Study Guide and Commentary
ACIM® Text, Chapter 13,
Section IX

The Cloud of Guilt


The previous section, "From Perception to Knowledge," showed us that, during what we think of as our lifetime on earth, the proper focus of attention for us is not the attainment of knowledge (which can be achieved only in Heaven, where perceptions no longer rule), but the transformation of perception. We are in this world to heal our minds of false perception and to allow true perception to take its place. We are not here to be perfect, we are here to be perfected, or to be healed. The section urged us to "be…content with healing" (T-13.VIII.7:1), and not to become impatient to have something more than healing. As long as we are in this world, we will be in the healing process. All we are meant to do here, all we need to do here, is to be healed ourselves through offering healing to others.

Another way of talking about healing is to talk about forgiveness. In the Course they amount to the same thing, because what we are being healed of is our belief in our own guilt, which through projection becomes the perception of guilt in others. Thus we are brought right back to the theme of this entire chapter, which is:

We see others as guilty
because we see ourselves as guilty;
therefore, the way to discover our innocence is by seeing others as innocent.

Overview of Section IX

The section we are about to study, "The Cloud of Guilt," returns to this central theme of the chapter. It opens by blaming guilt alone for hiding God from us, and goes on from there to point to guilt as the root of all our spiritual darkness.. It teaches us that continuing to see even the slightest guilt in other people creates clouds that blind us to the light within ourselves.

This section will tell us that guilt is the only problem, and the Atonement, or forgiveness, is the only answer. The only reason for being in the world is to handle our guilt, and if you are here with an ego (as we all are), you have guilt to handle.

"Release from guilt is the ego's whole undoing" (2:1) is the core truth of this section. In other words, handle guilt and you've handled the ego. There is nothing else necessary. Therefore, don't lay guilt on others, because if you do you are perpetuating guilt. The guilt we see in the world around us is nothing but our projection of the guilt we are hiding within ourselves; we see guilt outside because in some sense we are valuing it within ourselves. We are senselessly trying to hold on to our own guilt, because we have identified with our egos, and the ego knows that without guilt it cannot exist (T-13.I.1:5).

Accepting the Atonement requires us to reexamine our values. In trying to hold on to our perception of guilt in someone else, we are mistakenly trying to hold on to a false or illusory innocence, achieved by locating guilt outside ourselves. Any sense in which I see myself as better than anyone else is specialness, and it involves condemning my brother. The ego uses my projection of guilt onto my brother to keep the guilt in my own mind alive. Wherever I may think the guilt lies, it is always in my own mind (6:7).

The central message of this section is: Do not believe, in any way or to any degree, that the Son of God can be guilty. Many of the things we value or cherish as good are hidden forms of condemnation; we must uncover these and let them go. (This is the underlying reason for the admonitions in Section VII about letting go of this world in order to see the real world; see T-13.VII.2–4; 13.VII.6.2.)

We hide the light in ourselves by seeing guilt instead. We are afraid to look within ourselves because we are afraid of finding guilt, but it is not there (7:3–4).

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1. 1Guilt remains[1] the only thing that hides the Father, for guilt is the attack upon His Son. 2The guilty always condemn, and having done so they will still condemn, linking the future to the past as is the ego's law. 3Fidelity to this law lets no light in, for it demands fidelity to darkness and forbids awakening. 4The ego's laws are strict, and breaches are severely punished. 5Therefore give no obedience to its laws, for they are laws of punishment. 6And those who follow them believe that they are guilty, and so they must condemn. 7Between the future and the past the laws of God must intervene, if you would free yourself [yourselves]. 8Atonement stands between them, like a lamp shining so brightly that the chain of darkness in which you bound yourself [yourselves] will disappear.

• Study Question •

1.         (a) What are the laws of the ego, to which we are to give no obedience?
(b) Is God clearly visible to you in everything? If not, guilt is hiding Him, and only guilt. What are some things you have believed to be the cause of God's being obscure to you, other than guilt?

Guilt is the only problem.

Guilt is the only thing that hides the Father (1:1). Is your relationship to the Father completely open? Is God totally visible to you, more real than anything you see with your eyes? If not, guilt is obscuring Him, and only guilt.

