Brother Stewart and the unpardonable sin

I was delivering newspapers on my bike one afternoon while throwing a hissy fit at God. I was twelve years old, and my first doubt had occurred a year earlier. A hundred more had joined it, but my focus at the moment was God’s inexplicable failure—inexplicable if he existed—to keep his Biblical promises; for example, “whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do.” It was the first time I used profanity during a prayer, and I was laying it on thick as I railed at God for his interminable silence in the face of my desperate entreaties for a reason to believe. I still remember the very spot upon which I felt the horrific fear that I had probably, not more than a minute past, committed the unpardonable sina sin that, oddly enough, the Bible mentions but doesn’t define. I was so burdened with fear for the next three years that I was sometimes on the verge of panic, which was why I finally drove out to talk with Brother Stewart. When he seemed sleepy and distracted and made no attempt to draw me out, I let pass my one shame-laden attempt to share my angst. I never blamed him for this because he was too good a man to blame for anything.


Bubba said...

Perhaps I'm a bit obtuse (my wife will attest to this) but what is the unpardonable sin?

Snowbrush said...

"what is the unpardonable sin?"

The Bible defines it as blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Now, does that tell YOU anything? It doesn't tell ME anything, and this is just one example of the kinds of things that started bothering me once I had that first doubt a year earlier. In this instance, you have this big horrible sin out there that, if you do it, you're condemned to hell forever, yet does God think it necessary to tell you exactly WHAT this sin is so that you won't do it unknowingly? Noooooo. God wants you to SWEAT, at least the Bible paints a portrait of a deity that, even then, had a thousand year history of instilling terror to keep people in line.

Charles Gramlich said...

I wonder if a lot of believers go through this. I had one of those periods, though later than yours, in which I cursed at God for the torment I was undergoing at the time, and then felt as if I'd crossed the line and could never be forgiven.

All Consuming said...

My father (a lapsed Catholic, he lapsed shortly after I told him I didn't want to go to church anymore when I was 14), refers to the 'Trinity' thus - Senior, junior and the spook. I think humour helps him with such things and I have inherited that trait.

rhymeswithplague said...

It's my opinion from a lot of reading and thinking and listening that cursing God is not the unpardonable sin. Actually, cursing God is a sort of backhanded way of acknowledging His (okay, if you must, /Hers/Its) existence. "Even the devils believe, and tremble," says the New Testament.

Some say that "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" means attributing the works and miracles of Jesus' earthly ministry to the Devil by the people of his day. For example, Pharisees who said, "He casts out demons by the prince of demons" (to which Jesus replied, "A house divided against itself cannot stand.").

People with this view also tend to be "cessationist" which means in part that they view the unpardonable sin as not possible today because Jesus is not alive on earth today. They seem to forget that Revelation 1:18 is also in their New Testament: "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" and that His Holy Spirit still indwells believers.

I know many of you think I am insane. That's all right. I think many of you are, too (that's a joke, Snow.)

Myrna R. said...

It's interesting how you have a more passionate relationship to the non-existing god, than most people do to the god they believe in. I admire this in you because it means you're a true seeker, a philosopher of sorts and such an honest person.

Snowbrush said...

"It's interesting how you have a more passionate relationship to the non-existing god, than most people do to the god they believe in."

