What Does God Have to Do with Paying My Bills?
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
You know, while I was still developing this lecture a man came to see me about some rather severe business problems he was having – in fact he said he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Now this man knew virtually nothing about Christian Science and one of the first questions he asked me was "What does God have to do with paying my bills?"
Of course, that's the same sort of question people have been asking for ages, isn't it? What does God have to do with healing this disease, or how can God help save my marriage? I think really that kind of question expresses what we might call a "hopeful skepticism."
Now up to the point where someone actually asks that question right out loud, the skepticism has usually outweighed the "hopeful"! But then something happens and all the familiar supports, all the conventional aids we've always leaned on – the bank account, or family, or medicine – isn't working. And at that point the hope begins to outweigh the skepticism. And we're ready to turn to God.
"Trials are proofs of God's care."1 That's a sentence from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, the woman who discovered Christian Science and founded our church. Now, sometimes people aren't so sure they like that statement. "Trials are proofs of God's care."
"Doesn't that mean that God sends trials to us?" No. It means that trials send us to God. And when we get there, we find proof of His care. And that's what we're going to be talking about this afternoon – proofs of God's care.
I suppose for the vast majority of Americans, what we think of as the Great Depression isn't even a memory – it's just history, albeit recent history. However, there are those of us around today who do remember those years, who experienced them to some degree – and I'm one of them. I was born during the depression so I must admit my memories of it are rather vague. In fact, my main recollection of that time is all the initials: NRA, WPA, TVA, CCC, FDR! And all of those initials, including FDR, represented attempts to get this country of ours out of the terrible economic slump it was in, to give people jobs, to put food on the table. You know during the Depression some 25% of the work force was out of work so having enough to eat was a very real concern for a lot of people.
As a matter of fact, the one specific memory I have of the Depression is going to the door with my mother when I was a very little girl and finding a man standing there. He wanted to know if my mother could give him something to eat and she asked him to come around to the backdoor, invited him into our kitchen, and fed him a big meal.
My parents never discussed the Depression, at least they didn't talk about it in front of me, and so it wasn't until many years later, after I'd married, that I finally heard the story of their experience during those years.
Now, let me say right here that what I'm going to tell you about their experience is the result of an on-going conversation I had with my parents, particularly with my father, over a period of several weeks – and of some rather copious notes I took at the time.
Now this whole subject came up because my husband was out of work and I was looking for some inspiration, some spiritual insights into how to pray about the situation. I knew my parents had had some tough times but I also knew they had come out of those years without any smell of smoke – without any of the lingering feelings of insecurity and fear that seemed to cling to so many members of their generation.
We started off with my telling my parents about this specific memory I had of the man coming to the door to ask for a meal, and my mother said, "Oh, honey, that happened so often – I fed so many people in our kitchen during those years."
And then they went on to tell me how my father had lost his job as a business equipment salesman: he was the junior man in the office and so he was the first to go. He said there was just so much fear at that time you felt you could reach out and touch it. It was as if unemployment were this huge wave and sooner or later it was going to hit you – and then of course, in his case it did, he lost his Job.
At that point my mother chimed in and said how wonderful my father had been. She was referring to the fact that for a long time he didn't tell her he'd lost his job – every day that dear man would get all dressed up in a suit and tie and go off as if he were going to work when actually he was looking for work!
Naturally, I wanted to know what happened next and my father said that it was right about that time that they'd become interested in Christian Science.
And then that was another whole story, which I won't go into except to say that my mother's youngest sister, my Aunt Edith, had had asthma since her early teens and was subject to sudden flare-ups that would leave her bedridden for days on end. Then in the middle of one of these severe attacks she'd turned to Christian Science and received an immediate, and as it turned out, permanent healing. My mother was one of five sisters, and this made a very big impression on the whole family – (I might add that eventually all five of them became Christian Scientists).
So – when my dad lost his job he decided that since this religion had worked such wonders for his sister-in-law, maybe it could help him find a job. And so he called a Christian Science practitioner.
Now, if you don't know what a practitioner is or what they do, this is someone who is available to the public, not just to Christian Scientists, to pray with and for people who are in trouble of any kind – it might be a physical problem, or unemployment, or it could be relationship problems, or drugs. Whatever the nature of the problem, the purpose of the prayer is to heal it by getting closer to God, by learning to know and trust God.
