Forgiving Jesus?

Question: To me, Jesus is the epitome of innocence and perfect love, so what do I need to forgive him for?

Short answer: Jesus asks us to forgive him because how we see him determines how we see the entire Sonship, including ourselves. We need to forgive him because, while we have traditionally seen him as a symbol of innocence and love, we have also seen him as a symbol of sin. Forgiving the sins we have projected onto Jesus frees us to fully accept his love.

Jesus asks us to forgive him because how we see him determines how we see the entire Sonship, including ourselves.

This is simply a specific application of a basic Course principle: How we see any of our brothers determines how we see them all. This must be so, since the Sonship is one. Thus when we forgive Jesus, we forgive the rest of our brothers as well. (The reverse is also true: When we forgive any of our brothers, we forgive Jesus as well.) This idea is the basis for an unusual means of forgiving our brothers given in Chapter 19 of the Text:

Let me be to you the symbol of the end of guilt, and look upon your brother as you would look on me. Forgive me all the sins you think the Son of God committed. (T-19.IV(B).6:1-2)

Amazingly, we can forgive Jesus for all the rotten things we think other people have done to us. We can forgive Jesus for that snide remark our spouse made, for all the things our parents did to ruin our childhood, even for what Hitler did to the Jews. How does this work? The underlying idea here, I think, is that most of us see Jesus as a symbol of innocence (though not without reservation, as we will see below). To those of us who grew up in a Judeo-Christian culture, he is the innocent, holy Son of God; we are steeped in a Biblical heritage which tells us that "in him is no sin" (1 John 3:5). Because we already see him as innocent, it is easier to forgive him than it is to forgive our more "guilty" brothers. Thus he can serve as a kind of "stand in" for the people who have seemingly sinned against us. Forgiving him for the sins our brothers have seemingly committed allows his innocence and holiness to rub off on them. Because the Sonship is one, if we truly see Jesus' innocence, we will also see the innocence of those who have "sinned" against us.

And because the Sonship is one, forgiving Jesus can even help us forgive ourselves:

I ask for your forgiveness, for if you are guilty, so must I be. But if I surmounted guilt and overcame the world, you were with me. (T-19.IV(B).6:4-5)

If we see ourselves as sinners, we will see Jesus as a sinner too. Thus we need to forgive him. But he reminds us here that just as our perception of ourselves as sinners will project onto him, so will our perception of him as innocent extend to us, if we allow it. By choosing to forgive him and fully accept the fact that he released the world from the illusion of sin forever, we will find that we ourselves share in his innocence.

Both of the above passages draw upon our traditional image of Jesus as the innocent Son of God. Indeed, Jesus has become the single most powerful symbol in our culture (and perhaps the entire world) for the Son of God, and this, I believe, is the key to understanding why he asks us to forgive him. The very goal of the Course is to help us forgive the Son of God. Of course, we can do this by forgiving any of our brothers, since all of us are equal parts of the unified Sonship. Yet even though the Course expands the term "Son of God" to include all of us, Jesus is still the prime exemplar of the Son of God for many of us. He is the symbol of the Self we share. As the Course says, "The whole relationship of the Son to the Father lies in him" (M-23.3:3). He is our primary image of God, as well as our primary image of the Son's relationship with God. Thus, how we see him will have a particularly powerful impact on how we see God and the entire Sonship, including ourselves. Forgiving Jesus, then, can be a particularly effective means of forgiving the Sonship as a whole.

We need to forgive Jesus because, while we have traditionally seen him as a symbol of innocence and love, we have also seen him as a symbol of sin.

In the previous point, we saw how we can draw upon our traditional image of Jesus as the innocent Son of God to help us forgive all of our brothers and ourselves. But while we do see Jesus as innocent, this is not a complete picture of all that Jesus symbolizes to us. As symbol of the Son of God, Jesus carries all the baggage we have associated with the Son of God, both positive and negative. And so, given the fact that the ego has gotten its two cents in concerning Jesus, he has unfortunately become to us not only a symbol of innocence, but also a symbol of sin.

