MY youngest son, now six, was sitting next to me at a mid-week church meeting a few days ago. A man was reading a story from the Bible, and I knew he would go on in a few minutes to read passages from another book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science. My son was making a sincere effort to follow what was going on. He leaned over and whispered to me, asking what the readings were about.
``Faith,'' I whispered back.
He paused for a moment, then asked, ``Is that bad or good?''
``Good,'' I whispered. He settled back into his seat, confident that he now knew the lay of the land.
I, on the other hand, spent the remainder of the meeting much less confident, pondering whether I could categorically say faith was good. It's easy enough to find Bible passages by the dozen trumpeting the value of faith. But that is faith in God. I knew that even those passages which speak simply of faith mean faith in God. Of course that is good. In fact, it's more than good, as the Bible makes clear in Hebrews: ``Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen'' (11:1).
But what about faith itself? Not faith in anything, just faith. I began to see, much to my surprise, that it is a neutral term, something human consciousness can engage in without automatically being good or holy. As I thought about it, I realized there were other terms that fit into this same neutral category. Hope. Commitment. Trust. To get a fix on their value meant finding out what the hope was for, what the commitment was to, what the trust was in.
For instance, just a day or so before that church meeting, I'd planned an early morning bike ride with my wife. But I'd gotten up feeling ill, not at all inclined to go biking. Now, I had faith that morning--faith that a ten-mile bike ride would make me feel a whole lot worse! But I didn't want to let my wife down. So I went ahead with the ride.
That book I mentioned earlier, Science and Health, lifts faith higher. In fact, the book opens with an extraordinary passage on faith: ``The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God,--a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love'' (p. 1). Faith that is absolute. I have striven many times, after reading this statement, to make my faith absolutely pure, absolutely unwavering. And I have found that this book energizes and informs and spiritualizes my striving. I've also begun to see that my faith needn't build on ignorance nor aim for a selfish purpose. It can be lifted to the point of spiritual understanding and of unselfed love. In a thousand different ways, the book helps do this.
It has been the practice in our house to follow Christ Jesus in every way we know how to, including praying for the healing of illness. So the morning of that bike ride, I prayed as we peddled and so did my wife. Somewhere along the way, through prayer I managed to disconnect my faith from the prospect of getting worse. Instead I harnessed it to the absolute goodness of God. I knew that He is the source of all good, of all health, the sustainer of all right activity. I was quickly healed. That day went on to be one of the most productive I'd had in months.
What this said to me about the nature of God was simply amazing. I could take a neutral state of thought like faith, and simply by having it be in God, that neutral state of thought was no longer neutral. It was totally good! God has this uplifting effect on human consciousness. Thought, simply by resting on God, divine good, receives a positive impulse.
The key is having the right kind of faith, and placing it in God's power. This shifts thought out of neutral into a forward gear, bringing progress and healing to our lives. Science and Health, the textbook of Christian Science, states, ``When we come to have more faith in the truth of being than we have in error, more faith in Spirit than in matter, more faith in living than in dying, more faith in God than in man, then no material suppositions can prevent us from healing the sick and destroying error'' (p. 368).