Spiritual hiccups: Cast into hell
I readily admit that readings such as today's gospel make me a bit
uncomfortable. When Jesus starts talking about being "cast into hell"
or how "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be
forgiven," I struggle to fit this in with other images of Jesus eating
with tax collectors and sinners, with his call to love and pray for
your enemies. Perhaps, as a modern "liberal," I'm simply uncomfortable
with judgment and accountability.
Perhaps... But I also think some of my discomfort arises from texts
such as today's being used in an "us versus them" sort of way. Because
we are so accustomed to the Bible being employed for evangelical
purposes, we often forget that it was originally written for internal
use only. The gospel of Luke was not handed out on the streets as
might be done today by the Gideons. The vary rare copies of it (all
copies had to be written out by hand) were read aloud at gatherings of
churches, often house churches. And so these words are aimed almost
exclusively at Christians.
I don't know that removes all the discomfort of these verses, but it
does change the focus quite a bit. Nothing is being said here about
believers versus non-believers. This is about how believers respond
when their faith puts them in jeopardy. In this sense the words seem
intended more as encouragement than as warning. They are a call to
stand fast in the face of persecution, to trust in God's care for them
no matter the circumstances.
And when they are persecuted, "everyone who speaks a word against the
Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy
Spirit will not be forgiven." This is a most curious saying. Speaking
against Jesus is not a deal breaker, but the Holy Spirit is another
matter. There is debate about just what is meant by this, perhaps
something along the lines of: If in a moment of fear a disciple speaks
against Jesus, that is forgiven, but if a disciple actively rejects the
Spirit's efforts to strengthen and encourage them, that is not.
However, what is clear is that the only ones in any danger in this
scenario are Christians. Jesus' words are addressed to believers who
face persecution. And isn't it strange that we can take words
addressed to us, and somehow turn them so that they speak words of
condemnation against others who don't believe the same as we do.