Are you completely joyous at all times? Is your peace unruffled and unbroken by anything? Is your mind constantly filled with light? If not, guilt is the reason, and only guilt.

Do you love everyone equally, totally, and without reservation? If not, guilt is the reason, and only guilt.

Let's talk about guilt again. The Course certainly talks about it a lot.

Some people feel the Course places too much emphasis on guilt. They complain that reading the Course makes them feel guilty, and they don't like that. They compare it to old-time religion that constantly harped on sin and guilt, trying to make people feel guilty. It's difficult to make that accusation stick, though. The Course, even in this section, is clearly talking about releasing us from guilt.

Other people get closer to understanding what the Course is saying. They see it is saying that release from guilt is all that is necessary, but they say, "I'm not aware of feeling guilty. I don't see other people as guilty. Yet, I'm still here, and I still have problems. How can guilt be the only problem? There must be something else."

What the Course is saying is that guilt really is the only problem, and release from it is the only answer. The effort to find "something else" to blame comes only from projection, only from an attempt to avoid looking at our self-condemnation by finding another scapegoat.

Perhaps you are not aware of any deep guilt in yourself. Most of the time, neither am I. Almost nobody is aware of this deep guilt, but that does not mean it is not there. You are not aware of the guilt because you have done such a marvelous job of denying it, repressing it, and projecting it outside yourself. You have hidden the guilt from your own awareness. We are all prone to minimize the extent of our own denial.

One way of understanding the purpose of the Course is to realize that it is attempting to uncover the guilt we have buried and projected on the world. It is asking us to recognize that the guilt we see in others is our own, existing only within our own mind. It is telling us that by properly locating that guilt within us, and bringing it to the Holy Spirit, we can be totally freed from it, because that original, buried guilt is without any foundation. Our guilt comes from believing that we have attacked God's Son and separated from Him; the fact is, we never did that. The entire thing is something we have made up.

Guilt in you causes you to condemn others; you see your guilt in them (1:2). Your guilt comes from your belief that your attack on God's Son was real and had real effects; likewise, your condemnation of others comes from your belief that their attack on you is real and has real effects. Your condemnation of others simply reflects your belief about yourself. You see "sin" in the past, and therefore you see guilt in the present and punishment in the future. If you hold fast to this view of time and guilt, there is no room for light to enter (1:3–4). Only the ego sees an unbreakable connection between the past and the future (1:2). It uses these laws to exact punishment from you; is that what you want? Yet, punishment is what you are choosing when you choose to condemn a brother, because you are asserting the reality of the ego's laws. To continue to condemn others and to see guilt is to ask for punishment; it is to hold onto your own guilt.

You must break free of the "laws" of the ego that tie the past to the present and future. You might call these the laws of karma. God's Atonement must break in, in the present moment, to bring you a realization of innocence that is true right now (1:7). Only that can break the "chain of darkness" (1:8).

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2. 1Release from guilt is the ego's whole undoing. 2Make no one fearful, for his guilt is yours, and by obeying the ego's harsh commandments you bring its condemnation on [of] yourself, and you will not escape the punishment it offers those who obey it. 3The ego rewards fidelity to it with pain, for faith in it is pain. 4And faith can be rewarded only in terms of the belief in which the faith was placed. 5Faith makes the power of belief, and where it is invested determines its reward. 6For faith is always given what is treasured, and what is treasured is returned to you.

• Study Question •

2.  To obey the ego's laws is to condemn others, laying guilt on them and causing them to fear punishment. What is the result for ourselves when we do this?

When guilt goes, the ego goes. While guilt remains, the ego remains. Our entire motivation should be the undoing of guilt. Our devotion to guilt creates an endless cycle of pain and suffering.

When we attack someone, when we condemn their wrongdoing and make them fearful of punishment, we are increasing guilt. Therefore, "Make no one fearful, for his guilt is yours" (2.2). We have increased his guilt by condemning him, and we've increased our own guilt by attacking another person. The result of more guilt is always more pain (1:3). Faith in the ego is pain.  It hurts to believe that guilt is real because it means we deserve to be punished.

