Commentary on What Is Sin

By Allen Watson

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Sin is insanity. It is the means by which the mind is driven mad, and seeks to let illusions take the place of truth. And being mad, it sees illusions where the truth should be, and where it really is. Sin gave the body eyes, for what is there the sinless would behold? What need have they of sights or sounds or touch? What would they hear or reach to grasp? What would they sense at all? To sense is not to know. And truth can be but filled with knowledge, and with nothing else. W-pII.4.1:1-9

"Sin" is the belief that I am evil, corrupted somehow by the mistakes I have made, and forever disfigured by my misguided thoughts. "Sin" is the belief that the perfect creation of a perfect God can somehow become imperfect, warped and twisted and unworthy of its Creator. "Sin is insanity" (1:1).

Out of this belief comes guilt, which drives us mad, and leads us to seek for illusions to take the place of truth (1:2). This is the source of the world we see: "The world you see is the delusional system of those made mad by guilt" (T-13.In.2:2). This is the cause behind the illusion. Because of guilt we are afraid of the truth, afraid of God, afraid of our Self. We believe we have forfeited Heaven, and so we must make up another place where we can, or at least can hope we can, find satisfaction. Such is this world. Because of sin we believe we cannot have Heaven, so we make a substitute.

Because of the madness induced by sin and guilt, we see "illusions where the truth should be, and where it really is" (1:3). We hallucinate. We see attack in love. We see love in attack. We seek satisfaction in mirages. We seek eternal happiness in things that wither and die.

Our healing begins when we begin to recognize illusions as illusions. This can be a time of great despair, when everything we thought we could trust in turns to dust. Yet it is the beginning of wisdom, the start of a great awakening.

The thoughts you hold are mighty, and illusions are as strong in their effects as is the truth. A madman thinks the world he sees is real, and does not doubt it. Nor can he be swayed by questioning his thoughts' effects. It is but when their source is raised to question that the hope of freedom comes to him at last. (W-pI.132.1:4-7)

We are surrounded by illusions, the effects of our thoughts. We do not truly doubt the reality of those effects. Only when their source "is raised to question," only when we begin to question the thought of sin that induces our madness, will "the hope of freedom" begin to arise.

Our very eyes are the product of sin: "Sin gave the body eyes" (1:4). Or as the next paragraph says, "The body is the instrument the mind made in its efforts to deceive itself" (2:1). Perception itself is the result of sin, "for what is there the sinless would behold?" (1:4). Our true Self is beyond perception entirely. Perception is inherently dualistic; "I" over here perceive some object over there. It implies a separation. The sinless, evidently, would have no desire for anything to perceive because nothing would be separate. The desire to separate, to be apart and "objective" to something else, is part and parcel of the concept of sin and guilt. The sinless being, in the Course's view, would experience all things as part of itself. It would "know" them rather than "perceive" them.

The sinless would have no need of sight or sound or touch because everything would be part of itself; known, but not perceived. Perception is so limited. So incomplete and imperfect. The sinless Self has no need of sense at all, for everything is known to it. "To sense is not to know" (1:8). The purpose of perception is not to know. Or better yet, the purpose of perception is to not know. Perception is a separating, a standing off, a being apart from. The consciousness of sin is what causes that withdrawal, that contracting inward, away from unity.

Truth, by contrast, "can be but filled with knowledge, and with nothing else" (1:9). Truth does not sense things; truth knows things. It knows them by being one with them. I do not know you through perception. Perception deceives me; that is its intent. Perception prevents me from knowing you. I can only know you as I experience that I am you. This is what happens in the holy instant, for the holy instant is an experience of minds as one. Such an experience can be truly disorienting for a mind habituated to its aloneness; the seeming identity we have grown used to for all of our lives is suddenly gone, I am no longer certain whether I am me or you. I realize for a moment that the "me" I thought I was may not, in fact, truly exist. As it does not, in fact.

