Monday, November 5, 2007

the unpardonable sin

He who is not with me is against me and he who does not gather with me scatters.

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.

Matthew 12:30-32

I'm not a Christian and I don't pretend to understand what Matthew is saying, but the passage quoted above struck me because of its flat, confident assertion that there is at least one sin for which there will be no forgiveness. I realize that there are ways of glossing the text to mean something other than what it so clearly seems to mean. For example, based on context, the sin described could be interpreted to consist of denying Jesus after personally seeing him perform miracles, so that, after the death of Jesus, that particular sin can no longer be committed. Or Matthew's words could be read to imply that, even if the sin won't be forgiven in this world or the world to come, that there might be room for forgiveness in some later, unimaginably distant time after that.

It reminds me a little of the unforgivable curses of the Harry Potter books -- a subject about which, if possible, I know even less than I do about Christian theology. But it's my understanding is that according to the rules of magic, there are supposed to be some spells so terrible that their use is not only forbidden, but, as the name suggests, unforgiveable. Although there's evidently an exception to the rule, since, in the last Harry Potter book, a variety of characters seem to use these curses with impunity and, in the end, all is well.

I don't know what to make of it. Not so much from a theological standpoint -- although I do wonder about that -- but from a strictly human one. Are there wrongs that can't be or shouldn't be forgiven? I'm pretty sure I know what my own answer would be, but I'm curious about yours. Has something ever happened to you that you find yourself unable or unwilling to forgive?


thirtysomething said...

Yes, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Yep. There is a lot of thought out there that forgiving those who sexually abuse frees the survivor to move on to other things. Although my years of living with surviving have changed my focus, so that now it's part of who I am rather than the whole of who I am, I just don't think forgiving is possible or helpful for me. I find that, for me, forgiving would mean accepting, and while I can easily imagine why it occurred, I will never say that it was acceptable that it occurred. It was wrong. I will never forgive. I think when the person who harmed me asks my forgiveness it is because he refuses to accept the level at which he hurt me, and that some scars can never heal completely.


Eva said...

Yes, of course.

The Oneliner (Christina) said...

if individuals are doing the forgving, then, to me no. there are no unforgivable sins. reasons to divorce? yes. to imprison for life? yes. to disown? yes.

to me, to not forgive someone is to allow them to have power over you. it also means that you are still allowing a place in your mind for the anger their actions caused you. It's just not healthy.

there are some things people can do that you will never forget...but everything is forgivable.

matthew is talking about whether God will forgive, and that is a whole other question.

Monica said...

Niobe, you are definitely asking the wrong person. I've been known to swear off certain restaurants for life because they messed up my order. I don't do forgiveness well. Just yesterday I called Taco Bell (don't ask why I was eating that crap) and complained that they did NOT put extra Baja sauce on my chalupa and I would never go back there. The sad thing is.. I mean it. So I really have a hard time understanding how victims of abuse, and those whose loved ones were say.. murdered can forgive. In theory forgiveness sounds great. But I also think that the anger one keeps in lieu of forgiveness helps to keep them from becoming a victim again.

Wabi said...

Oh yes, there are several incidents I am unable to forgive. But these were immense sorts of betrayals, not your garden-variety type relationship beefs or failures.

I don't think there is a universally accepted definition of forgiveness these days, which makes it all the more complicated to think about. Some might consider the way I feel about my "unforgiven" individuals to be a form of forgiveness, while others would not at all.

Christine said...

yes, i think there are things that can never be forgiven. but i wish i didn't feel that way. i wish i could say i would always forgive everyone anything.

i've been lucky enough not to have (yet) experienced the truly unforgivable.

LAS said...

I think there are definitely things that cannot be forgiven - at least that is my first thought. I have not experienced this though so I am not sure what those things are for me. I have a feeling that they would change - in otherwords, what might once be unforgivable - I might find myself forgiving it when the circumstances change. I do agree though that I give all my power away to the person who harmed me if I can't forgive him or her. I might never get over it completely, but I have to choose not to be affected by it. My ideas about forgiveness are colored though by the "program" - according to which I suppose forgiveness would be the only option.

meg said...

I don't do forgiveness. Yeah, I'm a grudge holder for life. Oh and bitter too. Forgot about that one.

ms. G said...

Whew! I have so much to say on this topic I might have to write my own post. To sum it up quickly, you have to define forgiveness. When I was young, someone wronged me. I spent over a year with anger and hate towards this person. One day, I realized, I was spending so much time and energy and life force on this person I swore I could never forgive. He wasn't worth it. And, in some way, I forgave. Now, in my mind, forgivness does not mean absolving the person who wronged or trying to recreate a relationship or whatever. It is more for the one doing the forgiving, so they may have some peace in life with the wrongs that have been done.