When we condemn another person we are wishing them pain; we are valuing pain, and what we value will be given to us (1:6). We do not realize the power our mind has to give seeming reality to illusions. We cause ourselves untold suffering because we believe that for "sin" to be undone, it must be punished. We demand punishment for our brothers and in so doing call for our own punishment, because we secretly believe in our own guilt.

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3. 1The world can give you only what you gave it, for being nothing but your own projection, it has no meaning apart from what you found in it and placed your faith in. 2Be faithful unto darkness and you will not see, because your faith will be rewarded as you gave it. 3You will accept your treasure, and if you place your faith in the past, the future will be like it. 4Whatever you hold dear you think is yours. 5The power of your valuing will make it so.

• Study Question •

3.  Why does the condemnation we lay on others always return to us?

 In the Gospels, Jesus gave a simple message: "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1, KJV). This section is elaborating on that theme, and this paragraph connects it with the Course's profound teaching about projection. If we condemn others we will be condemned—not by someone else, not by God, but by ourselves.

 Perhaps we think that the pain we experience  is inflicted on us by the world, against our will. It seems so unfair! But Jesus says, "The world can give you only what you gave it" (3.1). It is nothing but your own projection, so how could it give you anything else (3:1)?

"Your faith will be rewarded as you gave it" (3:2). We sometimes think that to have faith is a difficult thing; it's not. In fact, we are exercising faith all the time. What differs is what we put our faith in. "If you place your faith in the past, the future will be like it" (3:3). The world will always reflect what you value and place your faith in; if you place you faith in guilt and punishment, based on the past, that is what the world will give you.

What is it we "hold dear" or "value"? If we value the notion of punishment for sin, that's what we get. "The power of your valuing will make it so" (3:5).

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4. 1Atonement brings a re-evaluation of everything you cherish, for it is the means by which the Holy Spirit can separate the false and the true, which you have accepted into your mind [minds] without distinction. 2Therefore you cannot value one without the other, and guilt has become as true for you as innocence. 3You do not believe the Son of God is guiltless because you see the past, and see him not. 4When you condemn a brother you are saying, "I who was guilty choose to remain so." 5You have denied his freedom, and by so doing you have denied the witness unto yours. 6You could as easily have freed him from the past, and lifted from his mind the cloud of guilt that binds him to it. 7And in his freedom would have been your own.

• Study Question •

4.  (a) For what purpose does the Holy Spirit use our re-evaluation of our values?
(b) Explain the saying in sentence 4 ("When you condemn a brother…"), based on what is said in the remainder of the paragraph.

Atonement separates the false from the true in our minds (4:1). We have accepted both guilt and innocence, and guilt seems as real to us as innocence (4:2). But the guilt is false, and we need to make that distinction. We see the past, and based on it we believe guilt is real. But the past is just an incomplete and erroneous picture in our mind, an interpretation of reality. What we perceived as attack was not attack; it was a call for love. We translated the call for love into attack because of our own guilt and our fear of looking at it; we wanted to displace the guilt onto our brother, and because we wanted to, we did. We saw him as the guilty cause of our discomfort, rather than ourselves. Now, we are holding onto that perception of guilt in the past in order to continue to avoid looking at the guilt within our mind in the present. Therefore, our condemnation of a brother is really a decision to retain our own guilt (4.4). Finding guilt in others is how the ego protects itself.

Our brother could serve as a witness to our own holiness, but that will never happen while we are heaping guilt upon him (4:5). By forgiving our brother or sister—by refusing to lay guilt on them for their past actions—we can lift their guilt and free them from our shared past. If we will accept that the guilt we think we see in others is false, we will be able to look at our own guilt and see that it, too, is false. When we lift the cloud of guilt from others, we lift it from ourselves (4:6–7).

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5. 1Lay not his guilt upon him, for his guilt lies in his secret thought [in his secret that he thinks] that he has done this unto you. 2Would you, then, teach him he is right in his delusion? 3The idea that the guiltless Son of God can attack himself and make himself guilty is insane. 4In any form, in anyone, believe this not. 5For sin and condemnation are the same, and the belief in one is faith in the other, calling for punishment instead of love. 6Nothing can justify insanity, and to call for punishment upon yourself must be insane.