My father said that in his case, the practitioner really had her work cut out for her because, although he'd been raised a Christian, he hadn't been inside a church in years – and to be perfectly honest, he hadn't given God much thought either.
So after their first visit, dad decided that the best way to start learning about God was by reading the Bible and "Science and Health" right from the beginning. And hopefully, before he'd read the entire Bible, he would have found a job!
As I'm sure most everyone here knows, the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis I, tells us that God created everything, heaven and earth and everything in it, and that it was all of it very good. It also tells us that God made man in His image, after His likeness, and that God gave man dominion over everything He had created.
Well, my father said he found that whole first chapter of Genesis very challenging. It didn't appear to him to have any connection with life on this planet! When he looked around, the things he saw didn't look all that good; and the people he knew, himself included, certainly didn't appear to be anything he would consider God's image and likeness. And as for dominion – well, that made him angry!
I really had to laugh, here was this big project to read straight through the Bible and he couldn't even get past the second page! And what, I wanted to know, made him so angry about being given dominion? I'd have thought he'd like the idea of dominion. And my dad said, "Well, dominion means having control or authority, and I didn't feel like I had any authority or control over anything. I couldn't find a job, couldn't pay my bills. It just seemed like a joke. Where was all this dominion I was supposed to have?"
When he discussed all this with the practitioner she asked him where he thought dominion came from. "Well, according to the Bible, it comes from God."
"And who does God give dominion to?"
"Well, he gives it to man."
"Which man? What do you mean, which man? There's only one!"
"Oh? Have you read Genesis II?"
Well no, he hadn't gotten that far, but he certainly knew the story of Adam and Eve. And the practitioner said, "That's a very different sort of man isn't it, from the man of Genesis I? The man of Genesis I comes from above, from light, from good, from Spirit and Love. He's made in the image and likeness of God. And this is the man who is given
"On the other hand, there's Adam, the man of Genesis II. Adam comes from beneath, from darkness and mist; he's mortal, material, made of earth or clay. And far from being given dominion, this man is cursed, condemned to till the soil – to go over and over the same old ground, you might say."
And the practitioner pointed out that that was a pretty up-to-date view of man. And it is, isn't it? In fact, it seems to me it's even more contemporary with today's concepts: Man is mortal, material, the end result of eons of evolution, subject to all kinds of laws over which he has no control: accident and chance, environment and heredity – economic cycles!
Even that old theological doctrine of predestination has been picked up and dusted off by physical science and presented as secular truth: we all arrive encoded, predestined to possess a certain amount of intelligence, exhibit certain behavioral tendencies, have particular physical characteristics – even programmed. In some instances, to come down with a specific disease at a certain point in time. It's all there in the genetic code.
Does this man have dominion? Far from it! And this is what the practitioner was trying to get my dad to see. That the two Genesis accounts of creation are really inspired portrayals of two opposite and irreconcilable ways of conceiving man – one material, the other spiritual. And because they are so diametrically opposed, only one of them could be true.
The practitioner put it to my dad in very simple terms: Look, you've got a choice, you can go on thinking of yourself as you have been, as a helpless mortal trapped in a depression, or you can begin thinking of yourself correctly, as a child of God, as His image and likeness, as Genesis says.
She also said his decision would pretty much dictate his experience because you simply can't know yourself as God's image and likeness – possessed of dominion, loved, cared for, supplied – and at the same time go around thinking of yourself as a depressed, inadequate, unemployed mortal.
Well, as my father put it, he was beginning to get the message! Still, it sounded so radical! Wasn't there some nice middle ground, something not quite so black and white? "No," the practitioner said. "No, it's one or the other; you wouldn't want to get stuck between floors!"
Dad said at some other time he might have been tempted to argue the point but right then he was feeling so desperate that being given this choice, realizing he had a choice, was just like someone throwing you a rope when you're drowning – you don't stop to quibble, you grab the rope.
And that's what he did, he grabbed the rope. And then he said he had to hang on for dear life; hang on to his decision! It took a lot of discipline; he said it meant cranking his thought around, his thought about God and man and their relationship by about 180 degrees.
