Is There a God?


Ralph W. Cessna, C.S.B., of Wilmette, Illinois

Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts


Spiritual knowledge offers the most direct answer to all human needs, Ralph W. Cessna, C.S.B., of Wilmette, Illinois, told an audience yesterday evening in The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston.

Knowing God means knowing the deep reality of our own spiritual selfhood as children of God, the lecturer said. This knowledge makes it possible to heal whatever needs to be healed, no matter what the circumstances may be.

"It doesn't often get into the papers, but it's happening every day," he added, relating several instances of Christian Science healing. Mr. Cessna referred to the growing evidence of "a direct relationship between healing and the attitude of men toward God."

Such healing "not only proves that God isn't dead, it tells us a lot about what God is like. It tells us that God isn't a mysterious being up there or out there, but that He is a knowable and a very real and practical presence."

A member of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship, Mr. Cessna is currently on tour throughout the United States, Mexico, and Guatemala. He was introduced by Noel D. Bryan-Jones, First Reader of The Mother Church.

Following is a partial text of the lecture:

Definition of terms

While I was lecturing a few years ago in a primitive part of the world, I found myself one day facing a group of tribesmen. They listened eagerly to my simple description of God. Afterward one alert young fellow came up to thank me. He said that for the first time in his life he felt that he knew who God was. He said he felt that now he could love God. He explained that he had been taught and had always believed that his grandfather was God!

What is God? What is He like? As a matter of fact, is there a God? I expect most everyone here would declare, "Of course, there's a God." Yet, with all our agreement, I wonder if each of us means exactly the same thing by that word "God." There's not only disagreement as to the precise nature of God, but often outright denial of God. There are some today, as you know, who think of themselves as atheists or agnostics, or unbelievers, simply because they just can't accept the kind of God that's so commonly presented.

Mary Baker Eddy, Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, makes a challenging statement in the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." She writes: "The time for thinkers has come. Truth, independent of doctrines and time-honored systems, knocks at the portal of humanity. Contentment with the past and the cold conventionality of materialism are crumbling away. Ignorance of God is no longer the stepping-stone to faith" (Pref. vii).

We're thinkers. Our time has come. Is there a God? If so, what is He like? The French philosopher Voltaire liked to argue. But he warned: "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms." I think much of our difficulty today in many areas of controversy is a matter of definition. So let's define our terms

For example, some may think of God as a person, or as some mysterious, supernatural being up there or off there somewhere. Some think of God as a special kind of man who creates a lesser kind of man capable of sinning, waits for him to sin, and then punishes him for sinning. Some believe that God sends famines and wars and plagues. They believe that God kills, that He is proud and partial and vengeful. If this were true it is no wonder some would turn away.

There most certainly is a God

But then there are those who say: "By the word God I mean the one and only self-acting cause. God is infinite Spirit, the creator of His own spiritual likeness; the ever-present being who is unchanging Love, the bestower of all good. He is the eternal Principle, the great and wise and just Lawgiver; He is Mind, the source of all intelligence. He is the sole-power of the universe. He is the compassionate Father who could never be separated from His children or cease to love them. God is our strong and certain guide, our unceasing friend, our unfailing support." If you were to define God in that way, as a Christian Scientist, I would declare: "Yes. There most certainly is a God."

Now, of course, I realize that there are not only those who deny God, but many intelligent and earnest people who feel that God does exist but that He is both infinite and finite, that He is present at times, but can be absent, that He is Love but that He knows hatred, that He is both good and evil. Well, how do we resolve this difference? How do we find God, if there is one, and get to know what He is really like?

A prominent evangelist was asked what he thought about the suggestion that God is dead. He replied: "Of course God isn't dead. I just talked with Him." I know what he meant. And I think I would go even further. I would say: "I know there is a God because I have tangible proof of His existence every day." Here is an example of the kind of proof I'm talking about.

A man I know had noticed an alarming blemish on his body. He was sent to the infirmary of the factory where he worked to see about it. Here he was told that he would have to go to a physician at once, or lose his job, perhaps his life. It was apparent the medical worker had found what he considered to be a malignant cancer. Our friend had an elementary knowledge of Christian Science. He turned to God in prayer and stilled his fear. Then a Christian Science practitioner was asked for help, but there was still no improvement.

