Two crucial questions about prayer

A Christian Science perspective on daily life.

Prayer works. It heals. It reforms human nature. Prayer restores lost and broken hearts and lives. Still, many people wrestle with and question the motives, reach, and value of prayer – in the face of personal health challenges as well as complex national troubles.

Is praying for your own health and welfare selfish?

Our answers come straight from the Christian Science concept of God and the life He creates. If God were a benign but unknowable father figure, then His aid might be suspect. The God we love and rely on is one universal Father-Mother – Love itself, omnipotent and everywhere present, and the creative Principle of all existence, eternal Spirit, the always-caring and all-good Mind that governs and communicates with all creation.

And the nature of this creation? If men and women were nothing but reason-endowed higher organisms, vulnerable to disease, malfunction, and genetically transmitted flaws, then even God's help wouldn't be enough to cope. However, reasoning spiritually from the Genesis 1 account of man, male and female, made "in the image" of God, Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "The likeness of Spirit cannot be so unlike Spirit.... Man is idea, the image, of Love; he is not physique. He is the compound idea of God, including all right ideas; the generic term for all that reflects God's image and likeness;...." ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 475).

Then, prayer for healing in Christian Science isn't pleading to a remote God for physical change. It begins with acknowledging the wholeness of God and all He creates. It welcomes the Christ into thought, as God's message of spiritual wholeness and harmony. It trusts the divine law of wholeness to govern and correct the patient's thoughts, remove fears, and dissolve feelings of separation from God. As people awaken to life's spiritual realities, their bodies conform with normalized health. But the aim of Christian healing goes beyond health to the betterment of character. It purifies desires, deepens honesty, and spawns compassion.

How can prayer help those suffering from natural and social disasters?

Prayer impels brotherly love and action. It also can help overturn elements in thinking that engender oppression. The prophet Jeremiah heard God say: "Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? .... Do not I fill heaven and earth?" (Jer. 23:23, 24). Even amid devastation, God is there, even for those whose lives have been cut short. A loving "God at hand" did not cause storms or destruction. Divine Life causes life, and causes those who love neighbors near and far to reach out in prayer and with helping hands.

As to what prayer can do about political oppression, Jesus said: "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils" (Luke 11:21, 22). Some might identify the "strong man" as a ruler. But Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "Mortal mind is 'the strong man,' which must be held in subjection before its influence upon health and morals can be removed. This error conquered, we can despoil 'the strong man' of his goods, – namely, of sin and disease" (Science and Health, p. 400).

Mortal mind, the human belief that life and intelligence are confined in matter, fathers all oppressions and fears. It lies at the root of social dysfunction, as surely as it does bodily ailments. Prayer subjects mortal mentality to Christ, the divine Truth of being – and error can't resist the truth any more than darkness can resist light. Progress can come quickly as thought changes within a body politic: Witness the fall of apartheid in South Africa. And millions were praying for peaceful change.

Through prayer, the light of the Christ begets more light. May our world feel its liberating presence today.

Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.

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