Now, this isn't something you do overnight. When it comes to salvation – and that's really what we're talking about here isn't it? – when it comes to salvation, there aren't any overnight sensations!
Now, it was along about this time
that the practitioner told my father a story. This was a true story that had
appeared in "The Christian Science Monitor" in 1934. It's the story
of a friendship that developed between two women – the author, Ethel Whitcomb,
and a rustic
Unfortunately, as it turned out,
these were con men. There was no Christian charity and no retirement home, and
now there was no farm. As
Since that time she'd been
boarding in different people's homes in return for helping out with chores. But
The author, Mrs. Whitcomb, tells
In pondering this simple lesson in gratitude dad said he realized he'd been doing the exact opposite. Rather than recognizing good, glorifying God, he'd been keeping a running score of negatives, a mental list of all the things that were wrong which he went over constantly.
Have you ever done that? When things go wrong, don't we all tend to make lists and mull them over, just in case we might forget why we're unhappy?! If you have one of those mental lists, tear it up right now. That's a poverty list.
Now in addition to this daily exercise of his gratitude, my father was also learning more about what it means to be a child of God, about man's spiritual nature, and how we live that nature in our daily lives. To help him in this, he was reading the two books I mentioned earlier, the Bible and "Science and Health."
Now, in the Bible he was sticking pretty much to the four Gospels. He said it just seemed to him that the best way to get an understanding of man's spiritual identity or sonship would be to study the life of Jesus, because after all Jesus was God's son, not a son, but the son, in a unique and particular way. As Jesus said of himself, "I am the Way." Jesus was the most perfect example of spiritual sonship, the Christ, humanity has ever known.
Perhaps we might say that you and I glimpse the man of Genesis I, this ideal spiritual man or Christ, through the earthly life of our Savior.
Now as I said, my father was also reading "Science and Health," and in that book Mrs. Eddy employs a very helpful term to describe the concept of man as God's image, and that term is "reflection." A good analogy is one Mrs. Eddy uses herself – that of a person standing in front of a mirror. The reflection in the mirror is an exact image of the original, of the person standing in front of the mirror. It includes all the original includes and excludes all the original excludes.
Unfortunately, most analogies break down at some point and the problem with this one is that it leaves us with a physical picture. But man's reflection of God can't be physical because God is not a physique. God is Spirit. God is also the source of all wisdom and intelligence, God is Mind.
Which means that as God's image man is made to reflect God, not physically, but spiritually, mentally. Our purpose, then, as His children, is to reflect in our lives what God is – to reflect goodness, love, mercy, kindness.
As we do this on a daily basis, on a moment-by-moment basis, isn't this a form of prayer? Aren't we living our prayer rather than just saying one? This keeps us safe from trying to use God as a means of getting something we think we don't have. Actually, God could never be used by man, but sometimes it's a temptation to try. And when that slips in, it negates our prayer. The purpose of prayer is not to teach us how to get, but how to be.
To be love, intelligence, compassion, honesty. And when we do this, reflect these qualities in our lives – qualities which would also include creativity, integrity, spontaneity, perception, insight, understanding – then these qualities give us dominion over what does not come from God – lack, anxiety, disease, dishonesty, depression, boredom, confusion, fear. As Mrs. Eddy puts it in "Science and Health:" "Man, made in His likeness, possesses and reflects God's dominion over all the earth."2
And didn't Jesus show us just that? He said he could do nothing of himself but only what he saw the Father do. Jesus' total obedience, his sweet humility, his pure reflection of the Father's will, of His goodness and His love, was expressed in Jesus' life as power and authority – as dominion.
It enabled him not only to heal the sick, but to quell a storm, feed a multitude, show the disciples how to fill their nets. When you read the gospels, it just comes through so clearly that Jesus looked to God for everything he needed – and for all his neighbor's needs as well.
There was never any thought of God's love as being exclusive, but always as inclusive, as including all His children. And Jesus was so persistent in encouraging us to accept God as our Father. To realize that we are here and now God's children.
And this is what my father was beginning to understand. That he needed to claim his sonship by living the qualities that were his as God's son, reflecting them in his life. He said that once he got the hang of it, he'd never been so busy in his life. In a very small way, my dad was beginning to understand what it means to be about our Father's business.
