What is the Last Judgment?
(These are the comments from the first day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 311)
"Christ's Second Coming gives the Son of God this gift: To hear the Voice for God proclaim that what is false is false, and what is true has never changed" (1:1).
This is one of the great statements of the ultimate message of A Course in Miracles : "what is false is false, and what is true has never changed." Put into these deceptively simple words, the message almost seems to be trite or tautological, like "Red is red." Of course "what is false is false, and what is true is true." It's obvious.
What gives the statement its profundity is the fact that we do not believe it . As we are told in the Text:
"This is a very simple course. Perhaps you do not feel you need a course which, in the end, teaches that only reality is true. But do you believe it? When you perceive the real world, you will recognize that you did not believe it" (T-11.VIII.1:1-4).
All our problems can be summed up in this: We have taught ourselves to believe that what is false is true, and what is true is false. We believe that the body, sin, guilt, fear, suffering and death are all real. And we do not believe (or at least strongly doubt) that spirit, holiness, innocence, love and eternal life are real. The perception of the real world shows us that the latter list--what is real--is really real, and the former list--what is false--is really false. And that is the Last Judgment.
All the learning process we appear to be going through is really teaching us nothing except that one lesson, over and over, in one example after another. Something we thought of as real--our own sin, or sin in a brother, or death, or attack, or separation--is shown to be false, and the love we thought was absent is seen to be present. Where we thought we saw sin we now see innocence. Where we thought we saw an attacker we now see our savior (T-22.VI.8:1). "...then will he see each situation that he thought before was means to justify his anger turned to an event which justifies his love. He will hear plainly that the calls to war he heard before are really calls to peace" (T-25.III.6:5-6).
Try to imagine what it would be like to have some situation which, right now, seems to justify your anger turned into something that, instead, justifies your love. That is what the miracle does. That is what, "what is false is false, and what is true has never changed" really means. The real world is a kind of perception in which everything you see justifies your love, because nothing exists which does not justify love. That is what is "real" about the real world. What is false is that anger is ever justified: "Anger is never justified" (T-30.VI.1:1). What is true is that love is always justified. God's Love for you, for instance, is always justified. God's Love for your brother is always justified. And therefore, your love for your brother is also always justified.
"This the judgment is in which perception ends" (1:2). When we have achieved this final judgment about everything, the purpose of perception is over. There is nothing more to perceive, because all reason for separation is gone, and oneness is once again knowable and known. We no longer perceive one another, which requires separation, subject and object; instead, we know each other as parts of ourselves, wholly loveable and wholly loving.
(These are the comments from the second day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 312)
In two sentences we have what the Course calls the real world (sort of combined with the Second Coming), the Last Judgment, and the final step:
"At first you see a world that has accepted this as true [the real world or the Second Coming], projected from a now corrected mind. And with this holy sight, perception gives a silent blessing [the Last Judgment] and then disappears [the final step], its goal accomplished and its mission done" (1:3-4).
The "this" which we see the world as having accepted is the statement from the previous sentence: "what is false is false, and what is true has never changed." If the world has accepted this statement, it indicates to me that this is not simply the real world (the world seen through forgiving eyes) but the Second Coming, in which all minds have been given to Christ. The unified, healed mind of the Sonship is still projecting, but "from a now corrected mind," and therefore what is being projected is a healed world. When we see this "holy sight," we pronounce the Last Judgment, which is a silent blessing, for as the Course says elsewhere, the Last Judgment is not a meting out of punishment but a final healing (T-2.VIII.3:3).
With the "final healing," then, the goal and mission of perception itself (as the Holy Spirit sees its purpose) is over, and so perception itself vanishes, no longer needed. Here, perception vanishes; in the next paragraph (2:3) the world itself, which is the object of all our perception, "slips away to nothingness."
