One reads many interpretations of the following verse: “blasphemy against the [Holy] Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt 12:31). Of course, it is rather terrifying to know that there are some sorts of acts or sins that are not forgiven by God! In fact, however, the image of God conveyed by Jesus to us is an image of utter goodness and kindness, therefore one is in shock and struggles to understand that there may be a restriction or an exception to God’s goodness toward us. Also, one is curious to know what this act or sin is and why it is so heinous., i.e. in what its gravity consists.
God’s Goodness Revealed by the Lord
In this article, we will try to understand this statement by examining the light provided by its context. (see Mt 12:22-32). But before this, I would like to explain an important aspect that will help us later to understand the context, starting with the following words of Jesus from Matthew:
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!…” (Mt 7:9-11) The “good gifts” is here the Holy Spirit. St. Luke gives us the explanation: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”” (Luke 11:13)
We need to pay attention to the method used here by the Lord: He begins by pointing out something that is known to us, i.e. the goodness of parents toward their children, and from it, He invites us to imagine it increased a hundred or thousandfold so to speak, in order to help us guess who God is and the immensity of his Goodness, i.e. the true Face of God. It is as if Jesus is saying to us: “Do you want to know God? Ok, let me show you who God is. You know how good a mom or a dad can be toward their children! Now, in order to know what the true God is like, you need, so to speak, to multiply the unconditional goodness of this mom or dad by a hundred or by a thousand. Can you imagine this goodness? How good God is? What you mean to Him?” This process of going from the known unconditional human goodness to the unknown transcendent Goodness of God is like Jesus saying to us: “you don’t know God, I know Him, and let me tell you something about His very Nature.”
Let us notice that in the aforementioned quote from Luke, the “good Gifts” given by God to us is nothing less than the Holy Spirit who is God. The Holy Spirit is the Gift of God given to all the Baptised. The Holy Spirit’s presence in us is absolutely necessary to help engender love in us. The chain effect is inevitable: love God, love ourselves, and love our neighbour as ourselves. The Holy Spirit feeds our body, our senses, our emotions, our minds, our wills, our memory, and our spirit. He is really THE Gift par excellence that Jesus-God came to give us.
Now, if when my dad gives me some bread, I say to Him: “No, no, this is poison, not bread”, what am I doing to my dad and to his present? If I pay close attention, I will find that in fact by doing so I am perverting the foundations of what is good (bread, i.e. my very food) and not only cutting myself off but positively depriving myself of getting any basic food! This behaviour is seriously dangerous for me! I am perverting reality. In a way, it is blasphemous under two counts: I am offending the gift and the donor. There is no greater offence to my dad, than to say to him while he is giving me a loaf of bread: “Oh no, this is not bread, I don’t recognise it as such (i.e. as good). I can see that this is poison, it can kill me! No thank you”.
Here, through my behaviour, the very nature of goodness, i.e. bread, the basis and foundation of common sense, is being perverted. Am I not blocking myself off from the source of life or food? Shouldn’t society warn me seriously to avoid this at all costs? Because in fact if I behave in this manner there is no hope of my obtaining life, i.e. bread. This is a species of devilish perversion. It leads to physical death. This behaviour is very dangerous! One could object: but who could commit such folly unless there is some deep psychiatric disturbance? Well, in the spiritual realm it is possible, without even having a psychiatric ailment – it’s just a temptation of the devil. This is exactly what happened at a certain point with Jesus when He was casting out demons. Some Pharisees said that the Holy Spirit was Beelzebul. They said: “it is by Beelzebul that he is casting out demons”! This then led the Lord to declare: “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt 12:31) i.e. if what is Good, if the Gift of God that I am bringing you and that I am using to help you is considered by you as “poisonous” so to speak, then, you are cutting yourself off from God, you are depriving yourself of God’s Gift, you are perverting goodness by declaring it “poisonous” or evil. This is the exact context of this drastic disturbing declaration of Jesus. In fact, it is really essential that one read the context, and not separate the Lord’s sentence from it, otherwise it will lead to all sorts of outlandish interpretations! Many authors down the centuries have tried to give explanations for this harsh statement (i.e. “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:31)), and very rarely have they noted the simple and straightforward connection between it and its context, i.e. the verses that precede it, in order to understand it properly.
