Does the Holy Spirit do things?

Question: Ken Wapnick says He does not, and I would like to know your view.

Short answer: In my view, the Holy Spirit definitely does things in the world. I have two main reasons for this view: 1) The Course very clearly states that the Holy Spirit does things in the world, and 2) The Course offers no reason to believe that it doesn't mean this literally. Not only do I believe this view to be true, but I also find it very comforting, because it means that we are not cut off from God. He is aware of our seeming exile, and has actively sent us a Guide to help us find our way home.


This is certainly a controversial topic in ACIM circles, with strong opinions on both sides of the issue. To me, the resolution of this issue comes down to one very simple question: What does the Course say about it? The two numbered points above represent my own interpretation of what the Course says on this subject.

Before we look at those points in more detail, I want to clarify how I understand the question being posed here, and what I mean by my answer. As I am understanding it, the question basically means this: "Does the Holy Spirit actively do things in the world in the same sense that we, the members of the Sonship, actively do things in the world?" This is what I think most people mean when they ask whether the Holy Spirit does things in the world. So, while I know the Course teaches that the world is an illusion and therefore no real acts occur in the world, the question I'm addressing here is whether or not the Holy Spirit acts within the illusion. My answer is that He does act within the illusion, in the same sense that we do. This is what I mean when I say that the Holy Spirit does things in the world.

With that clarification out of the way, let's move on to the points:

1) The Course very clearly states that the Holy Spirit does things in the world.

While the Course tells us that the Holy Spirit's primary function is to teach us true perception—in other words, to help us change our minds, not our external world—it also tells us clearly that one means the Holy Spirit uses for changing our minds is working within the world of form. (Indeed, the Course itself—a form brought into the world by the Holy Spirit through His manifestation, Jesus—is a prime example of the Holy Spirit working within the world of form.) Why does He use this means? Because we who are committed to the ego have a heavy investment in the world of form that the ego made. Form is what we believe in; it is a language we can understand. Therefore, in order to be an effective Teacher, the Holy Spirit needs "to use what the ego has made, to teach the opposite of what the ego has 'learned'" (T-7.IV.3:3). He needs to use the world of form as a means to teach us how to transcend the world of form.

If the Holy Spirit does indeed work within the world of form, what exactly does He do? The following italicized points are a list of some of the things the Course explicitly says the Holy Spirit does (or has done) in the world:

He has given us God's plan for salvation, which includes a script for our entire journey through the world.

The plan for salvation (also called the plan of the Atonement) is God's response to the separation, and we are told that the Holy Spirit has the function of "bringing the plan of the Atonement to us" (C-6.2:1). The content of that plan is forgiveness, the earthly reflection of the formless Love of God. Yet because we believe in a world of form, the plan has also taken form. In fact, we are told that the Holy Spirit has written the script (see W-pI.169.9:3) for every single thing that happens in the world. Absolutely nothing is left to chance (see M-9.1:3). While this may seem painfully restrictive at first glance, ultimately it is deeply reassuring, as the following passage invites us to recognize:

What could you not accept, if you but knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good? (W-pI.135.18:1)

For more about the Holy Spirit's script and how it relates to the Course's idea that we are responsible for everything that happens to us in our lives, see my previous Q & A, Are all the events and circumstances in our lives predetermined, or do we have free choice?.

He has given each of us a function in His plan for salvation: both a general function, and a special function in the world.

In addition to giving us God's plan for salvation, the Holy Spirit has the function of "establishing our particular part in it and showing us exactly what it is" (C-6.2:1). Since the content of the plan is forgiveness, our general function in that plan is also forgiveness (primarily, extending forgiveness to others). Yet because each of us is different on the level of form, the Holy Spirit has given each of us a special form in which we are to fulfill our function of forgiveness:

Such is the Holy Spirit's kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made, to heal instead of harm. To each He gives a special function in salvation he alone can fill; a part for only him. (T-25.VI.4:1-2)

Our special function is the specific form our forgiveness takes in the world, a form that is uniquely suited to our individual personalities, talents, and life circumstances (see T-25.VII.7:1-3 and W-pI.154.2:1-2). In short, it is the particular part each of us has been assigned in God's plan for salvation.

He gives us all the physical things and circumstances we need to fulfill our special function in the world.