What's the point of understanding these eschatological events? (Eschatology is "The branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind" (American Heritage Dictionary).) They represent the goal towards which the Course is leading us. As the Course itself says, in Chapter 17 Section VI ("Setting the Goal"), when you accept a certain goal you begin to overlook or discount everything that stands in its way, and start to focus on the things that will bring the goal about. It says: "The value of deciding in advance what you want to happen is simply that you will perceive the situation as a means to make it happen. You will therefore make every effort to overlook what interferes with the accomplishment of your objective, and concentrate on everything that helps you meet it" (T-17.VI.4:1-2).
If we have even some small understanding that the final goal is a silent blessing, a final healing, an overlooking of all error and a recognition of the innocence of all of God's creation, and of all of our own creations, we will begin to perceive our day-to-day situations as "a means to make it happen." We will make every effort to overlook attack thoughts and condemning judgments, whether in our own minds or in others, because we will see them as something that interferes with the goal we are seeking.
Another value of this understanding of the Last Judgment is that it eliminates one of the sources of our fear. We'll see more about this further on in this section, but for now, just realizing that God will NOT be running an inquisition and punishing us for every minuscule transgression of His laws will come as a great relief to many of us, influenced by our immersion in a culture where religion is often filled with fear of God's wrath. The idea of a wrathful, vengeful God is something the Course goes out of its way to counteract.
(These are the comments from the third day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 313)
"The final judgment on the world contains no condemnation" (2:1). No condemnation! It seems to be very hard for us to get beyond the idea of condemnation. We've been taught for generations that in the Last Judgment, God will separate the "sheep" from the "goats," the "wheat" from the "tares," the good guys from the bad guys, and will send the bad guys into everlasting punishment. We rather like the idea of vengeance; it seems like justice to us. We go to movies and we cheer when the bad guys finally get blown away. Of course, when it comes to picturing ourselves standing before God's final judgment, we get a little nervous--a lot nervous, in fact. Because we know we aren't perfect.
How can there be no condemnation in the Final Judgment? There can only be one explanation. There is no condemnation because "it sees the world as totally forgiven, without sin and wholly purposeless" (2:2). The only way there can be no condemnation is if there is no sin. Everything and everyone is forgiven, totally. And that bugs us. "You mean the bad guys don't get blown away at the end of the story?" It doesn't seem fair to us, because we believe that sin is real, and deserves punishment.
The old time evangelists of the 18th Century, like Jonathan Edwards (the author of the famous sermon, "Sinners in the hands of an angry God"), had some things right. They taught that sin is sin. There is no order of sin--every sin is infinitely sinful and demands eternal punishment because any sin is an attack on an infinite God. As C. S. Lewis put it, the idea of a "little" sin is like a "little" pregnancy. Edwards had people so terrified when he delivered his sermon that people in church were holding on to the pillars of the church in fear that the ground would open and swallow them up into hell. If sin were real at all, he was right. All of us would be infinitely guilty, and all of us would deserve eternal punishment. In this picture, there are no "good guys."
Therefore, if sin is real at all, and vengeance on anyone is justified, then vengeance is justified on all of us. If the bad guys get blown away at the end of the story, we all get blown away. In holding on to the idea of condemnation and punishment, we are condemning ourselves to hell. And somewhere we know it--that's why we feel so nervous!
The only alternative is no condemnation. Total forgiveness. No sin in anyone. And that is the message of the Course: "God's Son is guiltless" (T-14.V.2:1). That will be God's final judgment, and that will be our judgment when we reach the end of our journey.
"For it sees the world as totally forgiven, without sin and wholly purposeless" (2:2).
The final judgment sees the world, not only as without sin, but without a purpose. This notion cannot be squared with with idea that God created the world; would God create anything without a purpose? The purposelessness of the world, though, goes quite well with the idea that our ego minds have made the world up.
Have you ever looked at the world and suspected that it was basically without any purpose or meaning? That the endless progression of birth and death doesn't seem to be going anywhere? We all grow up (some with more difficulty than others, some with more success than others), we struggle through life, we attain what we can, and then--so it seems--it all comes to an end, and everything we have accomplished, and everything we have become, is lost (see T-13.In.2). What is the point? Many, particularly among the younger people today, have accepted this point of view, and have succumbed to despair and apathy.
