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Fear and Forgiveness

The fearful Gospel Reading says that there is an unforgiveable sin. What is that?

To see the answer, consider the Psalm: out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! If you, O LORD, mark iniquities, LORD, who can stand? Who doesn’t feel this way about his sins?

And so the unforgiveable sin is a permanent refusal to accept God’s forgiveness.
And now notice how the Psalm continues: But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered—or, as another translation has it, that you may be feared.

Why think that God forgives your sins so that you might revere or fear him? Wouldn’t it be more true to say that you fear God because you worry about your sins? Wouldn’t you fear that if you faced God, your sins would just seem worse because you would see them in the light of God’s holiness?

And yet look what the Psalm says: there is forgiveness with God! God’s forgiveness can gentle you into a surrender to God’s love, can’t it? If God himself loves you and forgives your sins, then wouldn’t you love God and want to cleave to him? And so the Psalmist is right: there is forgiveness of your sins with God so that you might fear God—not with a fear of God’s punishing or forsaking you, but just with a fear of your own turning away from the Lord who forgives you.

But, then, if God forgives you so that you might fear him, what sin of yours is unforgiveable?

You can see the answer for yourself now, can’t you?

What happens if when God forgives you, you turn away from him instead of cleaving to him and fearing him? If you turn away from God even when God forgives you, then there is nothing left that God can do for you, is there? The gift of God’s forgiveness is there for you. But if you won’t open to receive it, then even God can’t give it.

And what does a refusal to accept God’s forgiveness come to except a refusal to believe that the love and forgiveness of God are there, there for you too? In effect, a refusal of God’s forgiveness is a rejection of God as love.

And so the unforgiveable sin is a permanent refusal to accept God’s forgiveness. But that refusal really is blasphemous against the Spirit of God, isn’t it? What does Scripture say? God is Love. (I John 4: 7-8)

Eleonore Stump

Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University

Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go