As students of A Course in Miracles, we are all trying to forgive. But even before that, we are trying to figure out what exactly the Course’s new kind of forgiveness is.
One of the things we tend to struggle with about forgiveness is how to view other people in this process. If, as the Course famously declares, “There is no world!” (W-pI.132.6:2), then perhaps other people aren’t actually there. Perhaps they are just illusions, just my projection. Perhaps, as we sometimes hear, “there’s nobody out there.”
This seems to fit well with forgiveness. How can I hold a grudge against someone who is just my projection? If nobody is out there, how could those nobodies possibly compromise my peace and thereby justify my anger?
That is one direction to go in: Regard other people as unreal. Forgiveness then becomes automatic. Resentment disappears as we realize there is no one out there to resent.
Yet isn’t there something a bit suspect about this approach? Aren’t we already all too adept at regarding other people as nobodies? In our little egocentric universes, others already appear to lack the reality we ourselves possess. They already seem to be mere rocks orbiting around our glorious sun. Couldn’t the “nobody out there” approach be typical human callousness dressed up as enlightenment?
A Course in Miracles actually wants us to go all the way to the other end of the spectrum, to grant others far more reality than we currently do. Look at the following passage:
Like you, your brother thinks he is a dream. Share not in his illusion of himself, for your Identity depends on his reality. Think, rather, of him as a mind in which illusions still persist, but as a mind which brother is to you. He is not brother made by what he dreams, nor is his body, “hero” of the dream, your brother. It is his reality that is your brother, as is yours to him. Your mind and his are joined in brotherhood. (T-28.IV.3:1-6)
This passage specifically tells you to not think of your brother as just an illusion. Why? Because “your Identity depends on his reality.” If he has no identity, then you have no identity. So instead, think of him as a mind, a mind that still believes in illusions, but a mind joined with yours in brotherhood. To do this, though, you need to distinguish his mind from his dream, which consists of his body and his life. As the same section says, “Thus you separate the dreamer from the dream, and join in one, but let the other go” (T-28.IV.2:7). His body is not real, but he is real, possessing the same limitlessly real Identity that you do.
To grant our brothers complete reality we need to grant them unlimited worth (or value), and this is what I want to talk about for the rest of this article. What the Course has to say about our brother’s worth is, simply put, stunning.
We tend to see the value of others as in question, up for grabs. In our eyes, they can enhance their worth with good deeds, a killer outfit, great business contacts, a new car, etc. Or they can compromise their worth. Our evaluation of their worth is like a needle on a graph, constantly rising and falling.
This changing evaluation, by necessity, is a rough estimate. But surely, we assume, we are in the ballpark. And we have no choice but to try. We have to take our best shot, because without these estimates, we will have no idea how to feel toward others. In the end, how we feel about them is a direct result of what we perceive as their worth, their value. If you absolutely believe that someone is incredibly worthy and extremely valuable to you, how can you not love that person?
Yet what happens when that same brother attacks you? It’s as if his worth has developed cracks, isn’t it? And if his attacks go on long enough, at one point that worth will seem like a priceless vase that has hit the floor. And as you watch it appear to shatter, you will find that the very same thing has happened to your love.
We need to realize, however, that this whole process is entirely divorced from reality. In truth, says the Course, we literally cannot evaluate the worth of others. This theme appears in many places in the Course, almost unnoticed but definitely there. It first appears in miracle principle 18. Its original version read this way:
A miracle is a service. It is the maximal service one soul can render another. It is thus a way of loving your neighbor as yourself. The doer recognizes his own and his neighbor’s inestimable value simultaneously.
The FIP version simply reads “your neighbor’s worth.” But originally we had this striking phrase: “his neighbor’s inestimable value.” “Inestimable” means “too great to calculate,” “impossible to estimate or compute,” or “of immeasurable value or worth; invaluable.” So it refers both to an amount that is too great to calculate and to worth that is too great to calculate. Could it be that our brother’s worth is so immense that it literally cannot be calculated?
After this original appearance, the notion of inestimable worth crops up again and again:
One Teacher is in all minds and He teaches the same lesson to all. He always teaches you the inestimable worth of every Son of God. (T-7.VII.7:2-3)
Seek not to appraise the worth of God’s Son whom He created holy, for to do so is to evaluate his Father and judge against Him. And you will feel guilty for this imagined crime, which no one in this world or Heaven could possibly commit. (T-14.III.15:1-2)
It is impossible to overestimate your brother’s value….What is inestimable clearly cannot be evaluated. Do you recognize the fear that rises from the meaningless attempt to judge what lies so far beyond your judgment you cannot even see it? (T-20.V.3:1, 3-4)
How can you estimate the worth of him who offers peace to you? What would you want except his offering? His worth has been established by his Father. (T-20.V.4:1-3)
Can you evaluate the giver of a gift like this? Would you exchange this gift for any other? This gift returns the laws of God to your remembrance. And merely by remembering them, the laws that held you prisoner to pain and death must be forgotten. (T-20.V.7:1-4)
A few themes stand out to me in these quotes. First, Jesus really means it. He really means that our brother’s worth is inestimable. It is quite literally “impossible to overestimate.” In short, it is infinite. Second, he is not just talking about our brother’s intrinsic value; he is also talking about our brother’s value to us. If our brother offers us peace, the remembrance of God’s laws, and release from being a prisoner to pain and death, how can his value to us not be inestimable?
