Everyone in our culture is familiar with the term “Son of God.” Even non-Christians know of Christianity’s belief that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God. Yet what should we do now with that term? In a modern era, to see one individual as being born with a uniquely divine nature can seem like the mythical thinking of a pre-scientific age. In a multi-cultural era, to see Jesus as the only begotten Son, while leaving out the great sages of other cultures, can seem as petty as saying, “Our quarterback is better than yours!” Given these problems, perhaps we should just dispense with the term altogether.
A Course in Miracles has an interesting response to this situation. It uses the term “Son of God” all the time, on average more than once per page. Why does it make such heavy use of a term that the world as a whole is perhaps outgrowing? For such a non-traditional book, this can seem like an unfortunate step backward. I believe, however, that there is real power and healing in the Course’s use of this term, and that is what I want to communicate in this article.
Every poet recognizes the power of familiar and deeply-embedded cultural symbols. The Course does also. For instance, it uses this line to describe our relationship with Jesus: “Walking with him is just as natural as walking with a brother whom you knew since you were born, for such indeed he is” [CE C-4.4:6]. The image of a brother whom we’ve known since birth is one of those familiar and deeply-embedded symbols. It is an entire world of mental and emotional meaning already present in our minds. This line simply takes that world of meaning and places it on our relationship with Jesus. The effect can be stunning: “You mean that walking with Jesus can be just as natural, just as familiar and relaxed and normal, just as second-nature, as hanging out with my older brother Jim?”
The term “Son of God” actually contains two such deeply-ingrained symbols, both of which the Course wants to make use of. One is the image of the father-son relationship, especially in its ideal form. The other is the particular father-son relationship between God and Jesus. Let’s look at these one at a time.
The relationship of an earthly father to his son is, at its best, one of the most potent symbols of love we have in our world. Think of what a son means to his father. In the person of the son, it is as if the father’s very identity has stretched forth to produce a copy of itself, an extension of itself. As a result, the father’s identity has expanded and become more complete. Further, this identity will now, in some sense, carry on long after the father himself is gone.
Because their sons are seen as the extension, completion and continuation of their own identity, fathers often lavish love and protection on their sons. They put a roof over their sons’ heads, make certain they are fed and clothed. They want to give their sons all the advantages and privilege possible. Privilege, in fact, is central to the entire relationship, for the son is entitled to everything that his father has, including his father’s name (a powerful symbol of identity), his father’s estate, and in many cases his father’s station in life (as when the father passes the family business on to a son, or when a king passes the crown to his son).
This, of course, is exactly how we’ve seen Jesus’ relationship with God. Analogous to an earthly son, Jesus is an extension of his Father’s Identity. Jesus is his Father’s pride and joy, the apple of His eye. Just as with an earthly son, Jesus is elevated to a top-level position in the family business. His Father is King of the universe, and so Jesus gets to have that role, too. The pattern here is the same as with every other son. The difference is that Jesus is not the son of just any father, but of God.
When you hear the term “Son of God,” it carries within it all that we have discussed. It carries the richness of thousands of generations of fathers passing on to their sons their love and care, their name, estate, and vocation, and even their identity. It carries all the emotion of our relationship with our own father, or with fathers we’ve known, or—if we ourselves are a father—with our own son. It also carries the accumulated power of millions of Christians looking to Jesus as the Son of the heavenly Father.
What a powerful symbol! If you wanted to reach people at a deep place in them, isn’t the power of this symbol something you would want to employ? That, I think, is exactly what A Course in Miracles has done. It has appropriated the power of this symbol and used that for its own purposes.
Just what are those purposes? The Course often uses traditional terms yet fills them with a non-traditional meaning, and that is exactly the case here. Its “Son of God” does not refer exclusively to Jesus. It is the Course’s way of talking about us: “the Son of God is you” [CE T-11.III.5:8].
Based on what we have just discussed, imagine what it means to say that we are the Son of God. It immediately lifts us into a place of inconceivable status and privilege. It says that we are the extension, continuation, and completion of God’s Own Identity; that we are a chip off His old block. It says that He does not regard us as a king regards his subjects, with some degree of concern, but with also a great deal of aloofness and reserve. Rather, He regards us as a father regards his son, with overwhelming love for us and with profound concern for our safety and protection. It says that, like a father, He has an immense stake in seeing us go far, that He would give anything to see us be happy. It says the we are His pride and joy, the apple of His eye—an apple which, in this case, did not fall at all far from the tree.
