So you think you’ve committed the unpardonable, unforgivable, permanently staining sin. Welcome.

It is amazing, isn’t it, that with all of the gospel good news telling us how much God loves us, how ready God is to forgive us, how God will never let us go

(think Prodigal, think Comfortable Words, think Psalms, think lost sheep, think crucifixion, resurrection and that whole deal, think Gentiles, tax collectors and sinners, think love, think way, truth, Life …)

that this one verse is enough to make us doubt all over again. Have I done it? Did I, somewhere, somewhen, do the wrong thing, say the one word that locks me away forever from that forever forgiveness, that lively, lovely eternal embrace?

There are opinions as to what the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is or might be, how one might commit it. Reading them, I get the feeling that it’s one of those things, like obscenity, that is impossible to define but recognized in one’s gut when realized – you know, let’s not even go there. The more opinions I describe about what this thing is, the more chances that someone will catch herself on the jagged, broken glass and find her own broken image there, and imagine herself unforgiven all over again. Most people (anecdotally evidenced) do not feel themselves exempt from the threat of unforgiveness. Many people worry that they have sinned beyond pardon.

Let me be frank: I do not claim to know what this saying means. I don’t know if the phrase is hyperbolic or realistic, highly contextual or abstractly absolute.

On the one hand, I find it hard to go with the notion that anything is unforgivable by God, given God’s famous propensities toward mercy. I find it difficult to believe that God would lock me out of love for one misstep, even one taken deliberately, in anger, pain or fury, given how loving God is to me the rest of the time. And I don’t think most of you reading have committed many sins that I haven’t. So if you’re unforgiven, so am I.

But I’m not. I sometimes feel as though I should be, but that’s me fighting the gospel, denying God’s revelation and redemption. Fortunately, I think that gets forgiven, too.

On the other hand, if we must believe that there is an unforgivable sin, here’s an alternative approach: If we must believe that there is an unforgivable sin, does it have to follow that there is an unforgivable sinner? If we must read literally the threat that one sin is unpardonable, then isn’t it still possible that we can commit some one thing that cannot be redeemed, cannot be undone, cannot be washed away, without condemning our whole selves to hell?

I am envisioning an apple with a bruise – imperfect, but edible; even delicious. A favourite mug with a slight chip. Flawlessly freckled skin. A garment with a spot inside the hem – a stain that only the wearer will ever notice or see – everything else washed whiter and brighter than fuller’s bleach can make it.

So you think you’ve committed the unpardonable, unforgivable, permanently staining sin. Welcome. You might want to confess, amend, repent. But please don’t worry about it.

Loving the unlovable; hoping for the hopeless; forgiving the unforgivable. For God all things are possible. Aren’t they?

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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