The consciousness of sin and guilt is what stands in the way of this joining of minds. I hold myself apart from you in fear. I constrict my love, I doubt yours. The Course is bringing us to the point where that fear dissolves, and union, always there, is once again known for what it is.

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The body is the instrument the mind made in its efforts to deceive itself. Its purpose is to strive. Yet can the goal of striving change. And now the body serves a different aim for striving. What it seeks for now is chosen by the aim the mind has taken as replacement for the goal of self-deception. Truth can be its aim as well as lies. The senses then will seek instead for witnesses to what is true. W-pII.4.2:1-7

As we have seen already, "The body is the instrument the mind made in its efforts to deceive itself" (2:1). The purpose of the body, as seen by the ego, is "to strive" (2:2). To be in conflict and competition with other bodies, often for other bodies. The body struggles, it carves out its existence from the world through the sweat of its brow and through attack on other bodies. Its law is the law of the jungle, "Kill or be killed" (M-17.7:11).

Does this mean that the body is a hateful, evil thing, to be despised and subdued? No. The goal of the body's striving can change (2:3). Given to the ego, the goal is strife itself, with no real end. Strife keeps the ego going. But given to the Holy Spirit, our striving can take on the goal of truth, instead of lies.

The Holy Spirit can use everything the ego made to undo the purposes of the ego. He can use our special relationships, our words and thoughts, the world itself, and our bodies, all to serve the purposes of the truth. The key lies in the changing of the goal, the purpose which the body, and everything associated with it, serves. A special relationship becomes holy when its purpose is changed from sin to holiness, from trying to find a completion we think is lacking to striving to remember a completion we already have.

In the words of an old Christian hymn by Frances Ridley Havergill, we can pray:

Take my life, and let it be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days; Let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands and let them move At the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet and let them be Swift and beautiful for Thee. Take my lips, and let them be Filled with messages from Thee. Take my voice, and let me sing Ever, only, of my King.

When we have changed the goal of our striving, and set a new purpose for our body with its senses, it begins to "serve a different aim" (2:4). The aim now is holiness rather than sin; forgiveness rather than guilt. Our minds were trying, through the body and the senses, to deceive themselves (2:5; 2:1). Our minds were trying to make their illusions of separation real. Now our aim is to rediscover the truth. When our mind selects a new goal, the body follows. The body serves the mind, and not vice versa (see T-31.III.4). It always does what the mind directs. So when we consciously select a new goal, the body begins to serve that goal (see T-31.III.6:2-3).

"The senses then will seek instead for witnesses to what is true" (2:7). Simply put, we will start to see things differently. The Text explains in some detail how this works (see T-11.VIII.9-14 and T-19.IV(A).10-11). We begin to look for our brothers' loving thoughts instead of their sins. We are seeking to learn of their reality (which is the Christ) instead of trying to discover their guilt. We look past their egos, their "variable perception" of themselves (T-11.VIII.11:1), and past their offenses. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us see their reality, and He shows it to us. "When you want only love, you will see nothing else" (T-12.VII.8:1).

What we see depends on what we choose, in our minds, to look for. Choose love, and the body will become the instrument of a new perception.

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Sin is the home of all illusions, which but stand for things imagined, issuing from thoughts that are untrue. They are the "proof" that what has no reality is real. Sin "proves" God's Son is evil; timelessness must have an end; eternal life must die. And God Himself has lost the Son He loves, with but corruption to complete Himself, His Will forever overcome by death, love slain by hate, and peace to be no more. W-pII.4.3:1-4

Our illusions come from, or issue from, our untrue thoughts. Illusions are not really "things" at all; they are symbols, standing for imaginary things (3:1). They are like a mirage, a picture of something that is not really there at all. Our thoughts of lack, our feelings of unworthiness, our guilt and fear, the appearance of the world attacking us, even our bodies themselves-all of them are illusions, mirages, symbols representing nothing.

