The Unpardonable Sin
“Truly I tell you, all sins and blasphemes will be forgiven for the sons of men. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin. — Mark 3: 28
Among the theologians and scholastics of the Middle Ages, there used to be what, today, we would call a “thought experiment”, and it ran thus: could God create a rock so big that he himself could not lift it. This was, as you can see, a polar counterpart to the other thought experiment that has come to represent, wrongly in my view, the risible sterility and futility of medieval scholasticism: “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”.
The subtleties of scholastic logic seem to be lost on the mental-rational/perspectivising consciousness. Such thought experiments trained the mind to think in terms of the very very large and in terms of the very very small. They were testing the limits of the possible, and indeed the limits of logic itself, only to find that in either case, the limit ended in paradox. And it was precisely this that offended the sensibilities of men like Descartes who sought, rather, “clear and distinct ideas” against what they considered the futility and sterility of scholastic logic.
The thought experiment (called “the Omnipotence Paradox”) about whether God could create a rock so big that he himself could not lift it is just another way of reflecting on the “eternal sin” or the “unpardonable sin” that God himself could not forgive, even if he wanted to. Naturally, it offends the image of an omnipotent, endlessly merciful, loving and forgiving God but who is powerless to forgive the the unpardonable sin, and, also, the terror of that in terms of being “cast into the outer darkness” or “eternal perdition”. So, naturally too, you want to avoid committing the unforgivable sin, and you want to know also the limit beyond which you do not cross without jeopardising your soul for all eternity.
Greek “hubris” is just another word for sin or transgression, and the Greeks, too, were obsessed with discovering the limit you do not cross because it invokes the revenge effect or unintended consequence called “Nemesis” and the Furies — the avenging angels who are clearly, also, the dreadful riders of the Christian apocalypse.
So the scholastics were actually asking a sensible question about limits and whether God could create a rock so big he himself couldn’t lift it, for it linked directly into the question of what sin against the Holy Spirit was of such magnitude and of such dreadful consequence that an all-powerful and all-merciful God himself could not forgive it, and would be powerless to redeem or salvage anyone from its consequences — oblivion or the “outer darkness”. And in Blake’s mythology of the four Zoas, this “outer darkness” is called “Non-Ens” — “the all tremendous and unfathomable non-Ens of Death…”
To perplexify the issue, the passage in the New Testament in which Jesus raises the unpardonable sin is obscure. The statement occurs in the context of his having been accused himself, by the religious authorities of his day, of being a blasphemer and of being “possessed by an evil spirit”, and in his own defence he utters a parable: “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”
It’s not the least bit clear here who is the thief and who is the “strong man” or what the goods are. Is Jesus saying that he is this “strong man” who is being bound by the proscriptions of the “thieves” — the religious authorities who have accused him of heresy and blasphemy? After all, he condemns the Pharisees and scribes of his day of being the real thieves, as “hypocrites” for locking up the kingdom of heaven and refusing to enter it themselves. Or, is Jesus saying that he is the thief who has come to bind the “strong man” — the religious authority and steal their goods from them — their “flock” via the “truth that sets free”? After all, Jesus compared himself also to “a thief in the night”. Another version of the New Testament states explicitly that the “strong man” is Satan, who Jesus binds in order to plunder his house. Or, is it, rather, that God is the “strong man” who the thief, Satan, binds in order to plunder his house? And are these bonds and bindings not the same as Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles”?
Here, though, I’m assuming that the “Holy Spirit” referred to is the same “Life Force Power of the Universe” that Jill Bolte-Taylor experienced and described in her TED talk on her “stroke of insight”, and that the unpardonable sin is the transgression that results in one’s total alienation or estrangement from that life force power, and that this state of extreme alienation is the same as that which is called “outer darkness”, “perdition” or Blake’s “non-Ens”, where the divine light and life-force power cannot penetrate — where even the memory of what was forgotten is forgotten and become irretrievable, and even the possibility of awakening is no more. In other words, the Prodigal Son of the parable, living as a swine among the swine, never comes to remembrance of himself.
There is, here, a contemporary example of this “unpardonable sin” from literature — The Lord of the Rings. The orcs and orcery. The orcs were elves once, but fell under the spell of the ring of power. Interestingly, unlike Gollum who experiences a moment of memory of himself and of possible redemption, no orc ever comes to remembrance of himself that he was once elf. Tolkein’s orcs are beyond redemption for they have no memory, and apparently no possibility of remembering, who and what they once were. The “elf” symbolises not only the immortal soul, due to their undying nature, but also their tacit embeddedness in the web of life and in the “life force power of the universe” which guarantees and upholds their immortality. This, on the other hand, the orcs have lost forever having turned into the exact opposite — a perverted — form of the elf.
In other words, having been lured and seduced away from the “vital centre”, as Gebser calls it, and into “outer darkness”, and having therefore become estranged and alienated from the same “life force power of the universe” the orcs have become its antagonist, despisers of life itself, and they show it in their reckless disregard and contempt for anything living, and even in their cannibalism. In fact the orc and the zombie share a lot in common, but most especially soullessness — the condition of maximal “apartness”, separation or alienation from the web of life and this life-force power of the universe — unsalvageable and irredeemable, in a place where even the light of love and truth cannot enter because it is shielded from both light and love by the “ring of power”.
The religious authorities of Jesus day accused him of being the heretic and the blasphemer, while he claimed the shoe was on the other foot by virtue of the fact that they had “locked up the kingdom of heaven” and had furthermore refused to enter it themselves. But I have to say that it is very difficult for me to imagine a place or condition in which the light of truth and love and forgiveness can never, ever enter for “all eternity” — a spiritual condition of obliviousness and soullessness that even God himself could not enter — an outer darkness that is permanent and from which there is no exit and no possibility of awakening as did the Prodigal Son.
A place and condition in which it is pointless even to speak of “transition” as having any meaning — the extremity of nihilism.