The 2007 book, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, the following story is recalled.
On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In front of twenty-five horrified pupils, thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to leave. After tying the legs of the ten remaining girls, Roberts prepared to shoot them execution style. The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old, begged Roberts to “shoot me first and let the little ones go.” Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building. His motivation? “I’m angry at God for taking my little daughter,” he told the children before the massacre.
In such a tragedy, one often wonders how families can respond with anything but rage. In this case, the families of the Amish children murdered handled things differently. After leaving the funerals for their own children, many of the Amish families attended the funeral for the killer. In fact, Amish families accounted for half of Roberts’ funeral guests. The Amish even established a support fund to provide for the family of the killer.
One could easily understand a different response. As a parent, I can’t imagine how I would respond to someone who hurt my children. Rage, anger, hatred, – who knows what else? But the Amish in our story remind us that though Roberts’ was a cold-blooded murderer, he was not beyond forgiveness. No doubt, he most likely died far from the grace of God. But, given the opportunity even God would have forgiven him for his sins. Roberts was not beyond forgiveness.
But what about someone who is beyond even the forgiveness of God? We know all sorts of sinners have received God’s forgiveness – murderers, adulterers, fornicators, thieves, liars, and preachers. What kind of person might be beyond God’s forgiveness? Jesus answers this question for us in Mark 3:29 – “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
Even the most casual reading of this verse is enough to strike fear into the reader’s heart. Who could be so vile that he could “never have forgiveness” or be “guilty of an eternal sin?” In order to understand what this means, we must first understand a critical component of forgiveness. Scripture makes it very clear that repentance is necessary for forgiveness (see Mark 1:4, 14-15). In other words, you don’t get forgiveness without repentance. In Mark 3:28, Jesus said that all blasphemies would be forgiven. But like all sin, this forgiveness is conditioned upon legitimate repentance.
In the case of this unforgivable sin – blasphemy against the third person of the Trinity is blasphemy against the One who works in our hearts to bring us to repentance. The Holy Spirit is the “hands-on” presence of God. If we reject the Spirit, then we have literally rejected the One who lead us to repentance. This is why blasphemy against the Spirit is such a dangerous deed. Any sin that takes away our ability to repent, takes away our condition of forgiveness – and therefore, we are in the predicament of being sinful and unforgivable.
As a Christian, knowing that there is a sin that so belittles the Holy Spirit, makes me want to flee as far from all sin as possible. I once had a preacher tell me that if I was worried about the unforgivable sin, then I had not committed it. But simply knowing of its existence should strike fear in all of our hearts and compel us closer to the cross, making us eager repenters.