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Come Home to Gods Everlasting Mercy! Lesson application ideas for: Everlasting Punishment

Craig L. Ghislin, C.S., Glen Ellyn (Bartlett), IL
Posted Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Come Home to God's Everlasting Mercy!
Lesson application ideas for: "Everlasting Punishment" for Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2007
by Craig L. Ghislin, C.S. of Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Editor's Note: The following application ideas for the Christian Science Bible Lesson for this week are offered primarily to help CedarS campers and staff (as well as friends) see and demonstrate the great value of daily study and application of the Christian Science Bible lessons year-round, not just at camp!  You can sign up to have them emailed to you free -- in English by Monday or in French or Spanish by Wednesday: SIGN UP at www.cedarscamps.org/metaphysical/ FOR FREE TRANSLATIONS.

Historically, the threat of spending eternity in the fires of hell, enduring everlasting punishment, has promoted the mistaken belief that God was like some omnipotent scorekeeper taking notes on "who's been naughty or nice" and then punishing or rewarding accordingly.  [As in the Super Scorekeeper Christmas Carole, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."]   This view contrasts strikingly with John's declaration, "God is love."  This week's Bible Lesson reconciles the concept of a God who is Love with the necessity of the just punishment and destruction of sin.  [Possible, Uplifting Sunday School Homework or (P.U.S.S.H.):  "Do right and fear not." (Motto kept over Mrs. Eddy's door)  Especially when no one's watching, challenge yourself this week to do the right thing (without fear or pouting), and not because you'll be rewarded if you do or punished if you don't, but for the sake of doing right.  "Be good for goodness sake!"]    
     
In the Golden Text we read, "...the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting."  Although the title of this Lesson addresses the theological issue of everlasting punishment, we find the very first citation speaking of God's everlasting mercy.  According to the Student's Reference Dictionary (SRD), mercy is "a distinguishing attribute of the Supreme Being."  The first entry in the definition of mercy in the SRD reads, "That benevolence, mildness, or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves, the disposition that tempers justice and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and injuries, and to forbear punishment, or inflict less than law or justice will warrant...It implies benevolence, tenderness, mildness, pity or compassion, and clemency, but exercised only toward offenders."  [P.U.S.S.H.:]  As you study this Lesson-Sermon, try putting yourself in the shoes of both the offenders and the offended.  How would you respond in those circumstances?  Take the time to consider whether there are any similar situations in your own experience and see whether your responses would tend toward punishment or mercy.   

The tenor of the opening verses of the Responsive Reading indicates that God's patience is inexhaustible.  God's love is everlasting.  God is represented as gathering the exiles from every corner of the earth.  None are left behind.  Those returning home will have tears of joy and contrition.  They will be led in a straight way "wherein they shall not stumble."  The verses here are correlated to the book of Hosea in which the backsliding Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom of Israel) is shown God's love.  Hosea paints a pretty grim picture of the wrongs committed by Israel.  But God still saves them.  However, Ephraim doesn't avoid suffering.  The return includes chastening.  Dummelow writes, "God is represented as addressing Himself even as a father might do, when dwelling upon the ingratitude and rebellion of a son, whom, nevertheless, he cannot but continue to love."  [(P.S.S.T!):  Is there anything that you are feeling rebellious or ungrateful about?  Will you allow your heavenly Father-Mother's Love to heal all your rebellion and ingratitude so they won't keep troubling you?] 

Section 1:  "Lead Me in the Way Everlasting" (B4)
Have you ever done something you were really sorry for?  Have you ever wondered if your present troubles were the result of some wrongs that took place in your past?  That's the standpoint the Psalmist is speaking from in (B1).  He knows he's done wrong, but he is able to approach God because, "the Lord has revealed himself ...as a God who pardons sinners" (Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible).  In B2 God desires truth in the inward parts" - "truth as opposed to self-deception or conscious hypocrisy, in the inward parts as opposed to mere superficial goodness" (Dummelow).  The stain of sin has been ground in and requires a thorough cleansing.  The Psalmist asks to be created anew.  The term used for create evokes memories of the original creative act which called the world into being.  The prayer is for a brand new start in life.  God's justice isn't punitive; it's restorative (B3).  All men long for true justice.  Wickedness certainly leads to sorrow and suffering, and if there is any evil lurking undetected in consciousness, the Psalmist prays that it be revealed and eradicated; and that God will lead him in the way of everlasting life (B4).

