What is the nature of love on earth?

Question: Is the word "love," as applied in the Course to our earthly lives, synonymous with forgiveness?

Short answer: Yes, the word "love," when the Course applies it to our earthly lives, is synonymous with forgiveness. "Forgiveness is an earthly form of love" (W-pI.186.14:1).


This, I think, can actually be a little tricky, because the Course is not always iron-clad consistent with its terminology. It will use terms in a very strict sense in some places, but then use them more loosely in other places. It definitely does this with the word "love." Here is my own attempt to sort out the similarities and differences between "love" and "forgiveness":

Strictly speaking, love is an attribute of Heaven, and does not exist on earth.

Love, according to the Course, is formless, eternal, changeless, and total. "Love is one. It has no separate parts and no degrees; no kinds nor levels, no divergencies and no distinctions" (W-pI.127.1:3-4). Love is an attribute of Heaven, the total union of the Father and the Son, the song They sing to one another for all eternity: "Endless the harmony, and endless, too, the joyous concord of the Love They give forever to Each Other" (S-1.In.1:3).

Thus love as it really is cannot exist at all within a world of form, time, change, and separation. As the Course tells us in its Introduction: "The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught" (T-In.1:6). It is beyond what can be taught because it is beyond the world entirely. The term "love," when used in this strict sense, does not apply to our earthly lives at all. But it does apply to who we really are: the Son of God, living in joyous communion with our Father in our heavenly home.

Strictly speaking, forgiveness is not love but an earthly reflection of Heaven's love.

But although love as it really is cannot exist on earth, it can be reflected here. And the form it takes is forgiveness, "the reflection of God's Love on earth" (W-pI.60.1:5). Forgiveness is a bridge between the world of illusion and the reality of God's Love. As such, forgiveness itself, unlike love, is an illusion, a "happy fiction" (C-3.2:1). But the illusion of forgiveness is "the means by which the truth is represented temporarily" (T-27.III.5:5) on earth, "a way in which the unknowing can bridge the gap between their perception and the truth" (C-3.2:1). Forgiveness is, as I quoted above, "an earthly form of love," a way in which the formless love of Heaven can be expressed in a world of form.

And while teaching the meaning of love is not the aim of the Course, teaching forgiveness is. The Course's Introduction goes on to say, "It [the course] does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love's presence, which is your natural inheritance" (T.In.1:7). Forgiveness is the means by which the blocks to the awareness of love's presence are removed, as this passage from the Psychotherapy supplement tells us:

No one who learns to forgive can fail to remember God. Forgiveness, then, is all that need be taught, because it is all that need be learned. All blocks to the remembrance of God are forms of unforgiveness, and nothing else (P-2.II.3:1-3).

The Course's path takes us from unforgiveness (a block to love) to forgiveness (love reflected on earth, which removes the block), to the remembrance of God's Love in Heaven. "[Forgiveness] will bring me near enough to Heaven that the Love of God can reach down to me and raise me up to Him" (W-pI.60.1:4-6).

So, strictly speaking, forgiveness is not love. Love is real, while forgiveness is an illusion. Love is an attribute of Heaven, while forgiveness "is unknown in Heaven" (W-pI.200.6:3). However, forgiveness is an earthly reflection of heavenly love, the means by which the Love of God is ultimately remembered.

But the Course does not always speak so strictly. Therefore, it does use the word "love," in a less strict sense, as a synonym for forgiveness, since they are so closely related.

Because the Course does not always use its terminology so strictly, we do find the term "love" being used to refer to earthly reflections of love, i.e., forgiveness. Here is just one example:

"Teach only love, for that is what you are" (T-6.I.13:2).

Strictly speaking, we are to teach forgiveness rather than love, since the meaning of love, as the Course's Introduction tells us, is beyond what can be taught. But in a less strict sense, when we are teaching forgiveness we are teaching love, since forgiveness is an earthly form of love, the gateway to God's Love. And so, Jesus has no qualms about using the terms interchangeably when discussing love's earthly expression. Love and its earthly expression, forgiveness, are so closely related that, for all practical purposes, they are synonymous. And this is the answer to our question: The word "love," as applied in the Course to our earthly lives, is synonymous with forgiveness.

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