the unforgivable sin

Each year during Lent, my parish has a wonderful ministry.  For each weekday, a member of the parish takes a look at the readings for the Daily Office and writes a short devotional piece.  These are shared on the parish web site and through our email list.  It is a blessing each day to receive the devotion for the day, and to take a moment out of the busy-ness of work to read it.  This reconnects me to God, reminding me that my job isn’t the only thing in the universe.

Last night, our coordinator hadn’t received today’s devotion yet, and she called me since I’m one of her last-minute fill-in volunteers.  I put together a piece, and when I finished it, I checked my email to find that she had just received the devotion from the writer.  So I thought I’d share it here.

The Daily Office readings for today are…

Psalm 61, 62
Psalm 68:1-20(21-23)24-36
Genesis 42:1-17
1 Corinthians 5:1-8
Mark 3:19b-35

Today’s reading from Mark’s gospel is a strange and difficult one.  It begins with the scribes who claim that Jesus is possessed by the ruler of the demons, and continues with the baffling encounter between Jesus and his mother and brothers, where Jesus denies that they are his family.  This is one of those sections in scripture that I’d really prefer to skim past, to skip over.  It’s just too baffling.

There is one statement in this reading that frightened me at one time.  Jesus says,

Truly I tell you, 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 an eternal sin.

He tells us that there is only one sin that is unforgivable, the Sin against the Holy Spirit.  In fact, the very idea of an unforgivable or eternal sin is so confusing and scary that it has its own page on Wikipedia!

Forgiveness, by jonathanrperkins
Forgiveness, by jonathanrperkins

About twelve years ago, I was depressed.  I don’t mean by this that I was a bit down.  I had a diagnosed episode of Major Depression.  It was obvious to me that my life had no purpose, that everything I was and everything I had was a lie and a sham, that there was no hope for my future, that I was nothing but a burden on everyone around me.  A mind that is not suffering from depression will hear these ideas and recognize immediately how ridiculous they are.  But to a depressed person, it feels like suddenly the truth has been revealed to you, and it’s all you can do to keep it hidden from everyone else.  The thing is, when you start from these terribly false assumptions, there is only one rational conclusion, and that is self-destruction.

During this period, I experienced abuse from someone I trusted deeply.  This confused me deeply: if someone says they love you, but then they speak terrible, hurtful words to you, then either those hurtful things are false or they don’t really love you.  Because I was already in a depression, I believed all the terrible, hurtful words, which also meant that I was not loved.  After two hospitalizations for depression, I finally attempted suicide.  I overdosed on sleeping pills, washing them down with grain alcohol.  In the church kitchen.  Where I could visit God and tell God EXACTLY what I thought of God.

Undoubtedly, I blasphemed.  One could even say that by attempting to end my life, I was rejecting God’s grace.  I rejected the healing power of Jesus.  I rejected the idea that the Holy Spirit could be at work in my life.  This is why, for many years, the Roman Catholic Church would not allow funeral rites to those who had committed suicide; thankfully, this position has evolved to recognize the painful dynamics at play in someone who takes his or her life.

Alive! by Harshad Sharma
Alive! by Harshad Sharma

The next day, in the hospital, I asked a friend if she could contact a priest to hear my confession.  I was afraid, afraid of so many things.  I hadn’t even thought about the unforgivable sin until my confessor brought it up.  He consoled me with pretty much the same thing that even Pat Robertson says about the eternal sin:

If you want to obey God but are concerned that you may have committed the unpardonable sin, you have not committed it.

And in that idea, I found God’s grace.  I found God’s forgiveness.  I found release from my fear, and I decided to hang on to this life that God had entrusted to me.

Thanks be to God!