How to Enter Paradise Today

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

This article was originally written by Allen Watson

In Chapter 20 of the Text, there is a reference to a story from the Bible that can easily be missed, unless you are very familiar with the Bible. Yet when you make the connection between the Bible and the Course, both the Course passage and the Bible story come alive with a powerful message that neither one quite has by itself.

The passage in the Text is contained toward the end of Chapter 20, Section III, “Sin as an Adjustment.” Before I bring in the Bible story, I want to summarize the first part of this section. It teaches us that the way our usual perception works, we do not see the truth. We do not recognize our own holiness, and therefore do not recognize it in the world around us.

You make the world and then adjust to it, and it to you. Nor is there any difference between yourself and it in your perception, which made them both. (T-20.III.3:6–7)

Instead of looking out from the perception of our own holiness (T-1.III.6:7) and seeing Christ everywhere (despite all of his “distressing disguises,” as Mother Teresa called them), we perceive our own guilt and thus see guilt everywhere. We “lookout in sorrow from what is sad within, and see the sadness there” (T-20.III.4:7). We judge those around us; we see them as sinners.

Jesus tells us that if we don’t like the world we see, full of judgment, fear, murder, and attack, we need to realize that we made it up! (T-20.III.4:3). It is a picture of the way we see ourselves, “the outside picture of an inward condition” (T-21.In.1:5).“The world you see is but a judgment on yourself. It is not there at all” (T-20.III.5:2–3). As one student expressed it recently in a study group, the world is a giant biofeedback device. Our perception of it reveals the state of our minds.

The section goes on to talk about those with holy minds, who have entered a holy relationship.

The world the holy see is beautiful because they see their innocence in it. They did not tell it what it was; they did not make adjustments to fit their orders. They gently questioned it and whispered, “What are you?” (T-20.III.6:3–5)

By “tell it what it was” the Course is referring to our projection of our guilt onto the world. And the implication here is that if we, without preconception and projection, ask the world what it is or ask our brother what he is, the answer will be, “Innocent! The holy Son of God.” If we ask our ego or another’s ego what we are, the ego, which is “the only thing in all the universe that does not know” what we are (T-20.III.7:6), will answer, “Guilty!” The lesson we must learn is to not ask the ego, “How shall I look upon the Son of God?”

Jesus then begins to speak about prisoners (T-20.III.9). He compares you to a prisoner who has been locked away in darkness, in solitary confinement. After years of being totally alone, you heard another voice; you recognized that someone else was near. Cautiously, hardly daring to hope, you felt about in the darkness and suddenly, with shock, you felt another handgrip yours! Tears of joy welled up in your eyes, but also there was fear and mistrust in your heart. Who is this person whose hand I have taken? Jesus urges you:

Strengthen your hold and raise your eyes unto your strong companion, in whom the meaning of your freedom lies. He seemed to be crucified beside you. And yet his holiness remained untouched and perfect, and with him beside you, you shall this day enter with him to Paradise, and know the peace of God. (T-20.III.9:4–6)

The Bible Story

Do you catch the reference to the Bible there? Can you identify the biblical story that is being referred to? It is a reference to a story from the Gospel of Luke, concerning events that took place during the crucifixion of Jesus. Quoting from the New American Standard Bible:

When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Lk 23:33–43)

The two criminals were crucified with Jesus, one on either side. They represent the ego’s way of seeing the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit’s way.

Consider, then, who it is that Jesus calls “your strong companion” who “seemed to be crucified beside you.” It must refer to your brother or sister, your partner in a holy relationship, whose hand you have found while groping about in the darkness. “Raise your eyes,” says Jesus, and look upon him (or her). Who is this person who seems to be in the same sad shape you are in—crucified beside you?

Imagine yourself as one of those criminals. The first one looked at Jesus, heard the soldiers mocking him and the rulers sneering at him, and saw him as he saw himself: a criminal. Helpless. A victim of the justice system. So far from being someone who could save anyone else that he could not even save himself. So he hurled abuse at Jesus. He looked at him and was unable to see the truth about him; the distressing disguise was all he could see because he was asking his ego for the answer.

The second criminal, however, was not fooled. He looked and saw the truth: “This man has done nothing wrong.” He looked at the battered body, the bleeding wounds, and despite all of it, he saw the holy Son of God. He saw someone who could save him from hell.

This is not a story meant to teach us that we cannot be saved from eternal damnation unless we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, or as the only begotten Son of God. It is a story, as Jesus interprets it here in the Course, that tells us that if we can accept our miserable, pathetic brother as the Christ, the innocent Son of God who “has done nothing wrong,” the strong companion who is our savior, we will that very day enter Paradise; we will be saved from our present hell. This isn’t about dying and going to Heaven, it is about Heaven here and now, attained through forgiveness of that person right next to you. Yes, that person.

Raise your eyes and look upon that person beside you. He or she seems to be crucified. He or she seems to be a guilty sinner under judgment. But if you are willing to be shown a different picture by the Holy Spirit, you can see past that ghastly picture to the truth: “his holiness [has] remained untouched and perfect” (T-20.III.9:6).

And this—seeing our brother or sister as the holy, innocent child of God—is the way you will enter Paradise. This is why “relationships are [your] salvation” (T-20.VI.11:9), why “the ark of peace is entered two by two” (T-20.IV.6:5), why “you cannot enter God’s Presence…alone“ (T-11.III.7:8).

Until we are willing to see our brother as sinless, our judgment on ourselves will also continue. Our judgment on our brother is our judgment on ourselves, the outside picture of that inner judgment. We must release others to be released ourselves:

Release from guilt as you would be released. There is no other way to look within and see the light of love, shining as steadily and as surely as God Himself has always loved His Son. (T-13.X.10:1–2)