Commentary on Lesson 198: Only my condemnation injures me.

by Robert Perry

It seems so obvious to us that we can be injured. Injury, after all, is a fundamental part of the human experience, one that is with us even from the womb. Yet Jesus says here that injury is an illusion. It "is impossible" (1:1).

Then why do we experience injury? Because we have claimed that we have the power and the right to injure, "and the right you have established for yourself can be now used against you" (1:4). More than that, we think it should be used against us, that we deserve for it to be used against us. This same principle was found back in Lesson 26:

You see attack as a real threat. That is because you believe that you can really attack. And what would have effects through you must also have effects on you. (W-pI.26.1:2-4)

So when we feel under attack, when experience ourselves being injured—physically or emotionally—nothing real is happening. We are just experiencing the illusion of our own attacks, our own attempts to injure, coming home to roost.

This, of course, is the explanation of today's idea. No one's condemnation can injure me, for I cannot be injured. However, when someone condemns me, somewhere in my unconscious I say, "The power of condemnation is real. I know that from wielding this power myself. Therefore, this power can and should return to me and work its injurious effects on me. In short, this person's condemnation can hurt and should hurt."

As Lesson 26 said, "It is this law that will ultimately save you" (1:5). All we need do is exercise a benign right, wield a healing power, and that is what we will experience returning to us. This, of course, is where forgiveness comes in. This is how forgiveness saves us.

One of the interesting things about this lesson is that it openly says that forgiveness is an illusion (2:10). What does that mean? This puzzling idea has inspired more than one Course student to think, "Why should I focus on forgiveness when it's not even real? I want the real thing, not some lower-rung illusion. I'm going straight to God."

Yet, of course, this lesson is not telling us that forgiveness is an illusion so that we, spiritual superstars that we are, can dispense with it and focus ourselves on higher things. It says that we who are mired in illusion need the one illusion "that is answer to the rest" (2:10), the one that "sweeps all other dreams away" (3:1). Forgiveness may be an illusion, but this illusion is one we need.

Yet again, what does it mean to say that forgiveness is an illusion? I think it means this: Normally, when we forgive an attacker, we think we are doing something real. We think we are actually changing that person's status from guilty to exonerated. As his victim, we believe we hold in our hands his fate, his status as criminal or free man. It's like the power a minister has to say, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." Our forgiveness, then, seems like a pronouncement that carries an almost legal power, power to move our attacker from one category to another.

This makes our pronouncement something that is entirely our choice, and a bit of an incongruous choice at that. After all, if he's a criminal, why exactly are we pronouncing him innocent? It's like saying to a midget, "I pronounce you a giant." What is our basis for doing that? Why pronounce something to be true that is not true? Strangely, then, when forgiveness is real, it becomes a kind of contradiction.

This is the value of forgiveness being an illusion. In the Course, forgiveness is an illusion because our attacker is not a criminal. He's already innocent. Our pronouncement doesn't change his status. It doesn't change anything real. It's as if we're a minister dramatically intoning "I now pronounce you husband and wife" to a couple who's already married.

Our forgiveness, then, does nothing real. No one's status is changed. No one is moved from one category to another. Instead, our forgiveness is simply our own realization of the category he is already in. Sure, an attack on us may have taken place, but since "injury is impossible" (1:1), that attack was without real effect. We gave it any effect it seemed to have, because we imagined it as our own attacks justly returning to us. Our attacker is already forgiven, then, because he was never truly condemned in the first place. Our forgiveness is merely us catching up to what is already true. All in all, to say that forgiveness is an illusion is just another way of saying, "There is nothing to forgive" (T-14.III.7:5; 15.VIII.1:7).

If forgiveness seen as real was a strange contradiction, forgiveness seen as an illusion becomes perfectly natural. I'm not pronouncing that a midget is now a giant; I'm simply acknowledging a giant as what he is. What could be more natural?

To recognize forgiveness as an illusion, then, is not a reason to dispense with it. It's a way to make what has felt so hard become suddenly easy.

But this is not really new information, is it? It may (or may not) be a slightly new slant. But forgiveness is a long-familiar topic, and we already know that Course-based forgiveness is founded on the idea of our attacker's untainted innocence in reality.

