Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to Matthew 31:32. I know you know the verses but in the NIV Bible it goes: 31. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks a word against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come.
I have heard this portion of the Gospel preached a variety of ways. Most preachers find this passage rather tricky. It seems to say, as various passages in John do (John 5:22, 8:15 and 12:47), that Jesus is not a judgmental figure. In these passages, Jesus states rather directly that He is here to save the world not to judge it. Of course, in John 9:39 Jesus seems to contradict all this when He says “For judgment I am come into this world…” However, Biblical scholars claim that the operative word in the Greek is krima, meaning decision, not the judicial words kisis or krino as used in the passages in John 5, 8 and 12. In the context of John 9:39, Jesus may be saying He is here for mankind to hear his words, observe his deeds and make a decision about Him, not He about us.
Given this point of view, I am beginning to develop a theological notion, very Anglican as it happens, that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not cursing the Spirit’s name or failing to listen to it so much as it is using it for evil.
One has to be ever alert to the possibility that one’s cultural biases misinform his or her religious beliefs. And, I admit, this notion that blasphemy, as it relates to the Holy Spirit is best defined as misappropriation of the Spirit, does fit nicely with my notion of the world.
Anglicans/Episcopalians have, as the basis of their institutional memory, the viciousness of the English Civil War back in the 1500s and 1600s. It was a terrible time and one in which armies of the King and armies of the commoners, waged a war fueled by the Holy Spirit. During this war, it was a common occurrence for one side or the other to murder every man, woman and child in a village or lay waste to an entire county, all at the express, certain direction of the Holy Spirit. This experience led the Anglican tradition to defend itself against too much Holy Spirit by sticking to a liturgy that would put God to sleep. Likewise, a priest too gifted with language and the ability to move a congregation through his or her sermons is generally viewed with suspicion. (This cultural by product of the English Civil War is why the Episcopalians always get to the restaurant buffet at the club long before the Baptists.)
In our world today, religious folk of all faiths and denominations yearn for certainty. The world is a very ambiguous place, full of uncertainty and dangerous ideas, and real physical dangers as well. Indeed, if one allows him or herself to think overly long on this ambiguity it can become both terrifying and immobilizing.
For this reason, I think there are some men and women of all faiths, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Animists, Zoroastrians, you name it, who tend to flock to their religion out of a craving for certainty, not for any religious enlightenment.
All the founding figures of the world’s great religions recognized this paradox, That is, people flocking to their standard for temporal comfort, not for enlightenment. This paradox is both fundamental and dangerous. It is fundamental for it allows a religion to speak to a temporal need of its people. It is dangerous because it offers a powerful means of controlling men’s minds.
The more I think on it, the more I am coming around to the notion that the only unforgivable sin is the misappropriation of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of perpetuating evil. Whether that evil is as simple as the use of the Spirit to justify exclusion from the flock persons different from ourselves or something more horrific such as exhorting a vulnerable young man or woman to blow him or herself up in order to spread terror in the population of an enemy or some truly God-awful crime against humanity like the destruction of an entire city, this is the definition of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
From my cursory understanding of history, it seems to me that the purveyors of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of evil are most active in historical times of transition. That is, when the old order is waning and a new, undefined order is emerging. This was certainly true in the England of the Civil War and it is certainly true in the Islamic world today.
I do not think the medieval minds of the Mullahs care a whit about “our freedoms,” much less hate us for them. I believe they hate us because the global society in which we live comes wrapped in a technological package that defies the established order. The Googles and CNNs of the world make it impossible for us or them not to know how everybody else lives. It makes it impossible to control the flow of information so everyone in their societies knows about “our freedoms” and it creates a roiling uncertainty inside their cultures. This is what “they” hate and we merely personify it.
Likewise, many of our own people do not understand the economic forces that are torturing so many of us. We do not understand why the old institutions that used to provide for us are no longer working. This, added to the apparent irrational desire to kill us all by certain elements of Islam, is roiling our culture with uncertainty as well. This roiling makes us easy marks for those who do not shrink from misappropriating the Holy Spirit.
This is a fertile environment for blasphemers of the Holy Spirit.