God’s goodness a provable fact

Now our friend had been sharp, resentful, faultfinding, ambitious, proud. He just couldn't get along with anyone. With the help of the practitioner he was led to understand better a simple fact, that he must love God, and that loving God means loving each of God's children. The sharpness gradually changed to patience and gentleness. The resentment turned to compassion, kindness, love. The criticism gave way to an awareness of his own need for betterment and an appreciation of even the human goodness in others. The pride softened to humility. His thought was relieved of old fears, old likes and dislikes. He found a better job. He moved to a better home in a better community. He found himself getting along with others at work, at home, at church. There came a clearer glimpse of the fact that man, God's image and likeness, couldn't possibly know or express or see or feel malignancy, or hatred. The physical difficulty, thought to be incurable, disappeared completely.

Yes, I think such healing not only proves that God isn't dead, but it tells us a lot about what God is like. It tells us that God isn't a mysterious being up there or out there, but that He is a knowable and a very real and practical presence. It tells us that He must be all good because good comes to us when we turn to Him. It tells us that He doesn't create sickness and sin, because we see that knowing Him heals sickness and sin.

It's this healing effect that gives evidence of God's existence — the evidence of spiritual healing.

So in answering the question, Is there a God?, let's now discuss the historical record of healing, then how the understanding of God brings about this healing.

Christian Science has been healing for a century. But spiritual healing itself isn't a modern phenomenon. Healing through God goes back as far as our Scriptural records take us. The thing that is new is the full statement of its rule. It is the rule that was demonstrated by the prophets and by Christ Jesus, and is now revealed to this age in its complete form by Mrs. Eddy.

Bible places no limits on healing

Did you know that there are at least 150 passages in the Bible referring to healing or cure? Sometimes the words "recovered," or "restored," or "made whole" are used. Or, as in the case of the healing of a blind man the statement is that "he came seeing." The healing of one who was deaf and had a speech impediment is recorded: "And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain" (Mark 7:35). The lame man at the temple gate, healed by Peter, is described as "walking, and leaping, and praising God" (Acts 3:8). At other times the Bible record tells of the casting out of demons or devils, or deaf and dumb spirits. But all of it, you see, is healing.

Jesus taught not only the necessity of practicing the highest human virtues, but the need to look to God alone for good, for healing.

There are 34 references to specific healings or "miracles" performed by Jesus — healings of sickness or some human lack. Three times Jesus raised the dead. And finally, after his crucifixion, he presented himself alive.

A great many of the Bible references to healing concern not just one but many persons. Matthew, for example, records that Jesus went about "healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matt. 9:35). And again the Scripture declares; "And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there" (Matt. 19:2). Jesus and his followers healed what would today be called organic as well as functional disease. They did this in direct violation of so-called material law. They cured the "incurable."

Now Jesus apparently didn't consider healing a special or supernatural power reserved to himself, or a few others. It was the very essence of his theology and ministry. He first admonished his 12 close disciples, then 70 others, to go out and heal the sick as well as the sinning. The 70 returned to report that even the devils were subject unto them through the name of Jesus Christ. Speaking to all mankind, even to you and me right here today, Christ Jesus, as you will recall, left this promise: "Verily, verily, I say unto you. He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12).

There is evidence that even after Jesus' ascension spiritual healing continued among his earnest followers. Among non-Biblical evidence is this statement by the early Christian writer, Origen, in the early part of the third century: "And the name of Jesus can still remove distractions from the minds of men, and expel demons, and also take away diseases."

But then, as now, it was easier to follow the lines of least resistance. Do you remember in the book of Revelation John writes that one mighty angel had in his hand a little book opened? It tells us further that, when he went to the angel, John was directed: "Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey" (Rev. 10:9). Doesn't this mean that when Truth heals it is indeed sweet? But — when it has to be digested, that is, understood — well, that's a different matter.

It wasn't easy to maintain the true precepts of Jesus' teaching. Human instincts were strong. Old customs and superstitions still dominated. Other religious and philosophic ideas pressed in from all sides. Records show that converts were sought with little regard for their convictions. Theories, rituals, and ceremonies straight from pagan sources were gathered partly or wholly into the growing body of form and doctrine. Church gradually became just an easy way to forgiveness and eternal life. Mechanics, externals, became of first importance.

It is evident from the records that spiritual understanding, the practice of true Christian virtues, the showing forth of honesty, humility, love — that these were not of primary concern. The teaching of Jesus in regard to the goodness and presence of God and His power to heal became dim in the mist of materialism.

