What is the truly spiritual response to the terrible event in South Carolina? Is it forgiveness, as so bravely extended to the young killer by the family members of those he murdered?
Yes, that is a wonderfully spiritually elevated first step, and the whole of humanity is inspired by those grieving family members in Charleston. Yet there is another step, a step beyond forgiveness, that I believe God offers to everyone of us--and invites each of us to embrace in our own lives as we move toward spiritual mastery.
That second step is understanding. And ultimately, it replaces the first. Ultimately it renders forgiveness unnecessary.
I have observed, in my own life and in the lives of many others, that this is one of the most challenging and difficult messages of the so-called New Spirituality as articulated in books such as Conversations with God. It is challenging because, on its surface, it seems to violate everything we have been taught about the most sublime, exalted way to behave--and about the way that God behaves.
What if it turned out that God does not forgives us for anything, and never will? Might this be the missing link? Might this be the data about God and Life that we have never allowed ourselves to consider?
I have been asking for years: Is it possible that there is something we don't fully understand about God and about Life, the understanding of which would change everything?
I believe the answer is yes, and that the following is what we do not fully understand: God does not and will not offer forgiveness to anyone for anything, because forgiveness is unnecessary. It is replaced in the process of Divine Balance with a more searingly powerful energy: Understanding.
First, Divinity understands Who and What It Is, and so It is aware that God cannot possibly be hurt or damaged, injured or diminished in any way. This means that Divinity would not be disappointed or frustrated or annoyed or angry or vengeful for any reason. It simply has no reason. "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" is, I believe, the biggest spiritual untruth of all time.
Second, God understands that humans do not understand who and what they are. Thus, they imagine that they can be hurt and damaged, injured and diminished (and from a purely human perspective, this experience is very real). It is out of this misunderstanding of who they really are that all thoughts, words, and actions seemingly requiring forgiveness flow.
Humans do things they would never do if they understood their True Identity and embraced it fully. Understanding this, God has no need to forgive humans for what they do (even if God could somehow be "hurt"), any more than we have a need to "forgive" a two-year-old child for saying or doing something that some might call "bad." Forgiveness is not part of the equation in our response. We simply understand how an 18-month or 24-month old child could do such a thing.
The idea that you need to forgive an adult is clearly based on the fact that you feel they should know better than to have done what they have done to offend, damage, or hurt you. Yet the Soul knows that nobody does anything inappropriate, given their model of the world. The Soul knows that everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment.
Just as we understand the child whose simple immaturity and confusion led to his actions, so, too, do we see, when we come from the place of the Deep Understanding of the Soul, that the exact same thing is true of the adults who act in ways that persons of greater awareness of their True Identity would never act.
The more we find out about the young man who perpetrated the mass church killing, the more we see how this applies. Ah, we say. Now we understand. We begin, as well, to understand the mass consciousness and the limited awareness of many aspects of the Internet culture in which he found himself submerged, and the sources from which he gathered his data about life. As we learn more about this particular case, the mind catches up with what the Soul already knows.
Understanding thus replaces forgiveness in the mind of those who have expanded their consciousness to include this level of awareness. The invitation before humanity, then--if we truly wish to change and finally transform the human experience--is to change our model of the world. And how can we do this? By telling a new story, the true story, of who we really are, of why we are here on the Earth, of who and what this thing we call Divinity really is, and of what God wants.
Perhaps the most profound spiritual outcome of the mass killing at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston will be that it will lead the whole of humanity to this heightened awareness.
The families of those who died there have shown us our magnificence with breathtaking clarity. Let us allow their first step to take us to the next step: a compassionate understanding of how any human being (much less masses of human beings) could do the kinds of things we see being done every day in our world, and a deeper awareness of the truth of who we are in relationship to each other and to God, such that we begin living that truth at last, in every moment of our individual lives, erasing finally these horrific events from our collective experience.
There could be no more fitting tribute to the blessed souls who gave up their present physical life to bring each of us the opportunity to open to this awareness.
In the meantime we see, with gentle comprehension, that understanding replaces forgiveness in the mind of the master. We see, as well, that only understanding of our past and our present can change our future. Condemnation has never done it, and it never will.
This is not something that is lost on God.
Divinity, therefore, patiently and lovingly awaits our growth, even as we do with our children.
(Neale Donald Walsch is the author of What God Wants, and 29 other books articulating what he refers to as The New Spirituality.)