By Ronald L. Musselman, CS
Mary Baker Eddy counsels us to exercise wisdom: “Who is telling mankind of the foe in ambush? Is the informer one who sees the foe? If so, listen and be wise.”(1) Note that she is referring to the relative, or the human, rather than the absolute, or the divine.
We all know that in Truth, in the divine, there is no foe, but in our present human world, there do seem to be foes. Eddy doesn’t say that since there are no foes in the divine you can ignore reports of foes. No, she says to listen to the informer of foes and “be wise.”
These days Coronavirus would be our “foe in ambush.” Mark Sappenfield, the Editor of The Christian Science Monitor, recently wrote that the best defense against the coronavirus is information.(2)
The key question in Eddy’s demand above is whether the informer sees the foe or not, whether the information is reliable or not. As Christian Scientists, it’s not often that we are asked to evaluate the veracity of viral information. This isn’t a new dilemma, however. John tells us, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (3) We could rephrase part of that as, “see whether they are truthful”; in our relative world, there is truth and falsity. We are also advised by Eddy to “...daily watch and pray to be delivered from ... being influenced erroneously.”(4)
We seem now to have two types of informers: politicians and epidemiologists and in many cases, they do not agree. Sometimes, as Christian Scientists, we would rather rely on our government agencies for guidance in the proper human footsteps to take. But what if that agency is a “false prophet”? What if the agency we traditionally rely upon to warn of foes may itself be acting as a sort of foe? We have heard of cases of university study groups, a CDC plan for reopening, and scientists who sounded alarms being silenced by those in political power. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “Fake news 101: A guide you help sniff out the truth,”(5) emphasized the need for reports to be free from personal agenda.
Once we’ve decided which informer clearly sees the foe, what do we do about it? What constitutes being wise? Eddy had quite a bit to say about wisdom in the face of world belief about dangers: (I’ve inserted and bracketed currently-relevant phrases here) “If a dose of poison is swallowed through mistake [or inadvertent exposure to a virus happens], and the patient dies even though physician and patient are expecting favorable results, does human belief, you ask, cause this death? Even so, and as directly as if the poison had been intentionally taken. “In such cases a few persons believe the potion swallowed by the patient to be harmless, but the vast majority of mankind, though they know nothing of this particular case and this special person, believe the arsenic, the strychnine, or whatever the drug used [or pernicious virus encountered] to be poisonous, for it is set down as a poison by mortal mind. Consequently, the result is controlled by the majority of opinions, not by the infinitesimal minority of opinions in the sick-chamber.”(6) Then Eddy pointedly advises: “One should not tarry in the storm if the body is freezing, nor should he remain in the devouring flames. Until one is able to prevent bad results, he should avoid their occasion.
To be discouraged, is to resemble a pupil in addition, who attempts to solve a problem of Euclid, and denies the rule of the problem because he fails in his first effort.”(7) So, it’s clear that Eddy’s advice to “listen and be wise” is very human but crucial advice.
Since Coronavirus has become our world-wide “foe in ambush,” we need to heed her admonition about listening, being wise, avoiding dangers that the world sees as especially fatal, and only taking steps we are fully prepared to take. This doesn’t mean that should someone ask us for help to heal a case of COVID-19 we are helpless. Far from that; we have the most powerful remedy available. For now, though, we can assure ourselves that in Eddy’s view, we are not at all being lesser Christian Scientists by taking prudent steps to avoid contact with a foe viewed widely as particularly dangerous.
1. SH 571:10–12 (to .)
2. Email on April 22, 2020
3. I John 4:1
4. Man 40:11
5. Christa Case Bryant, CS Monitor, April 30, 2020
6. SH 177:25–7
7. SH 329:14