Have you ever met someone who was so entrenched in their viewpoint on a particular subject that no amount of evidence to the contrary would move them an inch. Maybe it is a child who is absolutely positive that they don’t know who spilled the milk, even when no one else was in the room and they are still holding the milk jug in their right hand. Maybe it is the husband who is 100% sure that he put the seat down in the middle of the night. Or, the wife who is convinced that… Never-mind, I almost forgot that my wife is always right. Whew! Dodged a bullet there! (Thankfully, we don’t see this behavior from our political leaders, news outlets and social media. That would be so frustrating…)
Admitting we are wrong, or even a little mistaken, is one of the hardest steps for us to take. Instead, it is easier to become immovable; to set our feet, clench our jaws and growl at the hard fact that we might, possibly, maybe need to admit our error. This is not a flaw unique to our generation.
Years ago, there was a man who was blind. Everyone agreed on that point. They also agreed that he was mute, unable to speak. No argument there. So, when he was healed, everyone also recognized that a miracle had been performed in their little town. Those facts were not in dispute. He was blind and mute. Now, he could see and was set free.
Some folks in town were excited for the man and the miracle that had been done in their midst. Others, witnessing the same evidence, were…concerned. Yes, seeing is better than blindness. Freedom is better than being limited in any way, including speech. But, some were troubled about “how” was he set free. What was the cause or the source of his healing? Where did this miraculous power come from? Who was behind the miracle and what did that person want?
The group celebrating with the formerly blind man believed that God was involved, because good was involved. A guy who was blind could now see the stars at night and the faces of his friends! Light is better than darkness, right? For them, God was moving in their town to bring freedom.
However, the leaders in that town were not quite ready to organize a parade. They were more skeptical. After all, things like this don’t happen everyday. No one had asked for their approval, or filed the proper paperwork. This kind of power needed to be understood, and possibly controlled. Also, what about the questionable circumstances surrounding this so-called miracle? What if this man was not healed by God, but by something more sinister. What do we really know about the person who healed him? What was his motivation? Was there payment for services rendered, and if so, did he pay taxes on it? What if this miracle was not good at all!? In fact, since demon possession was not uncommon, what if this man was blind and mute because he was possessed by a demon? What if evil forces were behind this from the beginning? Look, if evil forces possessed him, then isn’t it possible, or even probable, that the ruler of demons himself, told the demons to leave, and that is what “cured” him? So perhaps this so-called “healer” is really an agent of evil, right here in our small town! Hurry, print the headline, “The Blind Can See: But at What Cost?” “Man Oppressed with Sight by the Devil.”
I wish I were exaggerating, but that is what happened. Despite the facts, the religious leaders claimed that this man’s healing was the work of the Prince of Demons. Nice…
Throughout history and around the world, people have had the ability to see the same evidence and develop completely different underlying stories, which are typically tied to an underlying agenda. Many times, if you are familiar with a particular group’s agenda, you can anticipate the story they will tell. In the story of the blind man, the underlying motivation of the leadership is quite familiar: control. The power that freed this man, also threatened their power. So, to put themselves back on top and back in control, they created doubt by constructing a ridiculous story. After all, why would the prince of demons go through the effort to possess and blind someone, only to reverse course later? Strong, well-run organizations don’t work against themselves. (1)
Unfortunately, the story does not end there. Debunking an ill-conceived story or false-narrative does not bring closure or justice. The stories that we tell ourselves matter. Our motives make a difference in the world around us. After repeatedly debunking the false-narrative about this man’s healing, Jesus says something that is often left out when we tell this story. Two sentences chillingly remind us that the stories we tell ourselves and others matter:
Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy (insult), but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man (Jesus) will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (2)
Yes, you read that correctly. There is a sin that cannot or will not be forgiven. Not now, not ever. Now you might be asking, “What if I have already committed this unforgivable sin? What if I didn’t even know that I committed it? Is too late?” You can see why this is one frightening statement from Jesus!
Before we throw in the towel, let’s take a look at why this particular sin might be unforgivable.
Let’s start from the beginning. What do you need for a sin to be forgiven? Someone to do the forgiving. In our daily lives, this is usually the person we have hurt or wronged; the person who is willing to pay the price or assume the consequences for what we did. The same is true when we chose our desires over God’s instructions, when God is the object of our misdeeds.
So, who do we ask to forgive these sins? We cannot ask a book of laws or stone tablets for forgiveness. We surely cannot ask the universe or a vague concept of positive energy. Sin is personal. Therefore, forgiveness is also personal. To be forgiven, we need to know who to ask.
So in the story of the blind man, who are the religious leaders going to ask for forgiveness for creating a story which attempts to discredit the good work God has done? After all, they just attributed the healing of a man who was blind and mute to the ruler of demons. Do they really believe that good and evil, right and wrong, God and demons have reversed roles? If so, I am not sure that the demons will be in a “forgiving” mood.
Perhaps the unforgivable sin is unforgivable because of the self-defining stories we tell ourselves. If we are so blinded by protecting our power, our position and our possessions, do we even know who turn to when we are in need of forgiveness? What if we have created god in our image? Can we ask an idol that we have created to fit our agenda for help? How can we ever find true forgiveness if we can never ask the One we have actually wronged. The unforgivable sin is not unforgivable because of God’s inability, but because of our unwillingness to ask the One we dishonored. In a sense, we have strategically and purposefully decided to hide ourselves from the truth and from God.
In the end, I believe the story of the unforgivable sin is a lot like a game of hide and seek. You probably remember how the games goes. One person hides their eyes and counts to 100, while everyone hides. Of course, no one counts all the way to 100. Usually, it goes something like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 95, 96, 97. If you know the landscape, you probably have the best hiding place already selected; a place where you would never be found. I found a place like that at camp one summer. It was under the boat dock, right on the edge of the shore. It was that small gap where you could lay down on the sand at the water’s edge and roll right up under the dock where the bottom of the dock met the shore. No one could ever find me there. I could hear whoever was “it” looking for me. When I saw their feet, I would hold my breath. No one could find me. I was intentionally lost.
Do you know what the first question God asks his creation? It is a hide and seek question. When Adam and Eve ate from the one tree that God told them not to eat, they engaged in the first game of hide and seek…with God. I am fairly certain that hide and seek does not pose a big challenge to the One who created the planet. But, when Adam and Eve find sufficient cover, we hear God’s first question, and it is only one word: Ayecha. (3) In English, “Where are you?” God’s original intent was to go for a walk with Adam and Eve that evening in the Garden of Eden. But, something had changed. They were hiding, blind from the reality they had just created for themselves. Ayecha? They chose to believe a false-narrative about God’s intentions for them. Ayecha? They had bought into Satan’s press release about not trusting God. Ayecha?
God wasn’t asking for their geolocation. I think He had that figured out. He was asking them if they knew where they were. Did they know how far they had gone? How lost they had become…
Under the dock at camp, as daylight began to wane, I remember wondering if anyone would find me? Would they get tired and give up the search for me in favor of a warm fire and s'mores?
After the darkness settled in, I stuck out my foot when "It" came by.
Why? What did I want? What did I really want? The same thing I think we all want when we are hiding or when we realize that we are hopelessly lost… to be found.
1 - Matthew 12:25-30
2 - Matthew 12:31-32 (NRSV)
3 - Genesis 3:8-10