The distinction between sin and error (or mistake) is critical in understanding how A Course in Miracles differs from traditional Christian thinking, but more importantly it reminds us how deeply practical the course is, and how close we are right now to the Love for which we long.
My spiritual roots are Roman Catholic. Very early in my life I understood there was such a thing as sin – divided between those that were venial (less serious) and those that were mortal (dangerously egregious). I also understood that sin wasn’t just something I did that was forgotten – it was witnessed to and cataloged by God, in preparation of an accounting at death that would send me either to Purgatory (for tortuous repentance) or Hell (from which there was no escape and in which one was denied even the knowledge of their sins because that knowledge might provide some shred of comfort).
Such grim theology is hardly limited to Catholicism or Christianity, and I am hardly the first human being to be troubled by it. I can’t say that it deterred any “bad” behavior – I have always been pretty stubborn that way – but it certainly contributed to a lot of guilt and anxiety.
To sin is to offend God. It is to assert one’s own will in place of God’s and to do what God would not do and to do so despite knowing better. Who sins spits in the eye of Love. Heaven was always conditional and God always capricious at best, cruel at worst. It always seemed to me that a God who allowed for the horrors of Auschwitz and polio was hardly likely to be a fair judge of my sundry wrongs. Sin was the fulcrum on which my fate rested and the balance was – to steal and butcher a phrase – never in my favor.
Of course, by the time I was in my twenties or so, and had a round of Saint Augustine under my belt, not to mention a broken heart, a troubled relationship with whiskey, and all of that, I knew better, or thought I did. Of course God wasn’t an unjust judge, jury and execution rolled into one. The problem was, that knowledge was about as substantial as tissue paper in a roiling sea. I could say it, but I didn’t believe it.
The ego treasures sin because it keeps us from running headlong back to God. Sin keeps us scared and bitter. It ensures that no matter what happens, we are going to continually perceive ourselves as doomed failures bound for an inferno. Very few tools in the ego’s ruinous toolbox are as effective as sin.
And then along comes A Course in Miracles and says that sin isn’t real at all. There are only mistakes, all of which can be gently corrected, and none of which leave any permanent mark on our record.
It is essential that error not be confused with sin, and it this distinction that makes salvation possible. For error can be corrected, and the wrong made right. But sin, were it possible, would be irreversible (T-19.II.1:1-3).
Tara Singh said that this truth was essential to understanding one’s role as a teacher of God.
A Teacher of God
does not acknowledge separation as real
but only as a mistake which can be corrected (A Gift for All Mankind, p. 13).
If our beliefs – even unto the belief in separation – can be corrected, then we are immediately and forever liberated from the dreadful consequences of sin. We don’t have to improve ourselves, or believe harder or differently, or follow anybody or do anything. Right here, right now, we are capable of seeing through error to the light of God. I am not saying it is easy – it may take a great deal of time and a lot of hard work – that is the nature of awakening through A Course in Miracles – but there is no question can we do it. It is only a question of when we will do it. When what we called sin is brought to the clean level of error, we are effectively being taught again that “[t]he secret to salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1).
Behind this “secret to salvation” is the simple reality that we have never sinned but remain wholly impeccable – just as God created us. It is true that we have fallen into error since then. We have adopted some mistaken beliefs. But these are no more permanent or consequential than adding two and two and getting three or forgetting that MacDuff kills Macbeth. We can learn and on the basis of our learning undo those errors and think rightly.
In truth, “God’s welcome waits for us all” (T-8.VI.1:4). Do you see how unequivocal that statement is? There are no conditions. There are no exceptions. We are not sinners. We are confused about what we are in truth, and have chosen a mistaken identity to take its place. We have misplaced God, made an enemy of Christ and closed our mind to the Holy Spirit. But it doesn’t matter.
Our destiny- which we cannot fail to fulfill – is to remember what we are and to choose again the Love of God. Rethinking sin is a critical part of this remembrance. In the domain of error, our ultimate freedom is only a matter of time.