The historian F. J. Foakes Jackson pictures a pagan philosopher praying in a Christian church to the angels of Christianity while investing them with the attributes of neo-Platonic demons. And he goes on to remark that this was no bad illustration of what he calls "the unconscious manner in which the pagan world in becoming Christian was then paganizing Christianity."

About this time something began to happen. It was gradual. But Edward Gibbon, author of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," saw it. He pointedly speaks of the cessation around the end of the third century — the cessation of what he calls the "miraculous powers within the church."

God’s presence excludes evil

In other words, spiritual healing was lost! And the Dark Ages began.

Now the point here is this: Why was healing lost? I think we can find the answer only in the fact that there must have been a direct relationship between healing and the attitude of men toward God. Healing was present or absent in the proportion that men sensed the spiritual import of Christian teaching and truly worshiped the kind of God Jesus taught his followers to love: a God of light; a God who demanded meekness, unselfishness, purity; a God who is to be looked to exclusively as the source of good. It was when men turned to materiality and personality that healing was no longer a part of church.

Can we ever again experience spiritual healing? Yes, we can. In fact it's here now. It doesn't often get into the papers, but it's happening every day. At Wednesday services of Christian Science churches throughout the world healings are reported by those healed. Every issue of the Christian Science Sentinel, The Christian Science Journal, the several non-English language editions of The Herald of Christian Science, including the Braille edition of the Herald — in these you will find convincing and verified accounts of healing.

Christian Science is the revival of primitive Christianity. Its students accept every word of the master Christian. More than that, they heed his strong and clear direction — to heal both the sick and the sinner, through God.

But now you may wonder how, even with the admission that there is a God, and with some knowledge of what God is, just how this brings healing. Very briefly let me put it this way. There must be a rational basis for spiritual healing. Paul bore this out when he told the Romans; "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2).

I believe we find this law of the spirit of Life implied in the words of the prophet Habakkuk. Speaking of God, he declares: "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Hab. 1:13). This cannot mean that God just closes His eyes. No, apparently evil can't exist in the eyes, in the presence, of God. And God is ever present. Where could evil exist? An error, or a mistake, can't exist in the presence of the correct answer. And if we use the word Principle to represent the source of all correct answers to all problems or difficulties, we can see that a knowledge and application of one's understanding of Principle corrects the assumption that anything which contradicts Principle could be present.

Right reasoning based on God as Principle

The word Principle is one of seven synonymous terms which Mrs. Eddy has taken, either directly or by inference, from the Bible, as referring to God. The others are Mind, Soul, Spirit, Life, Truth, Love. In other words, Principle is God. Now when we use the word Principle here we're not talking about some human theory or law — we're talking about the infinite, eternal, self-acting, all-inclusive, unchanging, fundamental source or cause of all true being — including all true human knowledge.

Of course, we appreciate the remarkable discoveries in the field of the physical sciences, the Saturns and Geminis, the electronic marvels — the way I can watch an astronaut, on television, floating in space, the way I can telephone across the nation by pressing a few buttons, or use the gadget which allows me to slice a tough roast of beef with hardly a movement of the hands. But while physicists and inventors find and demonstrate certain physical relationships or theories within the framework of their own purposes or goals, they do not lead us to over-all basic cause.

The Principle we refer to must be the only one. It must exist without regard to time or space. It must be complete. It must be perfect. And essential to healing is the fact that the creation of this perfect cause must itself be perfect. This one cause or Principle is our premise for right reasoning. This is what is behind the rule for all Christian Science healing.

Christian Scientists love and turn to the Bible, not blindly, but because they find its true meaning in the inspired interpretation offered by Mrs. Eddy — an interpretation subject to testing, an interpretation that heals.

As a child and young person Mrs. Eddy herself was chronically ill. She was looking not only for a more satisfying sense of the nature and presence of God, she was looking for healing. But more than that, she was looking for a rule which would bring healing to all mankind. She had suffered a serious accident. And, when she prayerfully pondered a Biblical healing and suddenly arose from her bed recovered, she felt that she must have glimpsed the true nature of God and the rule for healing. This was in 1866. And as we enter the second century of Christian Science we're grateful that Mrs. Eddy went on to spend the remainder of her years gaining a full understanding of this rule and making it available to us.

One of the things Mrs. Eddy saw from her study of the Bible to be essential to our understanding of God and to healing is this: She saw that the man Jesus was not God. Jesus declared: "He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me" (John 12:44). Mrs. Eddy saw that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Way-shower, the messenger who brought to hungering mankind the divine message. She realized that this message was the Christ.