To some Course students, it may seem almost sacrilegious to suggest that the Holy Spirit literally gives us things. Yet the Course unequivocally states that He supplies us with material possessions (see T-13.VII.12-13) and money (see P-3.III.1, 4-6). In addition, He takes care of the circumstances of our lives, including bringing about meetings with specific people (see M-2.1:1) and arranging our life situations (see T-20.IV.8:1-8). Of course, He does not do this to serve our ego needs; He is not a divine butler at our beck and call, Who delivers worldly goodies to keep our egos fat and happy. Rather, He gives us things only to enable us to fulfill our special function in God's plan for salvation. Thus, the surprising answer to the often asked question of whether the Holy Spirit manifests parking spaces is "Yes, He does manifest parking spaces, if doing so serves God's plan."

He gives us detailed guidance for all of our decisions and all of our actions in the world.

In the Course's view, we are utterly incapable of making sound decisions on our own. Our limited, human judgment is simply not adequate to the task. Therefore, we need a Guide Whose judgment is unlimited, a Guide Who can make decisions for us. That Guide, of course, is the Holy Spirit. Again and again, we are told to let go of our judgment and allow the Holy Spirit's judgment to replace it. An entire section of the Manual for Teachers (M-10) is devoted to this topic. And while the Holy Spirit's most important role is to guide our perception of the world, the Course is clear that He is to specifically guide our actions in the world as well. We are told very explicitly that if we turn to Him, the Holy Spirit will tell us "what to do and where to go; to whom to speak and what to say to him, what thoughts to think, what words to give the world" (W-pII.275.2:3; see also T-2.V(A).18:4-5; W-pI.71.9:3-5; and W-pI.rVI.In.7:2). Not only will He tell us what to do, but He will even "do it for [us]" (T-14.IV.6:6). It can't get any clearer than that. There is simply no doubt that the Course depicts the Holy Spirit doing things in the world.

2) The Course offers no reason to believe that it doesn't mean this literally.

Even those who believe the Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world don't deny that the Course depicts Him doing things in the world. What they do deny is that those depictions are to be taken literally. They offer various reasons for why the Course doesn't literally mean the things it says about the Holy Spirit. Usually, these reasons are based on the underlying assumption that it can't possibly mean these things, given its overall thought system.

As I've already made clear, I disagree with this view. I can find no evidence whatsoever in the Course to support it. I can find nothing in the Course's overall thought system that precludes the possibility of the Holy Spirit acting in the world. In fact, the thought system I see in the Course makes the Holy Spirit's activity in the world absolutely indispensable to our salvation.

Given the pervasiveness of the view that the Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world, I'd like to address some of the specific reasons offered for this view. The following italicized points present some of the main arguments I have heard in support of this view, along with my response to those arguments. I have heard these arguments from many Course students, but the main source from which I will draw most of them is the highly influential works of Ken Wapnick. Since Wapnick is by far the most prominent proponent of this view, I think it will be beneficial, in the spirit of scholarly dialogue, to address his ideas directly. Therefore, I will do so in a number of places, and I will include references to his works for people who wish to consult the original sources. Now, on to the points:

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because the world is an illusion.

People who present this argument say something like the following: "The Holy Spirit can't really act in the world, because there is no world to act in. If the world is an illusion, then the Holy Spirit's 'acts' in the world must be illusions too." This point is perfectly logical, and I have no argument with it. From the Course's standpoint, all acts in the illusory world, whether they are ours or the Holy Spirit's, are illusions. Given this, I wholeheartedly agree that the Holy Spirit doesn't do real things in the world, just as we don't do real things in the world.

But this valid point doesn't really address the question I think most people have in mind when they ask if the Holy Spirit does things in the world. As I framed it above, the question isn't whether or not the Holy Spirit's acts within the illusion are real, but whether or not He does act within the illusion. In other words, to repeat the version of the question I presented earlier: Does the Holy Spirit actively do things in the world in the same sense that we, the members of the Sonship, actively do things in the world? The ultimate reality-status of those things and of that world is not really relevant to this question. Therefore, the world's illusory nature can't really be used to refute the idea that the Holy Spirit does things in the world.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because if He did, that would make the error real.

This is a major argument of Ken Wapnick, who says that if God or His agents were to act in the world, they "would be violating the Course's 'prime directive' (to borrow a term from Star Trek), which is not to make the error real" (The Most Commonly Asked Questions about A Course in Miracles, p. 90). But would their acting in the world really be an automatic violation of that "prime directive"? The author of the Course doesn't seem to think so. There is no explicit statement in the Course that says so, and as we've seen, there are plenty of explicit statements that say the Holy Spirit does act in the world. This certainly suggests that His doing so doesn't make the error real.