And yet, there is validity to this point of view. In fact, the final judgment will ultimately confirm it! The world has no purpose. It is the misbegotten offspring of a mind made mad by guilt (T-13.In.2:2). The realization, however, need not lead to despair; it can become the springboard to eternal joy. Seen as without purpose, we can at last let it go, and remember that our true home is in God.
(These are the comments from the fourth day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 314)
When all of creation, every mind, has at last accepted the new perception of the world as without sin and without purpose, the world will end. "Without a cause" (2:3), I think, refers to the world's being seen without sin, for sin and its companion, guilt, in the Course's view, caused the world. "Without a function" (2:3) then would mean the same thing as "purposeless" (2:2). To the ego, the purpose of the world is destruction, or punishment. Once the cause and the function of the world have been removed from all minds, the world "merely slips away to nothingness" (2:3).
As the Manual for Teachers puts it, "The world will end when its thought system has been completely reversed" (M-14.4:1). (You may want to read this entire, beautiful section ("How Will the World End?"), particularly its moving final paragraph.) In the vision of the Course, the end of the world is not a cataclysm, nor is it some great triumph by heavenly hosts, but a quiet melting away, merely the disappearance of an illusion whose apparent necessity has ended.
"There [in nothingness] it was born, and there it ends as well" (2:4). In other words, the world was made up out of nothing, and nothing will be left when it disappears. Only the thoughts of love expressed are real and eternal. Everything else goes, including "the figures in the dream," that is, our bodies, which--with sin gone as cause and death gone as their purpose--will simply "fade away" (2:5-6). As we have read often before, in earlier "What is" sections and in the Text, the body was made by the ego for its purposes. The Holy Spirit can, and does, co-opt the body for His purposes as long as we are in the dream. He is leading us to realize that "what is false is false, and what is true has never changed" (1:1), and once that purpose has been achieved by us all, the body no longer has any purpose. It simply fades away.
One last phrase is added: "...because the Son of God is limitless" (2:6). The body fades away because the Son is limitless, and the body is a limit. When our minds have been returned to Christ, fully, we will no longer have any need of limitation. What we are is limitless, and a limited body would be useless to us.
This is the "end of all things" as the Course sees it. How, then, should we live now, still within the dream, but knowing this is its ending? We "need merely learn how to approach it [the ending]; to be willing to go in its direction" (M-14.4:5). We cooperate with the Holy Spirit, today and every day, in learning to look upon the world without condemnation, to see it as totally forgiven. We allow Him to teach us that there is no purpose in the world , and to gradually wean us of our attachment to it. We open ourselves more and more to the vision, growing within us, of the limitless Son of God.
(These are the comments from the fifth day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 315)
"You who believed that God's Last Judgment would condemn the world to hell along with you, accept this holy truth: God's Judgment is the gift of the Correction He bestowed on all your errors, freeing you from them, and all effects they ever seemed to have."
Most of us, at least in Western society, have grown up believing in some kind of hell. We say, "God will get you for that." We curse one another with the words, "Go to hell!" Intellectually we may have rejected the idea of a literal hell, with flames and demons with pitchforks, but the notion is woven into our thoughts nevertheless. There is a sort of visceral fear of what may lie after death that gnaws at our guts, denied, repressed, but still...there. If we do believe in God, as many do, the worry about how He will judge us, how He will evaluate our lives in the end, eats at us constantly.
To us, then, the Course appeals: "Accept this holy truth!" Judgment is not condemnation but a gift, a gift of Correction. Not a punishment, but a cure. Not "no exit," but a way out. The Last Judgment does not enumerate our every fault and then lock us into their consequences for all eternity. No, it corrects our errors and frees us from them, and not only from the errors themselves but from "all effects they ever seemed to have."
Think about it. How would it feel to know beyond all shadow of doubt that you were free from all your errors, and from all their effects? That would be total jubilation! The "Hallelujah Chorus" in spades. But that, the Course is telling us, is the truth , and it is this truth that "has never changed" (1:1). We are free from our errors and their effects, we always have been, and we always will be. That is what we will all, collectively, come to accept in that moment of Last Judgment. And that is what we are now learning to accept for ourselves, and to teach to all our brothers and sisters. We release each other from our sins, that those we release may in turn release us.