How has Jesus has become a symbol of sin? For starters, our traditional image of Jesus depicts him as such, in several ways. First, Christian tradition has depicted him as inherently superior to us and separate from us; innocence is an attribute that belongs to him alone, while we who stand below him are hopeless sinners in comparison. Second, tradition has depicted him as a punitive judge who justly sends us to hell for our sins. Finally, tradition has depicted him as the innocent Lamb of God who died on the cross for our sins. Of course, this last image is seen by Christian tradition as a symbol of release from sin, but in the Course's view, this image simply cements the reality of sin more firmly into place. The very "fact" that Jesus had to be punished for our sins "proves" that our sins are dreadfully real: "What must be punished, must be true" (T-19.III.2:5). The whole idea of atonement through sacrificial death is pure ego, as the following passage makes clear:

I became the symbol of your sin, and so I had to die instead of you. To the ego sin means death, and so atonement is achieved through murder. Salvation is looked upon as a way by which the Son of God was killed instead of you. (T-19.IV(A)17:2-4)

Thus, while we may see Jesus himself as innocent, our traditional image of him confirms from several angles the ego's gloomy verdict that we are sinners. Seen in this way, the innocent Jesus is an ever-present reminder of just how guilty and black with sin the rest of us really are—he is the symbol of our sin. It is not difficult to see that this must have a huge effect on our relationship with him. Even though many of us profess to love him, if all Jesus does is remind us of how vile and sinful we are, won't we feel subtly (or not so subtly) attacked by him? If we feel attacked by him can we really see him as innocent? And if we can't really see him as innocent, is it possible, deep down, to really love him?

Yet there is even a deeper sense in which Jesus is a symbol of sin. We have seen how Jesus' innocence, viewed through the ego's eyes, condemns us all as sinners in comparison with him. But on a deeper level of the ego's thought system, Jesus' very innocence makes him the ultimate sinner; in the ego's upside-down view of things, his innocence is seen as the greatest of sins. This is because "to the ego, the guiltless are guilty" (T-13.II.4:2). This idea sounds very bizarre, but it is quite consistent with the ego's insane attempt to usurp God's throne and totally reverse His laws. The ego has set itself up as the god of this world, and its reign depends entirely on maintaining sin and guilt. Real innocence is thus a huge threat to the ego's rule, a major violation of its upside-down laws. Therefore, from the ego's perspective, innocence is the ultimate crime. The inevitable result of this twisted point of view is that for anyone who identifies with the ego, Jesus—the innocent Son of God—is Public Enemy Number One. According to the Course, the real underlying motivation of those who crucified Jesus was to punish him for the "crime" of being innocent:

When [the ego] was confronted with the real guiltlessness of God's Son [in Jesus] it did attempt to kill him, and the reason it gave was that guiltlessness is blasphemous to God. To the ego, the ego is God, and guiltlessness must be interpreted as the final guilt that fully justifies murder. (T-13.II.6:2-3)

Thus the very proof of the unreality of sin—the innocence of God's Son, exemplified in Jesus—became the ultimate proof of sin's reality. In the ego's insane kingdom, Jesus' very innocence was and is the ultimate symbol of sin.

The bottom line in all this is that there are many ways in which we see Jesus as a symbol of sin, and as I said above, this cannot help but have an impact on our relationship with him. I think it's safe to say that, whatever surface feelings we may have about Jesus, deep down many of us may carry a lot of fear, anger and resentment toward him. Even those of us who have consciously given up the traditional images of him may still bear the scars of those traditional images within us. Unconsciously driven by these images, we try not to dwell on his virtues, so that we can avoid the bitter reminder of just how unworthy we are compared to him. We recoil from his judgment, fearful that he will condemn us. We push away any thought that he might be a savior to us, not wanting to be reminded of his bloody sacrifice, which hammers home just how horribly guilty we really are. And even deeper down, the ego in us hates him for his very innocence, seeing it as the ultimate threat that must be blotted out at all costs.

In short, we have a lot to forgive Jesus for. In truth, he has done nothing wrong, just as none of our brothers have done anything wrong. But we have projected our own seeming sins onto him, and so we see him as a fearful witness to the reality of those sins. And it is this fearful image of him, this false god we have made of him, that must be forgiven:

Some bitter idols have been made of him [Jesus] who would be only brother to the world. Forgive him your illusions, and behold how dear a brother he would be to you. (C-5.5:7-8)

We must choose what Jesus will symbolize to us: sin or innocence. Jesus wants us to forgive him because forgiveness is the choice to see him as innocent, and how we see him determines how we see the entire Sonship, including ourselves. Thus he asks us, "Would you see in me the symbol of guilt or of the end of guilt, remembering that what I signify to you you see within yourself?" (T-19.IV(B).6:6)

How do we forgive Jesus?