This is so true. Those who believe in God and go to church every Sunday often consider God a known quantity that they can read about in the Bible and turn to for comfort. My experience of their God was more like being repeatedly raped or being exposed to the horrors of war. Some people bounce back from these things fairly well, and others spend a lifetime thinking about them and trying to make sense of them. Interestingly, if you know even a little about philosophy, and someone asks you to name the "God-obsessed" philosopher, you would say Spinoza, yet Spinoza was accused of atheism in his own time because he equated God with nature, rather than seeing God as a conscious entity that had wants, preferences, passions, and other human characteristics. Spinoza's God could do you no favors because Spinoza's God wouldn't even know that you exist. Yet, Spinoza held, we should dedicate ourselves to worship, and it would be fair to say that I agree with Spinoza. The God of the Bible whom I write about is a monster who differs from Satan only in that Satan has nothing to offer but the transient thrills of sex, drugs, power, money, and so forth, whereas Jehovah can offer eternal life in a realm of endless joy. Yet, there is much in the universe to worship, things such as beauty, art, compassion, wisdom, innocence, and more. If we were all awake, we would live in wonder every moment. This is what religion could be, but what it usually consists of is trying to suck up to a deity that can either help you (if you find the correct formula for pleasing him) or squash you (if you don't). Such a god is to religion like prostitution is to marriage, yet I understand the desire to have a name and a face for God, and to believe that God cares about us and wants to help us. My "God" doesn't. My God emanates from beauty and virtue as opposed to beauty and virtue emanating from him.

"I know many of you think I am insane."

I don't. I rather think that you are too confined by doctrine to imagine that truth might exist, even to a slight degree, outside of it. I never get the idea that you are able to say to me that you see my point (about the mistreatment of atheists, for example) despite the fact that our beliefs are different. I can say that to you if only because I remember what it was like to believe, to think that I had the plan of salvation all nicely penned down so that it could summarized in a sentence or two from the Bible. You are, in a sense, my project, just as I am yours. I have no doubt but what you pray for me regularly, and I wouldn't even be surprised to learn that you choose the Bible verses that you share with me after a period of prayer. I appreciate you more than you might know.

Helen said...

.... oh, blasphemy .... I thought you had gone in a totally different direction! (I must be obtuse too)

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, I see many of your points when I try to walk in your shoes, but how well can any of us really do that? What I mean is, I can see why you say some of the things you say knowing some of the things you have endured. That doesn't make God a monster, regardless of what you may think. Far from it. I concede that some who have claimed to be (which is different from "are" or "were") Christians have been, from what we have learned, monsters. Will you now tell me that some atheists have not been monsters to some Christians as well? (See Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, Idi Amin, etc.) So what does that prove about anything besides that all humans are alike? There are good ones and there are bad ones.

I am not a complete dunce. I am actually rather bright, though not as bright as some. I was valedictorian of my high school class, which probably says more about my town and my high school than it says about me. What I'm trying to tell you is, I have other interests besides reading the Bible 24/7. Insofar as this blog is concerned, however, I have determined, rather like St. Paul, to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified. I know, I know, poor Johnny one-note.

As God's ambassador, I want to tell you that God is okay with your rantings; it doesn't affect His deep love for you one iota. He's really hoping that you will get it all out of your system. And Jesus is okay with it too; He has the nail scars to prove it. And you and I put them there.

One last thing. Please do not judge me by your old Church of Christ friends.

Snowbrush said...

"I was valedictorian of my high school class"

Oh great, now you're throwing your intellectual and academic credentials at me. I'll have you know that I failed three grades and left high school without graduating. However, I once scored 95 on an IQ test, and was told that it was even higher than I needed to score to qualify as an imbecile.

"Snow, I see many of your points when I try to walk in your shoe"

The important one is how bad millions and millions of Christians in this country--your people as it were--treat atheists and how scary and oppressive that treatment becomes when such people exist in overwhelming numbers or hold political power. I have long wanted to send you a newspaper that's devoted to the oppression, but I don't know if you would read it. I fear for us all because I know that the oppression won't stop with atheists but will include anyone and any group that doesn't fit their definition of Christian. There is a deep sickness within the dominant religion in this country. It's in-your-face aggressive and cares not a whit about the law except inasmuch as it can control the law.

"I have determined, rather like St. Paul, to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified. I know, I know, poor Johnny one-note."

So, that verse means that you just keep parroting the same point? I had rather hoped it had reference to walking in piety by which I mean exemplifying every supposedly "Christ-like" virtue as closely as possible.

Snowbrush said...


