A Brief Summary of “The Obstacles to Peace”

Text, Chapter 19, Section IV

The obstacles that the ego erects to the peace that entered the holy relationship

“The Obstacles to Peace” is the longest and probably the most important section in the Text. Allen Watson has called it “the core presentation” of the Course. Ideas that it grounds (especially the fear of God) are referred to again and again throughout the Text, Workbook and Manual. It is easily the section most referred to by later sections in the Course. It is almost a summary of the entire Course, for it covers many of the Course’s main themes:

  • the holy relationship–its entire process
  • the body: the ego’s use and its true use
  • the dynamics of physical desire, pleasure, pain and death
  • the attraction of guilt
  • the true role of Jesus (in contrast to traditional images)
  • the journey home–an extended version of the journey
  • the fear of God
  • the ego’s dark defense system against the Holy Spirit and against peace
  • the dynamics of sin, guilt, fear
  • the process of attention in perception
  • sacrifice: true and false ideas about it
  • giving, receiving, joining
  • your brother as your savior
  • forgiveness: its role in the holy relationship and in the journey home

As you can see, there are a great many themes in the section, which become even more multiple when you realize that all of the above themes are interwoven with several of the other themes. But what is less easy to see is that the entire section is a whole. It is one single process which describes what happens when two forces meet, when the Holy Spirit’s peace meets the ego’s resistance. This idea of the meeting of two opposing forces even makes it into the title: The Obstacles to Peace. Let’s look at the meeting of those two forces.

The Holy Spirit’s peace

When you and your brother joined in a holy instant the Holy Spirit’s peace entered the relationship. This natural motion of this peace is to flow out and surround you and your brother in peace, and then flow out to the world and encompass everyone in peace. When this is done, the Holy Spirit’s purpose will be done, and God will take the final step.

The ego’s attachment to sin and suffering

The ego, of course, does not want peace. It will do everything it can to throw up obstacles to this “invasion” of peace. For it is actually attracted to guilt, pain, fear and death (as we are told in various parts of this section). Its core commitment is to the goal of sin. It wants to prove that sin is real by giving sin various “real” results (guilt, punishment, fear, death). Implied in this section is that these results are then attributed to God, Who then becomes the Author of fear.

The Holy Spirit’s peace enters the relationship and uproots the belief in sin

In the holy instant that began the holy relationship, the Holy Spirit’s peace entered the relationship at a very deep level of mind. At this deep level, peace replaced your belief in sin. This means that the deep foundation of your belief in sin was wiped away. Your belief in sin was “uprooted,” so to speak. With its foundation gone, there remains only a microscopic remnant of your belief in sin; tiny and unstable.

The tiny remnant of sin places obstacles before the flow of peace

This tiny remnant of the belief in sin, however, still tries to preserve itself. It does so by placing obstacles before the flow of peace.

The obstacles are a nested system of defense

The obstacles are not merely a series or a collection. Each obstacle is produced by the one after it. And each obstacle exists as a protection for the one after it. It accomplished this protection by lying. Each obstacle is thus a lie, which protects the deeper lie which comes after it. This means that the more you travel through the obstacles, the deeper you travel into the ego’s unconscious depths, into its core lie. This also means that all the obstacles are generated by, and exist to protect, the last obstacle: the fear of God.

The body is at the center of this defense system

The first three obstacles are there to protect the final one. They are thus a system of defense for the fear of God. The body is at the center of this system. It is what ties the first three obstacles together: its pleasure, its pain, its punishment and its death. On the surface, we fear the Holy Spirit’s peace because of our attraction to physical pleasure. Yet our attraction to pleasure is not an attraction to happiness. It comes out of our attraction to guilt, pain and death. Which in turn comes from our fear of God’s Life.

Peace will flow over each obstacle, one by one

Peace will inevitably flow over the obstacles, for the belief in sin is now only a powerless, tiny feather. And in the end you are more attracted to peace than to sin, guilt, pain, fear and death. Peace will first flow over the most superficial obstacle and slowly wend its way down to the final obstacle.

I. The First Obstacle: The Desire to Get Rid of It

The first obstacle is the desire to get rid of the peace that entered your relationship. This desire comes from the tiny remnant of the wish for sin. In short, you want sin, not peace. On a conscious level, however, this desire comes from your fear that this peace (and its Source, the Holy Spirit) will ask you to give up your body and its gifts. This attachment to the body seems to be an attachment to the happiness and security it provides. Yet it is really the same thing as the wish for sin.

II. The Second Obstacle: The Belief the Body is Valuable for What It Offers

The second obstacle is the attraction of bodily pleasure. As we saw, this attraction is why you feared the peace that entered. Thus, the second is what produced the first. The first also acts as a protection for the second: By throwing the Holy Spirit’s peace away, you can preserve the body’s pleasures.

