Is there a sin that God will not pardon?

According to the teachings of Jesus there is a sin that is not forgivable. In Matthew 12, a demon possessed man is brought to Jesus, who in turn casts the demon from the man. The Jewish leaders in the form of the Pharisees accuse Jesus in being in league with Satan. Jesus then states that satanic forces do not work against satanic forces, but that instead the work He is doing is that of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 12:31-32(NIV), Jesus says:
Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

Jesus here is stating that to attribute the work of the Spirit to the work of Satan is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

Okay, important safety tip... Thanks, Egon. Ummm... wait, what exactly is "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?"

To understand this sin, one must understand the role that the Holy Spirit plays in the process of salvation. Prior to salvation, the Holy Spirit's role is one of revelation and conviction.

First, the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to non-believers. 1 Corinthians 2:14(NIV) states:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

This means that even the truth of the Gospel is not discernable to an unregenerate man because he does not have at that point within him the ability to see it as such. It is, therefore, the role of the Holy Spirit to reveal to those who do not believe the truth of the life of Jesus and His identity as Messiah and in doing so, convince the person of their need to identify their life with the atoning work of Jesus on the cross and in doing so make Him their Lord.

A person who has this occur in their life and refuse to believe or act upon the conviction brought into their life by the Holy Spirit is guilty of what Jesus refers to as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. If the person reaches the end of their days of life on this earth and has not believed in Christ, there is no forgiveness for them - they have chosen not to believe on Christ and according to Scripture have chosen instead to live for eternity away from the presence of God and Christ. What Jesus is teaching is that should you reach the end of your life without having made a decision in this life to follow Him, you have no opportunity to repent of that decision beyond the grave, because there is no forgiveness for denying the leading of the Spirit.

Okay, that seems to make some sense. But I have always heard that suicide was an unpardonable sin, because by taking your life you won't have an opportunity to ask forgiveness and be pardoned. What about that?

This is a well-known teaching from some faiths. It is often brought up in conversation, especially when someone has died by their own hand. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have a scriptural basis.

The thing about this teaching is that it hinges on the fact that a person cannot ask for forgiveness before they die. But if that were the case, then if I as a Christian were to say a harsh word to someone, lie, steal, cheat, lust after a woman or any of a number of other sins, and then get struck by a car and die before I have an opportunity to ask for forgiveness, logic would dictate that I too would be destined for Hell. This however is not a teaching that you hear, though it would seem to be a much more likely scenario.

The upshot is that while the Scriptures discuss the premature ending of a person's life by their own hand, it never states that the person will be damned for the act. Suicide is horrible and sad and from a spiritual viewpoint, it is a sin. It effectively is telling God that you don't trust Him to do with your life what is best by following His plan and believing that He will do what is best and instead deciding that you know what is right. This is effectively what we all do everytime we sin, it is just that suicide has more long lasting consequences, but it is not a sin that is "unpardonable" and will sentence a person to Hell if they are already a Christian.

Let's say a missionary goes to the jungle to bring the Good News to the savages, and explains John 3:16 to their elders. Through some translation error, they think it means Jesus has the power to grant literal immortality. They are delighted, and ask, "Can Jesus give us the power to bring the dead to life?" Let's say our missionary is well-read in the Bible but foolish, remembers that some of the disciples did indeed get the power to raise people from the dead, and tells that to the elders, perhaps even reads to the them from the book of Acts of the Apostles. The elders ask: "How can Jesus give us this power?" and the missionary stupidly says: "All you need is for me to baptize you." So they agree to be baptized, but quickly discover that they have not, thereby, acquired the power to raise the dead. Worse, they soon learn that the baptized are not immortal, and as luck would have it, the missionary has exposed them to European diseases for which they have no immunity, and they start dropping like flies. The elders then order the missionary to be put to death in some appropriate way, say, crucifixion. Have they commited the Unpardonable Sin of rejecting the Gospel after they have heard it? I don't think so. A better question: did the missionary commit the Sin against the Holy Spirit? Again, I think not. It was all a misunderstanding.

