How could perfect beings make the imperfect decision to separate?

Question: I have some problems with A Course in Miracles. My biggest problem with the Course is this: It says God is perfect, and He created a perfect Son. However, we made a highly imperfect decision when we chose to separate. How could perfect beings have possibly made such an imperfect (and candidly quite stupid) decision? In fact, such a decision should have been, by definition, impossible.

Answer: To be bluntly honest, I don't know. A Course in Miracles never gives us an air-tight resolution to the logical conundrum of perfect beings making an imperfect decision. I can certainly understand your desire to have such a resolution; I would love to have one myself. Yet the longer I have pondered the issue and worked with the Course, the less this has been a problem for me. Frankly, it is not much of a concern to me any more. I've already written a Q & A that discusses in detail what the Course says about why and how the separation occurred. Here, I want to share some thoughts about why I don't see the logical difficulties as a major problem.

This conundrum is a Course version of the Christian problem of evil: How could an omnipotent and perfectly loving God allow evil? I've come to believe that the Course's answer to this problem is essentially a version of what in Christian theology is usually called the "free will defense." The free will defense takes a variety of forms, but in simple terms it could be expressed this way: God wants us to love Him and do His Will, but He wants us to freely do so. It is good for us to be free rather than mindless puppets or robots who must do whatever God wants. After all, it is part of the very nature of love that it must be freely given and received; if we had no choice in the matter, it wouldn't be love at all but coercion. So, God had to give us the ability to choose not to love Him and do His Will. We were thus free to reject God and choose evil, the opposite of God. And that is exactly what we did.

I think the Course has its own version of this. It agrees that God wants us to freely choose to love Him and do His Will: "[God] shares His Will with you; He does not thrust it upon you" (T-11.I.11:3). But there is a twist. In the Christian version, evil is regarded as more or less a real choice we can make, a choice with real consequences. (I say "more or less" because Christian theologians have differing views of the reality of evil; Augustine, for instance, said that evil has no reality in itself but is merely the absence of good.) We could even use our free will to make choices that would keep us separate from God forever.

But in the Course version, we don't have the ability to choose real evil because there is no real evil; we only have the ability to imagine evil (or any kind of imperfection). The Urtext (the original typescript of the Course) tells us that "In the Divine psyche…the Sonship has the unique faculty of believing in error, or incompleteness, if he so selects" (emphasis mine). Yet that is all we have: the ability to believe that we can change ourselves into something evil or imperfect or incomplete. We cannot actually do it, because God didn't give us the ability to create ourselves: "You can perceive yourself as self-creating, but you cannot do more than believe it. You cannot make it true" (T-3.VII.4:6-7). Thankfully, God set "limits on your ability to miscreate" (T-2.III.3:3).

So, while God didn't give us the ability to choose real evil or imperfection, the freedom He did give us — which includes the ability to believe in error or imperfection — meant that we had the ability to withdraw from Him in our minds, to cut off contact with Him in our imagination, even though we couldn't render ourselves evil or imperfect in reality. He respects this freedom so much that when we did choose to cut our minds off from Him and imagine an opposite to Him, He did not force us to come back, because love does not coerce:

The separation was not a loss of perfection, but a failure in communication. A harsh and strident form of communication arose as the ego's voice.…God did not blot it out, because to eradicate it would be to attack it. (T-6.IV.12:5-6, 8)

While this line of reasoning does not resolve the logical conundrum, it does make a lot of sense to me, especially the connection between love and free will. We all understand that it's part of the nature of love to be freely given and received. Forced "love" is an oxymoron; when one person forces himself upon another, we call it not love, but rape. It makes sense to me that for there to be true love in Heaven, there had to be some sense in which we could freely accept or reject God's Love, which means there had to be a way in which we could make an alternative to God and separate our minds from Him, even if it is only an imaginary (and temporary) alternative.

The question remains: How can perfect beings make such an imperfect decision? Apparently, we can imagine imperfection (and inexplicably wanted to do so) without actually violating our perfection. This does seem to be a logical contradiction, something that by definition would be impossible. But can we be so sure of our logic? How do we know that our logic can fully account for what happens in a transcendent Heaven? The Course tells us plainly that it cannot. For instance, speaking of creation in Heaven, it tells us bluntly, "To no one here is this understandable" (T-24.VII.6:8). Elsewhere it says, "Truth [the eternal truth of Heaven] can only be experienced. It cannot be described and it cannot be explained" (T-8.VI.9:8). The introduction to the Clarification of Terms echoes this statement, telling us that the Course cannot give an answer to questions about how the impossible seemed to occur in Heaven: "There is no answer; only an experience" (C-In.4:4) — the experience of God that ends questioning once and for all.