Generally, these Bible verses have been misunderstood to mean that, either God only forgives if appealed to, or that God's forgiveness is mainly dependant on an appeal.  Mrs. Eddy points out that, "God is Love."  Thinking that God responds favorably or harshly depending on whether or not one prays for forgiveness is missing the point (S1).  God's mercy is consistent.  Forgiveness is proportionate to the elimination of the error (S2, 3).  As suggested in Psalm 51, "Truth makes a new creature" (S4).  The pardon of sin requires a complete makeover.  All sinful tendencies must yield to the omnipotence of good.  This cleansing process will be manifested in improved human conditions.  Spiritualization of human consciousness brings health, purity, and self-denial, which expose the nothingness of evil and the permanence of goodness (S5).  [Possible Sunday School Topic (P.S.S.T!):  What "Extreme Makeover" are you ready for?  For an everlasting makeover, make sure your "Extreme Team" includes a CS Practitioner.  See abc.go.com/primetime/extrememakeover/]     

Section 2:  "...And Everlasting Joy Shall Be upon Their Head" (B8)
Prior to Jesus' ministry, God was mostly considered as dispensing justice - punishing and forgiving - in much the same manner as that of a strict judge.  But Jesus' message, "brought new light on the character and nature of God, enriching the spiritual conception of the prophets by making love and mercy central to his character." (The Abingdon Bible Commentary)  Jesus placed more value on love and charity than on ceremony and ritual observances (B6).  According to Interpreter's, Jesus saw his mission as, "calling into the fellowship of God's people the religious outcasts, rather than as confirming the pridefully righteous [the Pharisees] in their sense of moral superiority."  The Pharisees were very judgmental.  They especially criticized Jesus for eating with those whom they thought unworthy, sinful, and unclean.  Can you think of ways this is still happening today?  The Bible records Jesus' response in three stories.  The first two are in this section: the parables of the lost sheep and of the lost coin (B7).  Most commentaries view both the lost sheep and the lost coin as symbolizing potential members of the church.  The difference is that the one lost sheep is outside the fold, and the lost coin is within the house.  The lost sheep is the sinner sought after by the Christ.  Once found, it is entreated and cared for and brought back safely.  The lost coin represents a member who has fallen due to negligence of the church.  The remedy lies in the church atoning for its neglect and in lighting the candle to find and recover the lost (Dummelow).  Both the sheep and the coin are valuable, and when found there is great rejoicing.  This is a caution to the church to not only seek to save and restore the sinful, but also to not forget the proper treatment and care of its current members as well.  Isaiah foresees that the once redeemed -the lost- are not subject to everlasting punishment, but filled with everlasting joy (B8).

Let's not overlook the fact that their joy is due to their redemption.  The lost are recovered and restored.  This means their lives have been changed.  Sin has been forsaken.  As our Leader points out, when sin is destroyed, "the accuser is not there" and the heavenly song is heard (S6).  Jesus wasn't just hanging out with sinners because he was a nice guy.  The Christ destroys the belief in sin (S7).  He didn't coddle sinners.  He was firm that the way to salvation was through his teaching (S8).  Sinful behavior is the result of being lost in the belief that mind is in matter.  God plays no part in such a condition (S9, 10).  Jesus knew man as God had created him, and he demanded that the true image of God be expressed (S11).  "Perfect God and perfect man" is the standard, and that's reason for rejoicing.  [(P.S.S.T!):  Do we sometimes, like the Pharisees, judge those at church or school as imperfect, lost or unworthy?  Spiritually identifying them keeps them as well as us from becoming or staying lost.  Remember how proper i.d. (with names) makes it easy to reclaim (redeem) "Lost and Found" at camp. ] 
Section 3:  "Thy Name (Father and Redeemer) Is from Everlasting" (B11)
While portions of the story of the Prodigal Son come up pretty often, this time, we get the whole story spread over three sections.  This allows for a deeper look at each portion.  We start out with the young man demanding his inheritance in advance, well knowing that such a course would mean his renunciation of all future claims.  From the outset, the young man displays an irresponsible, self-centered attitude toward life.  He wants what's his, and he wants it now!  Instant gratification is pretty common in today's world.  The lad isn't willing to wait or to work for anything, and he has no willingness to think ahead.  Dummelow writes, that this young man demands the whole portion of his faculties and powers, which ought to be exercised, and enjoyed in the father's house, "i.e. in dependence upon God and in His service."  But he wants it under his own control and to use it at his own will.  On top of that, he "deliberately resolves to devote his whole fortune and all his powers to the pursuit of pleasure..."  His leaving symbolizes his rejection of God's law.  But these false pleasures lose their luster when his fortune is spent.  Then famine comes to the land.  He finds himself living in a place that offers him neither protection nor nutrition.  His first response is to plunge deeper into sin "selling himself to Satan."  He faints with hunger and resolves to go back home as a servant.  Now remember, the father isn't punishing his son.  The sin is bringing its own punishment.  In Isaiah (B11) we are reminded that even though human ancestors and parents may forget us and do nothing for us, God is our true Father and will always be there for us.

