Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

Perhaps one of the more confusing Scriptural passages to interpret comes from when Jesus talks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. He says, contrary to our expectations that God seeks to save all sinners, that those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age, or worse, in eternity:

Christ by Duccio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Christ by Duccio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matt. 12:31-2 RSV).

If God so loves the word that he sent his son, Jesus, to reconcile the world to himself, how can there be any sin which is unforgiveable? A literalistic reading of what Jesus said should trouble any reader of Scripture. It suggests a different vision of God than the one is revealed at the cross, where the heart of God is exposed.

Since the revelation of God at the cross demonstrates to us the purest vision of God’s being which we can have, we must therefore seek to understand what Jesus was saying about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit which will not reject God’s open heart for sinners. We must not understand Jesus as saying that if someone, with no knowledge of God, no proper understanding of the Holy Spirit, will not be able to repent and turn to God if they ever say something against the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. Moreover, since Christians are called to test the spirits, would the Holy Spirit damn someone for making a wrong assessment in a particular situation, merely because someone sought out the truth but interpreted the situation wrong and so spoke out against what the Holy Spirit is revealing through someone else?

Clearly, we must not assume it is any particular kind of mistake about the Holy Spirit, and with it, wrong words about the Holy Spirit, which is unforgiveable. Indeed, we see Jesus working to forgive those who spoke against him, for those same who said it was a demon working through him (cf. Mk. 3:22), were among those Jesus prayed for on the cross, asking the Father to forgive them for they knew not what they did (cf. Lk. 23:34). While Jesus says whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, he proclaims forgiveness to those who speak against the Holy Spirit.

We must conclude, then, that when Jesus says that someone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, he is not talking about a simple misunderstanding and a rejection of the Holy Spirit due to ignorance and unbelief. Jesus is talking about something else, that is, extreme denial which, in its declaration, closes someone off from the Holy Spirit itself, and renders themselves incapable of receiving forgiveness. The speech against the Holy Spirit which is unforgiveable is the proclamation one makes for oneself of oneself for eternity, the self-definition that they make, which in that declaration, is made to hold oneself up against the Holy Spirit, not for a particular time, but for eternity. That is, as our lives speak for ourselves, it is what someone makes of their lives, and so says of themselves, revealing who and what they have made for themselves for eternity, which is in question, and if in that self-revelation and speech, the person rejects the grace of love, the grace of the Holy Spirit, then, closed off unto themselves, they have no means of forgiveness because they will not allow themselves to receive such forgiveness.

This declaration of oneself will be made in time, which is why they will not receive such forgiveness in this age, but will be reified at the end of one’s own life, which is why it becomes an eternal declaration against the Spirit and so will not receive forgiveness in the world to come. Time, after all, reflects eternity, and what is denied in eternity will be denied in time. On the other hand,  what is denied in time, because of the changeability of time,  is not necessarily what is denied in eternity; as long as someone is within time, they have room to change and to develop their eternal representation. What is done in time is taken into eternity.  Each segment of time is only a partial representation of eternity. What is done in time, when it is collected and summarized as a whole, is what points to and shows how one defines oneself for eternity. At each moment of time, we find ourselves in a crisis point, where we are able to engage eternity as we develop our eternity image, and so each moment of time is a time of self-declaration, but it is only once we have finalized our life, and our image, in and through death, that what we have made of ourselves is truly capable of being revealed through the judgment of Christ.

Thus, it is not any particular speech Jesus is referencing, but a kind of existential revelation of ourselves which is at play. If what we make of ourselves closes us from the grace of the Holy Spirit, if we make our life a denial of the Holy Spirit and make it our final and eternal statement on the Holy Spirit, we will deny the grace of the Holy Spirit, the salvific mercy it brings to us, and so there truly will be no forgiveness for us. This is not because the Holy Spirit denies us forgiveness, but because we deny the Holy Spirit and so deny the forgiveness it would bring to us if we accepted it.

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