Overcoming Fear of the Unknown

Chet Manchester
Published by The Christian Science Sentinel, 7.14.2020

Of all the fears that nag at us, fear of the unknown can seem the most terrifying. The COVID-19 pandemic is a case in point. From the start, media reports have tended to magnify the fear and uncertainty many already feel by bombarding us daily with disturbing images and worst-case scenarios. “There’s a lot we just don’t know,” experts tell us.

By contrast, God is described in the Bible as all-knowing. Psalm 139 begins:“Lord, you have examined me and you know me. You know everything I do;… You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power…. Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence?” (verses 1, 2, 5, 7, Good News Translation). The writer of this soulful prayer lived in the same world we do, but saw it differently. Spiritual sense revealed to him God’s all-pervading presence. And this awareness of God’s presence may even have come during a time of crisis, as many of the Bible’s greatest insights did. 

Each of us has the God-given capacity to know what God knows—to perceive the one true reality of God’s spiritual creation and to know ourselves as spiritual, safely tucked into this creation. Then we realize that this is all that God knows, and that there are no unknowns, either to God, who is infinite Mind, or to us, since we express this Mind. And all that God knows is spiritual, not material. This idea came into fresh focus for me as I read this definition of unknown that appears in the Glossary of Mary Baker Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “That which spiritual sense alone comprehends, and which is unknown to the material senses.

“Paganism and agnosticism may define Deity as ‘the great unknowable;’ but Christian Science brings God much nearer to man, and makes Him better known as the All-in-all, forever near” (p. 596).

Here, in a few words, the author pinpoints fear as a product of not knowing God. And not knowing God as the result of letting the five senses (“the material senses”) dictate one’s view of life and health. If we are hearing from the authorities that the air we breathe or the people we meet might transmit a dangerous virus to us, we will naturally be fearful. If we are advised by these same authorities that the threat of contagion is contained, our fear will naturally lessen. But the underlying fear of vulnerability, disease, and death will still be present in our thought, unless we find a way to address it. 

Christian Science offers such a way. It invites us to look beyond the obvious, just as other sciences do. But even more, it enables us to look beyond the human powers of observation and intellect into the very nature of God. This “looking” involves “spiritual sense,” everyone’s God-given ability to think spiritually—to see, hear, and feel what God, Spirit, is communicating to us. There are powerful examples of this in the Bible. 

Psalm 46 speaks of God as “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The writer contrasts waters that “roar and be troubled” (indicative of what the five senses report) with a river of calm, where “God is in the midst of her” (what spiritual sense reports). This psalm includes references to rage, desolation, war, and fire, then concludes, “Be still, and know that I am God:… The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (verses 1, 3, 5, 10, 11). If we think we live in uncertain times, imagine living during the periods of vast social and political upheaval recorded in the Bible, and yet, in stillness, feeling that presence of God.

The Bible is a kind of biography of humanity’s growing understanding of God. Through its pages, we discover God’s nature in illuminating phrases such as these: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;” “I am God, and there is no other;” “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Isaiah 66:13; 45:22; Jeremiah, 31:3, New King James Version).

God’s nature was fully revealed through the life of Christ Jesus. As God’s Son, Jesus not only knew God intimately but also verified God’s wholly good and spiritual nature by healing people. Is it any wonder he was not only the most loving and insightful man on earth but also the most fearless?

The Gospels tell of people coming to Christ Jesus in the most desperate situations: A rabbi’s daughter has just died; a young man seized with a mysterious illness shakes uncontrollably at Jesus’ feet; a violently insane man emerges from a graveyard and confronts him; an intense storm overtakes Jesus’ boat and crew when they’re miles from shore.

Jesus resolves each situation quickly and peacefully. His response amidst the storm is especially telling (see Mark 4:35–39). He is described as “asleep on a pillow” as waves crashed into the vessel he and his disciples were in. The disciples awakened him and asked why he didn’t care that they were all about to drown.

Was Jesus just a sound sleeper? Or was he so in tune with God, so conscious of divine Love’s presence, that he literally wasn’t “in” the storm? And so he rose and said with authority, “Peace, be still,” and the waters became still. 

This message, “Peace, be still,” reaches into our minds and hearts now as it did then. It’s what God is saying to each of us through the Christ, which Science and Health describes as “the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness” (Science and Health, p. 332). This message is here to heal our fears by helping us see what is really going on—revealing the reality of what God always sees and knows. When we hear the Christ message and receive it into our hearts, a great peace sweeps over us. It is this spiritual peace that, having removed fear, opens the way for healing.

I felt this deep peace unmistakably one night when our young son became suddenly ill. What began as a mild fever quickly intensified, and I was gripped with fear in spite of my prayers. I called my wife, who was just leaving a church service. She was with a Christian Science practitioner, who agreed to come right over and pray for our son. My wife and I had of course been praying, and we were so grateful for the practitioner’s support. I was prepared to call 911, if the situation worsened, but the moment this spiritually minded woman entered our home, I felt the Christ calming thought and comforting my son with the assurance that God was holding him safe. Within minutes, his fever dissolved—fading into nothing—and he was breathing and acting normally again. It was one of the most immediate and sacred healing experiences I have ever had, and I could not even speak about it for a long time.

This experience and so many others our family has had over the years confirm the healing power of knowing God as the very substance of our being. And they show that God loves and preserves us not so much by rescuing us from evil, but by helping us see that evil—including disease, hatred, violence, and destruction—is never the reality it seems to be. And it becomes less convincing to us as the understanding of God dawns in our thought. While we don’t yet know God as completely as Jesus did, he taught us that the Christ he lived and demonstrated as Truth is eternal and that it is here today telling us, “Do not be afraid” (Mark 5:36, NKJV), and “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20, NKJV)—your true identity is spiritual, created and maintained by the one perfect Mind that is God.

When first writing Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy described it to her young neighbors this way: “I am writing the life of God” (The Mary Baker Eddy Library, “The Reminiscence of Mrs. G. E. Belisle,” October 20, 1934). Her book brings out the spiritual depth of what the Bible teaches about God. Millions of readers of this book have experienced the direct link between knowing God and being healed. Mrs. Eddy writes, “It is our ignorance of God, the divine Principle, which produces apparent discord, and the right understanding of Him restores harmony” (Science and Health, p. 390). Restores calm. Heals our fear of the unknown. Helps us know what our creator knows about us: that we exist as divine Mind’s very knowing of its own perfect selfhood. As we glimpse this, we can feel what St. Paul must have felt when he wrote, “Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12).

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