Well, the first result of all this spiritual employment was that dad was offered a job driving a truck. And then, I think it was some four or five months later, just out of the blue, he received a letter from a manager of a branch of an international corporation and in an unusual, roundabout way, he'd heard about my father, and what he'd heard was that dad was a crackerjack salesman, which he was.
And so the upshot was that my father was offered a job and we moved to that other state, and then, a few years later, we moved to the East to the corporate headquarters. My father stayed with that company for the rest of his business career, eventually rising to the top of what is sometimes called "the corporate ladder."
And the other important thing is that for as long as the Depression lasted my parents were able not only to feed the many strangers who came to our door, they were also able to lend substantial financial support to several family members who were in need.
Paul says something in the Bible, in II Corinthians, that I think pretty much sums up our family's experience: Now he who provides seed for sowing and bread for food will provide the seed for you to sow: he will multiply it and swell the harvest of your benevolence, and you will always be rich enough to be generous.3
Now there's a little addendum to all of this that I want to tell you about. Many years later my father was in line to be promoted to first vice president – and then instead, at the last minute, the board of directors told him they were replacing him, bringing in a new man from the outside. As it turned out, they were bringing in a whole new team – not only to replace dad, but several other key executives.
And so after all those years of security, just as he was about to grab the brass ring, my father found himself out of a job, on the outside looking in.
As a sort of consolation prize, he was offered a branch managership, which meant he would be right back where he'd started all those years ago – in a branch office. And the branch he was being offered was not considered very profitable.
As you may imagine, my parents had a lot of negative emotion to deal with – hurt feelings, pride, fear, resentment, anger. But they also knew that those emotions were worse than useless – in fact, they were downright destructive.
So in their prayers, they said the big challenge was to maintain control of their thinking, to hang on to their dominion. And they did this by diligently replacing all those negative thoughts with true thoughts from God, with love, forgiveness, compassion, trust, humility, confidence, joy . . .
Dad said that the thing that came to his rescue, that just clicked for him, was the story Jesus tells about the prodigal son. But he wasn't thinking about the prodigal, he was remembering the older brother. I'm sure most everyone knows how that parable goes, how when the prodigal comes home, and evidently he's been away a long time, why the minute he arrives on the scene, he gets everything, the ring, the best robe, the shoes. His father even throws a big party for him.
And there's the older son, the faithful one, left standing out in the cold – at least from his perspective. And oh, is his nose out of joint!
And he tells his father, "I've been here all along, worked at your side all these years, and you're not giving me the ring and the robe and the party." Well my dad could really identify with that. It was exactly the way he'd been feeling! "I've been here all these years and now this new arrival, this new man, is getting everything I've worked for!"
But then the father turns to his older son and says, "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine."4
That was such a lovely, reassuring thing for that father to say. But, to be honest, I used to wonder just how it could be true. I mean, how could both sons receive everything? Here the father has just handed the younger son his "kingdom" and now, the moment the older boy complains, why, he's told everything is his. How could both sons get everything?
As I pondered that dilemma, I realized my problem was I was thinking of everything in material terms. What happens when we start with matter? We start with limitation, with that which is finite, inadequate, divisible – and divisive. From that premise, life appears to be just one huge pie and if you get a big piece, my piece is going to be smaller! And here comes envy, and here comes fear and here comes lack.
But in that parable, I finally realized, the Father represents God, Spirit. And so his "kingdom" isn't finite and limited, but infinite and unlimited. Isn't Jesus teaching us to base our understanding of life, of source and resource, in God, in Spirit? Isn't he telling us to think as he thought, to do as he did – to draw on that same inexhaustible spiritual resource that he called Father?
Certainly, that was my father's answer. The infinitude of God's goodness was right here, all of it, and nothing that anyone else received could ever deprive him of one iota of his share of good – there is always enough for everyone because God is the infinite source and resource.
As he reasoned about this, dad thought, "Well, I got started as a salesman, and I'm a pretty good one – and this is a wonderful opportunity to put that talent back to work!"