Science and Health
points out that man is corrected and governed by divine Love.  "To cause suffering as the result of sin is the means of destroying sin" (S12).  We cannot avoid it.  We should be sorry for the sinful things we do, but that's only the first step.  We need to change our ways (S13).  Otherwise, we just swing back and forth "between sin and the hope of forgiveness" (S14).  This is a common problem.  Paul said, "the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Romans 7:19).  Don't despair if you suffer for sin.  It's all part of the Father's everlasting mercy.  His design, "is to reform the sinner" not to punish (S15).  [(P.S.S.T!):  When are you like the younger brother? Satisfy your temptation for instant gratification of the senses with the spiritual gratification that in God, you have everything you need and you know it!] 

Section 4:  "Thy Righteousness Is an Everlasting Righteousness" (B14)
So junior decides to come back home (B12), not as a son, but as a servant.  In those days this could mean as a poor relative who worked to earn their keep.  We can only imagine the son haltingly walking back with his head hung low in shame.  The father however, is eagerly awaiting the son's return.  He runs to meet him, falls on his neck, and kisses him.  The son had learned from his suffering and begins his confession, but the father cuts him off.  He fully restores him to the family and calls for a celebration.  This of course, symbolizes man's reconciliation with God through the power of the Christ.  "Mercy and truth are met together" (B13).  Abingdon writes, "Mercy on the part of God and truth on the part of man are the fundamentals of restoration."  When man is honestly repentant God's mercy saves him.

Mistakenly, we sometimes believe that because God doesn't know sin, we can avoid punishment.  While it's true that God knows nothing of evil, "sin is its own punishment" (S16).  The irresponsible and immature might think there is happiness in sin, but it only brings bondage.  The only true happiness is in man's oneness with God (S17).  It's easy to say we want the truth, but it takes work to demonstrate it.  To be totally free of punishment we must forsake all sin.  God does nothing to make our journey difficult.  God helps us in this endeavor (S18).  The agony that accompanies error helps to destroy it.  When man returns to his heavenly home he can see that he never was separated from his heavenly Father and could never lose his divine inheritance.  Mrs. Eddy calls this process the "new birth" (S20).  As in the story, man "was dead and is alive again; and was lost and is found."  [(P.S.S.T!):  What "new birth" and "welcome home" do you cherish?]

Section 5:  "Everlasting Joy Shall Be Unto Them" (B17)
The elder son has been working in the field anticipating a greater inheritance (B15).  Dummelow writes that he is busy in the fields, "in a round of regular but loveless, religious observances."  When he finds out that his father is throwing a welcome home party for his brother he gets angry.  He is basically jealous.  His father welcomes him in, but he protests.  Not only does he not want to join the party, he doesn't think the younger son deserves it at all.  Interpreter's notes that if the younger son's behavior is like that of the sinners and tax collectors; the elder son's behavior is like the Pharisees'.  The father entreats him one more time reminding him that he has full right to all the father has at all times.  Isaiah (B16) promises that all are precious in God's sight and that exiles in every condition will be welcomed home.  Their promise is everlasting joy (B17).

 God's family includes everyone (S21).  Man, in his true nature, can never be separated from God.  We seem to be separated when we get lost in material selfhood (S22).  Sometimes it seems that people don't deserve the praise, recognition, or position they have.  Don't let jealousy get hold of you.  You may think you are more deserving, smarter, stronger, or even holier.  But, even though you may be all those things, like the elder son, jealousy and selfishness will deprive you of joy and obscure your true relationship to God (S23, 24).  Mrs. Eddy writes, "When we fully understand our relation to the Divine, we can have no other Mind but His..."  Did the elder son fully understand his relation to the father?  If he did, he would have understood that no good truly earned can ever be unrecognized.  When we realize the oneness of God all strife is over (S25).  Only everlasting joy remains.  [(P.S.S.T!): When are you like the older brother?  Who are you tempted to be jealous of? The natural athlete? Those blessed with a wealthy family and abundant possessions?  Those to whom success in sports, school/work or social settings, seems to come easily? Being jealous is unwisely affirming that they have it and you don't.]     

