Atonement Means Forgiveness (and Forgiveness Can’t Be Translated)

I have been thinking lately about this question of translating forgiveness into action as a means of atonement. And I’ve basically concluded that in so thinking I am entirely out to lunch.

What I mean by that is this: forgiveness is a change of mind, a way of right seeing. It’s got nothing to do with behavior. Let’s say I’ve been impatient lately in my classrooms. I don’t get worked up about it or try to change that. I look at it with Jesus. By inviting Jesus in, I am essentially demonstrating my willingness to have the projection giving rise to the impatience undone. There is no doubt that the behavior will change. Sooner or later, any “problem” turned over to Jesus is dissolved, but not because we set about to change things. Rather, it is because we simply agreed to forego the ego in favor of a better – a wiser and gentler – guide.

Yet it remains a struggle. Lately it has been hard to remember to look with Jesus – particularly with certain issues around money and status. And when I do, it’s always couched in a sort of, “okay – so I did my piece now you do yours.” And that never works for me. It never works because it assumes that the problem really is out there in the world – in my bank account, or the size of my house, or my ambitions that haven’t manifested and so forth. So long as I insist on a solution out there in the world than it is safe to say I am not really looking with Jesus. And while that doesn’t make Jesus turn to the liquor cabinet, it does postpone the possibility of peace.

Perhaps what I am saying is twofold. First, I don’t think we need to translate forgiveness into action at all. I think the only action of significance is the willingness to side with Jesus as regards our supposed problems. If we can get that right and solid, then the rest is going to follow.

And second – maybe the harder of the two aspects – is the simple fact that is hard to get clear, to really accept in a letting-go-and-letting-God kind of way, that I do not have any problems. Everything that happens in the world – from the shoelace that won’t stay tied to the nuclear power plant a few towns over – is not real. The only power is in the mind that is joined with God – or that is willing to remember that it is so joined. It is like Hamlet says – I paraphrase – “there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” If that is true then everything I have counted on over the years to make this body real and important is a lie. And while I appreciate on an intellectual level that that is okay – and can lead to a deep peace and natural joy – it doesn’t always feel that way. In fact, it feels downright terrifying.

Someone – I think Kenneth Wapnick – said somewhere that the only problem we have is that we think we have problems. I like that. If we can get to a place where our so-called problems become proxies for the one problem – our supposed separation from God – then we get into some possible healing. But we have to be clear about the brokenness. I am mindful that A Course in Miracles did not show up in the world because two people were happy and getting along and wanted to share their joy with the world. It appeared because two people were miserably, at odds and desperate. In a very real sense, Bill Thetford’s legendary declaration – there has to be a better way – is the ground of the course for everyone. Until we can say that and mean it, we are not likely to get very far with Jesus.

And so we go on – picking up the pieces, remembering to pray, lending a hand when we remember, making this spiritual practice special and all of that. It is a big melange, this life – and forgiveness opportunities – learning with Jesus opportunities – abound. I am mindful of that – or I try to be. Life is tough because we want it to be. It doesn’t get better until we’re clear on that. If there’s a silver lining it’s probably this: we aren’t alone. Somehow, somewhere we asked for help and that’s why we’re here, stumbling along with A Course in Miracles. Those companions walk beside us still. And we’ve got each other – no small potatoes when the nights darken and the air gets cold.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Resurgam October 10, 2012, 9:37 pm

    I just came accross your site, and after reading your post concerning forgiveness I would like to Share my thoughts concerning forgiveness. In my opinion, it has everything to do with behavior and nothing to do with changing the mind, or a right way of seeing. Forgiveness has everything to do with the heart (metaphorically speaking as the heart doesn’t think). It doesn’t come from the mind. to forgive a wrong, one has to reach deep down within themself and completely forgive the individual(s), i.e., Agape Love. In my experience, a rationalized forgiveness is not forgiveness, but a overlooking to always be remembered. An Agape forgiveness is to forget it and never hold it in reserve. It’s gone. Forever. In so forgiving someone from deep down within, The behavior of not only oneself becomes transformed, but also the one being forgiven. I don’t know if I’ve explained myself clearly here as I’m not very eloquent at this time, but I think you’ll get the jist of what I’m trying to say.

    • Sean Reagan October 11, 2012, 7:03 am

      Hi Resurgam,

      Thanks for reading and responding – always nice to see a little Latin on the site!

      To some extent, we are talking apples and oranges here. I am a student of A Course in Miracles – a sort of Vedantic approach to traditional Christianity. And so the type of forgiveness I write about tends to track what the course teaches – which is emphatically not what traditional Christianity teaches. I am not saying that one is right and the other wrong – or better or worse – merely that they are different. They ultimately reach the same result but through much different paths.

      It is really a question of what is helpful – how one type of language or mythology or theology resonates and so forth.

      There is some semantics going on, too. When I say “mind” I am probably envisioning something closer to what you mean by “heart.” I am thinking of heart here along the lines of James Hillman’s essay “The Thought of the Heart.” Forgiveness isn’t something we do but rather something Jesus or the Holy Spirit does through us. It is more in the nature of an undoing. And we have to be open to that – we have to be willing to allow that action to take place inside of us. That’s really the extent of our contribution.

      Thank you again for taking the time to write.


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