In fact, there are places in the Course that indicate that He acts in the world to prove the error unreal. One example is in Chapter 30, Section VIII of the Text. The second paragraph of that section discusses a miracle that brings about a positive external change in your brother's life situation. According to that paragraph, one powerful effect of that miracle and the external change it brings about is the following:

The miracle attests salvation from appearances by showing they can change….The miracle is proof [your brother] is not bound by loss or suffering in any form, because it can so easily be changed. This demonstrates that it was never real, and could not stem from his reality. (T-30.VIII.2:2, 6-7)

In other words, the fact that the miracle produces changes in external situations proves that those external situations are only illusory appearances, not reality. We are thus saved from those appearances.

Think about the implications of that. Miracles come from the Holy Spirit, "Who gives all miracles" (T-30.VIII.4:7). Their primary result is a change of mind, but they also produce positive external effects. And these external effects are not simply pleasant by-products of miracles, but actually perform a vital role in reinforcing that change of mind: They prove the unreality of appearances. Therefore, the result of the Holy Spirit's intervention in the world (through the external effects of the miracles He gives) is that the error is made unreal. This is reason enough to dismiss the idea that the Holy Spirit cannot do things in the world because that would automatically make the error real.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because God does not even know about the separation.

This, too, is a major argument of Ken Wapnick: "This God [the God of the Course] does not even know about the separation…and thus does not and cannot respond to it" (Commonly Asked Questions, p. 4). Therefore, God could not possibly have literally created a Being like the Holy Spirit in response to the separation. Given this, it goes without saying that the Holy Spirit cannot act within the illusory world of separation.

But the Course never actually says that God doesn't know about the separation. In fact, there are two passages that directly say otherwise. One is T-6.V.1:5-8; the other is the following:

Unless you take your part in the creation, [God's] joy is not complete because yours is incomplete. And this He does know. He knows it in His Own Being and its experience of His Son's experience. The constant going out of His Love is blocked when His channels are closed, and He is lonely when the minds He created do not communicate fully with Him. ( T-4.VII.6:4-7, emphasis mine)

Clearly, this passage tells us that God knows that we have somehow (at least in illusion) cut off our minds from Him. Some may dismiss this passage as metaphor, but I personally find that very hard to do. The part I emphasized, in particular, looks a lot more like the technical language of abstract philosophy than the colorful language of vivid, concrete imagery; it is more metaphysics than metaphor. In my opinion, this passage (along with the second passage that I've cited) is strong evidence that God knows about the separation, and could therefore respond to it by creating a Being Who could act within the illusory world of separation. Indeed, the second passage goes on to say that God did respond to it: "So He thought, 'My children sleep and must be awakened'" (T-6.V.1:8).

For more on the topic of whether God knows about the separation, see Robert Perry's article on this website, Does God Know We Are Here?.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because He is only the memory of God.

This point follows from the previous one. For if the Holy Spirit is not a Being created in response to the separation, then just what is He? Clearly, He can't really be anything substantial. Ken Wapnick, in fact, says point-blank that "the Holy Spirit is an illusion" (this quotation is taken from his Duality as Metaphor in A Course in Miracles tape set). What is the nature of this illusion? According to Wapnick, the Holy Spirit is simply "the memory of God's Love and the Son's true Identity as Christ that he carried with him into his dream" (Commonly Asked Questions, p. 103). He is "a distant memory of our Source" (The Message of A Course in Miracles, Volume One: All Are Called, p. 33), a memory that comforts us within the dream of separation just as the memory of a human loved one comforts us when we feel lonely and cut off from our home.

But there are at least two problems with this definition. First, the Course itself never uses anything like this definition. The closest it ever comes is to say that the Holy Spirit reminds us of God (see, for instance, T-5.II.7:1-5), but saying that He reminds us of God is quite different than saying that He is actually the memory of God. That would be like saying that when my wife reminds me of the trip to San Francisco we took ten years ago, she herself is my memory of that trip.

Second, the term "memory of God" has a specific, technical meaning in the Course, and it is not synonymous with the Holy Spirit. Rather, the term "memory of God" refers to our final awakening in Heaven, accomplished by God in His last step (see, for instance, W-pII.8.5 and C-3.4). One passage, in fact, spells out the relationship between the memory of God and the Holy Spirit: "I have within me both the memory of You [God], and One [the Holy Spirit] Who leads me to it" (W-pII.352.1:7, emphasis mine). Here, the memory of God and the Holy Spirit are clearly depicted as different things. Thus, rather than defining the Holy Spirit as the memory of God, I think we ought to adhere to the definition of the Holy Spirit that the Course itself gives us: a Being Whom God created in response to the separation, a Being Who can and does do things in the world to carry out God's plan of salvation.

