Sunday, June 17, 2012

An Unpardonable Sin

And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven…either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32)

I smile as I recall my adolescent self reading this verse out of context and wondering if a particularly naughty curse, which I equated with blasphemy, might damn me or one of my friends for all eternity! Now understanding blasphemy as an adult, I have a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ words as Matthew quotes them: blasphemy is not a single sin but a characteristic of one who calls good “evil” and evil “good.” In defending himself and others against the criticism of detractors, Jesus emphasized that “a house divided against itself cannot stand;” nor can anyone who does the will of God be demonized as an agent of evil. (verse 26) No single instance of slander or blasphemy, then, is too great to be forgiven by a loving God. Only one’s continual rejection of godly love can “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit” by closing, on the receiver’s end, the circuit of repentance that God always seeks to complete. What do your faith traditions teach about blasphemy or about unpardonable sins?

There are two kinds of sins in Judaism, which mirror the two categories of mitzvot (commandments): sins against God and sins against fellow human beings. It would be natural to assume that, of the two, sins against God are more severe. For example, the Torah prescribes capital punishment for the sin of idolatry, which is viewed as treason against the King of kings. Blasphemy, however, is a sin of words and only considered a high crime if one blasphemes with the express purpose of leading others astray. Generally, actions against God and other people are punishable, while sins committed in one's heart or with one's words are left to God's judgment. The mechanism for seeking forgiveness for sins against God is the observance of fasting, prayer and repentance, especially on (but not limited to) Yom Kippur. We believe that a person who is truly repentant--who when faced with the temptation to commit a previous sin overcomes it--is forgiven by God.

Muslims believe that God is limitlessly Merciful, Forgiving and Clement, and for this reason He will repeatedly forgive the one who sincerely repents. However, on the Day of Judgment, the only sin that is not forgiven is associating other gods with God. The Quran says: "God forgiveth not [the sin of] joining other gods with Him; but He forgiveth whom He pleaseth other sins than this." (al-Nisa, 4:116) As for blasphemy--and I believe this is the case with any religion--there is a wide spectrum of offenses. Muslim law, like Jewish law, makes a distinction between one who blasphemes in private and one who blasphemes publicly--who has the intentional desire to propagate false information and sway others into believing inaccurate concepts about the religion. In the first case, the individual must ask forgiveness, and he or she is not subject to any punishment. In the latter case, the punishments differ based on the situation and are only applicable in an Islamic State.