The reason you are attracted to the body for its pleasure is because of the remnant of the belief in sin. This remnant causes you to seek pleasure for reasons entirely opposite to your conscious reasons. Here is the logic: The ego has dedicated the body to the goal of sin and uses it as a wall of separation. To seek for happiness through bodily pleasure, then, is to really reinforce sin and separation. Hence, pleasure-seeking produces guilt. Therefore, the real reason you seek physical pleasure is the attraction of guilt. You want to use the body to find guilt. Once you do so, you project that guilt onto it and so become attracted to bodily pain, as the “just” punishment that your “guilty” body deserves. The attraction to physical pleasure, then, results in the attraction to physical pain.

III. The Third Obstacle: The Attraction of Death

To recap: Peace entered your relationship when you and your brother joined. You want to get rid of this peace (first obstacle) because you are attracted to bodily pleasure (second obstacle). You are attracted to bodily pleasure because it will bring you guilt, for which you will punish your body in the form of bodily pain. This will culminate in the ultimate punishment of the body: death. And this is the goal you have been looking for. This is why you fear the Holy Spirit’s peace and why you want the body’s gifts. Because you are so in love with death. The body’s pleasure is simply a means to this end.

IV. The Fourth Obstacle: The Fear of God

This is the source of all the obstacles and the goal that they protect and feed. The ego is afraid of God because it knows that it ends in God’s formlessness. The fear of God’s Life produces the attraction of death, which in turn produces the rest of the obstacles. When you are afraid of God’s Life, you become attracted to death. How does death serve the fear of God? In at least two ways:

  1. By choosing death you make sure that you do not get the alternative that God wants for you: His unlimited life. Thus, in choosing death you both escape from God’s life and conquer His life. Fear always wants to conquer the threat it perceives. As conqueror of God’s life, death proves that the ego’s wish for death is mightier than God’s Will for life.
  2. By drawing death to yourself, you bring on the fear of death, and fear of death feeds the fear of God. How? One, it makes you think that what you fear is death, and so keeps you from looking upon your real fear of God’s life. If you saw that you feared life, you would see how insane this fear is and let it go. Two, it feeds your fear–makes you afraid–and all fear is ultimately fear of love and fear of God. Three, it subtly implies that death comes from God. And so it “justifies” your fear of Him.

The obstacles as a system of sin and its results, leading to the final result of fear

The obstacles are really a string of effects strung between sin, the initial cause, and fear, the final goal.

  • The tiny remnant of the belief in sin leads you to want to throw out the Holy Spirit’s peace (A).
  • You throw out the Holy Spirit’s peace so that you can seek the body’s gifts (B).
  • You seek the body’s gifts so that you can collect guilt.
  • You collect guilt so that you can punish your body with pain.
  • Your punishment of your body culminates in the ultimate bodily punishment: death (C).
  • You punish your body with death so that you can live in fear of death, and in fear of God as the supposed Author of death (D).

Thus, the entire system of obstacles is produced by and feeds the attraction to fear. Fear is the master obstacle that produces all the rest by way of attraction.

This same system of sin and its results (leading to the final result of fear) also occurs in your perception of the world. You look for bodies and their sins in your world and this strengthens the guilt within you and ultimately feeds the master of the process: fear.

Surmounting the obstacles

Each obstacle is surmounted in the same way: the fear that it raises yields to the love beyond. You fear that giving up the obstacle is a sacrifice, but then find it is a release. You see that it is the obstacle that demanded sacrifice, not the Holy Spirit.

  1. Your desire to get rid of the Holy Spirit goes as you realize you love Him.
  2. The glorifying of the body fades as you realize you love the spirit more than you could ever love the body.
  3. The attraction of death also fades as love’s appeal begins to stir in you.

Central to the surmounting of the first three obstacles is the realization that the body is nothing in itself (since the body’s supposed something-ness is at the heart of the first three obstacles). You must realize that the body neither dies nor feels. It is only what you use it for that determines your experience of it.

You surmount the final obstacle by forgiving and joining with your brother

The attraction of fear–the love of fear and the fear of (God’s) Love–produced all of the obstacles. The final obstacle (the fear of God) yields at last to the attraction of the Love beyond the veil. The way you reach this final veil, and the way you go beyond it, is through union with your brother. You must forgive your brother and receive forgiveness from him. Each of you must be savior to the other, giving and receiving the same gift of release from guilt. Join with each other and with Jesus as you stand before the veil. Have faith in the goal as well as in the Holy Spirit Who led you here. Together, you will disappear into God’s Presence and know His peace. In other words, the way that you surmount the final obstacle, the way that you find union with God, is to achieve the goal of the holy relationship and find union with your partner.


The overall process is the process of holiness gradually replacing sin in a relationship in which two people have joined. In this process, holiness enters the relationship, displaces the goal of sin, and then goes through a process of flowing over several obstacles erected by the tiny remnant of the belief in sin. This process culminates in the two partners forgiving each other and joining, and thereby passing beyond the final veil and uniting with God.

If you enjoyed this story you might enjoy this one!
Or you may be interested in delving deeper into A Course in Miracles.