Really now, a sin that’s unpardonable?

Is there such a thing as an unforgivable sin?

Wait a minute.  Isn’t it supposed to be that God can and will forgive all things, if only we act sorry enough at the last? After all, isn’t all of this sin bit a lot like a child being caught, hand in cookie jar, in which mom and dad eventually get over being angry when the child says, “but I am so sorry that I got caught?”

Which implicitly suggests that the child is NOT sorry to have been taking the cookies, he/she is just sorry to be inconvenienced by being noticed while taking them.

 How can there be an unpardonable sin? What is it? If there is an unpardonable sin, then what is that thing so heinous that even it God’s eyes it is beyond the pale?  Well apparently there is a sin that is unpardonable, beyond forgiveness. At least that is what is implicit in our Lord’s saying in the Gospel this week where in Mark 3.28f you can read:

 “People will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of eternal sin.”

What has been long understood is that the sin that is unforgivable is that of denying God and God’s power. A somewhat tortured exercise in logic, the reasoning goes something like this: if you deny that there is God, then you also deny that God has any power. If you have denied God has any power, then you have denied God’s power to forgive you. Therefore if you deny God’s power to forgive you, how then can you expect to receive forgiveness or mercy? You cannot. Therefore it follows that the sin of denying God (or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) is unpardonable, because God cannot forgive where you deny the power to forgive.

Some years ago, I was in a heated discussion with a friend. “If God is all powerful, can he build a mountain he cannot move?” My friend thought he had me there. Of course, attempting to apply the limitations of human logic to God is like applying the limit of human logic to a cat—some things just do not follow. In trying to help my friend to understand this I gently suggested that there was a limit to what God could do: smiling, I said, “may the Lord keep you sweet and pure, but if he cannot do that may he at least keep you!”

In the gales of laughter that followed that one, we came to a new understanding—and maybe this story helps to explain about how some things may, after all be unpardonable. Not so because of the limit of God’s power, but made so by the mountain of our own pride. The beginning of experiencing God’s forgiveness is contained in a simple phrase, “we do earnestly and humbly repent.” For until we appreciate the necessity of humility to find the forgiveness of God, alas, it is true: without contrition and repentance, all sin is unforgivable.



Canon Greg+


About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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