“Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10).
This verse is often referred to as the “unforgivable sin” and it can be difficult to understand. Also, if you have been reading this blog regularly you may have read more than once my writing that God forgives us more than we can ever mess up, so, how is it that we can’t we be forgiven for blaspheming the Holy Spirit?
A story and follow up may help. When I was a junior or senior in high school, one of my teachers commented that if we thought Stephen King wrote amazing tales, then we might find reading the book of Revelation from the Bible interesting. This was a public school mind you. As a big fan of Stephen King, that phrase stayed with me, and a few weeks later, I purchased a King James Bible from our local bookstore, Waldens, which I am not sure exists anymore. I don’t remember if I read it at all, I must have thumbed through it a time or two, but then placed in on a shelf, presumably with my a copy of The Stand.
A month or two passed and I remember being at a party and not having much fun, so I left. When I arrived home I had the urge to open my newly purchased Bible and when I did my eyes found not the words from the author of Revelation but Luke. He shared: “Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows” (Lk 12:7). After reading the section leading up to this verse, I felt God saying to me that I would not ever win the lottery, but like the sparrows, he would take care of me providing me the opportunity and the ability to work. He has continued to be true to his word through all the ups and downs through my fifty-four years so far. These beginning stepping stones have led to others that would ultimately pave the way to me typing these words to you today. Because of each successive yes to the invitation and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and confessing those times that I did not, I placed myself in a better position each time to recognize and hear the word of God.
Now, that experience could have taken a different turn. I could have resisted the initial curiosity that welled up within me from my teacher’s discussion and instead of going out to purchase a Bible, I could have stayed home that day and opened up my copy of The Stand and given it a second read. Thus denying that invitation of the Holy Spirit, I would not have had a Bible when I went to that party. I could have followed through on the first urging to purchase a Bible, but then resisted the second to leave the party. Choosing to ignore either or both promptings would have led to a higher probability of my not hearing God’s voice that night. Say each step did happen up to and including hearing God’s voice, but then I denied that I heard God, instead attributing the experience to some bad pepperoni pizza from the party. Each one is an example of how I could have closed myself off to God’s communications.
God invites us to share in his life in a myriad of ways. With each invitation, no matter how small, we can say yes, or we can dismiss these “encounters” as mere “coincidences.” With each denial, we further limit ourselves to the possibility of acknowledging an encounter with God, even begin to doubt and/or come to a place of denying that he even exists. We could then develop “a mentality which obstinately sets the mind against the Spirit of God, and as long as that obstinate mindset perdures, God’s forgiveness cannot be accorded to such a person” (Fitzmeyer 1985, 964).
God loves us more than we can ever mess up, so much so, that he gives us the freedom to reject him. He does not impose his will upon us. John the Baptist and Jesus got this, and this is why their emphasis on repentance was so preeminent in their preaching. If we turn to God with humility and contrition, true sorrow for our sins, God will forgive us and we will receive his healing touch.
The danger of a consistent and obstinate disposition is that like a muscle that is not used, it will atrophy, and so will our ability to see God working in our lives. We will become less and less able to notice his gentle stirrings and invitations. We will become spiritually blind, and our hearts will become hardened. Now that does not mean God stops communicating. He continues to reach out to us in an infinite number of ways, but we are less and less able to receive the forgiveness he so thirsts to give us when we close off ourselves to even the mere possibility of him doing so.
Jesus, in becoming one with us so that we can become one with him, opened up the opportunity for us to experience the Holy Spirit, who is the Love that is shared between himself and God. The more we say yes to his guidance and leading, the more we will experience him, the more we will begin to recognize his voice, and the more we will participate in his forgiveness and love. I don’t believe in coincidences, but God-incidences!
Photo: The dome in the apse of St Ignatius Church in San Francisco. “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.”
Fitzmeyer, Joseph A. The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV in the Anchor Bible. NY: Double Day, 1985.