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The Unpardonable Sin

I’m reading through the Unspoken Sermons by George McDonald.  Holy cow, they are awesome!  Of course, you dont have to take my word for it.  Read it yourself here.

George McDonald (GM) is such a mental giant.  His use of the English language, though a bit antiquated, is still far beyond my rudimentary usage and understanding.  I can’t read him too late at night, for example, because it requires all of my faculties to assimilate what he is saying.  As it is, I still have to reread certain passages to try and get to the full understanding his words engender in me.

Much more importantly, he is a spiritual giant.  He begins the fourth sermon in the book, It shall Not Be Forgiven, by talking about the inherent limitations of language in discussing the things of God.  Human speech, as noble as it is, falls woefully inadequate in describing God, imparting the wisdom of God, and unveiling the truths of God and cosmos in our lives.  “Spirit and Truth are like the Lady Una and the Red Cross Knight; Speech like the dwarf that lags behind with the lady’s “bag of needments.”

I don’t even begin to get that reference.

Of course, his point is that language, while such a useful and needful thing in our lives, is not merely inadequate for the job, it can also lead to misunderstandings on the scale of misrepresenting the nature of God as to totally hide Him from us.  And yet, all is not lost.  “If we are bound to search after what our Lord means – and He speaks that we may understand – we are at least equally bound to refuse any interpretations which seems to us unlike Him, unworthy of Him.”

What is a man like me to do?

“…that part of us which loves Him let us follow, and in its judgements let us trust; hoping, beyond all things else, for it growth and enlightenment by the Lord, who is that Spirit.”

This seems to me to be more eloquent and truthful than all of the twisted systems of theologians who would seek to quantify God and His love into an equation or a formula that would suck the mystery out of our existence and God’s involvement in the cosmos.  This is the Spirit’s work, which GM says is “known by its witnessing with our spirit.”  I follow this Spirit to the revealed Son and the word which He left for me, not the other way around, letting the written word imprison the Spirit and the Son in such a way as to think that Jesus is less noble than I can be, or that the Father can’t love in a way that I as a Father find so natural and easy.  MAY IT NEVER BE!  May my feeble words, nor anyone else’s,  never so closet the work of the Spirit in our lives.

As regards the actual purpose of the sermon, which GM takes several pages to even reveal, I don’t think his teaching is that far away from what I have always heard about the “unpardonable sin,” that being, to exist in such a way as to be antithetical to the movements of God and thus be unable to receive grace and love.  (This is surprising because old George certainly strays from the reservation on a few other theological ideas.)  Only those who continually say no to God are guilty of the unpardonable sin.  Theologians call this the seared conscious of man.  The difference in GM’s understanding and what I have been taught over the years is that this is not a permanent state of being. “That is my chief difficulty.  But I think it may be.  And wiser people than I, have thought so.  I have difficulty believing it, I say; yet I think it must be so.  But I do not believe that it is a fixed, a final condition.  I do not see why it should be such any more than that of the man who does not forgive his neighbor.  If you say it is a worse offense, I say, is it too bad for the forgiveness of God?”

Judas is kind of a poster boy for this seared conscious, for how else could he have betrayed the Savior.  Further, Judas adds the double whammy of killing himself, which according to some doctrine (read contract) promises him an eternity of hellfire.  Of Judas, GM writes, “But I will not, cannot believe, O my Lord, that thou wouldst not forgive thy enemy, even when he repented, and did thee right.  Nor will believe that thy holy death was powerless to save thy foe – that it could not reach to Judas.  Have we not heard of those, thine own, taught of thee, who could easily forgive their betrayers in thy name?  And if thou forgives, will not thy forgiveness finds its way at last in redemption and purification?”

McDonald says this condition of spiritual depravity that is unable to receive the grace of the Father (the unpardonable sin) is marked by unforgiveness, specifically, unforgiveness in the heart of one man toward another. This understanding helps to clarify a teaching of the Savior that I have struggled with for many years.  “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.” This is not, as I have often thought and perhaps been implicitly taught, a conditional promise from the Father that depends upon my forgiving of my fellow man.  It goes beyond that.

My forgiveness of others is not a prerequisite for God’s forgiveness, rather, it is a reflection of my own spiritual condition.  If I am unwilling to forgive my neighbor, then there is no room for God’s forgiveness in my heart.  “It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him.  The former may be an act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice.”  This state of being, that stubborn unwillingness to forgive, is what prevents the Father from forgiving me, not because He chooses to withhold forgiveness, but because I do.

And that is the unpardonable sin of which He speaks in Luke 11:18 – And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven.