A Paraphrased Question from a Reader:
Isaiah 58:8 was the subject of a recent Daily Lift podcast. It talks about how God “has your back” so to speak. But if you read the whole of Isaiah 58, it is a long discourse about not really fasting in a meaningful way…and that if one really kept the Sabbath and helped people, and fasted like they meant it, then God would cover them.
My question has to with the fact that many times people quote a sentence out of something about how God will help you, but the whole concept is basically that God will help you IF you are good and obey and do this and do that. So is it really okay to quote something out of context? As I understand it, we have a relationship with a God that does not see us as defective misbehaving children who enforces lots of rules and conditions and acts human. A practitioner I know told me that within the Bible are 2 different versions – the true real loving god version which is the reality…and the sometimes nice, sometimes not god which is the illusion. Would you care to comment?
Finding the absolute meaning of the contents of the Bible has more to do with discovering and feeling the spirituality felt by the original writers in the Bible, and less to do with its human context, or the society of Bible times, or the associated theological beliefs and religious practices which were in vogue at the historical time of the original inspired writers. Only developed scientific spiritual sense, the eternal and never -changing understanding of self-identity which comes through the activity of effective communing prayer with God, brings one the ability to detect and appreciate “the word” contained in and often obscured by the words of human language. We know this spiritual communion in Christian Science to be deliberate and continual communion with God, operating independently and completely separate from the trappings of the human dream-world. Your practitioner friend may be saying in so many words that it is “the word of God” that we should seek in the Bible, which is seldom clearly visible on the surface of a reading which focuses primarily upon the context presented by human language.
“The word” is self-contained, absolute, eternal, stand-alone truth. By every inspired writer, “the word” has always been felt, but always has been imperfectly humanly expressed. “The word” is comprised of the absolute spiritual content which inspired the original writer, and of nothing more than that. “The word” is never directly discernible in the human words themselves. The written and spoken words of human language and the human experience of the writer must of necessity flavor the perception and expression of the absolute to the human thought. That flavoring cannot possibly remove the absolute, for the absolute is all that in reality, is. But the presentation does tend to obscure “the word” from being comprehended.
Isaiah 58 is an excellent example with which we can elaborate these points. The Old Testament is comprised of writings authored by a variety of inspired writers who wrote over a period of several thousand years. Author Vinton Dearing points out in his scholarly work on the New Testament entitled “The Great Physician”, that the Jewish theology was very far from unified. (I would give you an exact quote, but I cannot locate the book on my shelves at the moment.) Even today, both Judaic and Christian theologies remain far from unified, because they are, like all religions, by virtue of having been thought of in the human realm, unavoidably flavored by human thought and experience. Yet then, as now, there is, and always has been, only one absolute Truth. And that Truth is ever present and is always detectable in Scripture through inspired thought. It is the very Truth which religion seeks. But Truth has nothing at all to do with religion, which is but a collection of imperfect human efforts to describe and apply the absolute Truth, for which all of mankind all yearns. Theology and religion, being of human and not of divine origin, are not that Truth itself, but act as roadmaps to it.
Because of the variety of theological views held by ancient Jews, throughout the Old Testament we find various and often contradictory descriptions of the nature and character of God. Yet each and every one of those writers, by virtue of the necessary admission that their existence was derived from the spiritual Fatherhood and Motherhood of God, was God-inspired. Each and every such writer must have felt and known the presence of God in their conscious experience. Just how this absolute connection was felt through them humanly is reflected in their writings through the appearance of human theology, as well as through indications of the humanity of their culture and experience seen in their writings.
