The unfailing filter and the chemical spill in West Virginia
A Christian Science perspective: God's unfailing care for His creation is equal to every emergency.
The song “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” made popular by John Denver, is about West Virginia, where I have my new winter home. As I drive the winding roads through the mountains and past the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, I find myself humming that song involuntarily. This is indeed a beautiful state, and it has been a joy to claim it as my home. Hearing news reports of the chemical spill near Charleston’s Elk River area, which has closed schools and businesses and has left hundreds of thousands of people without water, moved me to take some time to pray for the safety of those in that area.
As I listened in prayer for how to feel and understand more deeply God’s protecting care for all involved, the thought came that even if all the filters we count on to keep water pure should fail (including government agencies, laws, safety measures in storage tanks, water treatment plants, and ground filtration), there is an unfailing filter that the Bible tells us about. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever” (Romans 11:36). The “him” the Bible is referring to is God. And this beautiful image of all existence moving from God, through God, and to God establishes a purity that is not at the mercy of accidental circumstances, lack of sufficient warning, or poisonous substances. In a way, all human filtration and purification systems are actually useful expressions of this divine, unfailing purity. And it is God’s purity that guarantees the safety of our lives.
For instance, when the prophet Elisha was faced with the need for food for himself and his followers in the time of a famine (see II Kings 4:38-41), he sent the men out to scour the countryside for plants to eat. One man brought back some gourds from a wild vine and put them into the pot of boiling water, but they turned out to be poisonous. The Bible says that the people “cried out, and said ... there is death in the pot,” and they couldn’t eat what they had cooked. Elisha knew that the men needed to eat, and his knowledge of God’s care and his proof of that divine care in many previous instances must have enabled him to trust God’s care in this instance, too. He added some meal to the pot, and the men could then eat their food.
To me this story shows that trust in God’s care can lead us to take actions that will express care for the human need, but that safety is ultimately about God’s unfailing care for His creation, which is equal to every emergency and can correct whatever mistakes have been made. We are not helpless victims of negligence or malice or ignorance.
In 1993, when the Mississippi River flooded the village in Illinois where my family and I lived, our back office building and the basement level of our home were flooded. It was suggested that we stay out of the water as much as we could in case it was contaminated. At the same time, though, we needed to walk through the water near the house to help with sandbagging efforts as well as to get to our car so we could get food and drive to work. As I walked through the water, I was not just hoping I would be OK, I was praying in the form of singing hymns. One hymn that was a favorite says, “[T]he earth shall be filled with the glory of God/ As the waters cover the sea” (Arthur C. Ainger, “Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 82). That was my way of acknowledging that all we could actually be flooded with was the all-encompassing, all-pervading glory of God. I saw that what I was really moving through was not impure waters, but the fullness and completeness of God’s ever-presence. Our whole family was completely protected during that period, including my brother, who, at one point, had what appeared to be an infection from working and walking in the water. His prayers to realize that God alone is the one great Cause brought about quick healing for him.
A much loved statement from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” the textbook of Christian Science by Mary Baker Eddy, says, “A spiritual idea has not a single element of error, and this truth removes properly whatever is offensive” (p. 463). I like to think of this as referring to the one spiritual idea, the one creation of God, which is pure and perfect and without a single, tiniest particle or element of poison. The realization, even in a degree, of the complete purity of God’s creation can rule out fear of and harmful effects from contaminated waters, be they in West Virginia or in an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or from hydraulic fracturing or even from unknown situations that have not yet been uncovered. We are each safe in God, safe in divine Love, not just in “almost heaven, West Virginia,” as the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” says, but in the kingdom of heaven that is at hand and within us.