If we believe that the Holy Spirit does things in the world, we are falling into the trap of "spiritual specialness."

According to Ken Wapnick, the belief that the Holy Spirit does things in the world is not only incorrect, but is actually a sneaky ego ploy to get us to engage in what he calls "spiritual specialness." (See the discussion on pp. 137-142 of his book The Message of A Course in Miracles, Volume Two: Few Choose to Listen.) In his view, the belief that the Holy Spirit does things in the world is simply the ego's insatiable drive for specialness masquerading in a "spiritualized" form. In particular, seeing the Holy Spirit as a personal Being Who has "especially chosen [us] to do holy, special, and very important work in this world" (Few Choose to Listen, p. 137, emphasis Wapnick's) is nothing more than the ego's last-ditch effort to make the error real, to defend its specialness against the threat posed by the ego-undoing message of A Course in Miracles.

Certainly, the idea that we have a special function in the world can be a fertile ground for ego-based specialness. But to say that this idea is inherently ego-based is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As we saw above, the Course clearly says that the Holy Spirit has given us a special function in the world. Rather than being an ego trap, this special function is, in the words I quoted earlier, "the Holy Spirit's kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made, to heal instead of harm" (T-25.VI.4:1). It is the Holy Spirit's reinterpretation of our desire for specialness, in which He converts it from an ego trap to a means to serve God's plan.

Far from discouraging the idea, then, Jesus really wants us to know that we do have a special function, because "[our] part is essential to God's plan for salvation" (W-pI.100.Heading). If we totally reject the idea that the Holy Spirit has given us a special function and does things in the world to help us fulfill that function, it will have the devastating effect of causing us to reject our part in God's plan. Ironically, in trying to escape "spiritual specialness," we will end up playing right into the ego's hands.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do things in the world because pure, non-dualistic spirit simply cannot interact with a dualistic world without compromising spirit's non-dualistic nature.

This, I believe, is the fundamental assumption underlying all of the arguments presented above against the idea of the Holy Spirit doing things in the world. It also seems to be at the core of Ken Wapnick's view of the Course's thought system, which he explains in a section of Few Choose to Listen entitled "An Uncompromising Non-Dualism" (Few Choose to Listen, p. 94). In that section, one way in which he expresses his basic rule of Course interpretation is to paraphrase M-27.7:1, exchanging the word "death" for "duality," as follows: "Accept no compromise in which duality plays a part" (Few Choose to Listen, p. 94, emphasis Wapnick's).

In this view, God's Heaven is so purely non-dualistic, so absolutely One, that nothing within it can possibly reach down and interact with a dualistic, separated world in any way, shape, or form. If anything in this realm of pure spirit were to do so, its purity and Oneness would be impossibly compromised. Therefore, whenever the Course talks about spirit interacting with the world (as when it describes the Holy Spirit doing things in the world), it simply can't be taken literally.

Why, then, does the Course talk this way? According to Wapnick, Jesus' only purpose for this "metaphorical" dualistic language is to comfort beginners on the path by "couch[ing] his teachings in words that his students—always referred to as children (or sometimes even younger)—can understand without fear" (Commonly Asked Questions, pp. 85-86). Taking this language literally is fine for beginners, but once we have progressed beyond the beginning stage, we should give up childish notions like the idea of spirit interacting with the world.

But how do we know that the assumption that spirit cannot interact with the world is correct? The Course itself never states this once; it is only a logical inference based on a particular interpretation of certain passages. Not only does the Course not state this, but it states the opposite—that spirit can and does interact with the world—countless times. How do we know that it does not mean what it says? If the choice is between a questionable logical inference never stated in the Course and a teaching stated again and again in the Course, which should we choose?

In my opinion, the clear choice is the latter. Whenever we are trying to determine what the Course teaches, I think we are on much firmer ground when we stick to what the Course itself actually says, rather than taking unwarranted logical leaps. Besides, we actually have a very obvious example of non-dualistic spirit interacting with a dualistic world without compromising spirit's non-dualistic nature. That example is us: the Sonship.

Think about the current situation of the Sonship as the Course describes it. Our true nature is non-dualistic spirit. Our home is the absolute Oneness of Heaven. Yet somehow, in a way that the Course says is unexplainable, we managed to convince ourselves that we are something other than spirit. Out of this mental error, we managed to project a dualistic, illusory world with which we interact. But in spite of this, we are told, we have not really compromised our non-dualistic spiritual nature. We remain in the Oneness of Heaven, which we never really left.