Third, Jesus is clearly asking us to stop trying to estimate our brother’s worth. That never-ending process by which we size up our brother’s value needs to, well, end. Fourth, he says that this process is already taking a heavy emotional toll on us. Somewhere inside we know that by judging something that lies “far beyond your judgment”; we are in over our heads. It’s as if we are trying to lasso the sun, and we know it. Such a grandiose project causes us constant anxiety. Likewise, somewhere inside we know that by judging God’s creation, we are automatically judging against the Creator, and we “feel guilty for this imagined crime.”
Could it be, then, that in the normal, everyday process of downgrading our brother’s worth, we dimly sense that we are messing with divine reality, and consequently carry around a heavy emotional burden over that?
Why is our brother’s worth so immense? Because his worth is not established by his own actions. As the Course puts it, “His own worth is beyond anything he can make” (T-7.XI.2:8). Rather, “His worth has been established by his Father” (T-20.V.4:3). The following passage speaks about our worth, but what it says applies equally to our brother (who may, of course, be reading the same passage!):
Your worth is not established by teaching or learning. Your worth is [originally: was] established by God….Again,-nothing you do or think or wish or make is necessary to establish your worth. (T-4.I.7:1-2, 6)
This means our brother’s value is an infinite creation of God. It is, as the Course says, God’s masterpiece (T-25.II.5-9). And as such, it is eternal. There is absolutely nothing our brother can do to dent it. It is permanent. It is unchangeable. He can no more compromise it than he can wave his hand and make the stars go away. It is what it is, and neither our brother nor ourselves nor anyone else can do a thing about it.
This is so jarringly different from our typical perspective that it really bears deep reflection, as well as repeated practice. Think about it: That former boss you wish would have a tragic accident has actually been given incalculable worth as an eternal gift from God. That homeless man who has been forgotten by the world is carrying around under his worn clothes the radiant light of infinite value. That murderer who has just finished his act has worth so vast that it is impossible to overestimate. And the same is true of that stranger…that friend…that fellow shopper…that celebrity on TV…of everyone, without exception. How would our lives change if we actually lived as if this was true?
What happens when the scales fall off our eyes and we at last see our brother’s worth? Here is one description:
His worth has been established by his Father, and you will recognize it as you receive his Father’s gift through him. What is in him will shine so brightly in your grateful vision that you will merely love him and be glad. You will not think to judge him, for who would see the face of Christ and yet insist that judgment still has meaning? (T-20.V.4:3-5)
I encourage you to read that second sentence over again. What is being described here is really a religious vision, a vision of “the face of Christ.” You are gazing at your brother, transfixed by the blinding light of his worth; so transfixed you entirely forget to judge him. You merely love him and are glad.
This reminds me of accounts of religious ecstasy, in which someone is so utterly transfixed with the object of that ecstasy that he or she forgets all else. Normally, however, if there is a vision involved, we expect it to be of a traditional divine figure like Mary or Jesus. Here, however, the ecstatic is gazing at the divinity in an ordinary person. But the same joyful absorption in the vision is there, an absorption so complete that all else is forgotten.
Once you notice this pattern, you start to see it all over the Course. There are many images of us standing before our brother, caught up in an ecstatic vision of his divine worth, “unheeding of the body’s witnesses before the rapture of Christ’s holy face” (W-pI.151.8:4). It is easy to get the impression that this is the primary spiritual experience the Course is aiming for.
Indeed, this is where forgiveness is meant to lead us. It is not about wiping others off our projection screen in the realization that they are not there. It is about realizing that what really is there is far more than we ever dreamed. It is about recognizing that in our brother lies infinite, undamaged worth. It is about wiping away our judgments of him, which say he has damaged his worth, so that we can open up to a vision of his eternally inviolate worth. With the wiping away goes our anger, and with the vision comes love. In talking about the instant when we at last recognize our brother’s worth, the Course says, “And in our appreciation of his worth we cannot doubt his holiness. And so we love him” (T-15.VI.2:6). Forgiveness is not just the letting go of resentment, and it is certainly not the message “You don’t possess enough existence to bug me.” In truth, it is the reinstatement of love.
Simply put, forgiveness is the recognition that in the blazing light of our brother’s worth, all his mistakes and all his flaws fade into insignificance.
The return of love and the promise of ecstasy no doubt sound very attractive. However, we have a far more immediate stake in this issue. Remember that miracle principle I quoted near the beginning, which said, “The doer recognizes his own and his neighbor’s inestimable value simultaneously”? Well, immediately after this, Jesus gave this aside to Helen: “This is why you cannot keep that thing about Wally [referring to Helen’s intense dislike of Bill’s friend Wally]. If you do, your own value can be estimated at X, or infinity minus that.”
In other words, your awareness of your own value is tied to your recognition of your brother’s. If you give in to dislike of him, then the same amount you see subtracted from his immeasurable value you will also see subtracted from your own. You will see your own infinite worth whittled down to a size so small that it’s quite easy to estimate.
Of course, this is exactly what has already happened. We all have trouble really valuing ourselves. Could this be why? We all yearn to feel a sense of real self-worth. Could it be that the way to do that is to first accept our brother’s inestimable value, trusting that we will then find ourselves gazing in rapture on our own divine worth?
Let us, then, try to greet every brother with this recognition. To adapt a practice that was given Bill Thetford about accepting the Atonement, let us say to everyone we meet,
I recognize your inestimable worth,
And my own divine worth as part of my identification with you.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]