The Unforgivable Sin and the Nature of God

One of the techniques that atheists have used over the years has been to attempt to portray the whole concept of God as irrational. There are many methods employed to do this, but one frequently used method is to take a biblical passage or story and interpret in such a way as to make God look like an arrogant, egotistical fool. The whole concept of judgment, heaven, and hell is a frequent target of such attacks. How can anyone do anything that would warrant eternal punishment?

Any thinking person can see answers to this question. If God gave us life and holds us accountable for what we do with it, there is no inconsistency because accountability is logical. There are some questions that can be quite complex to answer, but they can be answered-and, in this writer's mind, they can be answered logically and positively.

What is harder to answer is the question of the "unforgivable sin." The biblical reference to this question is:

Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatsoever blasphemies they utter; but whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin (Mark 3:28-29, NRSV).

Atheists have cited this passage as a demonstration of God's irrationality, and some believers have struggled with the passage and whether they have committed the unforgivable sin and thus have no hope.

The first point that needs to be made is that Jesus' statement in Mark was made in response to the scribes' claim that Jesus had cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub (the prince of demons). What these people were doing was attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. These people have seen an incredible demonstration of the power of Jesus, but rather than being open to the evidence that was provided, they took a sustained stance of denial. This was not a one-time denial or single statement against Christ and God; it was an ongoing denial of God by attributing the good done by God to evil.

There are many examples in the Bible of people who deny God and/or Christ. The classic example in Peter:

Then he [Peter] began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them "I don't know the man" [Jesus] (Matthew 26:74).
In Luke 12:8-11, Jesus had made a contrast between acknowledging Jesus, denying Jesus, and sinning against the Holy Spirit.
I tell you, whosoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. 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 (NIV).
No one would suggest that Peter blasphemed the Holy Spirit, but he certainly spoke against Jesus. Jesus predicted Peter would deny Him and yet He promised Peter He would pray for him. In Luke 24:34, we see that Jesus made a special appearance after his death to Peter.

The contrast to Peter, Thomas, and the others who denied Jesus is Judas. Judas saw all the miracles of Jesus. He was a witness to the good Jesus did, the power of His teachings, and His perfect life. In spite of all of the evidence and all the good he saw, Judas deliberately and consciously turned himself over to Satan. He denied the Holy Spirit, denied the divinity of Christ, denied the power of God, and was so committed to evil that nothing short of the death of Christ would convince him of who Jesus was. When he was convinced, instead of turning his life over to God and seeking forgiveness, he killed himself. This was not a flash in the night, knee-jerk reaction to Jesus. This was a deep immersion into evil that was so complete that no return to God's way was possible. The people in Mark 3:28-29 were making a sustained stance toward Jesus that denied the power of God as the force that was working in Him. None of the gospels say that a person cannot alter this stance once it has been taken, but Judas shows how difficult it can be to change it. A person who is worried about whether he has committed blaspheme against the Holy Spirit has already changed that stance and is not guilty of blaspheme.

God does not want anyone to be lost (2 Peter 3:9) and because of this is willing to extend forgiveness to an unbelievable extent. The word used to describe this is grace. Those who do not have forgiveness are those who refuse it. Allowing oneself to be so controlled by Satan that nothing man or God does will be accepted is a condition, and "blaspheme against the Holy Spirit" describes that condition. Our refusal to accept God's grace is what condemns us-not a careless oath. -JNC

--John N. Clayton

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