'Yes, but' questions refuted

The Christ, then, is the appearing of Principle, or God, to human consciousness, and the man Jesus represented this Christ. His mission was to teach and demonstrate the presence of God, the power of this Christ to heal sin and sickness, and raise the dead. Christ-healing is based on a knowledge and application of the fact that because God who is the only creator is infinite good, what He creates must be infinitely good. Disease, sin, hatred, lack, grief, trouble — none of this is good. None of it, then, has been created. None of it, then, can have actual existence.

Now I know some of you have been mentally sitting on the edges of your seats wanting to ask questions. I know what the questions are: the "yes, buts." You want to say: "Yes, but sickness is real. I have seen it. I have felt it. Now don't try to deny that!" All right. I won't deny it. That is, I won't deny that it seems very real. In Christian Science, I want you to know, we don't casually brush off sickness with a few nice words. We don't say: "Maybe if we just don't pay any attention, it will go away." No. We pay attention to the need. We do something about it.

Mrs. Eddy warns us in Science and Health: "Expect to heal simply by repeating the author's words, by right talking and wrong acting, and you will be disappointed" (Page 452). No, what we do is to apply our knowledge of God. At this point we have got to decide what we're going to believe. Are we going to believe everything human or physical we see or hear or feel? Or are we going to turn to this God who is the only source or cause, who is ever-present good, and listen to what He has to say? Let me warn you. There will be contradictions. Our decision will be influenced not only by the reasonableness of the spiritual facts presented, but also by the fact that the physical senses are provably unreliable. Let me cite just one of many experiments which show up this unreliability.

At the Perception Demonstration Center at Princeton University one of the experiments makes use of what used to be called a stereopticon, now called a 3-D or stereo viewer. Ordinarily two pictures of the same subject, one showing a view slightly offset from the other, are placed side by side in the viewer. The effect of looking at these two almost identical pictures through lenses is to give a sense of depth, or perspective. In this experiment, however, instead of using two shots of the same subject, they used sets, each of which consisted of two quite different subjects. Chosen as participants, without their knowing the nature of the experiment, were persons with strong feelings or interests, each in a certain specific and different direction.

Thought conditions response

The experimenters placed on one side of the viewer a picture of a beautiful building, and on the other side a picture of an athlete. First they chose a participant who was a successful and dedicated architect. He was asked, without first looking at the individual pictures, to look through the viewer. What did he see? "Why," he reported, "I see a very fine building." Then they chose one whose life was in the field of athletics. On looking through the same viewer at the same differing pictures, but presuming there to be but one subject, he said — you guessed it — that he saw a picture of a famous athlete, that's all. This same experiment was performed with other contrasting picture sets shown to other persons with strong but contrasting interests, with much the same results.

What was going on here? Well, you see the thought of each was conditioned by his special interest — and the outward evidence, as reported by his physical senses, tended, to this person, to conform to his own dominant mental state.

Now in view of even this admittedly limited illustration hasn't the possibility occurred to you that perhaps not only sickness but everything we hear and feel and see — even smell and taste — is actually determined by individual thought? As a matter of fact some philosophers have in effect suggested that when you leave a room, everything in the room, including the room itself, disappears.

Christian Science explains this. Mrs. Eddy has given the name of mortal mind to the supposed opposite of divine Mind. This mortal mind seems to govern us until we learn the truth about it; and it sees and experiences what it believes. In other words, each mortal, each human, in effect makes his own world, that is, a thought world, seeming to his unenlightened human view to be substantial and real. What you and I feel and see and hear, what we sense physically or humanly, is what we're entertaining in thought — our own beliefs and the beliefs of those around us which we have admitted into our thought — nothing more.

Now comes another "yes, but." You want to say: "Yes, but what then is this material thing called man? It certainly seems very real. Don't I have any existence at all?" The answer is that what appears as a material self is that wrong thought or belief about man, growing out of an ignorance of God's true creation. It is that false belief being seen.

Man is immortal

Though I know very well that it may not always seem so to those unreliable physical senses, actually man is a very wonderful thing. He is the image and likeness of God. What is the evidence for this? Spiritual healing. That friend of mine who was healed of cancer realized something of man's true nature all right. Think what this means. Man is in reality spiritual, immortal, incorporeal, complete, perfect. You see, man is the reflection or expression of that perfect Principle we spoke of earlier.

