Monday, June 10, 2019 - Updated: 3:38 pm
QUESTION: What exactly is the “unforgivable sin” in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and why is it unforgivable?
ANSWER: The passage referred to above is this: “Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31). This same thought is repeated in the Gospels of Luke (12:10) and Mark (3:28-29).
These New Testament passages have been troubling for people throughout the ages because they seem to limit forgiveness, whereas Christ seems to have forgiven everyone.
One explanation, from what Jesus said to the Pharisees, is that some who saw his works were attributing to the Evil One that which was the work of the Holy Spirit. This blasphemy was unforgivable because, in attributing to Satan what was God’s alone, cut off the very source of forgiveness.
This explanation flows into a fuller understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit. Accepting that God forgives all sins, we must also acknowledge, with the New Testament, that the instrument of Christ’s forgiveness is the Holy Spirit. St. John’s Gospel records: “Then he breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive men’s sins they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound” (John 20:22-23).
In this light, given the Holy Spirit’s role, common sense tells us that any blasphemy against (or denial of) that Holy Spirit will have a direct effect on the forgiveness of sins.
It is similar to a hungry person seated at a table full of food who for some reason refuses to eat. The person is condemned to starve not because of decisions reached by others, but clearly because they refuse to accept the one thing that brings life — the food at the table. In the same way, the “unforgivable” sin is that of denying the ability of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins.
The important consequence of this thought is not that there is an “unforgivable” sin, but how such a sin becomes unforgivable. We must admit that we ourselves make the sin unforgivable by our unwillingness to accept the very means by which forgiveness takes place.
These passages have troubled many people because they are afraid they may have committed some specific sin that is mysteriously “unforgivable.” The above Scripture passages should never be the cause of fear or anxiety.
The New Testament records Christ’s forgiving the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well, and even the denial of Peter. In fact, these passages should give us hope, for they proclaim that every sin will be forgiven.
The sin against the Holy Spirit is not one that is committed at certain moments in a person’s life. It should be seen rather as an obstinate, arrogant and unyielding denial of the Holy Spirit as the means of grace and forgiveness. This also reflects on those who for whatever reason hold on to past sins and will not allow themselves to be forgiven. Every sin is forgivable to those who are sorry and who allow the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive and heal.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.