A second thought about disease

A Christian Science perspective on daily life.

"The press unwittingly sends forth many sorrows and diseases among the human family. It does this by giving names to diseases and by printing long descriptions which mirror images of disease distinctly in thought" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pp. 196–197).

This comment appears in Mary Baker Eddy's textbook on Christian healing, published in 1875. As then, so today, coverage of disease can sometimes be explicit and even frightening. But recently, The New York Times offered a refreshing report headlined: "Drug Approved. Is Disease Real?" (Jan. 14).

The article reported a new view of fibromyalgia, which primarily affects middle-aged women. Apparently not everyone in the medical community believes that this is a disease. Dr. Frederick Wolfe, director of the National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases, and lead author of the 1990 paper that had defined it as a disease, said, "Some of us in those days thought we had actually identified a disease, which this clearly is not. To make people ill, to give them an illness, was the wrong thing."

Not everyone agrees with this assessment – including the producers of a new drug designed to relieve patients' pain attributed to fibromyalgia. No one denies that those seeking medical help are suffering. The concern is that diagnosing a condition with a set of symptoms could increase suffering by giving patients a disease to identify with. However the debate turns out, the questions it raises deserve deep thought and prayer.

Mary Baker Eddy knew the effects of a doctor's thought on a patient. In Science and Health, she wrote, "Doctors should not implant disease in the thoughts of their patients … by declaring disease to be a fixed fact, even before they go to work to eradicate the disease through the material faith which they inspire" (p. 180). Through practicing spiritual healing, she proved again and again that even if a sickness was an "official" part of the disease pantheon, it still could be conquered by the conscious recognition that it had no reality before God's allness and goodness. This spiritual fact helped define the unique approach Christian Science takes to disease.

In Christian Science treatment, instead of accepting sickness and even identifying oneself with it, patient – as well as healer – are to reject it as insubstantial and unreal. This isn't denial. Rather, it rests on building an understanding of God, which supports the fact that sickness is no part of Spirit's perfect creation and that each of us actually lives in Spirit, not in matter.

This view doesn't ignore the plight of anyone's suffering; it enhances the compassion one feels for patients. And it confronts sickness with overriding spiritual facts, mainly, that man is not a material entity subject to contagion, physical breakdown, aging, decay. Proving this point through prayer requires mental discipline and the growing conviction that we are spiritual and perfect because God made us this way. Disease is illegitimate because it wasn't made by God and isn't sent by Him.

So each individual has the ability to oppose sickness because it is unnatural to true being. Rejecting sickness or suffering doesn't rest on human will or "toughing out the pain." Rather, it enables the patient to reject suffering as no part of his or her identity or life. To the degree people understand that God's creation has never been material, to that degree they are able to free themselves and others from vulnerability to disease and suffering.

To practice this divine Science requires patience, dedication, and trust. Patience includes the humility to learn how spiritual truth works. Dedication provides strength when one's understanding is challenged. Trust supports the knowledge that Christ – the healing message of God's love for all men, women, and children – is here for each of us today. And its healing presence is just as potent now as it was when Christ Jesus walked the earth.

Adapted from an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel.

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