for ice cream.

Mrs. Eddy has written something that I've found very helpful over the years in dealing with the sort of thing we've just been discussing: "The pent-up elements of mortal mind need no terrible detonation to free them. Envy, rivalry, hate need no temporary indulgence that they be destroyed through suffering; they should be stifled through lack of air and freedom."10

You know, if we were to see someone with his clothing on fire we wouldn't be afraid of him, we'd be afraid for him. We'd see him as a victim and run to his rescue. Ideally, we'd wrap him up in a blanket and smother the flames. And isn't that, ultimately, what we did with Kevin? We wrapped him up in a blanket of love.

Of course, so often, we're the ones who need wrapping, we're the ones who need that blanket of love. The next time you find yourself having incendiary thoughts, the next time you find yourself thinking, "Boy, does that burn me up!" try it. Try wrapping yourself up in a blanket of love and stifling those flames. Don't let hatred consume you and don't let it consume your neighbor.

I'd like to close with an incident from Mrs. Eddy's life that I've always thought is such a perfect example of the Christly response to animosity and hate we've been discussing. Here was someone who did dig deeper, who did find the spiritual love that fulfills the demands of the Sermon on the Mount – right through to physical healing.

This happened during a time when Mrs. Eddy was involved in a lawsuit. It was an unpleasant business, the suit had been brought into court through deception – and in due time, when the facts came out, it was withdrawn.

But in the meantime, because Mrs. Eddy was a world renowned religious leader, this suit attracted a lot of attention and Mrs. Eddy found herself besieged with requests from the press for interviews. To help deal with this she asked a friend, Irving Tomlinson, to act as a sort of press representative. And so it's from Mr. Tomlinson that we've learned of this incident.

It seems there were four men in particular who wanted to get as negative a story as possible. As one of them admitted later, their primary purpose was to vilify Mrs. Eddy: "We had no reverence, and no decency. We didn't believe anything but the worst about anybody, and we wanted, if possible, to hold Mrs. Eddy up to scorn and ridicule, to expose and denounce her."11

The spokesman for this group was a cynical fellow from a large New York paper. For some years he'd suffered with a cancerous throat condition and on this particular evening he was in a lot of pain. Mrs. Eddy had asked Tomlinson to call him and explain that it was impossible for her to grant them an interview. She was very insistent that Tomlinson speak to this particular man. The one who answered the phone explained that this man wasn't feeling well, that he was in a lot of pain and unable to speak. Tomlinson then requested that he come to the phone and simply listen, which he did.

Now, we don't know exactly what Mrs. Eddy asked Tomlinson to say, nor do we know precisely what she herself was thinking. But from the results, I think we can be quite sure that her thought of that man was completely free from any kind of rancor or animosity, any reaction or resentment. That her view of him must have been very pure and Christ-like and loving. I say that because of the results, for when that man hung up he found all pain had left and he could speak perfectly. He had been completely, and as it turned out, permanently healed of the cancer.

Needless to say, that healing had a very humbling effect on all four of those gentlemen and in a very short time they had packed their bags and left town. I might add that later on the man who was healed became a Christian Scientist.

Sometimes we may wonder why we should forgive our enemies. Surely the answer is clear – because that's the fastest way to lose them!

Now, everything we've been discussing this evening has been from the standpoint of individual effort, individual prayer. In the first two experiences I shared, individual prayer helped to bring peace to a community and to maintain peace in a neighborhood. In Mrs. Eddy's experience, individual prayer dissipated animosity and healed the effects of hate.

In a slim little book called No and Yes, Mrs. Eddy describes prayer in this way: "True prayer is not asking God for love, it is learning to love, and to include all mankind in one affection."12

Not ten affections, not one hundred affections. Just one. And affection has such a marvelous meaning: settled goodwill.

True prayer is learning to include everyone, everywhere, in one affection, one settled goodwill.

If you were sitting in a small dark room all by your self and turned on the light, only you would see it, no one would share in it. But if you were sitting in an immense room filled with people and you turned on the light, everyone would see it, everyone would share it.

You and I are living in a world that needs light. Let's love our world enough to bring it into our room, our consciousness, and then turn on the light – and leave it on.

 

Sources

1.     Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy, p. 13

2.     Philippians 4:5-9

3.     Science and Health, p. xi

4.     John 1:9 KJV

5.     John 1:5 NEB

6.     Matt. 4:16

7.     John 14:30

8.     Matt. 5:38-41, 43-45

9.     Bible and Sword, Barbara Tuchman, (New York, 1956, p. 128)

  10.     Miscellaneous Writings, Mary Baker Eddy, p. 356

  11.     Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy, Irving Tomlinson, pp. 62- 64

  12.     No and Yes, Mary Baker Eddy, p. 39

 

 

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