(These are the comments from the sixth day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 316)
"To fear God's saving grace is but to fear complete release from suffering, return to peace, security and happiness, and union with your own Identity."
If the Last Judgment contains no condemnation, if we are, all of us, free from our errors and every effect they ever seemed to have, how foolish to fear it! Street evangelists with their placards proclaiming, "Prepare to meet thy God!" are offering a message of fear: "Look out! Soon you will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and if you are not ready, you will be damned." Jesus, in the Course, is telling us that there is no reason to fear. Fearing God's judgment is fearing the very thing we all want: complete release from suffering. The judgment of God does not damn, it redeems.
We suffer because of our guilt; forgiveness releases us. We are in distress because of our fear; forgiveness returns us to peace, security and happiness. We are estranged from our own Identity by our belief in sin, but forgiveness brings back union with our Self.
Our fear of God is deeply ingrained. When God approaches we react like a trapped wild animal, feral, vicious and terrified. Oh, my soul! He comes only with healing! He comes only to bring us everything we have ever truly wanted, and more. "Fear not!" the angels announced at Jesus' birth, "for behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy to all men!" That is what we are being asked to believe, that underneath all the appearance of terror, death and vengeance we have overlaid on it, God's creation consists of pure joy, pure love, pure peace, pure safety. God waits for us, not to punish, but to fold us forever in His everlasting arms.
(These are the comments from the seventh day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 317)
"God's Final Judgment is as merciful as every step in His appointed plan to bless His Son, and call him to return to the eternal peace He shares with him."
The plan of God and its ending are characterized by one thing: mercy. The final outcome will be mercy, and every step along the way to our learning that will be merciful. God has a plan, and that plan is to call us "to return to the eternal peace He shares" with us. No part of that plan is anything but merciful.
Sometimes, even though we may believe that the ending will be merciful, we think that harshness, pain and suffering are necessary along the way. I don't think so. I believe that the merciful nature of the outcome permeates the entire pathway. Every bit of it is aimed at release from suffering. "There is no need to learn through pain" (T-21.I.3:1). When we have already, in our blindness, chosen pain, it can be used to teach us; but there is no need for it to be that way. God's only desire is to release us from our suffering.
And in the end, He will. In the end, we will know the fullness of His mercy, the consistency of His Love, and the shining radiance of His joy. At the heart of the universe, God is an infinite expanse of welcome.
(These are the comments from the eighth day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 318)
In the final evaluation, the Last Judgment is really just Love. It is God, acknowledging His Son as His Son (4:3). God's Love for us, in the last analysis, is the only thing that will "heal all sorrow, wipe away all tears, and gently waken" us from our dream of pain (4:3). We may think--and indeed, we do think--that something other than God's Love will be able to do that for us. We must think so, or else why would we spend so much time looking for it? Yet Love stands, waiting for us to receive It. We keep looking elsewhere because, in our insanity, we are afraid of the Love being offered to us.
Our egos have taught us to be afraid of God, and afraid of His Love. We are afraid it will somehow swallow us up and make us disappear. But would Love do that, and still be Love? Twice (4:2, 4:4) we are told not to be afraid of Love. That is one way of looking at the whole of what we are learning: to not be afraid of Love. Instead, we are asked to "give it welcome" (4:5). And it is your acceptance of Love, and mine, that will save the world and set it free.
We are so afraid that, by really opening to love, we will be hurt. Taking the path of love so often seems to us to be taking the path of weakness. There is so much emphasis on watching out for Number One, on setting our boundaries, on keeping our distance, on avoiding being victimized. Those things have their place, to be sure, and yet sometimes I think they are excuses for separation, excuses for remaining isolated, excuses for avoiding love. Giving love seems difficult, and receiving it, even more difficult. Yet in the end, opening to both giving and receiving love, which are the same in reality, is all that is needed. We are love, and only in opening to Love fully will we discover that truth of our own Being.