This may sound rather mundane, like something one would hear in Sunday school. Yet “Son of God” in the Course is also a profoundly mystical concept. It means something like what Hinduism means when it speaks of the atman, the true self in humans, which is identical to brahman, the underlying reality of all that is. Being God’s Son implies that we are an extension of Him, that we, like Him, are formless, boundless spirit. It means that we are a Self who has no beginning or ending, no shape nor form. It means that we are a Self who is completely united with God, so that “nowhere does the Father end, the Son begin as something separate from Him” [CE W-132.12:4]. One might think that speaking of such a Self might best be done by more technical, philosophical terms. Yet, like many of the great mystical poets, the Course prefers to use the language of human love, in this case the love between father and son. That language, though inexact and open to misinterpretation, carries our minds much closer to the true emotional import of this one unfathomable relationship.
This language also does something else. It heals old wounds. The term “Son of God” has caused a great deal of pain in our world, on at least two fronts. First, it has communicated to all of us that we are not as near and dear to God as Jesus is. We are at least a step removed from the inner circle. We are more like the Lord’s subjects than His Son. Second, it has implied that women are even further out of the fold, for God is male and the one closest to Him is also male. The whole heavenly system looks like a male monopoly.
The Course is fully aware of the pain this term has caused. In its eyes that is not a reason to avoid the term, but rather a reason to purify it. The Course teaches that the Holy Spirit can take everything we made, purify it of the egoic purposes we made it to serve, and use it instead for our awakening. That is what the Course does with a great many of its terms, including this one.
As we saw, when the Course says “Son of God,” it is not referring literally to Jesus as God’s Son. Rather, it is using the traditional image of Jesus as a symbol for all of us. In the same way, when the Course calls us Sons of God, it is not saying that in reality we, along with God, are all male. It is simply using the symbol of the father-son relationship as a profound poetic image for speaking of a relationship that transcends gender itself. In the Course’s system, we are genderless spirits dreaming that we are male or female. Both genders are equally illusory.
What happens as Course students encounter this term “Son of God” is fascinating to watch. Many at first are offended. It brings up childhood scars associated with Jesus and Christianity. For female students it can bring up adult scars of feeling victimized by a male-dominated world. Yet as students spend time with the Course, the new meaning which that term contains slowly sinks in. And as it does, the old scars slowly vanish. It doesn’t matter anymore that the church claims that Jesus is God’s only Son, because they know he isn’t. It doesn’t matter so much whether they are male or female, because they realize they aren’t. All these issues slowly lose their heat as these students become focused on the one thing that does matter: that in relation to God they have all the love and care and status and privilege that a son has in relation to a father.
The following passage conveys some of the power of this use of “Son of God”:
We have been saved from wrath because we learned we were mistaken. Nothing more than that. And is a father angry at his son because he failed to understand the truth?
We come in honesty to God and say we did not understand, and ask Him to help us to learn His lessons through the voice of His Own Teacher. Would He hurt His Son? Or would He rush to answer him and say, “This is my Son, and all I have is his”? Be certain He will answer thus, for these are His Own words to you. And more than that can no one ever have, for in these words is all there is and all that there will be throughout all time and in eternity [CE W-FL.In.5:4-6:5].
This is such a wonderful passage. We thought that we had sinned and deserved God’s wrath. Yet our “sins” were merely innocent mistakes. We simply did not understand. “Nothing more than that.” How would God respond to this? How would any loving father respond? The Course gives the obvious answer in the form of a rhetorical question: “And is a father angry at his son because he failed to understand the truth?”
Therefore, rather than maintaining a safe distance from God, we can come in complete honesty to Him “and say we did not understand, and ask Him to help us to learn His lessons.” We may still suspect that He will respond with a flash of anger or at least a slight frown for our past misdeeds. But the response we actually get is the opposite. Like any truly loving father, He rushes to answer us, saying, “This is My Son, and all I have is his.” Students of the Bible will recognize this as an allusion to one of the most beautiful images we have of the loving father: the parable of the prodigal son. This, of course, is what the prodigal son’s father said to the elder son.
On the lips of an earthly father, these words mean a great deal. But coming from God, their meaning exceeds the scope of our comprehension. Please take a moment and imagine God saying to you personally, “You, [fill in your name], are My Son, and all I have is yours.” Try to accept this as His personal statement to you. The Course clearly wants you to do so, for it says, “These are His Own Words to you.” If you really take them as this, if you truly make them your own, you will understand exactly why the final line says, “For in these Words is all there is, and all that there will be throughout all time and in eternity.”