• Study Question •

5.  (a) When I condemn anyone, I am teaching them that their delusional, secret thought is correct. What is the delusional, secret thought?
(b) What seems to be the main point of this paragraph?

Jesus calls on us to stop condemning people (5:1), because our condemnation only reinforces their own insane delusion of guilt (5:2). The way we project guilt is similar to the game of "hot potato." The minute we suspect that guilt lies in our own mind, we look around and find someone to whom we can throw the hot potato; we find someone else guilty of something. It doesn't really matter of what.  The problem is multiplied because each of us secretly believes in our own guilt; we believe we have attacked "the guiltless Son of God" (5:3). So when you throw the potato in my direction, it reinforces my belief that I am guilty—that is certainly the message you are sending to me. It takes a bit more effort each time to throw off the guilt and lay the blame elsewhere.

The good news is: There is really no potato! The whole thing is imaginary. Nobody is guilty; nobody at all (5:4). And in reality, there is nobody else to throw the potato to! We are all the same, all one Son of God. When we try to throw guilt onto our brothers we are really just throwing it onto another part of ourselves. To be guilty means to be sinful, and sin deserves punishment. The Course agrees with the Bible here: "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23, KJV; see also T-19.II.3:5–6), but the Course uses it as an argument to prove that sin cannot exist: "How can the immortal die?". So, if we choose to see anyone as sinful we must believe they deserve punishment, even death (5:5). But, because there is really only one Son of God, what we choose for our brothers is what we have chosen for ourselves. We are choosing punishment, and that "must be insane" (5:6).

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6. 1See no one, then, as guilty, and you will affirm the truth of guiltlessness unto yourself. 2In every condemnation that you offer the Son of God lies the conviction of your own guilt. 3If you would have the Holy Spirit make you free of it, accept His offer of Atonement for all your brothers. 4For so you learn that it is true for you. 5Remember always that it is impossible to condemn the Son of God in part. 6Those whom you see as guilty become the witnesses to guilt in you, and you will see it there, for it is there until it is undone. 7Guilt is always in your [own] mind, which has condemned itself. 8Project it not, for while you do, it cannot be undone. 9With everyone whom you release from guilt great is the joy in Heaven[2], where the witnesses to your fatherhood rejoice.

• Study Question •

6.  What keeps guilt in our minds from being undone?

The obvious conclusion we can draw from the preceding paragraph is that it is insane to make other people guilty, because it boomerangs back at us and makes our own guilt seem more real. So, Jesus says in effect, "Don't do that!" (6:1). Workbook Lesson 351 summarizes this message succinctly; it would be a good lesson to practice in conjunction with the study of this section.

My sinless brother is my guide to peace.
My sinful brother is my guide to pain.
And which I choose to see I will behold.

Is my brother guilty or innocent? The choice is mine, and how I choose for my brother is how I will see myself. Do I offer my brother condemnation or Atonement? What I offer to others is what I offer to myself (6:2–4).

Everyone wants to be free of guilt. Guilt is an unpleasant feeling. Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition, defines guilt as "a feeling of culpability for offenses" and "self-reproach"; the Cambridge International Dictionary of English gives more detail: "a feeling of anxiety or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong, such as causing harm to another person." Guilt, then, involves self-reproach, anxiety, and unhappiness; it carries a conviction that there is something wrong with us, and that we have hurt someone else. Nobody wants that kind of feeling! Yet we all have it. Why?

We could be free of guilt if we simply chose to see no guilt in anyone, ever. Our downfall is that we want to have our cake and eat it, too; we want to be completely free from guilt ourselves while continuing to find other people guilty. That creates the kind of difference between others and us that supports the existence of the ego. That kind of selective condemnation simply isn't possible (6:5). Guilt seen anywhere will be seen everywhere (6:6). We cannot undo our own guilt until we are willing to undo everyone's guilt.

As I said above, there is no hot potato. "There is no guilt" (T-13.I.6:1; T‑13.VI.3:3). It does not exist anyplace except in our minds (6:7); we are making it up. We believe, as this chapter said earlier, that we have attacked the Son of God and killed Him (T‑13.II.5:1); we believe that we have destroyed God's creation and that because of this we are hopelessly guilty. We deny that guilt and try to hide it from ourselves. Perhaps the most effective way we hide it is to project it onto others; we blame persons and things outside of us for our anxiety and unhappiness. Seeing guilt in others is indispensable to us because it keeps our own guilt hidden; that is why we won't let go of guilt in others. And that is why our own guilt continues to rule our minds (6:8).