Clearly, then, it is possible for a non-dualistic Sonship to somehow mentally separate from God, make an illusory, dualistic world, and interact with that world without compromising the Sonship's non-dualistic nature. Now, here's the punch line: If this is so, then why can't a non-dualistic God respond to the separation by sending a Teacher and Comforter Who can and does interact with the illusory, dualistic world without compromising God's non-dualistic nature? Personally, I see no reason why He cannot.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I have every reason to believe that the Course literally "means exactly what it says" (T-8.IX.8:1) when it tells us that the Holy Spirit does things in the world. I have no reason to believe otherwise. Personally, I am immensely comforted by this, because it means that we are not cut off from God, all alone in a nightmare world that our remote Father does not even know about. Instead, He knows in His Own Being that we are suffering in seeming exile. And so, out of His Love for us, He created the Holy Spirit, a Guide Who leads us home using every means at His disposal. Nothing is too "impure" for our Guide to use; He even uses the illusory world that we made to imprison ourselves as a means to set us free. In the pages of the Course, Jesus assures us that we have Help in this world. Why not take him at his word?

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3 Comments

  1. Jeff
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Such a wonderful question and what a thoughtful and insightful response, as well.
    Of course the Holy Spirit can do and, indeed, does things in the world, through me and through you. If he didn't, he would serve no purpose. In order to awken in Reality, we have to be woken from something. Call it illusion, call it our temporal world, or even just our perception of it, but it is where we are. And it is from here that I ask for guidance, and I get it, and I act on it. And the Course explicitly says that all teachers must do this, for we cannot do it alone and we are supposed to act with the care and concern for our brother who is in the same "place." That is not to say HS's purpose is to fix the world, it is more a side-effect, because we are not separate of this world as long as we think we are here, and no thought is without affect. And, yes, there appears to be a touch of dualism to such a system that has deliberate intent cross the barrier, but who are we to question whether our Father has the love and brilliance to create a Proxy for Himself, even before it was needed. In a perfect system, the introduction of randomness or Pure Freedom to err, in order to remain perfect, it requires a correcting principle, ie. God's proxy. I think He is Loving enough and smart enough to figure out how to do that!…………….Jeff

  2. nancy pickard
    Posted November 27, 2016 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    As Jeff said, what a thoughtful and insightful response.

    The Holy Spirit certainly does things in me (who am in the world) that shift the ways I speak and behave and think, which then affects my own “doings” in the world. For the last few months, I’ve had a practice of trying to catch the very instant my thoughts veer into the kinds of channels the Course is working to steer us away from. When I sense that I’ve dipped a toe into one of those channels (vindictiveness, destructive thinking, martyred thinking, etc.), I immediately and literally say aloud or in my mind, “Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit,” which is my call to the Holy Spirit to steer me back to sanity. A few minutes later I’ll realize I realize I can’t even remember what it was I had started to think! The Holy Spirit’s response to my call and to my willingness is instantaneous. Every time it happens I feel as if I have escaped to safety, which thereby also helps keep safe the people I encounter in my life.

    Somewhere this year, either in the Course or in someone’s writing about it, I saw a definition of the Holy Spirit as “the sane part” of our mind. That’s what it feels like to me–a movement from illusion and insanity back into sanity. Thus equipped with sanity, I can do sane things in the world. And *that* is one of the proofs of the Holy Spirit at work in the world, in my opinion. And if that is true–that the Holy Spirit is the sane part of us–then that accounts for why “he” can eventually disappear. When we are completely sane, we will no longer need his help to attain it. His job will be done.

    • nancy pickard
      Posted November 29, 2016 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      A correction to my original comment-I wish I could redo that last sentence, because the phrase “eventually disappear” is probably misleading. The Holy Spirit will be with us always, as I understand it, and won’t “disappear.” It does seem however, inferring from the Course, that when we are sane we will have integrated the HS fully into ourselves,rather than thinking of it as something separate that comes “to” us. I think of Peace Pilgrim, for instance, as a living and full manifestation of the Holy Spirit working in the illusory world. Or, in other words, a living manifestation of sanity.

      In the Urtext, in Chapter 9, T 9 E 1, Jesus says, “How can you become increasingly aware of the Holy Spirit in you EXCEPT by His Effect?” (Emphasis his.) It goes on to say that the effect of the Holy Spirit working in us is the joy we produce in others. It goes on to say that if we are “inconsistent” in producing joy in others, it isn’t because the Holy Spirit is inconsistent, but because we are. Peace Pilgrim, again, was a model for consistency in that regard because she lived fully in the holy spirit of love.

      Or so it seems to me at this point. Words are hard. : )

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