What about all the millions of people who watch American football on television, who have thus seen fans holding up the signs that say "JOHN 3:16"? Are they all damned to hell if they don't check out that verse and become "born again" Christians after reading the blessed promise: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."? I don't think so. The gifts of the Holy Spirit consist in more than just being flashed "Chapter and Verse" numbers. Inspiration means more than having that verse read, or even explained, preached, proclaimed and expounded.

As Paul told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12) the gifts of the Holy Spirit are diverse and vary from person to person. "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the workings of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues." The missionary in my story clearly got some of these gifts but not all of them. In truth, the Unpardonable Sin is rare, because the required gifts of the Spirit are rare, and rejecting them deliberately is even rarer still.

The Unpardonable Sin is something like the Story of Jonah, but not quite. Jonah gets the power of prophecy from God, but then is told to go use it in the City of Ninevah. Jonah refuses, and tries to run away from God. He ends up being tossed off a ship and swallowed by a whale. Eventually, the whale disgorges Jonah when he gets the message: you can run from God, but you can't hide. He goes to Ninevah and does what God told him to do. Now, evidently, running from God is not the Unpardonable Sin, because God has mercy on Jonah and gives him a chance to correct the error of his ways. Jonah would have committed the Unpardonable Sin if, after being given such a gift and being shown such mercy, he were to go to Ninevah and misuse the gift of prophecy by deliberately making false prophecies, out of some grudge or resentment for the way God had treated him.

The Unpardonable Sin is therefore something like what Nietzsche talked about, using the French word ressentiment. See On the Geneology of Morals, First Essay, Section 10. It is a poisoning of the Spirit by the retention of bad feelings about the coming to Self-consciousness through encounter with the Other. It is hatred toward God aroused by God's demonstration of one's inferiority to God, by giving you something which you would not otherwise have had.

Oracle: I'd ask you to sit down, but, you're not going to anyway. And don't worry about the vase.
Neo: What vase?
Neo turns to look for a vase, and as he does, he knocks over a vase of flowers, which shatters on the floor.
Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I'm sorry...
Oracle: I said don't worry about it. I'll get one of my kids to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
Oracle: Ohh, what's really going to bake your noodle later on is,
would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?
-The Matrix (1999)

So what provoked Jesus into saying that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the only unpardonable sin? To understand, it may help to juxtapose his comment within ancient Biblical history where the scribes and priests had really been looking for a way to kill Jesus. Not only has Jesus healed on the Sabbath, he had told the parable of the wicked tenants, a story directly aimed at the Pharisees. It’s a simple story. A landowner leases his vineyard to a band of tenant farmers and leaves. While he is gone, the tenants begin to act like they own the place. When the owner sends a servant to collect payment, the tenants send him back without the rent. When the servant comes back again, they beat him up and throw him out. At last, the landowner sends his son, believing that surely the tenants will pay attention to him. But, no — they drag him off of the land and kill him, thinking that will make the vineyard theirs for good. 1 2 This of course is all an insinuation aimed at honking off all of the community leaders on behalf of the Jewish people. The vineyard is Israel, the servant is God’s people, and the tenants are the priests, the landowner, God; his son, Jesus and so on. The economics and politics of the era also played a large part in the perspective of what the audience was hearing in the story:

The parable…reflects … economic realities of Roman Palestine (in) the parable of the Wicked Tenants… specifically the condition of widespread unemployment in Galilee. Large segments of the population had been dispossessed and reduced to destitution, as a result of Pompey's reorganization of Palestinian territory. At the same time Herod the Great's expropriation of large tracts of farmland, sold to wealthy landowners or distributed to the officials of his court, had intensified the process... consequently peasants and tenants...who depended on them, had only their labor to sell to anyone who wished to hire them.

So the Jewish people made their living as servants of the politicians and the parable was pointed at them as well. The gospel of Luke goes on to note, "The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them."

