ARE SOME SINS UNPARDONABLE
If we adopt a Pauline perspective, however, then we must regard all punishment, even the harsh punishment to which the author of Hebrews alludes, as an expression of mercy. When we nurse old grudges, refuse to forgive others, and willfully oppose the Spirit within, we become adversaries--not only in our relationship to God and to others, but in our relationship to ourselves as well. We undermine the very conditions of our own happiness and, in the end, make ourselves utterly miserable. It is as if we thereby launch an attack upon ourselves and fling ourselves into a fiery pit. Only in this modern scientific age, perhaps, are we beginning to understand in full the devastating physiological consequences of refusing to forgive those who have wronged us. But God’s mercy, according to Paul, consists in just this: He will continue to hold our feet to the coals until the adversary--that is, the false self--is utterly consumed. Like the failed Christian leaders of which Paul speaks in I Corinthians 3:15, we “will be saved, but only as through fire."
A point worth re-emphasizing here is that God’s refusal to pardon a given sin--for example, his refusal to pardon blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, whatever exactly such blasphemy might be--in no way implies a lack of compassion or mercy on his part. When we speak of forgiveness, we typically have in mind an attitude or state of mind in the one who forgives; that is, a state of mind that exists when a person gives up all resentment towards an offender. But when Jesus speaks of forgiveness in the present context, he has in mind, as we noted above, the canceling of some obligation, debt, or prescribed punishment. A little reflection will reveal that the two kinds of forgiveness are utterly different. A governor may pardon a criminal for reasons, such as political expediency, that have nothing to do with a forgiving attitude; alternatively, loving parents, despite their forgiving attitude, may judge it best to hold their rebellious child to a given punishment. Precisely because the parents do love and do forgive their child, they may refuse to forgive the punishment in the sense of setting it aside. And that, I want to suggest, is exactly how we should understand the idea of a sin that God will not forgive or pardon as well. Because a refusal to forgive others, a refusal to repent, and a willful opposition to the work of the Spirit within undermine the very possibility of reconciliation and are so contrary to the conditions of our own future happiness, God will require that we experience in full the painful consequences of, and hence the punishment for, such sins as these. He could not express his love for us--his concern for our future happiness--in any other way. For when mercy itself requires severity, or a harsh means of correction, that is just what we can expect, says Jesus, either in this age or in the age to come.
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