October 18, 2003

Tom, as I had hoped, clarified Catholic thinking on the unforgivable sin I mentioned the other day in Mark 3. Lynn also weighed in, adding some remarks from the Venerable Bede.

I sympathize with Rob's protest in Tom's comments that the definition of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit seems overbroad here. When you look at it that way, what sin doesn't it cover? Especially since Mark seems to be talking about something very specific, and even clarifies this at the end of the passage: "...For they had said, 'He has an unclean spirit.'"

I'm still not sure about that one, but the more interesting part of this to me is Bede's and others' suggestion that "unforgivable" doesn't mean "unerasible," it just means this sin you have to repent for if you want to get right with God. That at first struck me funny, but that may be due to my evangelical influences. Conservative Protestants tend to take a dualistic view of grace: either God forgives you and you're saved, or he doesn't forgive you and you're lost. But our everyday understanding of forgiveness isn't so extreme. If a parent spanks a child or a judge passes a one-year prison sentence, they are not forgiving, but neither are they throwing the transgressor away. The fact that God might look at it the same way is suggested by a number of finite punishments he exacts throughout the Bible.

The one that seems most relevant to me regarding the Mark passage is the conversion of Saul in Acts 9. Saul has been acting rather like the scribes in Mark 3 -- he's been persecuting Christians because, as a zealous Pharisee, he thinks they're enemies of God. God famously knocks him to the ground on the road to Damascus, and he's saved. But he's also struck blind, and is apparently in such a state of shock he doesn't eat or drink until another disciple heals him.

Was the blindness a punishment? It's not clear, but no one else who gets visitations from God in the Bible is blinded by them, that I recall. God's approach to Saul does seem, shall we say, rather violent, and not in the spirit of totally forgiving and forgetting everything Saul's been up to. But it all works out for the best, which I suppose gives some hope to the rest of us.

Posted by Camassia at October 18, 2003 03:14 PM | TrackBack
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