by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff
“God does not forgive because He has never condemned. And there must be condemnation before forgiveness is necessary.” This powerful thought begins Lesson 46 in the Workbook for Students in A Course in Miracles, and it is an important thought because it tells us something about the Course’s view of God.
For most people in the western world, traditional Christianity was the religious system that we first encountered. It offers us a God who is angry and condemning over what mankind has done, and so mankind seeks God’s forgiveness to make amends for all of his sins. The Course offers us a radically different approach in this lesson by telling us that God has never condemned us for we have not sinned against Him. We, therefore, need not seek His forgiveness for we have His love.
Now the truth is, even if we understand and accept this thought, most of us still feel a great need for forgiveness — either because of hurts by others or feelings of guilt over things we have done. The blessing that forgiveness gives us is a real need. As this lesson says, “Forgiveness is the great need of this world, but that is because it is a world of illusions. Those who forgive are thus releasing themselves from illusions, while those who withhold forgiveness are binding themselves to them. As you condemn only yourself, so do you forgive only yourself.”
Forgiving can be one of the hardest things we offer to another because of our distorted ideas that to forgive means we condone another’s unkind or horrific action or overlook it, leaving them free to strike again. That is not the case from the Course’s perspective. Forgiveness becomes a way for us to be released from the illusions we hold about others, the world, and ourselves so that we can finally know God’s unfailing Love for us. We do not forgive necessarily for the other person’s benefit, but for our own; this in turn heals the world. We are not expected to know how to forgive, the thought that we do know how has been our biggest roadblock. We are asked to let God’s love lead the way for us.
Yet although God does not forgive, His Love is nevertheless the basis of forgiveness. Fear condemns and love forgives. Forgiveness thus undoes what fear has produced, returning the mind to the awareness of God. For this reason, forgiveness can truly be called salvation. It is the means by which illusions disappear.
Understanding that it is through God’s Love that we forgive and not our own “gracious absolution,” this lesson offers us practical exercises for our own release through forgiveness. We are asked to think of someone we are angry with or have not forgiven. “It does not matter ‘how much’ you have not forgiven them. You have forgiven them entirely or not at all.” Then we are asked to mention each one by name, and say:
God is the Love in which I forgive you, [name].
After we have applied the idea to all those who come to mind, we are to tell ourselves:
God is the Love in which I forgive myself.
From this practice we see that it is through God’s Love (and not our own) that we forgive, for it is our fearful state of mind that has caused us to condemn. And, because we are afraid and thereby unaware of the truth of who we are as God’s loving children, we need His help to remember. God offers this help by showing us that as we release those with whom we have our greatest challenges, we release ourselves. This shows us the illusion that we are separate is a lie and that we are truly joined by love — not our love, but God’s Love. Therefore, we begin to see, “There is no need to attack because love has forgiven me.”