And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31 NIV)
The words of Jesus here in Matthew 12 have frightened many Christians. Have I committed the unforgiveable sin? No less a man than the great preacher, John Bunyan, feared that he might be guilty of the sin and was deeply troubled by it.
If you are someone who worries about this verse let me tell you what it does not mean. Jesus is not saying that there might have been a sin in your past, maybe something that continues to haunt you that you cannot confess to God and find complete and final forgiveness. Too many Christians struggle with guilt over sins of the past when the promise of God is clear.
If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin – 1 John 1:9
If we are ever to understand what Jesus is referring to we need to put these verses in their proper context.
What prompts Jesus to utter these remarks is what happens at the beginning of the section that leads up to his statement. In v.22-23 we discover that the people of Israel see Jesus cast out a demon from a blind and mute man. What they see leads them to conclude that maybe this man is the Christ. But when the Pharisees see that many are considering Christ they in turn attribute the work of God through Christ to Satan.
Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” (Mat 12:22 NIV)
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is therefore to deliberately and wilfully attributes the work of God to his ultimate enemy Satan. This sin is to self-consciously reject self evident truth about God.
The casting out of a demon can ONLY be the work of God. So to witness it and accept it is to see the incontrovertible hand of God at work. To then call it evil is the sin of blaspheming the Spirit.
So what does Jesus mean when he says ‘anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not’?
I think the best way to understand this is to see that it is possible to speak against Jesus out of ignorance. RT France in his commentary argues that it is possible to speak a word against Jesus
‘without being aware that one was opposing the saving purpose of God….But the significance of Jesus’ exorcisms was plain for all to see; there could be no excuse for misinterpreting this work of the Holy Spirit and attributing it to Beelzebul.’
Of course in our own times we are too sophisticated to believe in evil spirits but that doesn’t change the fact that there are men and women out there who make it their business, sometimes quite literally their business, for profit, to call what is good, evil.
Some of the new atheists come close to this. When Christopher Hitchens in his book ‘God is not great: How religion poisons everything‘ describes Christianity as an agent for evil in the world that is self-evidently false. It is a deliberate distortion of history to call good evil. Even a most basic look back into history reveals the profound impact for good that Christianity has had on our culture.
David Cameron in a speech remembering the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible said this
‘the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality…When each and every individual is related to a power above all of us, and when every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God, we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights.’
Bruce Sheiman in his book ‘An atheist defends religion’ writes of the extraordinary impact of Christianity when he reminds us of what we owe to the gospel;
‘A commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in ANY other culture’
To describe Christianity as a force for evil in our world is to call light to darkness, calling that which is good, evil is the very message brought to us today most clearly in the message of new atheism.
We also have to fear for a culture that refuses to see the hand of God at work in creation preferring to ascribe the existence and complexity of our universe to nothing rather than to God.
Dick Lucas, Rector Emeritus of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, a large church in the city of London said this:
To look at this marvellous creation and dismiss the idea of God seems to me to be very close to calling light darkness
Are we any more rational than the Pharisees when we attribute the universe to ‘nothing’. Are we not so close to blaspheming the Spirit?
The psalmist writes
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:1-3 NIV)
Always controversial and an outspoken atheist his ideas have impacted and infuriated many.
His entry in Wikipedia notes that he was included in ‘The Top 100 Public Intellectuals Poll’ The poll ‘was conducted in November 2005 and June 2008 by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (US) on the basis of responding readers’ ballot. The objective was to determine the 100 most important public intellectuals who are still alive and active in public life.’
I remember watching the documentary Collision which followed Christopher Hitchens (author of God is not great) and Doug Wilson as they debated ‘Is God good for the world?‘. It’s not a particularly good documentary in some senses but what you can’t miss as you do watch it is what a friendly relationship they enjoyed.
In an article in Christianity Today on the death of Hitchens Wilson writes ‘During the time we spent together, he never said an unkind thing to me—except on stage, up in front of everybody. After doing this, he didn’t wink at me, but he might as well have.’