It is worthy of note even that both are highly offended, i.e. the Donor (Jesus) of the Holy Spirit and his Gift, i.e. the Holy Spirit. However, although the Lord declared that He (the Son of Man) would forgive the offender, if the offender remains obdurate, i.e. considering what is good as bad, he will be basically depriving himself of the Holy Spirit, i.e. divine life.
Here is the full text which allows us to see the connection between Jesus’ statement at the end and the reason why he uttered it:
“22 Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed the man so that he could speak and see. 23 The crowds were astounded and asked, “Could this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “Only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, does this man drive out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the one to come.”
As we can see here, the Lord drives out the demons. How does He do it? “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 28) says the Lord. On the other hand, the Pharisees offer another interpretation: it is done “by Beelzebul“. One might not see the gravity of the explanation offered by the Pharisees, i.e. the extreme seriousness and danger in saying that it is “by Beelzebul” that the Lord drives out the demons. It may even go unnoticed to the modern eye because of the first part of the Lord’s answer, i.e. the example of the “strong man’s house”.
In fact, to say that the Holy Spirit is in fact Beelzebul is a totally perverse. God is offering us His Gift, i.e. the Holy Spirit; His Gift is his help for us – his utter goodness issuing from his utter goodness – and yet some have the audacity to say that this is Satan or Beelzebul or a Demon. This is utterly perverse. Ignorance here cannot be excused, because by watching Jesus’ good acts and witnessing the peace emanating from those who have been exorcised, one can see the good effects of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Mark and Luke
In the case of Mark, the clarity regarding the link between Jesus’ declaration and the reason for it is direct and easy to grasp: “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of eternal sin.” Jesus made this statement because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”” (Mark 3:29-30) Jesus being the Christ, i.e. the Messiah, He is the Anointed, and also the one who communicates the Oil of Anointing, i.e. the Holy Spirit. In other words, it seems to indicate that the Spirit of Jesus is unclean, so that Jesus’ statement (“will never be forgiven”) about the Holy Spirit becomes easier to understand than in St. Matthew.
In the case of Luke, the statement (“will not be forgiven”) is taken from its context and this makes is very difficult to understand what it really means. The account of the exorcism can be found in Luke 11:14–23, while, the statement of the unforgivable sin is rather elsewhere, in chapter 12: “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10) This statement appears under a “Confessing Christ” paragraph, which is placed amongst other teaching paragraphs of Christ: “The leaven of the Pharisees”, “Fear God Alone”, “The Parable of the Rich Fool”. In this sense, the meaning of the unforgivable sin doesn’t appear as easily as it is in St. Matthew and in St. Mark.
The Holy Spirit in Our Daily Life
Honouring the Presence of the Holy Spirit in our life, paying attention to His promptings are not only very important to us, they are vital. Of course, being unfaithful to the Holy Spirit’s promptings here is not to be considered as a blasphemy against Him. But what I am trying to say now is that we need to understand how good God’s Gift for us is, i.e. the Holy Spirit.
The immensity and the utter goodness and closeness of the Holy Spirit are a vital element during our daily lives, minute after minute. In fact, He teaches us from within how to love, how to serve, how to forgive, … He purifies us also and transforms us. He Guides us. He shows us Christ. He helps us listen to the Risen Lord.
Being constantly attentive to Him urging us to love God is vital.
This is why St. Paul says: “Do not extinguish the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
The Living Active Fire of His Love in us and through us needs to stay enkindled. This depends on us. It is being extreme to think blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. We are far from this, by God’s Grace. But thinking that we are fine without the Holy Spirit and that we can get along with life forgetting His vital action is not a wise course of action.
St. Paul says also: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30) The first way to grieve Him is not to pay attention to His constant divine pulse of Love, inviting us to take part in it, to learn from Him in our hearts – to love God and to love our neighbour first, there in our hearts.
Sin finds its root in the moment in which we do not rely on the Holy Spirit. He wants to be the beat of our heart. We shouldn’t ignore the Holy Spirit by allowing our breathing and our heartbeat to go along, dry and empty without Him, and without receiving and collaborating with His divine Help. On the contrary, by practising the movement of the Prayer of the Heart as much as possible we tune in with the action of the Holy Spirit in us.