My earliest memory of the Holy Spirit was on a summer night in 1963 when I soaked my pillow with tears. I was in my sleeping bag staring at the night sky, filled with the Milky Way galaxy, from my cabin window in the Angeles Crest Mountains of Southern California.
I was enjoying Bible camp. I loved the pancakes for breakfast, getting caught with my elbows on the table and beating all the girls in ping pong (a boy remembers such things). Then one night, my teenaged camp counselor chose (who knows why?) to read from Mark 3:20-30 for our evening devotional. I heard Jesus warn: “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”
Innocently, I asked my counselor what “blaspheme” meant. He said, “cussing or cursing.” That did it! The lights went out and so did any semblance of peace with God in my nine-year-old heart. I was suddenly certain that I was bound for the fires of hell forever. I saw no way out. Long after the others fell asleep, I was seeing “hell” in my mind’s eye and weeping—all alone.
You see, I had a history with cussing. Perhaps it was mild compared to what we hear on TV today, but other boys did it so it had to be cool. It forever lost its “coolness” for me that night. I carried this “unforgivable” guilt in my heart until I got home and spilled my guts to my dad. He explained that my fears and tears were proof that I had not blasphemed the Holy Spirit and that all my sins could still be forgiven. I began to feel hope again. After six months and more talks with my dad, I was baptized.
In Mark 3, some scribes (ancient law teachers) were accusing Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebub! A word history of “Beelzebub” (literally, “Lord of the Flies”) would be interesting but by this time, it amounted to a reference to Satan (the accuser). They charged, “By the prince of demons he drives out demons” (vs. 22). The reality of Jesus’ power was undeniable, so the scribes slandered its source. Jesus replied, “If Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand.” (vs. 26). The charge was ridiculous.
Worse, it was profoundly offensive. In a parallel passage in Matthew, Jesus added, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28). Thus, they were not just slandering Jesus but also the Spirit of God working through him and the kingdom of God which stood as the cornerstone of his message. Big mistake! Jesus clarified that one could speak a word against the Son of Man and be forgiven, but not the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32 and Luke 12:10).
From an earthly perspective, such accusations were serious. A charge of demonic sorcery was a capital offense in those days (Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:4) and Jesus himself was railroaded to execution on the pretense of a blasphemy charge. These accusations had life and death implications in the legal world of first century Israel. For Jesus, they had eternal life and death ramifications when the blasphemy was aimed at the Holy Spirit Himself. What the legalists missed was that Jesus was in an all-out war with Satan and it was pure spiritual treason to take up the other side, especially on such convoluted grounds. The false accusers were guilty of the very sin they condemned in Jesus. They knew better but were so invested in their opposition to Jesus that they could not admit what they knew. These scribes (“Pharisees” in Matthew) were not just mistaken, they were perverted to an irreparable extreme. In context (in Matthew), Jesus recognized the Pharisees as evil to the core, like trees incapable of bearing good fruit.
But how do you explain all this to a scared little boy? My dad assured me that the desire for forgiveness that drove me to tears was incompatible with whatever the heck blasphemy was. When the glorious work of the Spirit of God Himself looks demonic to you, the need to be forgiven is the farthest thing from your cold heart and closed mind. When you come to the point of caring nothing about your forgiveness, you have in effect become unforgivable. Above all, I hope you are not that cold.
On that lonely “holy” night in 1963, the Holy Spirit embedded in my sinful little heart a longing to be right with God that persists to this day.
The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.