As we reflect on the death of a godless man we remember the word of the Lord in Ezekiel:
‘Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?’
So Richard Dawkins has already given his excuses as to why he doesn’t want to defend his arguments in the God Delusion in Oxford against William Lane Craig. In his misleading article in the Guardian he writes;
‘Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn’t, and I won’t.’
That’s a remarkable statement, and a totally misleading one, from a man who shared a platform with Lane Craig less than a year ago in a panel debate in Mexico. Has Dawkins forgotten? Or maybe he thinks it was all a delusion?
Mind you AC Grayling also tried the same trick of denying he had ever debated Lane Craig until his ‘error‘ was exposed.
Good on Sam Harris and Christopher Htichens and others for standing up for their beliefs in recent debates with Lane Craig shame on Dawkins for being unwilling to defend his beliefs even on his own doorstep. Maybe Mexico paid better?
When the apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians who found themsevles increasingly on the margins of society, mocked and even insulted here was his advice;
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
In our increasingly secular society how do we respond to the growing numbers of people who are not just sceptical about Christianity but are downright hostile? How do we answer militant atheists who think no good thing comes from believing in God and that the only good religion is a dead one?
Well we should answer their arguments and there are good books worth reading and giving away on why Dawkins and Hitchens et al. are wrong. But maybe we have one knock-down apologetic argument that atheism cannot answer – the power of a transformed life.
The great defender of the Christian faith, Francis Schaeffer, said ‘the greatest apologetic is love’.
The one thing that atheism cannot explain or understand or rubbish is the extraordinary power of a transformed life.
So when the Guardian this week ran a story on the remarkable work of a church who decided to pour out their lives in sacrificial service of drug-addicts and prostitutes it was a great reminder that maybe Peter was right. When the pastor of a bible-teaching, Jesus-preaching church also says ‘”The real issues are how we should express and find love for the outcasts and the downtrodden” the world even as it accuses Christians of doing wrong still sees our good deeds and acknowledges something remarkable is going on.
John Harris author of the Guardian piece writes;
A question soon pops into my head. How does a militant secularist weigh up the choice between a cleaned-up believer and an ungodly crack addict? Back at my hotel I search the atheistic postings on the original Comment is free thread for even the hint of an answer, but I can’t find one anywhere.
The last Roman Emperor who viciously persecuted the church was Julian. He hated Christians with a vengence but even he conceded;
[Christianity] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.
Peter Hitchens is a journalist and author. He is also the brother of new atheist Christopher Hitchens. But whilst Christopher continues to attack God at any and every opportunity, Peter has experienced a remarkable conversion to Christianity.
He describes how atheism led him to faith and to the discovery that what as a boy he had rejected, marked by the burning of his bible, was in fact right all along. He joins a number of prominent atheists who have abandoned their atheism in recent years in favour of belief in God, including AN Wilson, Julie Birchill and Fay Weldon.
What was it about new atheism that particularly grated? Not least, he says, that it is ‘self-satisfied, arrogant, intolerant, completely resistant to any kind of outside argument and contemptuous of it.’
Hitchens has now written on the subject in a book entitled The rage against God.
So runs the headline in a surprising article in today’s Sunday Times.
An evangelical Christian who is one of the world’s top scientists is trying to save the life of Christopher Hitchens, the cancer-stricken writer who told him at their first meeting that God does not exist.
Francis Collins, who led the projec to map human genes, contacted the atheist when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year.
Hitchens was sent to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where scientists sequenced the 6 billion letters of his DNA. Using computers in a process that takes several weeks, they also sequenced the 6 billion letters in his his tumours, Then they looked at the two sets for differences.
‘Over these last few months, we have not talked directly about faith,’ Collins said, ‘But I would like to think that Christopher’s sharp intellect has challenged my own defence of the rationality of faith to be more consistent and compelling.’
