“God is Love. More than this we cannot ask, higher we cannot look, farther we cannot go.” wrote Mary Baker Eddy in 1875.
This was a bold statement for a nineteenth century woman to make, especially considering her view of God as active, ever-present love was largely considered heretical to the Christian establishment of that era. To many, God was a Gandalf-like Old Testament figure who loved His children when they behaved, but was more than ready to step in with a good smiting if they stepped out of line.
Today, many Christians seem eager to consider an entirely loving God, even while the “sometimes loving, sometimes vengeful” version continues to persist. Look no further than The Shack, the runaway bestseller (and now movie) by Canadian author William Paul Young, a fictional story that cautiously explores God’s love and forgiveness for a child murderer. Then there’s former Mars Hill pastor Rob Bell, who states in the opening paragraph of his New York Times bestseller Love Wins: “I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere.”
Some branches of science are (hesitantly) starting to weigh in on God’s nature, too. For example, researchers who study near-death experiences (NDEs) have encountered thousands of people who’ve died and come back to life with remarkable stories to share. “The universality of God’s love is a consistent and reoccurring theme in many NDEs,” writes radiation oncologist Dr. Jeffrey Long in his new book God and the Afterlife. “They describe this love as being the very essence of God.”
Mary Baker Eddy, who was healed of a life-threatening injury in 1866 while reading one of Jesus’s healings in the Bible, might have been the first modern thinker to define God as a universal loving principle. She devoted her life to understanding the implications of her discovery, and to developing a Bible-based system of Christian metaphysics that honours Jesus’s command in John 14:12 to continue his healing mission.
One of those healed is a former Welsh businessman named Phillip Hockley, who badly injured his spine in the mid 1990s. He spent the next seven years in severe physical decline, during which time he explored dozens of medical and alternative therapies. After being told repeatedly that his condition was incurable he turned to mindfulness practices, which allowed him to live with the pain by calming his mind.
In 2001 he heard about a Christian Science lecture in a nearby town, which he reluctantly decided to attend. By this time he was 105 pounds, instead of his usual 180, because he couldn’t retain food. His spine was curved, his muscles had largely been digested, and he wore a collar most of the time to stop his neck from dislocating.
The incurability of his condition didn’t matter, though, when he was confronted by Eddy’s startling “new view” of God – a God, he suddenly realized, that loved him fully and completely. “When I tried to come to terms with it I felt a sudden inflow of peace and love, which stayed with me for the whole hour of the lecture,” he told me during a recent interview. “When I came out I was pain free and walking upright.”
Hockley, now a Christian Science practitioner and lecturer, will be sharing his remarkable story during an upcoming tour of British Columbia. He’ll be speaking in Victoria on September 24, in Vancouver on September 26, and in Nanaimo on September 28. Visit christianscience.bc.ca for more details.
Matt Jackson has been fascinated by how science and religion relate to each other for as long as he can remember. He is a member of the Christian Science church in Victoria, BC, and has been a professional writer and editor for 22 years.
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*This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday September 16 2017