Practical philanthropy

Originally published as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

Philanthropist. The word evokes images of the superwealthy - John D. Rockefeller or Bill Gates - sharing some of their riches with those less fortunate. Does philanthropy start with wealth? Must we have excess wealth to share? And what's the actual purpose of philanthropy?

There may be many different answers to these questions, but Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, offered some insights that are deeply thought-provoking (see "The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pages 287-289.) And her insights begin with a story.

In 1900, Mary Baker Eddy made a substantial financial contribution to a monument fund set up to honor a husband and wife who were leading philanthropists in Europe. A New York newspaper printed a letter from Mrs. Eddy that accompanied her check to this fund, in a piece entitled, "Monument to Baron and Baroness de Hirsch."

In addition to performing many other philanthropic acts, Baron de Hirsch helped thousands of Jews emigrate from Eastern Europe to the New World. And while both he and his wife had a great deal of money to share, there seems to have been something special even beyond great generosity in this husband and wife that attracted Mrs. Eddy's attention. She said of them in her letter, "They were unquestionably used in a remarkable degree as instruments of divine Love." That's a pretty potent instrument!

A little research on the Internet provides a glimpse into this life that caught Mrs. Eddy's attention and touched her heart. On the death of his only son Lucien, in 1887, the baron replied to a message of sympathy: "My son I have lost, but not my heir; humanity is my heir."

Here was a desire to help humanity that was so deep that de Hirsch was able to look past the death of his only son and consider humanity itself to be his "heir." Where does this kind of love come from? Mary Baker Eddy's observations widen the context of a person's love for humanity: "In love for man we gain the only and true sense of love for God, practical good ... Love lived ... is God exemplified, governing governments, industries, human rights, liberty, life.... Divine Love reforms, regenerates, giving to human weakness strength...."

One lesson here is that we love humanity because we love God - and vice versa. Another is that God reforms and regenerates. Was Mrs. Eddy leading up to the conclusion that in its deepest sense, philanthropy is really about healing? Have a look at the dynamic definition of philanthropy in this same letter: "Philanthropy is loving, ameliorative, revolutionary; it wakens lofty desires, new possibilities, achievements, and energies; it lays the axe at the root of the tree that bringeth not forth good fruit; it touches thought to spiritual issues, systematizes action, and insures success; it starts the wheels of right reason, revelation, justice, and mercy; it unselfs men and pushes on the ages. Love unfolds marvellous good and uncovers hidden evil. The philanthropist or reformer gives little thought to self-defence; his life's incentive and sacrifice need no apology. The good done and the good to do are his ever-present reward."

All are philanthropists who love God. It's because we love God that we love humanity. God has made us in His-Her image and likeness; we love because God loves. And this reflected love carries with it the full force and effect of God's own practical care, affection, tenderness, and compassion, which are spiritual qualities that reform and regenerate. For some people, the tangible expression of this might involve sharing wealth. But one can see that sharing doesn't have to be limited to a financial expression. Philanthropic acts can include helping someone across the street, helping others glimpse the reforming power of God, or helping to heal others through prayer.

God is available to all, and there are no restrictions on being "an instrument of divine Love." Anyone can be a philanthropist.

God is able to make all grace abound toward you;
that ye, always having
all sufficiency in all things,
may abound to every good work.

II Corinthians 9:8

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