‘If any of this has been blasphemy to you, then good! Because it’s been a blast for me, too.’
I’ve referred to that quote, from 1980s Saturday Night Live writer A. Whitney Brown, a few times before, and I’m sorry to keep hauling it out like this. But every time I hear or use the word ‘blasphemy’, it springs to mind.
And today, I’m afraid I need to talk about blasphemy.
Specifically, our topic today is the three passages in the Gospels that refer to the unforgivable sin: blaspheming the Holy Spirit:
‘And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.’ – Matthew 12:31
‘… but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”’ – Mark 3:29
‘And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.’ – Luke 12:10
Now, ‘blasphemy’ is normally associated with the Third Commandment (You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. – Exodus 20:7) – treating the name, or even the topic – of God without due reverence.
Or, at the risk of oversimplifying things, swearing.
And so, when we read the ‘unforgivable sin’ verses above from this mindset, it seems a little startling: Exploitation, betrayal, rape, murder and genocide are all forgivable, and so is misusing the name of the Father or the Son, but God won’t (or can’t?) forgive the sin of using the Spirit’s name in vain?
Thank goodness the (Other) S-Word hasn’t really made it into our lexicon as a swear word.
Well, that is a good thing, to be sure. We definitely don’t need more naughty words – of either the religious or the vulgar variety.
But even if people did drop these S-bombs the way they do J-bombs and G-bombs, I don’t think the misusers of the word would be forever trapped beyond redemption. That just ain’t how God works, right?
Right. And more importantly, I have a feeling that the unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean using the words ‘Holy Spirit’ frivolously.
I’m not sure there’s unanimous agreement among biblical brainiacs on what this term actually does mean, though. I’ve run into a couple of different theories/beliefs in conversations and in my research, but for the purposes of this post, let’s focus on one in particular:
This Apologetics Press article points out the importance of looking at the context in which Jesus referred to the unforgivable/eternal/unpardonable sin.
And as we can see in Mark 3:20-30, the reference comes right on the heels of the famous ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand’ quote. Jesus uttered this iconic retort in response to a posse of teachers of the law who had accused Him of being possessed, and driving out demons by the power of demons.
Apologetics Press article author Kyle Butt asserts that the teachers of the law committed, or came close to committing, the unpardonable sin when they made this ugly accusation. Jesus was doing a wholly good thing using the wholly good power of the wholly good Spirit, and they spat on that goodness by naysaying that it was actually an evil act done for evil purposes by evil spirits.
Them’s fightin’ words for God, apparently.
Butt also suggests that the unpardonable sin cannot be committed today, because today we don’t have a flesh-and-blood human named Jesus walking around casting out demons. Only when someone has unambiguously, undeniably, irrefutably seen the power of the Spirit at work with their very eyes, at work in the actions of a living, breathing GodMan named Jesus of Nazareth, and yet chosen to chalk His actions up to the work of unholy spirits instead of the Holy Spirit, has the Spirit been blasphemed.
Butt’s justifications for this conclusion seem a little flimsy to me (feel free to read them for yourself), but since this assertion is largely supported by the footnotes in my NIV Study Bible, and since I tend to dislike did not-did too arguments anyway (No you don’t, Baldy. Yes, I do, reader.), I guess I’ll defer to Butt and co. and accept this as my working theory regarding unforgivable sin.
The unforgivable sin is not an issue in the post-Ascension era.
Good to know.
† † †
But whether it’s unforgivable or not, I wonder if it’s a sin to attribute the work of the Spirit to anything other than the Spirit?
And when I say ‘sin’, I don’t mean ‘a violation of one of God’s rules’, I mean it falls inside the category of ‘that which works to separate us from and God’.
And when I say ‘the work of the Spirit’, I do mean the capital-M Miracles: Healings. Revivifications. Financial deus-ex-machinas. Relationship restorations. Babies conceived by ‘infertile’ couples. Etcetera. In biblical times, and today.
But I also mean the small-m miracles: Nothing but green lights when you’re late for an important meeting. A beautiful sunrise that transforms your commute from a trial to a treasured experience. A bit of grace from your boss when you fell behind on a project. A warm spring breeze when you’re out walking your dog. The carbon cycle. The sparkle in your wife’s eye. The adorable giggle of the toddler next door. Your favorite song. Photosynthesis. Sex. Breath.
Is it possible that chalking any or all of these life-giving realities up to random chance – or to anything other than an all-powerful, all-good God who is alive and active in the universe – hamstrings our ability to connect with and experience that God?
I think a lot of us prefer to keep our expectations of God low, or our understandings of God so high that He has no time for, or interest in, us – except when we screw up. And this makes us feel safer: we’d rather think God isn’t involved in our lives than risk thinking He is involved, and He has no intention of giving us what we think we want.
We’d rather risk being a naysayer than a Pollyanna.
But is that really what God wants for us?
What joy – what peace, what connections, what opportunities – are you missing out on because you refuse to see God at work in the world?
Would you rather be someone whose imagination for the handiwork of God is too wild, or too tame?
Personally, I suspect that the Spirit of God is far more involved and invested in our world and my life than I can possibly comprehend. And when the mind-blowing extent of His activity in my story is finally revealed to me, I imagine that I will be able to look back on the many opportunities I was given to partner with Him along the way:
- the ones I recognized at the time and seized, and
- many more that I was oblivious to, because all too often, I committed the sin of having too limited and linear an understanding of God’s interest and activity in my life.
And on that day, I have no doubt that this sin will not be unforgivable for God. He will forgive me.
The question is, will I be able to forgive myself?
Peace be with you.