So he accepted that branch managership and the very first year he and his office were third in the world in sales and he actually wound up earning more that year and every subsequent year than he would have as a vice president of the firm! And of course the blessings spilled over to the entire sales force, which, including the subsidiary offices, amounted to over 70 people.
It seems to me that whole experience is such a wonderful example of the fact that while circumstances often change, God doesn't. And so, if you stay with God, with Truth, you'll always be safe, you'll always be cared for.
You might compare this to someone going to the beach. If you go to the beach and stand in the sand, you find that every few waves you have to shift your feet around because the sand has washed out from under them. But if you go to the beach and stand on a rock, those same waves may wash over your feet but you won't have to move, won't have to shift around to accommodate them. And in that sense, you have dominion over the waves.
So the fundamental decision we all make, isn't "how am I going to react to the waves, to circumstances," but rather, "where am I going to stand? On that rock or in the sand?"
In "Science and Health," Mrs. Eddy makes the point perfectly: Your decisions will master you, whichever direction they take."5
Of course Moses presented that
same idea to the children of
Now as you may remember, this whole story began with my going to my parents for some insights on how to pray about unemployment. And I'm sure it's fairly obvious by now that one of the things I got out of this – from them and also, of course, from my own study and prayer – was a much clearer understanding of spiritual identity. What man "in the image and likeness of God" means, what it includes. Certainly vastly more than I'd ever considered before.
As a consequence, I could see I needed to be far more alert, far more aware of what I accepted into my thinking as valid, as true. This was the dominion God had given me, the only dominion I had, control over my own consciousness.
Well, two specific things happened as a result of this understanding I was gaining. One was that after months of fruitless searching my husband was offered a job that was a perfect match with his education and experience; and the offer came just as my father's had come, "out of the blue," from a totally unexpected source. Except, of course, that it wasn't. As we all chorused at the time – "Him again!"
The other immediate result was a physical healing. One day I noticed a small growth on the calf of one leg. I didn't think much about it at the time, and not surprisingly, for as long as I continued to ignore it, it continued to grow. One day, when I saw how large this had become, it frightened me, and I realized I needed to settle down and do some serious praying – now!
The first thing I thought, actually I said it right out loud, was, "This is crazy – how can I say that isn't real, isn't there? I can see it. I can feel it, and it's been getting bigger." But then, quick as a flash. I thought. "You can say it isn't there because you know God doesn't see it. God doesn't know it."
That was my answer, it made such perfect sense to me that I felt no further concern – I literally forgot about it. A week or two later, when I happened to glance down at my leg I realized I couldn't see it either – it had vanished. What had happened? First of all, spiritual logic had triumphed over material deception. And logic was able to triumph because of my underlying conviction that God, Spirit, is infinite, comprises all that is actual, all that is real. That meant God couldn't possibly know anything unlike Himself. And as His image, His reflection, I couldn't know or have something God didn't know or have.
When you think out from the perfection of God you are led only to God – to light, to love, to perfection. If you think up from material appearance, you are often led to confusion and fear, doubt and despair.
You can't trust your physical senses. We all know that. Every day we say the sun is rising and the sun is setting even though we know the sun isn't moving, we are. And in a vastly more subtle way, our senses deceive us by telling us the floor beneath our feet is solid matter, even though quantum physics assures us the floor beneath our feet is comprised of atoms that are 99.9% empty space!
If we can't trust the physical senses, what can we trust? Spiritual sense, man's innate capacity to know and understand God – and thus to experience reality.
Where shall we turn for the truth – to matter or to Spirit? "Your decisions will master you, whichever direction they take."
Now I'd like to talk a bit about the author of that statement, Mary Baker Eddy. Anyone familiar with Mrs. Eddy's life knows that for the first four decades of her life, her experience was very short on dominion and very long on deprivation. In fact, for the first few years after her discovery of Christian Science, she continued to live in straitened circumstances, moving from one boarding house to another, living in a sort of genteel poverty.
But during those same years, Mrs. Eddy's thought was undergoing a radical change, a change of base from matter to Spirit, from the sand to the rock.
The change was instigated by a sudden insight she had gained while she was praying, an insight into the nature of reality – that all real being is spiritual; that God is Life, and that Life included her life, all life. The immediate result of this revelation was the instantaneous healing of the severe after-effects of an accident.