The irony is that, although we believe the ego's lie that lifting guilt from others will reveal a fathomless guilt in ourselves, the truth is that releasing others from guilt only unveils our own innocence. Forgiveness in this world is the reflection of creation in Heaven (W‑pI.192.3:1–3). Taking our place here as miracle workers, offering the gift of innocence to everyone, somehow parallels our true function in Heaven as creators. An act of forgiveness here reawakens and reaffirms our creations[3] in Heaven, and there they demonstrate that we are creators (6:9; compare with T-13.VIII.9:1). Thus, carrying out our earthly function of forgiveness and healing is the way to reconnect with our Heavenly function of creating. That is another way of saying that correcting our perception is the way to make ourselves ready to awaken to knowledge.

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7. 1Guilt makes you blind, for while you see one spot of guilt within you, you will not see the light. 2And by projecting it the world seems dark, and shrouded in your guilt. 3You throw a dark veil over it, and cannot see it because you cannot look within. 4You are afraid of what you would see there, but it is not there. 5The thing you fear is gone. 6If you would look within you would see only the Atonement, shining in quiet and in peace upon the altar to your Father.

• Study Question •

7.  (a) Compare 7:1 with 1:1. What causes us to see a dark veil over the world, so that we cannot see it?
(b) What would we see if we looked within?

If we are honest, most of us will admit to holding a fairly dark view of this world. It does not seem to be a place of light, by and large. Perhaps there are spots of light here and there, incidents and individuals that keep our hope alive, but on the whole, "the world seems dark" (7:2).

Likewise, if we look at ourselves with the same honesty, we will notice a remarkable similarity to our picture of the world: mostly dark, with a few spots of light that offer hope. The Course teaches, here and in many other places, that what we perceive as we look out on the world is no more and no less than a projection of what we see in ourselves. For example:

You have been wrong about the world because you have misjudged yourself. From such a twisted reference point, what could you see (T-13.VII.5:1-2).

The world you see is but a judgment on yourself. It is not there at all (T-20.III.5:2-3).

In fact, a single spot of guilt seen within can blot out the whole light of Christ, just as our hand, held before our eyes, can blot out the sun (7:1). Even though we may be unaware of the guilt buried in our minds, it is preventing us from seeing the truth about the world; we are projecting our guilt onto the world to hide it from ourselves.

If we were able to overcome our fear of guilt and to look within ourselves, all we would find would be the Atonement (7:6). We would not find guilt. The guilt is simply gone (7:5). One aspect of traditional Christian theology I still resonate to is their teaching that sin is gone. It isn't emphasized enough, and too often evangelists barrage their listeners with accusations of sin and guilt, but forgiveness is clearly a part of the best evangelical teaching. I have come to disagree with their teaching concerning the basis of forgiveness (namely, that Jesus was punished by God for our sins, taking our place); the Course teaches that the basis of forgiveness is that sin never existed and that guilt never existed except as a delusion in our minds. However, I can still recall, with pleasure, the children's chorus celebrating release from guilt:

Gone, gone, gone, gone!
Yes, my sins are gone!

Jesus reigns within, and in my heart's a song.
'Buried in the deepest sea'—
Yes, that's good enough for me.
I will live eternally!

Praise God! My sins are gone!

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8. 1Do not be afraid to look within. 2The ego tells you all is black with guilt within you, and bids you not to look. 3Instead, it bids you look upon your brothers, and see the guilt in them. 4Yet this you cannot do without remaining blind. 5For those who see their brothers in the dark [those who see their brothers dark], and guilty in the dark in which they shroud them, are too afraid to look upon the light within. 6Within you is not what you believe is there, and what you put your faith in. 7Within you is the holy sign of perfect faith your Father has in you. 8He does not value you as you do. 9He knows Himself, and knows the truth in you. 10He knows there is no difference, for He knows not of differences. 11Can you see guilt where God knows there is perfect innocence? 12You can deny His knowledge, but you cannot change it. 13Look, then, upon the light He placed within you, and learn that what you feared was there has been replaced with love.

