Working through ‘the problem of evil’

Today’s article explores the idea that preventing violent attacks starts with redefining evil as a distortion of reality, and recognizing that everyone has God-derived rights of self-government, reason, and conscience.

Another headline, another mass attack against the innocent. And in the wake of it, a remarkable, powerful response of love and compassion and forgiveness. Again and again, an individual act of hate impels a global outpouring of caring for each other.

But with each incident, there is a yearning to prevent instead of simply console. And while practical steps may have their place, the most pressing need is to remove the hatred behind such attacks. Is that even possible? And an even deeper question arises for those communities of faith where many of these tragedies have occurred. If God is good and loving, how can these acts of violence be explained? It is the age-old wrestling with “the problem of evil,” as several individuals shared after their fellow worshippers were targeted (“After New Zealand terror, the faithful grapple with big question: Why?” CSMonitor.com).

These are deeply wrenching questions. But from both the small and the significant healing experiences in my own life gained through the study and practice of Christian Science, I’ve come to have real hope we can face the problem of evil and begin to work through it.

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the healing system of Christian Science, was no stranger to immense tragedy. She endured years of chronic illness and personal loss herself while her country wrestled with polarization that plunged it into civil war. She knew firsthand that ignoring evil is not an option.

Going back to the Bible as a time-tested resource for consolation and inspiration, she found that the healing of both physical disease and moral depravity requires questioning the way we look at reality. Yes, God is good, loving, all-inclusive, and supreme. This spiritual revelation is the baseline of reality – everything in and of the infinite and ever-present divine Spirit.

Logically, evil doesn’t fit into the universe that an all-loving God creates, which is eternally and purely good. So evil must be redefined not as a reality but as a mesmeric distortion of it. The limited, human perspective on life accepts that distortion as real, with us as mortal, fragile, and vulnerable. So the way to eliminate evil is to see beyond the surface view of life based in matter and discover more of our real life in and of God.

This requires rejecting the boasts of evil as real and inevitable, and understanding more of God’s allness – and our safety and wholeness within that allness. But we can’t just think it; we need to live it. Setting aside time with God each day in prayer and study allows us to feel the reality of God’s goodness in the core of our being. We glimpse the magnitude of God’s goodness and our spiritual nature as God’s children, as Jesus told us we are. Whatever contradicts good is entirely unnatural and inherently unworthy of any of us. And we can help one another rebel against such injustices with the laws of God, overruling any claim against our safety, health, or integrity.

With this radically different understanding of evil as a mental deception concealing what is good and true, Mrs. Eddy takes a deep dive into this topic of mesmerism in the chapter “Animal Magnetism Unmasked” in her textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” She affirms: “Mankind must learn that evil is not power” (p. 102).

More and more, as we recognize God’s goodness as the fundamental reality, we learn to see through evil’s claim to power and effectively resist it. Whatever needs correction in human consciousness is brought to light by prayer and healed through divine Love. This is the Science of Christianity, neutralizing the effects of evil in society and promoting instead “affection and virtue in families and therefore in the community” (Science and Health, pp. 102–103).

Science and Health also includes a spiritual “Declaration of Independence.” It proclaims our universal freedom from mesmeric influences. Each of us is endowed by God “with inalienable rights, among which are self-government, reason, and conscience” (p. 106). This is what we must claim for ourselves and for everyone else as well.

Self-government, reason, and conscience. These inalienable rights antidote the senseless violence being perpetrated against many by a few. Self-government from a spiritual perspective begins with a mental yielding to the fact that no one is ever outside God’s jurisdiction. Reason sees through the manipulating pull of personal agendas and perceived injustices to the actuality of God’s love unifying us with one another, as children of the same universal Parent. Conscience speaks loudly and irresistibly to restrain us from all that would tempt us to believe in more than one God, more than one Mind, informing us what is right and impelling us to do it.

Human effort is insufficient to break through the mental nature of evil. We can’t do this on our own. What Jesus taught and lived so effectively is the eternal Christ – that is, “the divine image and likeness, dispelling the illusions of the senses; the Way, the Truth, and the Life, healing the sick and casting out evils” (Science and Health, p. 332). Christ enables us to see more of God’s nature defining all of us.

As we persistently pray to recognize our true rights derived from God, we recognize and honor them in each other. We see through what divides to what unites. We love with a Christ-power that proactively steamrolls hatred and delusion.

Whether we begin with the friction in our homes or offices, or pause as we read headlines of tragedy to take a stand against it, our prayer and effort to see good as the reality for all has impact. It encourages us; it strengthens us; it alerts us to take whatever actions may be needed. We begin to discover that no one is outside the boundless circle of divine Love, and that evil was never within it. Moment by moment, thought by thought, God’s infinite goodness is a practical, provable truth that is able to heal and redeem here and now.

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