One way to forgive Jesus, alluded to above, is to forgive someone else. At one point, Jesus even tells us that our forgiveness of our brother is evidence that we have forgiven him (Jesus):

Forgive me, then, today. And you will know you have forgiven me if you behold your brother in the light of holiness. He cannot be less holy than can I, and you can not be holier than he. (W-pII.288.2:1-3)

The last line of this passage is a beautiful statement of our absolute equality, a real contrast with the inequality inherent in the traditional view of Jesus discussed above. When we forgive, we recognize that all of us—Jesus, our brothers, ourselves—are equally holy, equally innocent Sons of God.

Of course, we can also forgive Jesus directly, and we forgive him the same way we forgive anyone else: By withdrawing the sins we have projected onto him and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our savior, the Christ in him. Applying to himself the Course's instruction to "forgive the Son of God for what he did not do" (T-17.III.1:5), Jesus says, "Forgive me your illusions, and release me from punishment for what I have not done" (T-19.IV(B).8:1). Let's take a moment to do that right now, using the following forgiveness exercise:

  1. Call to mind your current image of Jesus. Visualize his appearance, whatever that might be to you. Allow whatever attributes you associate with him to come to mind. Notice any emotions that arise as you think of him. Look especially for any painful memories, ideas, or emotions you associate with him, and any hidden resentments you might have against him. These may be hard to find if you normally see Jesus as innocent and loving, but look for them with as much open-mindedness as you can muster. See also if you can get in touch with that part of your mind that condemns him for his very innocence. In this process, be gentle. Don't strain to dig up things from deep within your mind, but simply allow whatever is there right now to surface.
  2. Once you have your current image of Jesus in mind, ask the Holy Spirit for a new vision of Jesus as the Christ, your savior. You might use a line from the Course to do this, such as "Let me behold my savior in this one" (W-pI.78.7:3). Forgive Jesus for all of the sins you have seen in him, and ask that the innocent Son of God be revealed to you in all his glory. Allow whatever dark images you have of Jesus to be shined away by the light of the Christ in him.
  3. Finally, invite Jesus himself to shine salvation into your mind. Again, you might use a line from the Course to do this, such as "Give me your blessing, holy Son of God" (W-pI.161.11:7). See him offering you salvation, in whatever way appeals to you. Invite him to join with you. Give thanks that the bitter idols you have made of him have been replaced by the recognition of him as your beloved elder brother, who yearns only to share his love with you. Join with him, and accept that love now.

I hope this exercise has allowed you to get in touch with and hopefully chip away at some of the unforgiveness you may have toward Jesus. I hope that it allows you to catch a glimpse of the joy that comes as a result of joining with him. I recommend doing it often, especially if you have a lot of negative memories or emotions associated with Jesus or traditional churches. A final note: In addition to the forgiveness exercise we've just completed, I also recommend doing the practice discussed above: Forgiving Jesus for the sins that other people have committed. I've tried this out myself, and it really works.

Forgiving the sins we have projected onto Jesus frees us to fully accept his love.

This is one of the greatest benefits of forgiving Jesus, for as hard as this may be to believe, the root cause of our unforgiveness of Jesus is our fear of his love. Yes, on one level our fear of Jesus is based on our traditional images of him as superior being, punitive judge, and sacrificial lamb. But on a deeper level, as we saw above, we identify with the ego's fear of his very innocence, its terror in the face of the purity of his love. The dark images of Jesus that cause us to recoil from him are simply things that the ego gives us as a rationale for recoiling from him, thus keeping us away from his love. In his earthly lifetime, those who feared his love crucified him; in our time, we who fear his love "crucify" him simply by trying to forget about him, by pushing him out of our minds and out of our lives.

But when we withdraw the ego's dark projections from Jesus by forgiving him, we open our minds to receive his love without reservation. As a passage I quoted earlier said, we discover "how dear a brother he would be to [us]." We allow him to be the elder brother, helper, and savior that he so yearns to be for us. He asks us to forgive him only so that he can fully share his love with us, and give us the help we need to awaken to our Father once again:

Brother, forgive me now. I come to you to take you home with me. And as we go, the world goes with us on our way to God. (W-pII.342.2:1-3)


For some of us, forgiving Jesus may seem easy, so easy that we can use our vision of his innocence to forgive the brothers who seem less innocent in our sight. For others, forgiving Jesus may require confronting our deepest wounds and our greatest fears. Yet the good news is that whatever our current feelings about Jesus, in truth our forgiveness of him is already accomplished; he assures us, "You have forgiven me" (T-20.II.6:2). In the deepest part of our minds the entire Sonship, including Jesus, has already been forgiven, and all we need do is recognize that fact. This recognition is all it takes to invite Jesus' boundless love into our hearts.

Browse the FAQ archive. FAQ Topic: . FAQ Tags: , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.