Of course, the skeptic would argue that this is a clever cop out, a great way to evade the question while appearing profound. But is it really? It makes sense to me that the ultimate questions about what happened long ago in a transcendent Heaven to bring about the separation are unanswerable in our current state of mind. If we could fully know how things work in Heaven, we would be in Heaven. Let's face it, our small earthly minds are simply not up to the task; we can no more understand the ways of Heaven than a dog can learn calculus. So, given the indescribable nature of Heaven, the Course's talk about what happens there is inevitably the language of paradox. It tells us of beings who were created yet have always been, a Kingdom that is changeless yet increases, a Sonship that is one yet many — and yes, perfect beings who made an imperfect decision yet didn't actually mar their perfection in doing so.

I don't see this as some sort of fatal flaw in the Course, for the fact is that every thought system that deals with ultimate questions ends up with paradoxes and logical puzzles. In Christianity (and other theistic religions), as we've seen, there is the dilemma of how an omnipotent and all-loving God could create a world so full of pain and suffering and evil. In Eastern traditions, there are paradoxes like Ramana Maharshi's "The world is illusory, Only Brahman is real, Brahman is the world," and Buddhism's "Form is emptiness; emptiness is form." Even in secular science, we have a Big Bang in which something emerges out of nothing, and the mind-boggling paradoxes of quantum physics. So, while we may have problems with the Course's paradoxes and unanswerable questions, choosing something else isn't going to free us from this. Whatever thought system we choose, we're going to be stuck with some insoluble puzzles.

And it seems to me that the Course's logical dilemma is less difficult than that of other thought systems I've seen, because the apparent rift between the contradictory elements is so tiny. You can see this when you compare the Course with Christianity, for instance. In Christianity, you have an omnipotent, all-loving God on one side, and a real world He created that is full of interminable suffering and evil on the other. The chasm is huge: a loving God and a world that most of the time feels like the exact opposite of love. But in the Course's system, you have an omnipotent, all-loving God on one side, and an illusory world of apparent suffering and evil imagined by God's Sons rather than Him — a world that only lasted an instant and is already over — on the other. The world that is the opposite of love, in the Course's words, came and went "so very long ago, for such a tiny interval of time, that not one note in Heaven's song was missed" (T-26.V.5:4). There is a contradiction, yes, but it is a very tiny one.

This brings me to my punch line: I am irresistibly drawn to the Course because the God its thought system gives us is the most purely loving God I have ever encountered. The God of the Course is a Being of perfect Love Who created Sons who are also beings of perfect love. He created no opposites to love whatsoever. Yes, there is an apparent opposite to love — the separation and the world it produced — but this apparent opposite is tiny and inconsequential, however massive and devastating it appears to us.

Yet even this apparent opposite to love occurred because of an attribute of the Son that is an essential aspect of love: free will, which ensures that love is freely given and received, as it must be if it is to be truly love. Finally, God placed a loving limit on that free will: He didn't give us the ability to create ourselves, which ensured that while we could reject His Love, we could not truly render ourselves imperfect or unloving by doing so. We could make mistakes, but these mistakes could not change our perfect loving nature as God created us. No matter how stuck in separation we seem to be, we are still as God created us, we can awaken to this glorious fact at any time, and because we cannot run away from our true nature forever, we will awaken.

Thus for me, while the Course cannot give a completely intellectually satisfying answer to the question of how perfect beings could make the imperfect decision to separate, it doesn't have to. This is simply one of the many questions about ultimate things that will never be fully answered in this world. I can live with this, for the Course gives me a treasure far greater than the answer to a riddle: a vision of a God so infinitely and perfectly loving that it awakens in me a deep yearning to experience Him, a yearning that gives me the motivation I need to walk the path of the Course. The God of the Course is such an irresistible attraction that I am content to follow Jesus' counsel when he says, "Seek only this, and do not let theology delay you" (C-In.4:4).

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