"I have other interests besides reading the Bible 24/7."

You say that as if it would be a bad thing, but do Christians consider the scriptures any less important than did the ancient Jews? "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night..." Joshua 1:8

Snowbrush said...

"What I'm trying to tell you is, I have other interests besides reading the Bible 24/7."

I've been thinking that my last approach to this wasn't a good one, so I'm going to try again. Let's say that God exists much as you conceive him. This means that he is perfect in every way, and since, from the perfect, the imperfect can't come, everything he ever created has always been perfect as well. However, as you hold, human beings, despite being made perfect, still managed to screw up. Because of their screwup, all that is in the world is accursed and is therefore imperfect except for the one thing that God created that he didn't later curse, the Bible. Now, if you were a liberal Christian who believed that the Bible CONTAINS the Word of God as opposed to actually BEING the Word of God, then what I have written wouldn't apply because you would have no insurmountable problem with Biblical absurdities, contradictions, incorrect statements, and so forth, but if you are, as I think you are, close to fundamentalism, then, to you, the Bible IS the Word of God, and is therefore perfect. This means that every time you turn your attention to something other than "God's word," you are choosing the imperfect over the perfect. I grew up among people who never wrote out this train of thought yet who, I believe, would have accepted it as an unattainable ideal. I say this because the Bible was held up as the answer to pretty much all of life's questions. Preachers literally liked to hold it up open on their outstretched palms. Indeed, the desire for constant Scripture reading and prayer, gave birth to monasticism. If you haven't read of the early "desert fathers," then you should. They started out in Egypt where they went away individually from everyone else and lived alone in caves. They were eventually discovered, and people started making pilgrimages to ask for prayers, advice, instruction, or to follow their example and live alone in the desert. As more people came to live among the "hermits," a need for order ensued, and hence monasticism. Those early fellows were sometimes pretty cantankerous about having so many visitors and imitators, and they would say some outrageous things.

rhymeswithplague said...

I'm not sure where you are going with this argument. From your closing sentence I gather that you think I also am pretty cantankerous and say some outrageous things.

Likewise, I'm sure.

I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam. -- Popeye

I shouldn't write blog comments this early in the morning.

Teresa said...

Maybe unbelief is the unpardonable sin?

Snowbrush said...

"I'm not sure where you are going with this argument."

I wasn't trying to ambush you but to interest you in some consideration of theology, a subject that you seem to know little about and care even less.

"Maybe unbelief is the unpardonable sin?"

If you HAVE to have faith to be saved, and you don't believe in God, you can't be saved, so that would sure do it; but blasphemy implies a specific act of irreverence, in this case, a reviling of one-third of the Trinity. For this, even the blood of Jesus can't atone, suggesting that even Jesus has his limitations. The interesting thing about all this stuff about Jesus having to die for our sins is that, if God can do anything, then God can forgive without blood being shed, so why did Jesus have to die? It also makes no sense that the death of the innocent would atone for the guilt of others. Imagine that you're on a jury, and the defendant is sentenced to death when an innocent person steps up and offers to die for him. Would that constitute justice in your mind? That Jehovah would see it as justice paints Jehovah as a blood-thirsty monster.

The Holy Ghost is an interesting part of the Trinity in that he doesn't have identifiable features likes Jesus and Jehovah; he just kind of floats around all mystical and out of focus, but god help you if you piss him off because even Jesus can't save you from that.

rhymeswithplague said...

"if God can do anything, then God can forgive without blood being shed"

The forgiveness is all entwined with the blood being shed. Even in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve discovered, after disobeying God, that they were naked and sewed themselves aprons of fig leaves, God made them clothing from animal skins (shedding of blood) because the fig leaves (good works) were not sufficient in God's sight. Don't ask me why because I don't know; it just is. Who am I to question God? Jesus' blood was required because "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin" (Hebrews chapter 10). So the animal sacrifices were only foreshadowings of Christ giving Himself.

