How important is Course interpretation?

Question: How important is it really to get the perfect interpretation of the Course? Isn't it more important to do the "work" of the Course?

Answer: I think that because of both human fallibility and the sheer bottomless depths of the Course, a "perfect" interpretation will always elude us—errors are always possible, and there is always more to learn. However, it is clear from the Course's own pages that getting as accurate an interpretation of it as we can is crucial to its program.

This is really obvious if you think about it. If our spiritual path is in the form of a book, the most basic activity of our path is to read the book carefully in order to understand what it is saying to us. And reading any book involves interpretation. Indeed, it is literally impossible to read a book without interpretation, so accurate interpretation is essential if we want to do what the book is trying to tell us. If we don't correctly interpret what the book is saying, how will we even know what kind of further "work" it wants us to do?

Different interpretations will lead to profoundly different versions of what that work is. For example, if I misinterpret the famous injunction "I need do nothing" to mean that I should literally not lift a finger to make a positive difference in the world, then my work will be—well, doing nothing. But if I correctly interpret the line to mean that I should find the quiet center within me—in which I do nothing—and then carry that quiet center with me on "every busy doing on which you are sent" (T-18.VII.8:3) by the Holy Spirit, then my work will be (at least in part) actively helping others as He directs. Quite a difference.

There are a number of places in the Course material where Jesus stresses the importance of correct interpretation and warns against misinterpretation. For example (I've put the references to interpretation in bold):

Miracles are teaching devices for demonstrating that it is more blessed to give than to receive. They simultaneously increase the reserve strength of the giver, and supply the lack of strength in the receiver. Be very careful in interpreting this. (Urtext version of T-1.I.16:1-2)

Everyone who ever tried to use prayer to ask for something has experienced what appears to be failure. This is not only true in connection with specific things that might be harmful, but also in connection with requests that are strictly in line with this course. The latter in particular might be incorrectly interpreted as "proof" that the course does not mean what it says. You must remember, however, that the course states, and repeatedly, that its purpose is the escape from fear. (T-9.II.1:1-4)

This course is perfectly clear. If you do not see it clearly, it is because you are interpreting against it, and therefore do not believe it. (T-11.VI.3:1-2)

Remember your weakness is His strength. But do not read [interpret] this hastily or wrongly. If His strength is in you, what you perceive as your weakness is but illusion. (M-29.7:2-4)

Accurate interpretation of the Course requires study, so study is an integral part of the Course's program. Jesus often encouraged Helen and Bill to "study the notes" (Absence from Felicity, p. 258). The Course itself reminds us of the need for "careful study" (T-1.VII.4:3). The vital role this plays in the Course's program is made clear in this passage from the very first paragraph of the Workbook:

A theoretical foundation such as the text provides is necessary as a framework to make the exercises in this workbook meaningful. Yet it is doing the exercises that will make the goal of the course possible. (W-In.1:1-2)

Look at the progression here. First, we need a "theoretical foundation" (an accurate interpretation of theory) to make the exercises in the Workbook meaningful. With this foundation in place, we then do the exercises, which make the goal of the Course possible. Therefore, a theoretical foundation is necessary to make the goal of the Course possible.

Striving to accurately interpret the Course, then, is vital to the Course's path. It is on this foundation that everything else on this path is built. It is thus actually part of the "work" of the Course. Given this, we would do well to really take in these words from Jesus to Helen and Bill: "Bill has very intelligently suggested that you both should set yourself the goal of really studying for this course. There can be no doubt of the wisdom of this decision, for any student who wants to pass it" (Absence from Felicity, p. 285).

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