“GOD IS LOVE” These words from the Bible appear on the wall in almost every Christian Science church. American Pop artist Robert Indiana said he was inspired by having seen them there as a child, when he created his famous “LOVE” image in the 1960s. His pop art has been reproduced in various forms, including a set of best-selling Christmas cards by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and as a U.S. postage stamp. Thinking of this, I crossed 6th Avenue during rush hour last week to snap a photograph of the “LOVE” sculpture on a busy corner in mid-town Manhattan.
Looking into the history of this sculpture, I found conflicting reports, from seemingly reliable sources, about Mr. Indiana’s personal history and his motivation for this artwork. This got me to thinking that what we read or think we know about famous people may or may not be 100% accurate. Both Mr. Indiana and his work have been analyzed and, in some cases, misinterpreted by well-intentioned historians.
This is also the case with Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science church where those words appear. Mrs. Eddy was one of the most famous — and famously misunderstood — women of her time (late 19th/early 20th century). And the same could be said for the church she founded.
She designed the church “to commemorate the word and works of our Master [Jesus Christ], which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.” (Church Manual)
That “God is Love” would feature prominently in this church just makes sense, because Love is the basis for Christian Science healing. Mrs. Eddy wrote, “The vital part, the heart and soul of Christian Science, is Love.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures) She held high standards for Christian Science students and healers; she also expressed unending compassion and patience for us, with encouraging statements like, “Love inspires, illumines, designates, and leads the way.”(Science and Health)
Mrs. Eddy wrote extensively about love for over 40 years. Here’s one example:
By what strange perversity is the best become the most abused, — either as a quality or as an entity? Mortals misrepresent and miscall affection; they make it what it is not, and doubt what it is. The so-called affection pursuing its victim is a butcher fattening the lamb to slay it. What the lower propensities express, should be repressed by the sentiments. No word is more misconstrued; no sentiment less understood. The divine significance of Love is distorted into human qualities, which in their human abandon become jealousy and hate.
Love is not something put upon a shelf, to be taken down on rare occasions with sugar-tongs and laid on a rose-leaf. I make strong demands on love, call for active witnesses to prove it, and noble sacrifices and grand achievements as its results. Unless these appear, I cast aside the word as a sham and counterfeit, having no ring of the true metal. Love cannot be a mere abstraction, or goodness without activity and power. As a human quality, the glorious significance of affection is more than words: it is the tender, unselfish deed done in secret; the silent, ceaseless prayer; the self-forgetful heart that overflows; the veiled form stealing on an errand of mercy, out of a side door; the little feet tripping along the sidewalk; the gentle hand opening the door that turns toward want and woe, sickness and sorrow, and thus lighting the dark places of earth.
(Miscellaneous Writings, 1896)