MBE’s pride or Job’s humility?

by
September 19th, 2020

Life is unfair. Bad things happen to good people. Prayer may receive answers we can’t make sense of. Suffering isn’t always explicable. The world is broken. To know all this, and still have faith that God loves us lavishly, is spiritual maturity.

Not to know it is a formula for endless struggle with God and with ourselves. Christian Scientists tend not to know it—and pay the price.

It’s the crucial lesson of the book of Job, dramatized more clearly there than anywhere else in the Bible, and Mary Baker Eddy utterly misses it.

After quoting in her textbook the opening of Job’s final declaration to God, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee” (42:5), she states cheerily that from this “higher standpoint, one rises spontaneously… attain[ing] bliss… and conquering all” (SH 262:17-26).

Wrong. Such triumphalism is the very opposite of Job’s sorrowful confession concluding this passage, which she fails to quote. “I abhor myself,” he admits contritely, “and repent in dust and ashes” (42:6).

When Mrs. Eddy claims that the correctness of her way of reading Scripture “may be seen by studying the book of Job” (SH 321:2), she’s wrong again.  A look at her two dozen citations to that book in Science and Health and Prose Works shows that she neither studied it herself nor can reliably guide the reader in doing so.

Rather she and her editors have merely mined Job for fragmentary proof texts they can twist to bolster her theories. A few examples:

** When Job laments in the depth of his undeserved, unfathomable travail, “The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me” (3:25), meaning only that he had worried the good times might be too good to last, MBE uses the quote to imply that his fear was what had caused it all (SH 411:1).

That is, she blames the victim—exactly what Job’s false comforters did, of whom God angrily said, “ye have not spoken of me the thing that was right” (42:7). And exactly what Christian Science has been doing for 150 years with its guilt-ridden theology of works righteousness.

** When Job defiantly insists, “Yet in my flesh shall I see God” (19:26), anticipating the resurrection of the just, based on his faith that “my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” (19:25), MBE explains away the second quote (SH 320:31) and uses the first to argue that Job was expressing “assurance that the so-called sufferings of the flesh are unreal” (Unity of Good 55:17).

That is, she reads her Gnostic metaphysics back into this classic testament of suffering borne and surmounted, suffering never in the least negated—a testament that contains no hint of the Christian Science reality/unreality dualism anywhere in its 42 chapters.

Children of Pride

** Mrs. Eddy claims in her autobiography (Retrospection 30-31) to have discovered through her own sufferings a “system” for relieving the sufferings of humanity with “the absolute proof and self-evident propositions of Truth,” equating these with what Job 40:19 calls “the ways of God.” Wrong yet again.

It’s but another echo of the haughty intellect of the false comforters, who for all their wordy diatribes fail to see there is nothing systematic or self-evident about the deep mysteries of God and his purposes for us. Even his mighty beasts should serve to teach us of mystery, not of system, thunders the Almighty as he completes the humbling of Job in chapters 40 and 41.

So we find the Creator of the universe describing the fearsome behemoth as “the chief of the ways of God” in 40:19 (that text we just saw MBE rip from its context), and hailing the untamed leviathan as “king over all the children of pride” in 41:34.

It’s not propositional truth, but the experiential wisdom of knowing how little one knows, that we see at work here. Job submits abjectly in his very next speech, confessing: “I uttered that I understood not, things too wonderful for me” (42:2).

“The greatest of all the men of the east” when we first meet him (1:3), Job at last comes to know himself one of those very children of pride—after losing everything and hitting bottom. We then see his repentant humility rewarded when “the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (42:12).

Mary Baker Eddy, in contrast, never comes near admitting that she too is among the children of pride—never bows to any kingship higher than her own vaunted sense of self.

The Christian Science founder is too busy proof-texting and system-building to stop and face the profound questions of theodicy we encounter in Job’s story:

Why did so much woe befall this “perfect and upright man” (1:8)? What was Satan up to? Why did God let him test Job? Where exactly are the comforters wrong? Why does the drama abruptly end without explicit answers? How does all this foreshadow the Cross?

MBE takes up none of these tragically, gloriously difficult issues. When you think about it, how could she? Their mystery would spoil the proud metaphysical mastery Science fraudulently promises its adherents.

System or Mystery?

Believing herself to be the instrument of revelation, she has no use for what was called by Jesus “the mystery of the kingdom” (Mark 4:11) or by Paul “the mystery of godliness” (I Timothy 3:16).

Alluding to the latter passage, she dismisses it as “the mystery always arising from ignorance of the laws of eternal and unerring Mind” (SH 145:20). Once more we hear an echo of Job’s comforters with their smug certitudes. And what exactly was the battle-hardened Paul trying to spell out for young Timothy? Just this:

“Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into heaven” (I Timothy 3:16).

Again it is easy to see why Mrs. Eddy would not want to grapple with, let alone submit to, any such proclamation of Jesus Christ as God Incarnate. Far too much humility is required.

She instead reinterprets Paul’s words about God “manifest in the flesh” as a reference to “divine metaphysics,” in the next breath after having reinterpreted Job’s exclamation that “now mine eye seeth Thee” as a reference to “ever-operative divine Principle” (Miscellany 109:12-25).  Everything must be made to fit into her system.

That there might be a reality of sheer grace transcending all systems, she cannot admit.  “In vain,” MBE remarks in her textbook, “do the manger and the cross tell their story to pride” (SH 142:15).  And here she is right for once.

The story of the manger, a God who loves us enough to become a helpless, voiceless baby in a peasant girl’s womb, and the story of the cross, a God who forgives us enough to bear away all our sins by dying a criminal’s death, are lost on the would-be revelator with her lofty intellect, cold propositions, and seven synonyms for a distant impersonal God.

For some reason the Christian Science founder preferred a religion of diagrams and theorems to a religion of picture and story. As a result she lost out—and so have her followers, sadly—on the pearl of great price, the treasure of all treasures, the sweet savor of knowing Jesus Christ. In sending him to rescue us, God “exalted them of low degree” while “scatter[ing] the proud,” as the Virgin Mary sang (Luke 1:51, 52).

On Their Own

How can Christian Scientists feel they got the better of that bargain? Unable to companion with humble Job in the certainty that “my redeemer lives… yet in my flesh I shall see God” (19:25, 26), they are out on their own, alone with their comfortless comforters and their synonyms and their metaphysical work as prescribed by proud MBE, wondering and worrying: “Have I made my demonstration?”

Of all her theological thefts from the unsuspecting, this robbery of the magnificent message of the book of Job has to be one of the cruelest.

If you’re a Christian Scientist reading this, know that you no longer need to be out on your own, for the Father and the Son and the Spirit invite you home—into fellowship with the faithful Job and his reborn family, into the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) who have learned that, yes, bad things may happen to good people but, no, the answers to prayer never ultimately fail to make sense when we love unselfishly as Jesus loved (Job 42:10, John 13:34).

 

 

 

 

The author can be reached at andrewsjk@aol.com

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