I posted a few weeks ago an interview featuring the man Richard Dawkins has refused to debate: William Lane Craig. Thanks to Tony Watkins for pointing me in the direction of this youtube post that shows Craig in action against the other self-publicist Christopher Hitchens. Dr. Craig graciously but masterfully exposes the holes in Christopher Hitchens logic as well as his views. I can’t see Dawkins wanting to put himself through that same experience anytime soon.
And for any seeking the statement where Dawkins gives his reasons for refusing to debate Craig you can see it here.
The philosopher and atheist AC Grayling is writing a book entitled ‘The Good Book: A Secular History’. In it he joins Richard Dawkins and Christophet Hitchens, amongst a growing list, who insist that you don’t need to believe in God to be good. Every Christian would want to affirm that fact. Atheists can and often do choose to be ‘good’, whatever that may mean in an amoral universe of ‘blind pitiless indifference’ to quote Dawkins.
But, heres the rub, the thing they don’t want to tell you is that without a belief in God there is no reason to be bad either. In a quite brilliant article the intellectual dishonesty at work in those who will not admit that their creed allows men to be cruel is exposed by Peter Heck.
Here’s just one extract but it’s well worth reading the whole:
Two years ago, their motto was “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake!” Last year, they were more direct: “No god? No problem!” But this year, as they feebly attempt to detract from the celebration of Christ’s incarnation once again, perhaps it’s a fruitful exercise for our civilization to consider their overtures and weigh the merit of their message.
As far as I can tell, the mantra “No god? No problem!” has but one minor flaw: the entire record of human history. It is no coincidence that as German atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche boasted, “God is dead … we have killed him … must we not ourselves become gods[?]” (which, by the way, is the entire basis of humanism dating back to the Garden of Eden), he Continue reading »
As a young Christian the man we had to contend with was AN Wilson. He just seemed to have it in for us Christians. He wrote a biography of CS Lewis in which in page after page he worked hard to erode my confidence in the man, his faith and his reasoned defense of Christianity. But Wilson wasn’t satisfied to rob me of CS Lewis. He followed it up with a booklet entitled ‘Against Religion: Why we should live without it’ and then he wrote a book on Jesus himself denying his deity and reducing him to the place of a merely misguided end-time ‘prophet’ of liberal Christianity. Perhaps my biggest problem was not Wilson but the media’s delight in him and his books. Time and again his views were splashed across the papers and Christians were once again in retreat.
Here is how AN Wilson describes his own conversion to atheism:
I can remember almost yelling that reading C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity made me a non-believer – not just in Lewis’s version of Christianity, but in Christianity itself. On that occasion, I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me – the sense of God’s presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world. As for Jesus having been the founder of Christianity, this idea seemed perfectly preposterous. In so far as we can discern anything about Jesus from the existing documents, he believed that the world was about to end, as did all the first Christians. So, how could he possibly have intended to start a new religion for Gentiles, let alone established a Church or instituted the Sacraments? It was a nonsense, together with the idea of a personal God, or a loving God in a suffering universe. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.
As a hesitant, doubting, religious man I’d never known how they felt. But, as a born-again atheist, I now knew exactly what Continue reading »
People are embarrassed to believe in God so confesses Victoria Coren in an article in the Guardian over the weekend. And so as a believer in God herself she bemoans the lack of quick-witted, thinking, believers able to stand up to the growing assault of radical atheism.
She writes: ‘Lord Carey (previous Archbishop of Canterbury) complained last week that Britain is ashamed to celebrate Christmas as a religious festival. It’s bigger than that: people are embarrassed to believe in God at all. They feel silly.
There is a new, false distinction between “believers” and “rationalists”. The trickle-down Dawkins effect has got millions of people thinking that faith is ignorant and childish, with atheism the smart and logical position’
Coren wants Christians to pick up the gauntlet and respond! It’s time for Christians to expose the illogicality of atheism (after all you simply can’t prove a negative and Dawkins when pushed on the matter in debate with Professor John Lennox admits that he is an agnostic rather than an atheist). We need to reveal the intellectual poverty of atheism in its answers to questions of morality and to demonstrate the falsity of the claim that religion is to blame for everything by showing how the course of human history and the Continue reading »
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