“Atonement” is everywhere in the Course, and some form of “accept the Atonement” is in there 39 times. But in my experience, almost no one has any real feeling for the word as it functions in the Course. As a result, this key term, all the passages in which it occurs, and all the injunctions to accept it, end up being hollow for us. They become blank spots on the page, with no power to produce the change they were meant to produce.
I’ve been in basically the same place. But the other day I thought of a simple visual picture to connect with the meaning of Atonement and make it more practical. Let me walk you through it.
First, picture yourself on the left side and God on the right, with a good-sized space in the middle. Keep it simple—you might picture you as a little circle and God as a big one. So you’re on the left and God’s on the right.
Second, picture a tall block in between you and God, keeping you apart. The top half of this block is labeled “My Errors” and the bottom half is labeled “My Sense of Sinfulness.” These two things obviously go together, since your errors cause your sense of sinfulness. Both of these become a single block that stands between you and God, making it appear that you are alone and that He is remote and inaccessible.
To make this more practical, you might think of some of your errors—loveless things you have done, loveless perceptions you have held of other people. And then think of your sense of sinfulness, your sense that you and God don’t really fit because He is holy and you are not.
Third, picture a big eraser coming down and wiping away the block, wiping away both your errors and your sense of sinfulness. That is what Atonement does. It wipes your sins away, opening the way for reconciliation with God. In Christianity, it does this by Jesus paying for your sins. In the Course, it does this because your sins were never real in the first place. The Course says the Atonement:
- “enables you to realize that your errors never really occurred” (T-2.I.4:4)
- “undoes all errors” (T-1.III.5:7)
- “undoes your past errors” (T-2.II.6:5)
- “means the undoing of errors” (M-18.4:6)
- “teaches him that, never having sinned, he has no need of salvation” (T-13.In.4:6)
- “is the means by which the world is saved from sin, for sin does not exist” (C-4.3:8)
So picture that big eraser coming down and wiping away your errors and sense of sinfulness, leaving a clean and empty space between you and God. While it comes down, you may even say to yourself, “My errors never really occurred.”
Now, with nothing keeping you apart, you and God can unite. More technically, you can recognize the oneness with God that was there all along but was obscured by that illusory block, which the Atonement has now wiped away. See the little circle on the left unite with the big circle on the right.
Whenever you hear “Atonement” or “accept the Atonement,” just bring to mind that image of you and God separated by that block. Then see the big eraser of Atonement come down and wipe that block away, leaving you free to unite with God. Hopefully, all those question marks that appear in your head whenever you encounter the word, can now turn into lightbulbs.
(Greg Mackie adds an excellent point: “To get in touch with the term ‘Atonement’ even more, I think it might also be helpful to think of times when you reconciled with another person. I can think of such times myself, and in those reconciliations, there was a real sense of ‘All that stuff that stood between us is wiped away.’ The wall of our past loveless acts and resentments just wasn’t there any more. That, of course, is exactly what we’re supposed to experience with God via the Atonement.)