"theology, a subject that you seem to know little about and care even less"

I don't know how you came to that conclusion. Just because I haven't engaged you in that sort of discussion doesn't mean I am ignorant. I just prefer to use Scriptures to illustrate my points rather than doctrines. In that respect I am probably more Baptist than Methodist.

Snowbrush said...

"Just because I haven't engaged you in that sort of discussion doesn't mean I am ignorant."

No, but it doesn't mean you're interested either, and you did fail to grasp the point I was trying to make about the supposed perfection of the Bible making it preferable to all the rest of our imperfect world, and therefore worthy of pretty much all the time that a believer can devote to studying it. Look, I'm not attacking your intelligence. I just underestimated the scope of your interests, so if you're insulted, I apologize for stating what I thought was the case rather than asking you to tell me what the case was.

"Who am I to question God?"

You're a thinking person who can either acknowledge that you have questions or else you can stifle them to whatever extent you are able, and I never could stifle them AT ALL, and I'm proud of that fact. This blind faith stuff is just a cop-out that people use to turn credulity into a virtue. What's wrong with questioning God? If he didn't want us to question him, then he jolly well should have given us the IQ of dogs. A major problem that I had with Christianity starting way back there at age eleven was that that when I asked a hard question, all I ever got in response was either "don't ask that question," or "it's not given to us to know." It's as if I asked you how you know that water boils at 212 F, and you said I was wrong for asking such a question. Well, I just don't think so. If you're right, and there is a God, and the only people who are going to get into heaven are the ones who close off their brains, then I don't see getting into heaven as a worthwhile goal. In any event, it's not one that I will ever attain because I'll just be damned if I'm going to ever stifle any question out of some supposed expectation of reverence. You're half Jew, so maybe you know that religious Jews are a lot less reticent than Christians about asking questions, and I'm more like them than I am like you about this. I wouldn't kowtow to God even if I thought he existed unless I believed him to be a good God, and, no, I don't believe that a thing is good or bad simply because a god might say so. If God came down and told me to torture puppies, do you think I would torture puppies? Well, NO!

"I just prefer to use Scriptures to illustrate my points rather than doctrines."

Which, I must tell you, is meaningless to an atheist, especially one who knows them already (not that I would ever ask you to not quote them because I want you to feel free here). However, I must also tell you that there is nothing you can say that I would find meaningful as far as a proof of theism, much less Christianity. This is not because you are lacking, but because the number of arguments are limited, and I probably know them all. However, even if there was some argument that you could offer for some thing, it would not prove that Christianity itself is valid because the problems are too numerous. I simply like to engage with you because I enjoy it, not because I have the least expectation of either of us changing our minds. My sister, Anne, and I have been discussing--and often arguing--religion for 40 years. Our thoughts about it have changed over time, but not in the same direction. The one thing we have in common is that we're both interested in it. It is out of this interest that I address you.


rhymeswithplague said...

What makes you think I "failed to grasp" just because I "chose not to respond"?

Snowbrush said...

"What makes you think I "failed to grasp"

The following statement suggested in my my mind that you weren't following me.

"I'm not sure where you are going with this argument."

rhymeswithplague said...

As there is nothing I can say that you would find meaningful (your words), I suppose our conversation is at an end.

Snowbrush said...

"As there is nothing I can say that you would find meaningful (your words), I suppose our conversation is at an end."

Bob, please read the whole sentence.

"there is nothing you can say that I would find meaningful as far as a proof of theism"

This doesn't mean that I fail to find what you say enjoyable and interesting. Surely, you never really thought you were going to quote just the right verse or present just the right argument that would make me go, "Eureka, I've found Christ!" I know I certainly never thought I would talk you OUT of Christianity. Yet, what are theists and atheists to do, forever avoid the subject? Besides, I enjoy the subject. I even enjoy discussing theology. A person doesn't need to believe to find belief interesting. I know I express my views about your faith tactlessly at times, but I never fail to hold you personally in esteem.