Sin is "the home of all illusions" (3:1). The idea of our inner corruption, our bent nature, houses every illusion. The thought of sin and guilt makes an environment that fosters and nourishes every illusion. What needs changing is that thought of the mind. Take away the thought of sin, and our illusions have no place to live. They simply fall down into dust.

These illusions, which come from untrue thoughts and make "sin" their dwelling place, "are the 'proof' that what has no reality is real" (3:2). Our bodies seem to prove to us that sickness and death are real, for instance. Our senses seem to prove that pain is real. Our eyes and ears see all kinds of evidence of guilt, of the reality of loss, and of the weakness of love. The world seems to prove that either God does not exist, or that He is angry with us. These things that our illusions seem to prove have no reality at all, and yet they seem real to us. All of this is housed in our belief in sin, and without that belief, they would simply cease to be.

If "sin" is something real, the implications are enormous. And quite impossible. What does the reality of sin seem to prove? "Sin 'proves' God's Son is evil; timelessness must have an end; eternal life must die" (3:3). If the Son created by God has sinned in truth, then God's Son must be evil. Is that possible? If the Son of God is evil, then what was created eternal must now be brought to an end; the eternal Son of God must die. "Justice" would demand it. Is it possible for something timeless to end, for something eternal to die? Of course not; these things are absurd. Therefore, sin also must be absurd. It cannot be.

Sin also "proves" that "God Himself has lost the Son He loves, with but corruption to complete Himself, His Will forever overcome by death, love slain by hate, and peace to be no more" (3:4). The thought that God would lose what He loves always seemed impossible to me; it made the whole idea of hell and eternal damnation seem completely inexplicable. I used to think, "If I go to Heaven, and my father [who did not believe in God] goes to hell, how could I ever be eternally, blissfully happy in Heaven, knowing my father is suffering eternally in hell? If I could not be happy with this, how could I be in Heaven? And if I could not be happy with this, how could God?"

If sin is real, the Son created to be God's own completion is now corrupt; God has only corruption to complete Himself. His Will has been totally thwarted. Evil wins. There can nevermore be peace.

Therefore, sin simply cannot be real. Guilt and fear follow sin into the unreality. If there is no sin, there is no guilt. If there is no guilt, there is no fear. How else could peace exist? "Sin is insanity" (1:1). It simply cannot be, if God is God, if His Will is to be done, if His creation is eternal. This is what forgiveness shows us:

Sin remains impossible, and it is this we choose to dream today. God is our goal; forgiveness is the means by which our minds return to Him at last. (W-pII.256.1:8-9)

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A madman's dreams are frightening, and sin appears indeed to terrify. And yet what sin perceives is but a childish game. The Son of God may play he has become a body, prey to evil and to guilt, with but a little life that ends in death. But all the while his Father shines on him, and loves him with an everlasting Love which his pretences cannot change at all. W-pII.4.4:1-4

The lesson compares our belief in sin, and the projected illusions we have made to support that belief, to "a madman's dreams" (4:1). The dreams of a madman can be truly terrifying; likewise, our outpicturing of sin in this world can also be very frightening. "Sin appears indeed to terrify" (4:1). Sickness, death, and loss of every kind cannot but result in terror in us. The illusion is not gentle.

"Yet what sin perceives is but a childish game" (4:2). None of it really has any lasting consequence. In the light of eternity, our wars and plagues are no more real and no more frightening than a child's imaginary war between superhero action figures. There is no question that this is very hard to accept, particularly when you are in the middle of it all, believing it to be real. Yet it is what the Course is saying. If the body does not really live, it does not really die. "The Son of God may play he has become a body, prey to evil and to guilt, with but a little life that ends in death" (4:3). But that is not really the case. It is just a game we are playing. None of it really means what we think it means.

When we go to a movie, we may weep when a character we have identified with suffers loss or dies. Yet a deeper part of our mind knows we are watching a story; the actor did not really die. And at some level, the Course is asking us to respond to what we call "life" in the same way, with a deeper level of knowledge that knows that any life God created cannot ever die. The character in the movie may die, we may weep, and yet underneath all that, we know it is only an imaginary game, and not the final reality.