Is what I'm saying truly forgivness? I don't know, I still struggle with it, honestly. The experience I had as a younger person didn't necessarily make me quick to forgive either. I tend to hold grudges, I have had relationships end because I can't move on from some slight or another. I struggle almost daily with the fact that people "get away with" behaviour with no obvious consequence because we rush to "forgive". I have a lot of anger. So, did I confuse you yet? But I will say, when I *forgave* that wrong in my youth, a weight within me lifted. Now, to confuse the issue more, I still think what he did sucks, and yes, I hope he paid some price for it, somewhere in his life.

Bon said...

from a strictly human standpoint, i think what it deemed unforgiveable often festers into something that then prevents healing in the person to whom the wrong was done.

i don't think to forgive means to absolve...rather, to me, it means to blame, and place ownership, and accept apology.

i think there are things in my life for which i've blamed and placed ownership, but am still waiting for the apology, for the ownership of that ownership. so my own healing in those places is more like a scab. but i've done the work i can...and now i just need to forgive the other party's inability to understand that they need forgiveness, i guess.

the God stuff? i dunno. a God without forgiveness - with absolutes - doesn't turn my crank much.

Tash said...

Wow, toughy. I'm v. thankful that I haven't been on the receiving end of anything requiring such deep thought. But I've been on the end of some stupid crap and like Ms. G found that it just occupied too much of my brain space and gave the individual more credit than was due. Not so sure I "forgave" as much as I "quit holding a grudge" though.

I can imagine numerous instances though where I would have an extremely hard time letting go of hatred.

Lori said...

I've gotten pretty good at not carrying around anger at others.

Now, if only I could be so forgiving with myself...

Carole said...

There are some things I can let go...sometimes bigger things...but there are some things that I just can't wrap my mind around forgiving even now.

missing_one said...

For me, when my father betrayed my trust at an impressionable age, I consider that "unforgivable"...but really, although I consider it an unforgivable offense, I somehow am over it. Is that forgiveness? If we choose to look the other way (pretend that we have forgotten although we know we haven't) is that forgiveness?
Or is forgiveness an active pursuit?
After thinking about it, I think that forgiveness is not attainable by humans. We say we forgive....but I don't think we do. I think we pretend to forgive because it is the "right" thing to do. Maybe that is what the passage in Matthew is saying. We as humans cannot forgive, only God can. Humans are incapable of true forgiveness.
At least that's my interpretation.

missing_one said...

Maybe forgiveness in the human sense is just "letting go"
Do you forgive a debt?
Okay, obviously you have me thinking about this whole concept.
Thanks for getting me out of my gloom for a bit

Hannah said...

I'm a being with a lack of ability to forgive. I move on, I move over and I gloss over but I don't, ultimately, forgive. I do a good portrayal of forgiveness.

I believe in a forgiving God however. Ingrained Catholicism tells me that God will forgive me, no matter what, as long as I repent.

Which means I will never be truly forgiven by God, because I refuse to repent of my desire for the same sex. And of course, I cannot forgive God for that.

Aurelia said...

To the pp, I think when discussing forgiveness in the context of abuse, or someone committing harm, the point of forgiveness isn't to forgive the abuser, but to forgive yourself.

Part of the pattern of abuse is self-blame and guilt, and letting go of that guilt and realizing that if you were the victim then it really wasn't your fault; this in the end helps you to heal.

I feel like sometimes I have blamed myself for some of the medical disasters that have befallen me and my lost children, but I'm working on forgiving myself and redirecting that blame to the medical personnel who let me down. There are times in all our lives when are simply vulnerable and need others. If the people we are depending on to save us let us down, well, we need to put the blame at their feet.

I have forgiven some of the people in my life who have let me down, mostly when they readily admitted it, and asked forgiveness. When they lie...or dismiss my pain as meaningless, no way.

But I try not to hold the grudge, but instead just ignore them. Not easy. Not easy at all.

thrice said...

For me there is a difference between forgetting and forgiveness. At least from my understanding a person cannot ask God for forgiveness unless the person is going to STOP the offending actions. And what about accountability?

I can easily not forgive and move on with my life. Somethings are not forgivable, like the dumb-ass cardiologist that fucked-up my heart. I don't need vegenance, but he needs to know that I know what he did.

Beruriah said...

"Are there wrongs that can't be or shouldn't be forgiven?"

I don't know, really. It depends upon whether by forgive we mean to "cease to harbor" or "to pardon."