In Isaiah 58 we read about a theological view of God which expresses a human belief in the judgmental nature of God. Does this indicate an absolute judgmental nature in God Himself? No, rather it indicates how the human education, culture, and environment experienced by the original author influenced his expression of his thoughts about God. This chapter describes a belief in physical fasting in which God is pleased by the action of fasting. In this theology, those who comply with such actions will be rewarded in ways which will bring virtue and goodness and peace to their life, while those who fail to follow those practices would suffer. Does this indicate that God is like a man, pleased by physical fasting, and punishing those who do not please him? No, rather it reflects a human interpretation, a view of God flavored by a set of human assumptions held by the spiritually inspired writer. The “pleasing” represents the natural joy man feels when he knows himself to be in harmony with his Maker. And the “punishment” represents the discomfort man feels when he thinks of himself falsely in the carnal manner, forgetting God, and mistaking the carnal nature of his identity for the reality The original writer developed these human views as results of his religious education and personal human experiences, but they are independent of God’s entirely separate realm of Spirit. On page 14 of Science and Health with Key to The Scriptures, Mrs. Eddy writes, in the chapter on “Prayer”, “Entirely separate from the belief and dream of material living, is the Life divine, revealing spiritual understanding and the consciousness of man’s dominion over the whole earth. This understanding casts out error and heals the sick, and with it you can speak “as one having authority.”
Spiritually examined, the contents of the text in Isaiah 58 reveals an underlying Truth – the Truth of an ever –operative principle we call God, operating in a non-judgmental, always consistent, and divine manner. Though it is clear that the writer’s theology prevented him from clearly expressing this absolute view, it is clearly present even in within his humanly stated words. Let’s examine that:
What is the underlying spiritual meaning presented in the words of Isaiah 58? What is fasting? Here in Isaiah fasting is presented as the human act of not eating. But, what does the act of fasting represent in Spirit? Is it just a physical and material act designed to please an anthropomorphic God up there somewhere? Is God a human in the sky who knows what physical things each one of us eats and does not eat and then decides if that was good or bad? Is there not human interpretation of God in such assumptions?
But what does fasting mean in spiritual terms, in the context of knowing God as an ever operative and eternal principle of goodness? Does not fasting spiritually represent man’s conscious decision to break free from dependence upon matter for sustenance, upon that about which in God’s eyes is invalid, and about which the ever operative infinite Principle, comprised wholly of Spirit, the very antipode of matter, could not know one thing? Seen in this context, it becomes clear that infinite God is eternally pleased with His own infinitude and omnipotence. Nothing else is present. In the absolute sense there is of course no opposition to exterminate, but in the human sense we understand God to be continually exterminating all which would oppose Him. This extermination is continual and is brought to expression by man, who continually carries out this extermination through every effort he makes to live and to be the identity of the real spiritual man, while at the same time disposing of his false identity as the carnal man. Every act of kindness, every rejection of sin, every healing of sickness expressed through the lives of men is the very act of God’s extermination of error. On page 469 Mrs. Eddy writes, as part of the answer to the question “What is Mind?” , “The exterminator of error is the great truth that God, good, is the only Mind, and that the suppositious opposite of infinite Mind –called devil or evil – is not Mind, is not Truth, but error, without intelligence or reality.”
From this point of view we can understand that the spiritual message behind Isaiah 58 is not that God is a big man in the sky who becomes irritated when man does not follow his rules, but that instead, man finds his own consciousness to be naturally harmonious and free of troubles when he chooses to “fast” from participation with beliefs in falsities, false appetites and false ideas, specifically and namely, matter. How does man do this? He does this by living to the best of his ability in consonance with his own highest and most spiritual understanding of his God-created identity, spiritual man. Did the original writer clearly see God in this spiritual light? Apparently he did not as we are stating it here, but it is clear that at the very least the original writer glimpsed God in this light. “The word” can thus be seen to be underlying his humanly conditioned words. He must have felt the power and understanding of the word in spite of his human mental conditionings, or he would not have been enabled to make the positive and correct conclusions which he did with respect to fasting and its benefits. And perhaps the writer did, in his human perception of God and man, see God as the ruler of misbehaving children, but this lends no credibility to that human perception. “The word” must be sought beneath that humanistic view.
So, to take verse 8 by itself is not to take anything out of context. Instead, we must strive, through spiritual understanding, to see what the real context is. The correct context is merely hidden beneath a cloak of humanism, religion, and historical presentation.