“Do Only That?” Observations on A Course in Miracles

I’m a long-time Christian Quaker student of A Course in Miracles, too skeptical to call myself a “follower” of it, but never, until very lately, able to name anything that was clearly wrong with it. I began to study ACIM in the first years of the new millennium. I was suspicious at first of any new revelation that came to humanity by “mediumship,” though we Quakers have a centuries-old tradition of giving Holy Spirit-led vocal ministry in our meetings for worship, and this practice of ours could seem to be merely that special form of mediumship long known to the world as “prophecy.” In any case, my distrust of “mediumship” in the case of ACIM was soon dispelled by the seeming clarity and force of ACIM’s message, and by its similarities to what I believed to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, ACIM helped me read the New Testament with new and more appreciative eyes. In particular, Jesus’ call to us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44) and to forgive all who trespass against us (Matt 6:14) came into sharper focus, requiring me to really forgive, abandoning all belief in the offenders’ guiltiness, like the God who “remembers our sin no more” (Jer 31:34).

In the same year I formally became a Quaker, 1990, I also made a surrender of my will to God, and shortly afterward began to hear the Divine Voice in my own mind. Four years of seminary education (Earlham School of Religion, 2015-2019; M. Div.) only sharpened my sensitivity to my Savior’s voice further, and my appreciation of the bold witness of the early Quakers that “Christ is come to teach His people Himself!” Not surprisingly, ACIM had no place in the seminary curriculum, so I put off, until these my postgraduate years, the task of discerning whether ACIM is Christ’s own reframing of the Gospel message for a psychology-savvy post-modern readership – for it claims to be a teaching from Christ – or a clever counterfeit wrought by the Deceiver. I am now clear that it is not Christ’s.

I believe in, and do my best to follow, a God who is both almighty and unchangeably, supremely good, as all three of the Abrahamic religions have always taught. All that happens, must happen by God’s will or consent, and “all things work together for good to them that love God,” as Paul knew (Rom 8:26), though he himself spent years in a prisoner’s chains, faced with all the cruelties and injustices of the Roman Empire, and died a martyr’s death. And my own trust in God’s goodness, and the rightness of all that happens, does not flag, in spite of all the evil I see in this fallen world, and all the suffering as all perishable things perish. But in eternity, where God makes all things new (Rev 21:5), “God will wipe away all tears from our eyes” (Rev 7:17, 21:4). I was happy to discover this same outlook shining through the text of ACIM.

But ACIM maintains this optimism by declaring life’s painfulness and injustice illusory, and by promising to help the ACIM student replace “perception” (of this illusory, ever-changing world) with “knowledge” (of God, eternity, and our undying unity with God in Christ). And Jesus of Nazareth never spoke quite that way, though surely He kept both the time-bound suffering world and the blissful heavenly world vivid in His awareness. As I see it, this makes all the difference between the ethical demands of His Gospel and those made by ACIM.

I’m thinking of Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The priest and the Levite see the wounded man and pass him by, but the Samaritan rescues him. I’m thinking that if the Samaritan had been a student of ACIM, he might have passed the wounded man by, too: after all, the man’s wounds were illusory, and anyway, let’s suppose, the wounded man was comatose, and would probably soon leave the physical body and that damnable ego that had kept him so addictively attached to its survival!

I don’t mean to deny that this transient physical world may be illusory – māyā, as Hindu tradition calls it, and anyone who awakens from the illusion ever after looks on it as but a dream – and neither would I deny that the Ego is a miserably poor teacher. But since it has pleased the Lord to place me in this world as a sufferer among sufferers, where I’ve come to know a Savior who walked this world as a sufferer, I have no reason to think that my Savior now wants me to teach the illusoriness of suffering contrary to my own experience that suffering is real. It feels real, and none of us can make it stop by calling it illusory, least of all the souls in hell!

Yes, Jesus warned that there is a hell, here likening it to an “outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” and there to a place “where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” Jesus “knew what was in everyone” (John 2:25), and where hellfire was kindling within people’s hearts, surely He saw it! And no doubt this was what made both Jesus and His apostles so earnest about calling sinners to repentance. Paul, in fact, told the Athenians that God was now calling all human beings everywhere to repentance (Acts 17:30). The Pauline writings teach that God indeed intends the salvation of everyone (1 Tim 2:4), and a universal reconciliation of all creatures, through Christ, with God (known as the “apocatastasis,” 2 Cor 5:18-19, Col 1:20, a teaching reflected also in ACIM), but God cannot save a will set firmly against its own salvation! And such are wills that will not repent of ways that their own conscience brands as evil. One who hopes for a thorough apocatastasis must hope that God has some compassionate way of ending the hell-suffering of the self-damned!

It is the absence of warning against hell, above everything else, that tells me that ACIM does not tell the full story about God’s plan for our salvation. To be sure, ACIM tells me to look upon every brother as a sinless son of God, and I find myself able to look upon my brothers Hitler and Stalin as sinless because the God that made them in God’s own image and likeness must have created them sinless. But how inevitably the souls of those two men must have fled to the outer darkness, as far from God as they could get, after their earthly lives were over!

When I become concerned about the destiny of an unrepentant sinner, therefore, should I disregard signs that they stand in danger of self-damnation, or should I exhort them to turn from their foolish and evil way, or at least pray for their repentance, before death takes them from this world?

I turn to a paragraph numbered T-6.V-3 on page 104 of the 2007 Third Edition of the Combined Volume of A Course in Miracles:

<A wise teacher teaches through approach, not avoidance. He does not emphasize what you must avoid to escape from harm, but what you need to learn to have joy. Consider the fear and confusion a child would experience if he were told, “Do not do this because it will hurt you and make you unsafe; but if you do that instead, you will escape from harm and be safe, and then you will not be afraid.” It is surely better to use only three words: “Do only that!” This simple statement is perfectly clear, easily understood and very easily memorized.>

After a recent reading of this, I wandered through the next few hours of my day asking the Lord, “Is this what You’re asking of me, to direct people only to the positive side of Your teachings, like ‘Love one another,’ ‘Love your enemies,’ and ‘Forgive everyone their trespasses’?” I was all but ready to silence my own impulses to warn people against damning themselves. For, even though I believe that people knowingly do much evil, and that we must all reap what we’ve sowed, I was starting to think myself a fool for believing that anyone might listen to “Don’t do this!” who couldn’t hear me calling “Do only that!” Why not try being Christ’s flower-child, then, and never mention the works of cruelty, deceit and hard-heartedness that the world ever tempts us to join in with?

What brought me to my senses was remembering Jesus’ powerful words in Luke 13:3 and 13:5 (NRSV): “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” So I intend to continue to warn people against doing “lesser evils,” “necessary evils,” telling “white lies,” “doing evil, that good may come” (see Romans 3:8), calling evil good, and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), and in general hardening their hearts against their fellow creatures in order to continue living selfishly. There is a bondage to evil that we fallen ones won’t likely escape unless we can hear the Savior calling “Don’t do this!” as well as His blessed “Do only that!”

Fortunately, we do not have to call ourselves Christians, or be familiar with the Bible, in order to recognize an authoritative call from the Savior, whom I call Christ but you may call something else. We feel that call in our conscience whenever we are about to disobey it. It makes us feel sick when we lie, steal, or take life.

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