Each one of us in spite of that contrary, seemingly convincing, but unreliable material sense testimony — each of us can and in fact must claim and prove his true spiritual selfhood. Is that presumptuous? Was it presumptuous for Jesus, speaking to you, remember, to declare: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect"? (Matt. 5:48.)

You see, in resolving those "yes, buts," we have to make that decision whether to believe the physical senses — proved unreliable, remember — or the spiritual facts. Which is it to be? It's as simple as that. We come to the conclusion that, real as it may seem, materiality, including material man, and all the trouble that seems to go with it, that all this exists only as false belief, as untrue evidence growing from a mistaken concept of God. A Christian Science prayer or treatment heals by changing the false beliefs in individual thought to the true concepts. Because we see what we believe, the correct or better thoughts are evidenced outwardly in something which conforms to the correct or better thought — health, strength, freedom, beauty, intelligence, joy, well-being.

Why don't Christian Scientists use medicine? Wouldn't medicine give a little boost to the healing? Well, does the all-powerful God need a boost? — even assuming there could be a real disease to be destroyed? Christian Scientists rule out medical and physical means for themselves not because they hate medicine or doctors, but because they have learned the fact that disease is in thought, not in matter. And they know that even a very intelligent and kindly and skillful physician can neither find nor correct a wrong thought with matter. In fact, using matter as medicine right away tends to hold thought more firmly in its state of incorrectness. The very act of taking, or even mentally reaching for, medicine is based on the belief that disease is real. And it is the giving up — not the supporting — of this belief that opens the way to healing.

Getting to know God as ever-present good brings this realization — that if good is always present there cannot be the presence in our experience of anything that is not good. This underlines a point in Christian Science which is often not realized. The use of this Science heals not only disease but whatever is out of adjustment in one's experience.

A Christian Scientist had volunteered for duty in World War II and found himself in another country amid very oppressive circumstances. He was committed to a work which promised nothing but inactivity, utter frustration, and depression for the duration of the war. He asked to be relieved. But nothing happened. He prayed. Still nothing happened. He prayed harder, with no result. He pleaded with God to take him out of there, reasoning that he was quite justified in asking this.

Then one day while studying the Christian Science textbook he suddenly realized what he had been doing. He was accepting in his thought the report that good, in other words God, was not in that place and never would be.

But praying really isn't asking for something; it's knowing something. So he set to work to reject the suggestion that God was in some places and not in others, that there could be a lack of good under some conditions. He became humbly willing to accept God's guidance, even if it meant staying right there. For he saw that his need was not necessarily to move his body, but to open his thought to the fact that God, good, is ever present. He knew that righteous prayer could bring nothing but good into his experience, wherever he might seem to be physically.

Understanding God brings healing

At that point — and, note, not until then — his request was granted. You might say he got what he wanted when he stopped wanting it. This was my own experience and you can be sure I have never forgotten its lesson.

I hope it is quite clear by now that Christian Science healing is neither a supernatural nor even a miraculous thing. It is not hypnotism, or suggestion, or human psychology. And it is not blind faith. Healing does call for a firm faith in the goodness and presence of God, but it's an understanding faith. Christian Science healing results from one's applying his knowledge that disease is not in body, not in matter at all, but in thought. Healing is a result of lifting thought to perceive, somewhat at least, the perfect nature of God and His creation, and the consequent fact that disease in reality is impossible.

What brings this healing? It can't be matter. Matter itself is a false belief of mortal mind, the opposite of God, Spirit, divine Mind. And it isn't the human mind. Human thought doesn't establish healing. Directed by God, divine Mind, human thought simply recognizes health and harmony as the already established fact about man.

This then is the practical promise of Christian Science, that a knowledge of God and His infinite goodness makes healing possible.

Is there a God? We have looked at this question from the standpoint of spiritual healing and its rational basis. Sickness and evil, as we have seen, are evidences of wrong thinking. If there were no corrective Principle, in other words, no God, there could be no correction, no spiritual healing. But there IS spiritual healing. Healing through spiritual means is undeniable fact.

There must be a God.


[Delivered Jan. 23, 1967, in The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, and published in The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 24, 1967. This lecture was transcribed some years ago from a Monitor clipping which is no longer available. Since the content of the lecture is about the existence of God and since Mr. Cessna was delivering in other localities at this time a lecture entitled "Is There a God?," it seems fairly certain that the proper title of this lecture was "Is There a God?". If so, then it was published in the Monitor under the headline was "Correct Understanding of God the Key to Healing". The latter was previously given by this site as the lecture title.]