Is there an unforgiveable sin? Is there something I might say or do that is so heinous in the sight of God that there is never any possibility of forgiveness, no matter how earnest my repentance may be?
Everything we are taught to believe about a loving and forgiving God says, “No!” there is nothing that puts us beyond the pail. But then we come to Sunday’s Gospel lesson from Mark: [Jesus said,] “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28-29, click here for the complete passage).
I wish I could tell you that I have a clear and thoroughly satisfying answer. I do not. But there are at least three things I would want to remember. First, this is in response to a very specific situation. The “scribes” (the most educated and elite of the Jewish religious leaders) looked at Jesus’ actions (healing the sick, casting out demons, etc.) and said that Jesus was possessed by Satan. It appears that to “blaspheme the Holy Spirit” is to look at what is clearly and plainly the presence and work of God and call it Satanic. This is far beyond a blasphemous colloquialism, but to clearly see God and name it Satan.
Second, the overwhelming teaching of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, is that there is forgiveness for whatever sins we may commit. We need to be very careful about taking these few words (even words from Jesus) and expand them to something that denied the rest of the clear teaching of Scripture. It is much safer to assume that there is more to this than we presently know.
Finally, it seems to me that we might be mis-hearing this text. We generally assume that Jesus refers to the question of whether God dispenses forgiveness in such a situation. I think a better interpretation might be that Jesus is saying that we can so thoroughly and willfully deny God as to put ourselves in a place where we are unable to receive forgiveness. It may well be that what Jesus is saying is not that God will refuse to forgive, but that we can render ourselves unable to accept that forgiveness.
Are there past sins that weigh heavily on you? Turn them over to God! Don’t let your own feeling of being unforgiveable lead you to believe that God will not forgive you. There is always forgiveness!
This column appeared in the June 6, 2021 issue of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.