Overcoming self-righteousness through love
A Christian Science perspective: On humility that brings healing.
Do you ever stop to think that Bible stories from thousands of years ago have cutting-edge relevance when it comes to today’s issues – those close to home or across the globe? The story of Naaman in the Old Testament (see II Kings 5:1-14) often reverberates for me, especially when I’m holding views I’m not so ready to give up.
As captain of his army, Naaman helped win deliverance for his people. Yet when he was faced with what was described as a loathsome physical disease, the battle was of a different sort. Told by the prophet Elisha to do something that seemed demeaning for a heralded captain of an army to do – wash in the Jordan River seven times – he rejected this order in anger.
Naaman’s servants, however, encouraged him to take a second look, to humble himself and follow Elisha’s God-impelled directions. Naaman did, and had an instantaneous healing. Naaman went far beyond listening to servants – he gave up pride, ego, and self-justification, and responded to what we would understand today to be the light of the Christ. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, defines Christ as “the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 332).
In order to help Naaman gain a sense of humility, his servants had asked him, “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” (II Kings 5:13). When we’re asked to do some high and noble thing, we’re often happy to respond. But when asked – or required – to take humbler steps, shouldn’t each one of us yearn to feel a deep sense of willingness?
Some years back, during a family vacation, my brother and I discussed several controversial subjects. We had some decidedly differing views. He criticized my position in strong terms, and we parted in anger.
Deeply hurt by his comments, I went for a long drive and considered our conversation. I prayed for God, infinite Mind, to guide me. It wasn’t long before I detected some hardened self-righteousness in my thinking, and, like Naaman, I felt humbled and repentant.
Upon returning to the cabin, I apologized to my brother for refusing to be open and inclusive, for shutting the door on his views. Our relationship was healed at that moment. We have open and honest conversations, and haven’t had another argument since that time over 17 years ago.
This doesn’t mean every strongly held thought I had disappeared in that moment. But what I came to see so clearly as I prayed is that wherever my human opinions land, there is a far greater directive at work – the charge to love our fellow man (see Matthew 22:39). Whether we’re confronted with disagreements at the dinner table or in an interchange at work, we can embrace this idea in Science and Health: “Love for God and man is the true incentive in both healing and teaching” (p. 454). When nurtured and treasured, this love for God and man raises us to a higher sense of spiritual vision and expression.
If we are frozen by a sense of self-righteousness, our ability to grow spiritually and to love others will be stymied. Christ Jesus explained it this way: “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Mrs. Eddy speaks of God’s tender action in rebuking and reversing hardheartedness in this verse from her poem, “ ‘Feed My Sheep,’ ” (“Poems,” p. 14):
Thou wilt bind the stubborn will,
Wound the callous breast,
Make self-righteousness be still,
Break earth’s stupid rest.
Many heartfelt points of view accompany religion and politics in our world today. As we embrace humility and drop self-righteousness, we become able to express more consistently a genuine, spiritual love for God and our fellow man.
This article was adapted from an article in the Sept. 5, 2016, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.