While we are all deeply involved in the drama of this "childish game" (4:2), reality continues. It has never changed. "But all the while his Father shines on him, and loves him with an everlasting Love which his pretenses cannot change at all" (4:4). Our "pretenses," the childish game, the playing at being bodies that suffer evil and guilt and death, has not changed and cannot change the deep, abiding reality of God's Love; the endless, perfect safety in which we dwell in Him.

The changelessness of Heaven is in you, so deep within that nothing in this world but passes by, unnoticed and unseen. The still infinity of endless peace surrounds you gently in its soft embrace, so strong and quiet, tranquil in the might of its Creator, nothing can intrude upon the sacred Son of God within. (T-29.V.2:3-4)

In a sense, God's Love guarantees our eternal safety. Because His Love is "everlasting," so are we. While His Love endures, we endure also.

The Son of Life cannot be killed. He is immortal as His Father. What he is cannot be changed. He is the only thing in all the universe that must be one. What seems eternal all will have an end. The stars will disappear, and night and day will be no more. All things that come and go, the tides and seasons and the lives of men; all things that change with time and bloom and fade will not return. Where time has set an end is not where the eternal is. God's Son can never change by what men made of him. He will be as he was and as he is, for time appointed not his destiny, nor set the hour of his birth and death. (T-29.VI.2:3-12)

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How long, O Son of God, will you maintain the game of sin? Shall we not put away these sharp-edged children's toys? How soon will you be ready to come home? Perhaps today? There is no sin. Creation is unchanged. Would you still hold return to Heaven back? How long, O holy Son of God, how long? W-pII.4.5:1-7

How long, we are asked, will we maintain this childish game of sin? That is all it is, a foolish game. Not an awful, terrible thing; just immature minds playing with "sharp-edged children's toys" (5:2). I think it is no coincidence that in the famous biblical chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul speaks of how, when we are children, we speak as children and act as children, but when we are grown, we "put away childish things" (1 Cor 13:11). That is what the lesson is asking us to do. It is asking us to grow up. "Sin" is a sharp-edged childish thing we have been playing with for eons. It is time for us to lay it aside, and to assume our "mature" role as extensions of God's Love.

It is time for us to put away these toys. Time to lay aside the whole concept of sin and guilt, the idea that we can do (and have done) something that immutably changes our nature. Something that merits everlasting condemnation and punishment. It is time to look around us and to realize that nothing, absolutely nothing, falls into this class. Sin, as a class or category of human behavior, simply does not exist. There are no sins, only mistakes. Nothing is beyond correction. Nothing bans us from God's Love. Nothing takes away our eternal inheritance. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God.

How soon will you be ready to come home? Perhaps today? (5:3-4)

We have left home. We have run away because we believed we were evil and had done something unforgivable. But nothing is unforgivable. It is only our own belief in sin and guilt that keeps us here, homeless. Home is still waiting for us. Like the son in the parable of the prodigal, we sit in our pigsty lamenting our loss, while the Father watches at the end of the road, asking, "How soon will you be ready to come home? I'm here; I still love you. I'm waiting for you." Today, now, in this holy instant, let us be still a moment, and go home.

There is no sin. Creation is unchanged. (5:5-6)

This is what remembering our Source tells us. "Sin" is only a childish game we have invented, and it has had no effect whatsoever on God's creation. It is a game played only in our imagination; it has not changed reality one iota. The "Fall" never happened. There is nothing to atone for, nothing to pay for. The door to Heaven is wide open in welcome.

All that we need do, then, is to stop imagining this childish game. All that we need do is to cease imagining that guilt-our own or that of another-has any value at all, and to let it go. We hold on to guilt and sin only to maintain our illusion of separateness. Is it worth the price we pay? When we let go of sin, separateness is gone, and Heaven is restored to us.

Would you still hold return to Heaven back? How long, O holy Son of God, how long? (5:7-8)

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