Many years later, Mrs. Eddy described that first overwhelming view of God's allness as ". . . Life in and of Spirit: this Life being the sole reality of existence."7
Now, that's a very radical statement, but it was this radical understanding of God's allness that enabled Mrs. Eddy to go on to heal others; she became a marvelous Christian healer.
Mrs. Eddy was no longer stuck between floors – she had gained the spiritual view, and from this vantage point she was able to see the allness of God, the allness of good – and the consequent nothingness of evil. You can never see the nothingness of evil, never understand it or accept it, unless you have first understood the allness of God, good!
As Mrs. Eddy's understanding of the universality of God's love expanded, so did her life. That's not really surprising, is it? God's provision is all-encompassing; the same love that heals disease will also provide for our daily needs of home, clothing, food, employment, companionship.
It's all an inevitable consequence
of putting God first. Jesus tells us just that, doesn't he, in the Sermon on
the Mount. "Seek ye first the
I've always compared this to someone sailing a ship. If the ship is going forward, it inevitably leaves a wake. If we're progressing spiritually, our human needs will be met – the wake will be there for us. It's inevitable.
Certainly this proved true for
Mrs. Eddy. In 1876 she was living in obscurity in
Mrs. Eddy was then in her seventieth year, but far from getting ready to retire, she was getting ready to begin what for most of us would be a lifetime's work.
I've always treasured something a
In closing, let's just take some time to broaden our canvas – to consider how our understanding of being affects not only ourselves and our individual economies, but national and world economies as well.
Several years ago I finally heard about the second law of thermodynamics, which is sometimes called entropy. This concept was developed in the 1800's, but for some of us, that sort of news travels slowly!
Basically, what that law says is that within a closed system, whenever work is done, a certain amount of usable energy is irrevocably lost in the doing. To put it another way, energy can't be recycled. The result is that over time things tend to run down until they reach a tepid, homogeneous state where nothing can happen. Sort of like your husband on the weekend!
Not surprisingly, this concept of entropy has spread to other systems and is often depicted as operating in the decay of cities, the breakdown of economics, the depletion of resources.
Surely in our prayers we need to challenge this gloomy assessment of mankind's prospects, an assessment based on an assumption of the primacy of matter – that matter is the source of all energy, all good, all life.
I found a wonderful antidote for such negative thinking in the 1828 edition of Noah Webster's dictionary. It's a sentence he uses to illustrate the meaning of energy: "God, by His almighty energy called the universe into existence."
Isn't that invigorating? And it's true!
I remember reading not so long
ago, I believe it was in
"Forbes," that if material resources were the source of national
It's so obvious that wealth is created by ideas! That economies thrive wherever there is a free exchange of ideas – of invention and innovation and creativity. Ideas don't take from, they give to.
George Gilder, who writes frequently on the subject of economics and economic policy, has pointed out that whereas oil (which to all intents is a non-renewable resource), is a substance extracted from sand, semiconductor technologies are written on sand, but their substance is ideas. Ideas aren't used up as they're used, they expand and build as they're shared.
I'm sure most of us would agree that Christ Jesus was the most creative thinker the world has ever known. When Jesus fed a crowd of several thousand from a few loaves and fishes, it's obvious he was operating from assumptions entirely different from the people around him, and it's equally evident that those assumptions weren't based in matter, in limitation and lack and fear. Then where? In God, in Spirit. In that inexhaustible source of all good that he called Father.
And that Father is your Father and my Father – our Father, our infinite source and resource. As we pray for ourselves, our communities, our world, let's be sure we base our prayers on God, on our non-cyclical, reliable, constant source of good.
I'd like to close with two quotations. The first is from the opening sentence in the preface to "Science and Health:" To those leaning on the sustaining infinite, today is big with blessings "10
And the second is from Jesus, from the book of Luke: "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."11
1. Science and Health 66:10
2. Ibid. 516:19-21
3. II Cor. (New English Translation)
4. Luke 15:31
5. Science and Health 392:22
6. Deut. 30:15.19
7. Miscellaneous Writings 24:17-18
8. Matt. 6:33
9. Pulpit and Press 36:14
10. Science and Health, vii:1-2
11. Luke 12:32