In my personal experience, I have managed to cease to harbor ill will towards the people who have hurt me the most, two of whom certainly committed what might seem to be unforgivable hurts. I don't wish them any harm.

But if I saw them on the street, or if they were to contact me, I might be civil but I'd never be friendly or friends. Even, I think, if they could apologize and prove they'd changed. I'm not willing to make myself vulnerable again. Not everything can be pardoned, in terms of being erased from the record.

Elizabeth said...

What happened to the easy questions, like what's your favorite halloween candy? :-)

I think at one time in my life I memorized those verses.

I think that whether something can be categorized as "forgivable" or "unforgivable," and whether that second category exists, depend on socially constructed beliefs. In an ontologically absolute sense, I think that the answer to this question is unknowable. The best we have is communal consensus.

Ms. Planner said...

For me, to not forgive means that you cannot fully make your peace with the transgression and it becomes a defining aspect of your life. Personally, I'd rather not let such transgressions define my life. That being said, forgiving myself for a lot of things - both major and minor - has always been a personal struggle for me.

I found your quote from the book of Matthew interesting, as I have been doing a lot of thinking about the Christian concept of The Holy Spirit, which in a quick blog comment nutshell, is best described as the energy one can derive for one's personal union with God (not to be confused with God or Jesus). I am not a dogmatic religious person, but after all but ignoring religion for more than a decade, I have become more interested in pursuing the divine in both the world and myself via several different avenues. I haven't gotten near to finding it yet but I am enjoying the journey. Thanks (as always) for the thought-provoking quote.

My Reality said...

There is one person in my past who caused me more pain, both physically and emotionally, than I ever thought possible to feel. His acts changed me to the core of my being and for years, I was haunted by the memories.

Now, 16 years later, I have moved past the hold it had on me. Have I forgiven him? No fucking way. Have I forgiven myself? Yes.

cinnamon gurl said...

There have been times when I *thought* some things were unforgivable, when they felt unforgivable. But after a (fairly long) time, I discovered I didn't really care anymore, and I forgave them. Mind you, they were fairly small transgressions in the grand scheme of things, stupid shitty mistakes, rather than deliberately hurtful or abusive violations.

bubandpie said...

You know, I have to think that maybe Jesus was just really annoyed and exaggerating a little bit.

The problem with the unforgivable sin is that it must be committed ALL THE TIME. God does something, and people attribute his work to Satan. If you go to hell for that, a lot of people are in trouble.

Which Box said...

I think there are things that are unforgivable. And I think it's deeply personal. In my case, soon, I have to write about why I want my husband back after he's betrayed me twice. TWICE. Maybe I am a fool. Maybe there are reasons that make it - not ok - and not forgiveable - but liveable.

Are there universal unforgivable things? I have to believe so. A wife can forgive her husband of a transgression, and it's relaly not anyone else business, really. A woman who stays with a man who hurts, or rapes, or abuses her child - to me, that's unforgiveable on many levels. The sin - of both the doing it and coering up for it - are both unforgiveable.

Julie Pippert said...

Time doesn't heal all wounds, nor does it wound all heels. Yes, some thing should not, can not be forgiven, but you must forgive yourself and move on, anyway, and that can be done, I think, without releasing the other person from their sin. KWIM?

Using My Words

Elizabeth said...

I'm a bit of an absolutist, neo-Platonist who believes that there are some Truths with a capital "T". Therefore, I likely do believe that there are some things for which forgiveness is not possible. However, I'm also a pragmatist, and I hate to say with certainty that there are things for which forgiveness is not possible. So, I guess my answer is "probably."

Rebecca said...

I don't really believe in the concept of sin, except in the pagan/Wiccan way of 'an it harm none, do as you will'. So sins against humanity... Then yeah, I think there are some. I think everyone deserves a 2nd chance... Then again I'm a believe of 'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me', too. There's definitely a few people I would think twice before letting close to me again, and one of those people is my own grandmother.

Furrow said...

I was hoping someone would explain the trinity in their comment. I was raised Christian, and I still don't get it. Unless it's like an id, ego, superego type thing. In that case, would Spirit be the id? It is unforgiveable to deny the id? That's the one we seem discouraged to indulge.

I have little comment on the forgiveness thing. I forgive pretty well. I'm easily annoyed, though.

truculent.girl said...

Forgive in my interpretation is absolution. I could never really understand it. How could you forgive someone who murdered a loved one? How could I forgive a hospital for poor care that lead to the death of my grandfather? How could I forgive friends who were not there for me during my depression?

These things may be somewhere in the middle of my mind close to the event, but they don't eat me alive each day. They'll always be with me though - just the way it is with me.

thrice said...

How about forgiving Bush? I can't and don't even want to.