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'Who shall be greatest?'

A Christian Science perspective: Greatness – real greatness – emanates from God, good, and is expressive of Him.

April 28, 2011



As the race for global dominance gallops ahead, the United States and China jockey for position. Some match-ups in this race are easy to handicap. For instance, take the educational ranking of student test scores in fields such as math and science. In a test of 15-year-olds from many countries, the US ranked 17th in science and 25th in math. Shanghai ranked first in both. The competitive rankings become more complex and perhaps more subjective in fields such as politics, economics, and national defense.

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And then there are the rankings where being first is a minus, not a plus. Who pumps the most carbon into Earth’s atmosphere? Who is the deepest in debt? Who has imprisoned the most Nobel peace prize winners?

In nation-to-nation relations, as in person-to-person relations, things tend to go better, and friction points tend to grow smaller, when a who-shall-be-greatest mentality doesn’t take over. Without that self-serving mentality, the tactics of businesses in both nations are likelier to steer clear of corrupt practices – such as stealing industrial secrets, or the pirating of copyrighted material. The diplomatic settling of mutual concerns still figures in. The ideal of shared problem-solving still flourishes.

More than a century ago, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy brought similar concerns into focus in a message she wrote to members of the Christian Science Church. She said in part, “Competition in commerce, deceit in councils, dishonor in nations, dishonesty in trusts, begin with ‘Who shall be greatest?’ ” (“Message to The Mother Church for 1902,” p. 4).

There are better beginnings. For instance, how about turning from a who-shall-be-greatest perspective? How about rejecting the view that military might, economic strength, or political power holds sway? Real wisdom and real power come purely from God. They come in the company of moral and spiritual qualities such as patience, forbearance, the capacity to listen and to adjust. It’s divinely natural for these qualities to take hold in thought. Divine transformation then follows. A shift away from hostile posturing and toward God-inspired partnerships benefits both sides.

This shift follows a long-established and spiritually based pattern. Again and again the Bible records potentially explosive encounters that had unexpectedly good outcomes. The common thread? Someone turned from the lust for power that fuels conflict, to the Christly meekness that forwards worthwhile accomplishment. God, who is the divine Principle of all, is the one supreme source of all progress. The Principle of divine potency, when turned to prayerfully, discloses healing insights, spiritual ideas. Good adjustments then follow.

Progress continues, even if not always along predictable lines. Neither a nation with the greatest army nor one with the greatest population invariably wins the who-shall-be-greatest race. Greatness – real greatness – emanates from God, good, and is expressive of Him. Such true greatness comes to receptive and ready hearts on either side of the planet, and lifts up the best in humanity.

Consider Gideon from the Bible. An army of desert marauders challenged him and his followers. As a confrontation drew near, Gideon made a stunning tactical decision. He rejected any supposed advantage of numbers. He reduced his fighting force by an astounding 99 percent. Instead of mobilizing his army of 32,000 men, he trimmed them back to a squad of 300. At that moment he’d have ranked poorly in any who-shall-be-greatest assessment.

Why the downsizing? Perhaps it was a spiritual conviction on Gideon’s part. Despite living around a thousand years before the time of Christ Jesus, his actions seem to almost breathe Jesus’ words “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). Gideon, of his own self and with his own small squad, probably could have done nothing of a victorious nature. But he drew on God, divine Principle. That changed everything. And triumph followed.

That Principle – that source of true potency – is the wellspring of what is genuinely, divinely right, what is authentically, divinely good. Mrs. Eddy, in the same message quoted above, said, “It does not follow that power must mature into oppression; indeed, right is the only real potency...” (p. 3). The only real greatness is goodness.

As even one individual humbly disengages from the lust for power and instead engages the might of Christly meekness, he or she makes a healing difference. Under the government of divine Principle, progress here begets progress there.

Who shall be greatest? Individuals on both sides – whether political leaders, industrial titans, or virtual unknowns – can, through prayer, make the question progressively obsolete. They can glimpse the divine source of all greatness. The real greatness born of God’s goodness is endless, inexhaustible. To realize this in prayer forwards the dawning of great things on both sides of the planet.

From an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel.

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