[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
I am doing Lesson 292 today, “A happy outcome to all things is sure,” and I am so struck by its artful weaving together of God’s Will and our free will that I wanted to write about it.
Perhaps the first thing that one notices about this lesson is how unabashedly future-oriented it is. I think many spiritual students might balk at this: “Aren’t we supposed to be in the now?” Yet time is very real to us now, and as long as it is, happy endings matter to us and hope for them remains a core need. Who of us can live without hope? More than anything else, this is a lesson of hope. If we believe it, we can be like the Holy Spirit: “strong in hope, and certain of your ultimate success” (W-pII.1.5:1).
Now let’s look at how this lesson weaves God’s Will and our will together. Every spiritual system has to grapple with the tension between destiny and free will. If it swings too far toward destiny, it becomes disempowering at best and fatalistic at worst. If it swings too far toward free will, its vision of the future becomes precarious and even punitive.
The lesson starts out on a note of destiny: Without exception, God promises “that only joy can be the final outcome found for everything” (1:2). What a powerful statement of hope! Here, our destiny lies in the hands of an overwhelmingly loving God. That is the basis for our hope.
To feel the power of this idea, it helps to make it specific: “God promises that only joy can be the final outcome found for my job” (or “my marriage,” or “my journey with the Course,” etc.).
To make this credible, though, we have to realize that the situations we name—situations which may seem to end in ruin—will actually continue, at some time, in some form, and will keep continuing until they reach a state of pure joy. And as the Course says, that “end can be a long, long way off” (M-1.2:9).
This is where free will comes in. “Yet it is up to us when this is reached” (1:3). We can’t let this bright notion of destiny lull us into apathy. We decide when we actually get to that promised happy outcome. Our free will must let it come, and our free will can stand in its way.
But then notice the rest of this sentence: “how long we let an alien will appear to be opposing His” (1:3). That “alien will,” of course, is the will of our ego, which stands in the way of the joyous destiny God has willed for us. Calling it alien puts a different cast on the notion of free will. As traditionally conceived, free will is like a gate that swings either way. It is a classic double-edged sword; one never knows which way it is going to cut.
However, the term “alien will” implies that the will in us that opposes God is not our true will. It is a “will” that not only opposes God’s Will, but also opposes our own. Imagine a bird that suddenly acquires a strange urge to burrow underground with its wings, or a fish that acquires a strange urge to keep jumping onto dry land. Those strange urges are not the real will of those creatures. The bird and the fish have identified with an alien will. Their real will has been imprisoned and needs to be freed.
Our true will, then, is not a two-edged sword. It is entirely on God’s side. It wants nothing but those happy outcomes that He has promised us. It has not risen up to oppose God. We have imprisoned it; submerged it.
Therefore, God’s promise really amounts to the idea that this will in us will arise and will assert itself. The bird will inevitably say, “Hold on—I want to fly.” The fish will eventually realize, “What am I doing? I am miserable on dry land.” And so, God’s guarantee means this: “We will seek and we will find according to His Will” (1:7). It is our destiny that our true will rise up from its chains and seek and find God’s happy outcome.
The final phrase draws the whole discussion together. God’s Will, it says, “guarantees that our will is done” (1:7). Just as we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done,” so God says to us, “Your will be done” (T-31.VI.4:7). Even more, He guarantees it. He guarantees that this confused bird will recover its true urge to fly. Lesson 128 speaks of releasing our mind—you could also say our will—from chains. “Let it seek the level where it finds itself at home,” the lesson says. “But free its wings, and it will fly in sureness and in joy to join its holy purpose” (W-pI.128.6:1, 4).
What we see in this lesson, then, seems at first to be an artful balancing of destiny and free will: Our destiny is set by God’s Love, but it is up to our free will when we lay hold of that happy ending. Yet upon closer inspection, what the lesson really does is unite destiny and free will. Our true will, it says, wants only our destiny. We have let in an alien will that pulls the other way, but God has guaranteed that the true will in us will rise up, will seek our destiny, and will, in the end, be done.
“A happy outcome to all things is sure,” then, means that we will inevitably realize that God’s Will is our will, and on that day, both will be done.