The Three Steps of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is fundamental to the teachings of the Course, and Ken Wapnick has pointed out that the Course identifies three steps which make up the process of forgiveness:

Step one is the recognition that the problem is not outside but rather inside us. The problem is not in another person's actions, but in our perception of such actions and in our evaluation of ourselves. We believe that we are vulnerable and that we can be hurt by external circumstances. If we continue to believe that the problem is outside us, we will be engaged in a fruitless search for a solution.

At the core of the Course's teachings is the view that all errors occurred within the mind, not outside it. When the separation occurred, God placed the answer in our minds: the Holy Spirit, Who speaks for God at all times. Thanks to Him the answer and the problem can be found together in one place, so a true solution is achievable.

A Course in Miracles points out that we hide behind a multitude of apparent problems, so we do not have to face the real issue of separation. We may even believe that we need these problems because they supposedly help us to grow stronger. It is indeed true that the ego gains in strength because of this, but certainly not the spirit.

This may not be easy to accept. It often appears far more satisfying and dramatic to blame others for our troubles, while we play the heroes who bravely struggle on in the face of unfair treatment and outright attacks on our innocence.

Step two may be even harder than the first one. We must recognise that it is our decision to keep the problem -- the guilt -- in place. We do not want to end the separation. It forms the basis for our individuality, our specialness, our ego. Ironically, letting go of that framework of guilt and attack is very frightening.

The Course challenges us to look at what we have chosen and assess whether this really gives us happiness:

"Consider the kingdom you have made and judge its worth fairly. Is it worthy to be a home for a child of God? Does it protect his peace and shine love upon him? Does it keep his heart untouched by fear, and allow him to give always, without any sense of loss?" (T-7.XI.3:1-4)

We have done a good job of making a hell on earth, where happiness is an uncertain and fleeting occurrence; yet we still cling to our version of reality and insist that we know better than God. At this point we realise that it is our choice and, therefore, we are free to choose again and, this time, choose the Holy Spirit rather than the ego. In numerous places, the Course makes it clear that we do not know anything at all, and that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to guide us.

Step three, the final one, is taken by the Holy Spirit himself, at our invitation. Having decided that we want God's peace, rather than our poor substitutes, we ask the Holy Spirit for help. He responds by taking away our guilt and undoing all its effects. Let us be grateful that we do not have to reach perfection before help is offered:

"Never attempt to overlook your guilt before you ask the Holy Spirit's help. That is His function. Your part is only to offer Him a little willingness to let Him remove all fear and hatred, and to be forgiven." (T-18.V.2:3-5)

It is also helpful to accept the Course's view that another person's action is either an expression of love or a call for love. Often, the aggressor is simply frightened and is waiting desperately for someone to shine light into his darkness. The miracle is a clear demonstration of a perception based on love instead of fear.