In fact, this lesson is fully aware of all that. If you read it sensitively, it clearly frames itself as a revisiting of an old idea, an idea that we have been told over and over again is the key to our salvation, yet an idea that we are still resisting, still grumbling about, still marginalizing.

For example, read the following two paragraphs (4 and 5) carefully, as if they were written directly to you. It may help if you insert your name at the asterisks:

Forgiveness is the only road that leads out of disaster, past all suffering, and finally away from death. How could there be another way,* when this one is the plan of God Himself? And why* would you oppose it, quarrel with it, seek to find a thousand ways in which it must be wrong; a thousand other possibilities?

Is it not wiser* to be glad you hold the answer to your problems in your hand? Is it not more intelligent* to thank the One Who gives salvation, and accept His gift with gratitude? And is it not a kindness to yourself* to hear His Voice and learn the simple lessons He would teach, instead of trying to dismiss His words, and substitute your own in place of His?

The intent of these paragraphs is clear: In practicing today's idea, we are really reviewing, revisiting the central teaching of the Course. No matter how perfectly this idea has been given to us for the sole purpose of lifting us from misery to happiness, we are still resisting. Look at that list at the end of paragraph 4 and ask yourself if it applies to you.

  • Do you find yourself opposing forgiveness, in practice even if not in principle?
  • Do you catch yourself quarreling with it, arguing that it must be groundless and unrealistic?
  • Do you try to find its flaws, the cracks in its edifice? Do you "seek to find a thousand ways in which it must be wrong?"
  • And perhaps most of all, do you focus your attention elsewhere, on other answers, other solutions to your problems? Do you seek to find "a thousand other possibilities?"

And now look at the next paragraph, paragraph 5. Realize those questions are for you: Isn't it wiser, isn't it more intelligent, isn't it a kindness to yourself…to at last drop your resistance to forgiveness?

This lesson is for you. It's for all of us. We all resist forgiveness. And so in this lesson we have been another chance to make peace with this central idea, another chance to make friends with our savior.

My suggestion, then, is that you first read the final paragraph of the lesson in this light:

Today we come still nearer to the end of everything that yet would stand between this vision and our sight. And we are glad that we have come this far, and recognize that He Who brought us here will not forsake us now. For He would give to us the gift that God has given us through Him today. Now is the time for your deliverance. The time has come. The time has come today.

Then try to make this paragraph your own. Dedicate your day to its lofty purpose by telling yourself, "Today I am going to come still nearer to the end of all my resistance to forgiveness. I'm glad I have come this far, but today I am taking a giant stride forward. Now is the time for my deliverance. The time has come. The time has come today!"

And now, just for good measure, read the above paragraph again, and this time mean it even more.

INSTRUCTIONS

Purpose: to go past your argument with forgiveness and truly embrace it. If you accomplish this, it will be cause for great celebration, in Heaven and on earth, for it will mean that today your deliverance has come.

Morning/evening quiet time: at least 5 minutes; ideally, 30 or more

Although we have no specific instructions, we are told today to practice forgiveness (9:1, 10:4). The lesson assumes that we are familiar with forgiveness, but that we have been opposing it, arguing with it (4:3), trying to find other ways to happiness. Instead, today, we are supposed to take a major step forward in ending our argument with forgiveness and accepting it as our way home. "Now is the time for your deliverance" (13:4). To take this step forward, we are given extremely powerful lines as the focus of our practice: "Only my condemnation injures me. Only my own forgiveness sets me free." One way to use these lines would be to call to mind various people in your life and then apply these lines to each one specifically: "Only my condemnation of [name] injures me. Only my own forgiveness of [name] sets me free." Or, you may want to search your mind for situations in your life in which you are experiencing pain or stress. Identify the person who seems to be the source of the stress and say, "Only my condemnation of [name] injures me. Only my own forgiveness of [name] sets me free."

After this forgiveness practice, you may want to use the remainder of your practice period for meditation.

Hourly remembrance: 1 or 2 minutes as the hour strikes (reduce if circumstances do not permit)

Apply the lines we are given today ("Only my condemnation injures me. Only my own forgiveness sets me free") to the happenings of the previous hour that still have you wrapped in their chains.

Response to temptation: (suggestion) when tempted to succumb to any form of suffering or injury

Realize your pain really comes from a condemning thought and say, "Only my condemnation injures me. Only my own forgiveness sets me free." You may want to use the more specific form of these lines that I suggested above.

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