THE CONSTANT stream of news reports can feel like Pandora's box, laying out for consideration any number of causes for anxiety, personal or global. Story after story emphasizes our role as physical beings, in a surreal, predatory environment. People wonder how anyone could ever find a way through such webs of personal and social upheaval. Perhaps the best word to describe this is despair.
For many, despair is a real emotion – brought about by another car bomb in Baghdad, bystanders killed in a local mall shooting, rising floodwaters, a house in foreclosure. And it finds its way into the smaller corners of life through irritation and distress.
Bible times were also characterized by wars, political upheaval, social turmoil, and personal trials. And perhaps among the most disillusioned were the early Christian pioneers. Their indefatigable cheerleader, the Apostle Paul, rallied them with these words: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair" (II Cor. 4:8). Why not? Because Paul knew they had the perfect antidote. He consistently claimed the present opposite of the apparent trouble. And that spirit defines hope. Paul called on the Christians to acknowledge God as their source of strength and give gratitude for His unfailing care. He knew this "daily prayer" would renew their spirit, so they would be better able to heal and spread the comforting news of the Christ.
This same hope counteracts today's trials. Whether stressed over a real estate market, soaring gas prices, new signs of global warming, confrontational election campaigns, or rising unemployment, we can proclaim that we're "troubled on every side, yet not distressed."
This God-centered approach was outlined by the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, when she wrote that such anxieties had their roots in a mortal, material misconception of one's identity. She said, "The description of man as purely physical, or as both material and spiritual, – but in either case dependent upon his physical organization, – is the Pandora box, from which all ills have gone forth, especially despair" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 170). Mrs. Eddy described a spiritual view of life and the nature of God's universe and our rightful place in it. It was radical. She proved that healing laws lay behind this perception.
The challenge is to remain open to this view as a check against cynicism and as a comforting guide toward peace and redemption. Despair caves in to the premise that life isn't fair, and not everything is fixable. But the Scriptures are filled with answers: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance" (Ps. 42:5). And, "Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head" (Ps. 3:3).
We need to lift up our heads and face situations in order to heal them – pray to see that humanity is not dependent upon "physical organization" for well-being. To recognize that Spirit is our source of joy and peace.
When Pandora's box spills over with the newest cause for despair, prayer can overturn what appears to be the misguided, domineering, even malicious, behavior of individuals, communities, or nations. We can affirm that our lives cannot be controlled by others when the Mind that is God reigns supreme. We can help renew the hope of the world by giving "positive attention to goodness, faith, love and peace in company with all those who approach God in sincerity." It's God who "will give them a different outlook" that "they may come to know the truth" (II Tim. 2:22, 25, J.B. Phillips). And that knowledge doesn't include a trace of despair.
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.