Is there such a thing as an unforgivable sin? Jesus seems to say that there is.
In the gospel of Matthew, He tells the Pharisees, “People will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against a son of man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt 12:31-32).
But what exactly is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?” And why is it unforgivable? We’re given a clue in the book of Hebrews, where the author warns us:
“It is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy (stand away), since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt” (Heb 6:4-6).
Apostasy is usually defined as walking away from a religion or faith. But what the author of Hebrews is describing is more than just leaving one’s childhood faith. It’s more than just leaving the “true church” and worshipping elsewhere. It’s more than a temporary fall into sin or unbelief.
What’s described here is a person who has experienced God’s love and power in its fullness, to the extent that it’s undeniably and irrefutably present in his or her life – and then chosen to turn away from it forever.
It’s “impossible” to restore such a person to faith because he or she has already experienced the most convincing display of love and power known to humanity. If a person can walk away from this, there’s nothing more that can be done to change his or her mind!
Personally, I find it hard to imagine that anyone who has really known the love of God could do this. Why would anyone turn away from such a profound joy and peace, and vow never to return to it? It seems inconceivable. And yet, I do know of one creature who has done exactly this – the devil.
Church tradition says that the devil was originally a powerful angel, who then rebelled against God and was kicked out of heaven. If this is true, then he has seen and felt God’s love in a more powerful and immediate way than any of us mortals.
It boggles my mind to think that Satan could walk away from this, knowing that it couldn’t possibly be to his advantage! And yet, this is the witness of not just church tradition, but Scripture as well (Luke 10:18, Rev 12:7-12, 20:1-10).
As bad as apostasy is, however, “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is even worse. To be guilty of this, someone would have to not only turn away from God’s love, but actively encourage others to do the same.
Jesus implies the Pharisees are close to this point when they attribute His healing works to demonic power (Matt 12:24).
This isn’t an innocent mistake, in other words! The Pharisees are not simply lacking in discernment, unable to tell a good spirit from a bad one. These are people who have (presumably) experienced God’s love on a deep, personal level. They recognize the work of the Holy Spirit when they see it. But in spite of all this, they want no part in it – and they don’t want anyone else to experience it, either!
When they call the work of the Spirit demonic, these people are deliberately putting a stumbling block before others and endangering these people’s souls. This is the worst possible thing a person can do, Jesus says (Mark 9:42-48).
This sin is “unforgivable” for exactly the same reason as the apostasy described in Hebrews 6 – it involves a hardness of heart so deep that nothing, not even the love of God, can break through it. If the greatest love in the universe won’t change a person, nothing will.
As to whether any person has actually committed blasphemy against the Spirit, I can’t say; but it seems pretty unlikely. The love I have come to know in God seems irresistible; and I have trouble believing that an all-knowing, all-loving God would create people that He knows will be eternally lost.
There’s one thing, however, that keeps me from being certain everyone will be saved – and that’s my experiences with the devil.
Here I have seen something very hard to explain – a being who has known God’s love in its fullness, more than any mortal, and yet has become so evil that he will go to almost any lengths to weaken people’s faith and lead them astray.
The devil appeared to me in a particularly disturbing vision recently, disguised as Christina (my girlfriend in heaven, who passed in 2014, and who has appeared to me in spirit many times since then).
I’ll give you the best sex you’ve ever had, if you give me your soul, the woman in the vision said.
Don’t be ridiculous, I responded. I wouldn’t give up eternal life with God just for sex!
Yes you would, said the devil. You would give it all up for just one night with me, and you know it!
At this point I cried out to the Holy Spirit for help, and the devil disappeared.
Though I knew the woman in the vision was not really Christina, the experience was terrifying nonetheless; and it cast a shadow of doubt on many of my earlier spiritual experiences.
What if the loving spirit I have been communicating with all this time is really a demon? I wondered. How can I know for sure?
When I prayed about this, Sophia (the Holy Spirit) gave me some words of reassurance. You know that the love you have experienced with Christina (both before and after her death) is real, and has brought you closer to Jesus, She said. Remember this.
The devil can disguise himself in almost any form, said Sophia. Indeed, all the saints and angels in heaven have their satanic counterparts; but these have no power compared to the real thing. Trust in the love that you know is true, and don’t let anyone pull you away from it.
After this I felt Sophia holding me tight in her arms, along with Jesus, Christina, and many other saints. The love was almost overwhelming; and when I thought of how many times the devil has tried to lead me away from this, it made me weep. How could anyone be so evil, to try to take this away from me? I wondered.
The devil has absolutely nothing to gain from this sort of trickery. It appears that he tempts and deceives people for no other reason than the pleasure of watching them suffer!
If someone who has known the love of God has nonetheless become this evil, it seems unlikely he will ever change his mind. And this, I am convinced, is what Jesus was referring to when He spoke of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”
How, we may ask, can such evil continue to exist in a universe created by and for a God of pure love? It cannot. Thus the devil must eventually either be converted or destroyed. Of the two, the latter seems much more likely.
All of us will pass through God’s purifying fire; of that I am convinced. And this fire will surely consume every trace of evil. Once all the chaff has been burnt away, whatever is good in us will survive for eternity.
But what if a creature degenerated, as the devil appears to have done, to the extent that only evil remained? In this case, there would be nothing to save. Once all the hatred was eaten away, nothing would be left.
Nevertheless, I will continue to hope for the reconciliation of all – at least as far as humanity is concerned. Since only God truly knows people’s hearts, I have no reason to assume that any person is ever beyond redemption.
As for the devil (whoever or whatever he is), I will leave his fate in God’s hands. Perhaps God can save even him; but I won’t trouble myself with such concerns. As far as I’m concerned, he can go to hell.