(These are the comments from the ninth day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 319)
"This is God's Final Judgment: 'You are still My holy Son, forever innocent, forever loving and forever loved, as limitless as your Creator, and completely changeless and forever pure.'"
I find myself reading this sentence over and over; I feel that I need to hear it often, because I am aware of the part of my mind that does not believe it.
I am forever innocent. And yet I still feel guilty at times. I have done things, in my life, that I am certainly not proud of. I have let others down. I've failed to be there for them when they expected me to be there. I've given up on love. I have said things calculated to hurt. I have been deceitful. Like everyone, I carry a certain amount of regret for some things in my past. But God sees me as forever innocent. To me, one of the most poignant lines in the Course is, "You have not lost your innocence" (W-pI.182.12:1). Sometimes I think that the best definition of "miracle" is the shift in perception that allows us to see ourselves as completely innocent. It is extremely difficult for us to see this about ourselves; to me, that is one of the prime values of a holy relationship. The Course tells us we cannot, alone, see ourselves as totally innocent; we need another with whom we can learn this together.
I am forever loving. Again, there seems to be evidence in my past to contradict this. The Course would say the evidence is false, that we are not seeing the whole picture, and that what appeared to be unloving was really our own fear and call for love. We are in pain over what we think we have done, but the Final Judgment will free us of that pain forever, and we will be able to see that we have always been loving, and are forever. Nothing we have done has changed this.
I am forever loved. Ah! This one is often hard to believe, and for all the same reasons; we do not feel loveable, and we sometimes do not love ourselves. I recall taking part in a guided meditation in which I was directed to extend love, blessing, and compassionate understanding to everyone else in the room, and then to the neighborhood, and finally to the world. And then, imagining myself looking down on the world from above, to see myself, sitting there, and to extend that same love, blessing, and compassionate understanding to myself. I felt a deep melting inside of me, the hardness of self-judgment giving way to compassion, and I wept. How hard we are on ourselves! And how seldom we realize just how tightly we hold ourselves in the vice of judgment.
I am as limitless as my Creator. That stretches my credibility and my comprehension. The place to which the Course is taking us, where this is understood and known as true, is far beyond what we even imagine.
I am completely changeless. The experience of constant change, of mood swings, of up and down, of high and low, is not who I really am. The Course tells me, "It is not you who is so vulnerable and open to attack that just a word, a little whisper that you do not like, a circumstance that suits you not, or an event that you did not anticipate upsets your world, and hurls it into chaos" (T-24.III.3:1). That may be who I think I am, but that is not me, not my Self.
I am forever pure. Pure means unmixed, unadulterated. I often experience myself as an unwholesome mixture of good, bad and indifferent. That is not who I am. I am pure; without mixture.
And in God's Final Judgment, I will know all of this. I can know it now. I can hear His Word to me today, in the holy instant. This message is what is communicated to me, wordlessly, each time I enter His Presence. This message is what is given to me, and to you, to share with the world.
(These are the comments from the tenth day's portion of the "What is the Last Judgment" section - Lesson 320)
"Therefore awaken and return to Me. I am Your Father and you are my Son."
The Final Judgment of God ends with this, completing the statement we covered yesterday. All of the things God is here quoted as saying of us are things we have difficulty accepting about ourselves. We need to awaken from the dream in which their opposite seems true, and return to the Father Who has never ceased loving us with an everlasting love. "You are my Son." That is what we all long to hear, and all of us, like the prodigal son in the Bible, fear that we have lost the right to hear them. The prodigal was so filled with guilt that he went back to his father hoping, at best, to be taken in an treated as the hired help. Instead, he was welcomed with a banquet. His father met him on the road.
Do we fear to approach God? Do we hesitate to turn to Him? Do we feel ashamed of how we have lived, and of what we have done with the gifts He has given us? He is not angry. He is not ashamed of us. He only knows that we are His children, His beloved. And He is forever calling to us to return to Him, out of the nightmare in which we have lost ourselves, waiting to welcome us once again into His loving arms.