Worthwhile Reads: The Unforgivable Sin

The Unforgivable Sin, by Sierra of The Pheonix and Olive Branch

Sierra’s post reminded me of my own post on the subject:

Salvation Anxiety and the Unforgivable Sin

If you grew up in a religious family, what were you taught about the unforgivable sin? I ask because what Sierra was taught about it is very different from what I was taught about it, and that makes me wonder just how many different interpretations pastors are out there teaching!

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Libby

    OMG I just read your original post, and did it bring back memories!! I had considerable angst about that, and was assured that if I was worried about it, I wasn’t doing it. That didn’t relieve my anxieties, though. And like one reader, I also had the thought “F*** you, HS” running through my head at times. The sad thing is, even if I’d been able to think this through logically, I probably wouldn’t have been able to convince myself I was being ridiculous.

  • http://chroniclesofachristianheretic.blogspot.com Sandra Heretic

    We were taught that grieving the Holy Spirit meant if someone renounced their Christianity (gasp! Why would anyone ever…?) for example, they had at one point in their lives said the Sinners Prayer but sometime later decided the whole story was bogus. Then the Holy Spirit was so sad that Jesus would never come live in your heart again. You can tell from the kindergarten language that we were taught this from a very young age. And it was never clear how explicitly one had to “quit believing”. Did you have to say, “Jesus, get out of my heart,” or was frequenting a mainline church that was wishy-washy on eschatological issues grievous enough? Or somewhere in between?

    But, frankly, I don’t really think people were too bothered; everyone seemed quite sure that they were definitely saved and seemed pretty sure who else was or wasn’t “making God happy”.

    The only sins that were unforgivable to those self-assured arbiters of salvation (undoubtedly god whispered in their ears and not mine. Ecause they were holier than I) was having got caught in a sexual sin. The worst was an abortion because it was a double whammy–obvious fornication AND murder (the fornicating was definitely worse than the murder). Even adulterous affairs or unwed sex was forgivable if the parties were appropriately remorseful for a long enough time. But there was no repatriation into the good graces of the church for abortion, or unwed pregnancy (even if the parents married ASAP)

    The hypocrisy of it, comparing the gossip of the church with the forgiveness offered by Jesus to the Samaritan by the well and the woman taken in adultery, bothered me even as a preteen. Things just didn’t add up for me from a very young age.

  • jemand

    I wasn’t just worried about the unforgivable sin. There was *also* the question of participating in communion “unworthily” or the “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us blah blah”

    where a significant point was made of the conditional in the beginning. An unconfessed sin was an unforgiven sin, and there was really no practical distinction if you died (or probation closed) having committed unforgiven sin, or the unforgivable sin. There were many nights where I tried to pray a blanket “and please forgive me for any other things I may have forgotten and didn’t repent at the time” but that felt like cheating and I was never fully convinced it worked. So a lot of time and thought spent trying to remember any other “sin” that required repentance. Also, if I did the same sin over again, like what Sierra was taught, it called into question whether I’d actually repented the first time at all, and if that was the case, since at the time I HAD thought I’d repented, how could I tell I really was doing it right THIS time?

    Between that and the “unworthily” participating in communion, which honestly was kind of linked, because the most common interpretation was to participate while not in a completely forgiven state, (i.e., didn’t confess everything, or didn’t make right with another human even if confessed to god, or you sin in between the confession and the communion (my standards on what was considered sin could include just a sexual thought, etc.) and one was in danger of all manner of things. Including physical ailments.) I didn’t have as much time to devote to worrying about the unforgivable sin as I otherwise would have.

    Though that’s not to say I was completely at ease on that front. I was taught nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew what the rules were on who could commit it (i.e., can Christians?), or whether it was conditional like you were taught and could be forgiven later. It was just a giant mystery one was supposed to avoid. Don’t blaspheme the holy spirit. What’s that mean? Too many questions! Don’t try to walk a fine line, or even determine where that line is! One shouldn’t be too interested in which exact things are not safe because that might indicate an attitude too inclined to follow the letter of the law and get away with stuff by sophistry and splitting fine definitions. One should be more interested in finding which things *are* acceptable and keep far away from the edge. That was pretty much the advice. It was pretty much “the ancient Israelites were taught not even to say the *names* of the surrounding gods. Why do you want to know what it means to blaspheme the holy spirit? Such knowledge is dangerous. Don’t seek it.”

    Oh. And of course, don’t approach any of this in a spirit of fear instead of love and trust, either. Because that would mean that you were approaching it with a mind to save your own skin, rather than please god just from pure love. Which would mean a selfish motive which would invalidate any sort of confession and prayer ANYWAY, so, back to unforgiven. Try again. This time, like it.

    Wow, I really was playing a mindfuck on myself. That’s what deconversion felt like for me, leaving an emotionally abusive relationship with the realization that the other ‘person’ *was all in my head.*

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com Retha

    What I am sure about it, is that anyone who worry about being right with God, cannot possibly have committed it. Because a concern/ desire for being right with God is evidence that the Spirit is still involved with said person. I am also sure this is no command of the “don’t blaspheme …” type, it is an observation. The reason Jesus did not turn it into a command, is because anyone who follows him would not do whatever that mean. And elsewhere, he makes clear how to follow Him. As such, it is not meant to be a complicated or catch-22 issue as Jemand describes it.
    What I was taught (except “anyone who worry about being right with God, cannot possibly have committed it”) is that it mean anyone who hardens their heart against God to such an extend that they never accept Him, or completely reject Him and never turn back, committed that unforgivable sin.
    - – Up until here, I answered the question. Below this are further musings. Stop reading me if I bore you. – -
    While that teaching is in keeping with the general gospel message, I am less sure it is the context of the saying.
    The context is that Jesus freed a man from a demon – and that restored the man’s sight and hearing. (Matt 12:22) The Pharisees said that Jesus must be helped by the devils to do that. They saw a very good work of God, that freed this man to live a normal life – and they called it evil.
    Somehow, what Jesus said of sin against the Spirit connects to seeing the obviously good and freeing – and opposing it. I’m not sure how it connects, but the typical evangelical explanation do not put blasphemy against the Spirit in context with the events preceeding it.