• Study Question •

8.  Contrast the advice given by the ego about the problem of guilt to the advice of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus urges us not to listen to the ego's lies about the "guilt within you" (8:1), lies that are designed to scare us and to make looking within frightening (8:2). Why doesn't the ego want us to look within? Because when we do we will find out the truth about ourselves, and that will mean the end of the ego.

We believe we are full of guilt. We are not. Yet, because we believe guilt is there, and put our faith in it (8:6), this imagined guilt eats away at the core of our being and causes us great discomfort. To offset that discomfort, the ego counsels us to "see the guilt in [our brothers]" (8:3). We convince ourselves that instead of being "in here" the guilt is "out there," thus distancing ourselves from it and denying its origins in our own minds.

Instead of making us feel innocent, this locks in our guilt and prevents us from seeing the innocence that truly lies within us (8:4–5). We need to break out of this pattern, to see what we really are.

We are not maleficent; we are magnificent. We are God's perfect creations, and what is in us is glorious beyond our comprehension. God, Who created us, knows what He created, and it isn't junk (8:9). He did not create sinners. He did not even create mostly holy beings and a few sinners; they are all holy (8:10). God knows this, and what God knows is what is so. His knowing makes it so. Nothing we think or do can alter the truth of our innocence (8:12):

I will not fear to look within today. Within me is Eternal Innocence, because it is God's Will that It be there forever and forever. I, His Son, whose will is limitless as is His Own, can will no change in this (W-pII.309.Title–1:2).

What we need most is to look upon the light within us (8:13). Projecting our imagined guilt prevents us from doing that (8:5). Practically speaking, then, we have to start by ending the projection, and allowing the Holy Spirit to show us our brothers in the light, as innocent children of God. As we begin to see innocence in others, our fear of looking within will lessen, and we will be able to turn within and discover our own eternal innocence.

• Practice Suggestion •

9.  Rewrite the final paragraph in the first person, or in the second person so that it addresses you by name, e.g., "Within me is not what I believe is there…," or, "Within you, Allen, is not what you believe is there….". Then, read it aloud, applying every line to yourself. When you have finished, write a short summary of the main message this section has for you, personally.

Answer Key

1.   (a) Linking the future to the past, and condemning on the basis of the past. The condemnation then demands punishment.
(b) My answers: An innate inability to see spiritual realms; my ignorance; God's mysterious plan. Yours may vary.

2.   We bring condemnation on ourselves, and punishment and pain.

3.   Because the only meaning the world has for us is the one we project onto it. It reflects what we value and have faith in, and therefore our faith in sin, guilt, punishment and pain will be "rewarded" with guilt, punishment and pain.

4.   (a) To separate the false from the true in our minds; to separate guilt from innocence.
(b) If I lift guilt from my brother, he becomes a witness to my own innocence, and thus he becomes my savior from my own guilt. If I refuse to lift guilt from him, I am therefore choosing to retain my own guilt.

5.   (a) That they have attacked you and made you guilty, which means they are guilty of attacking the Son of God.
(b) Do not lay guilt on anyone; do not believe anyone is guilty, in any form.

6.   Projection

7.   (a) Our projected guilt.
(b) We would see that guilt is gone, and only the Atonement remains.

8.   The ego's advice is to avoid self-examination for fear of the terrible guilt we will find, and to appease our own feelings of guilt by finding guilt in other people instead. The Holy Spirit tells us the exact opposite; He tells us to look within and see the light and love that is there, and to see others as innocent as a means to clarifying our own innocence.

9.   See the last two paragraphs of my Overview of the section for my summary.

[1] Remains; See T-13.In.1:7 and T-13.II.1:2.

[2] Compare with Luke 15:7 and 15:10: "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance"; the witnesses to your fatherhood rejoicing compares with 15:10: "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

[3]  In the Course, our creations, which exist in Heaven and not on earth, are pure spirit, formless, timeless and perfect (for the one direct description of what our creations are, see T-24.VII.7:1-3). We, like God, create spirit like ourselves. These creations are, apparently, sentient beings who are capable of love (T‑8.VI.5:7).