This became the enemy of my enemy is my friend scenario and motivated the Pharisees to conspire with the Herodians because Jesus has not only ostracized many leaders in the secular community-- he had stigmatized the Jewish leaders as falling short of the law. Add to the mix that, without fail Jesus has demonstrated compassion by supporting those who were considered the dregs of society and hence marginalized by the temple advocates. This event sets the stage for the Passion and quickly culminates in the crucifixion.

During Passover Jesus foretells of his betrayal then he and his inner circle adjourn to the Mount of Olives. Near midnight the betrayal comes and Jesus is led away by the chief priests, elders, and scribes. When Jesus is asked directly if he is the Messiah, he replies with an allusion to Daniel, "I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed." The high priests interpret this as blasphemy. According to the Oxford Companion, blasphemy is defined as, “Speech that is abusive to humans or derogatory to God. Blasphemy against humans occurs when people speak words harmful to one another.” 3 4 The Old Testament law of Leviticus says that it is punishable by death.

When it comes to the unpardonable sin, the passages that has brought forth a great deal of debate is written about by both Matthew and Mark. Jesus tells his persecutors that to speak blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the sin that cannot be forgiven. As he brings this to the attention of the priests, he points out that this sin is not committed inadvertently by Jesus’ followers, but is attributed directly to the enemies of Jesus, who were claiming that his popularity among his followers was due to an evil spirit. The Pharisees, claiming divine prerogative, interpret the Levitical law that because Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah he deserves death. Jesus’ retort is that by destroying what has been built up by the Holy Spirit in the persona of his followers, their actions risk an unpardonable sin because they are alienating Israel from God. In an effort to retain their authority the Pharisees take Jesus before Pontius Pilate and he is subsequently convicted and crucified. Two thousand years later people are still talking about it.

Sources:

Intimations of the Year of Jubilee in the Parables of the Wicked Tenants :
www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=28

Interpretation:
crain.english.mwsc.edu/Mark/interpre9.htm

Memorable Quotes from The Matrix (1999):
www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/quote

The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993, p.92

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants:
www.discipleship.net/parable/wickedtenants.htm

One unpardonable sin according to Islamic perception is being a polytheist.

"Allah does not forgive that partners be associated with Him, and He forgives anything beneath that to whomever He wills." (Nisa 4:48)

"Allah forgive not joining other gods with Him; but He forgive whom He please other sins than this: one who joins other gods with Allah, has strayed far away." (Nisa 4:116)

The central theme of the Quran is of God's unity and his greatest attribute of mercy.

"My mercy has encompassed every thing." (Al-A'raf 7:56)

"Tell them (O Muhammad): 'O My slaves who have wronged their souls, do not despair of Allah's mercy, for Allah will forgive all the sins. He is indeed very Forgiving, very Compassionate, Turn to Him then, and obey Him (in all your affairs).'" (Zumar 53:54)

Qudsi Hadeeths in support of God’s mercy.

"When Allah decreed the creation He pledged Himself by writing in His book which is laid down with Him: My mercy prevails over my wrath."

"Says Allah, 'He who knows (and believes) that I forgive all sins, then I do forgive all his sins, and do not care - so long as he does not suggest partners unto Me."

"A man said: By Allah, Allah will not forgive So-and-so. At this Allah the Almighty said: Who is he who swears by Me that I will not forgive So-and-so? Verily I have forgiven So-and-so and have nullified your own good deeds (or as he said it)."

"O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great at it."

"The gates of Paradise will be opened on Mondays and on Thursdays, and every servant of Allah who associates nothing with Allah will be forgiven, except for the man who has a grudge against his brother. About them it will be said: Delay these two until they are reconciled; delay these two until they are reconciled."

Residents of hell will get out of hell because of Allah's mercy, nullifying common misconception of staying in hell for eternity, as supported by Quran (7:40) and Matthew 19 23-26, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

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