Section 6: "With Everlasting Kindness Will I Have Mercy on Thee" (B20)Dummelow considered the healing at Bethesda (B18) an illustration of "the deadly effects of sin, and the power of the Saviour to deal with the most hopeless cases."  Evidently, the man at the pool of Bethesda is considered to be suffering due to sin.  It is interesting that the word Bethesda means "House of Mercy."  The five porches could be thought of as the five senses.  Even though the man made his bed there, Jesus mercifully came to him, instructing him to get up from where he was and move on with his life.  God "hath shewed us light"  (B19) - "The night of despair is over, and the morning of a new day dawns" (Abingdon).  God's mercy endures forever.  Even though to human sense, God's love appears hidden, it is only for a moment.  God's kindness and mercy are forever (B20)

Just as the lame man needed to take up his bed and leave his old way of thinking, we have but to turn from sin to behold our true sonship (S26).  Mrs. Eddy sights two sources of trouble: the fear of disease, and the love of sin (S27).  Not all sickness is the product of sin.  But if fear is produced by sin, the sin must be taken into account.  That doesn't mean God punishes sin with sickness.  It simply reinforces the point that sin produces suffering.  Mrs. Eddy counsels us to be aware of what is influencing us and how we govern the body (S28).  Once we relinquish all faith in error, sin, sickness, and death will vanish.  There will be nothing left but perfect man governed by God (S29).  So are we doomed to everlasting punishment?  Not if "God is Love" (S30).  God's everlasting mercy dooms sin to destruction; but welcomes each redeemed child back home with open arms.  [(P.S.S.T!):  What resistance to willingness to be made whole is put in our faces by the five senses?  How can we see through and dissolve this resistance?]     

Camp Director's Note: The above sharing is the latest in a series of CedarS Bible Lesson "mets" (metaphysical application ideas) contributed weekly by a rotation of CedarS Resident Practitioners and occasionally by other metaphysicians [with bracketed, italicized notes and "Possible Sunday School Topics" offered by me as editor]. This document is intended to initiate further study as well as to encourage the application of ideas found in the Weekly Bible Lessons as printed in the Christian Science Quarterly and as available at Christian Science Reading Rooms. * Originally sent JUST to campers, staff and CedarS families who wanted to continue at home and in their home Sunday Schools the same type of focused Lesson study, application and inspiration they had felt at camp, CedarS lesson "mets" are in no way meant to be definitive or conclusive or in any way a substitute for daily study of the lesson. The thoughts presented are the inspiration of the moment and are offered to give a bit more dimension, background and daily applicability to some of the ideas and passages being studied. The citations referenced (i.e. B1 and S28) from this week's Bible Lesson in the "met" (metaphysical application ideas) are taken from the King James Version of the Bible (B1-24) and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. (S1-30) The Bible and Science and Health are the ordained pastor of the Churches of Christ, Scientist. The Bible Lesson is the sermon read in Christian Science church services throughout the world. The Lesson-Sermon speaks individually through the Christ to everyone, providing unique insights and tailor-made applications for each one. We are glad you requested this metaphysical sharing and hope that you find some of these ideas helpful in your daily spiritual journey, in your deeper digging in the books and in closer bonding with your Comforter and Pastor. Have fun unwrapping, cherishing and sharing your special, spiritual gift(s)!  Enjoy!

Warren Huff, Camp Director director@cedarscamps.org (636) 394-6162
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MyBibleLesson is a new, visually oriented and very helpful resource for study of the weekly Christian Science Bible Lesson. It is being produced by The Christian Science Publishing Society and can be found at: myBibleLesson.com.  What a great auxiliary to lesson study -- maybe even reading beyond citation markers using the handsome new student books now sold in Reading Rooms.  MyBibleLesson contains word definitions, Bible background Notes, fun topical cartoons, timelines and translations, plus many healing ideas to use.  Why not check out this vehicle to help bring new meaning and life to each beloved Bible lesson in order to bless the youthful thinker and Sunday School student (and teacher) in us all!

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