I Blasphemed before Blaspheming was Cool
With the recent talk of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, I thought I would share this perspective from my childhood. I took the Blasphemy Challenge long before it became the hip thing to do. So step into the WayWay Back Machine with me, and let me explain.
Many years ago, my mother got involved in the so-called The Jesus Movement of the late 1960s early 1970s, and I fondly remember Bible believing hippies living a peaceful communal lifestyle. They were young, good-looking, earthy, did not mind milking goats, and enjoyed singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” as a Gospel hymn. We also had a strong belief in displaying our gifts from the Holy Spirit as a witness for all to see. We sometimes packed into our bus to drive into town when a traveling minister came to visit. I was slain in the spirit by Rex Humbard. I saw Kathryn Kuhlman straighten out a man’s uneven legs, and my mother was aghast in amazement. “I saw her straighten those legs right before my eyes,” she would say.
I once saw this kid who was billed as the world’s youngest preacher. At the ripe age of 9, this young Billy Sunday would scream and yell about our perverse and crooked generation of sinful fornicators. He was younger than me, and watching him prance about the stage in a shirt and tie, screaming about hellfire while slaying my mother in the spirit was really, really scary. He and his family had stormed into town like a traveling circus for three evenings of revival, and we saw him on all three. Each evening as we left the venue, we would marvel how such a youngster could be so filled with the Holy Spirit. Looking back, I just marvel at what his parents had to do to whip that kid up into such a frantic state every evening. I wonder what that traveling preacher boy is doing these days? Maybe he is Benny Hinn.
I started reading the Bible when I was very young. Not that my mother urged me to; I just loved to read and we did not have that many books lying around. It was only a matter of time until I ran into these verses:
I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. “And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come,” – Matthew 12:31-32 (NASB).
Those are the verses that torment young minds more than any other – the unpardonable sin! Somewhere along the line, I read the entire passage in context and the interpretation that came in my young mind went like this – do not attribute miracles done through the Spirit of God to the devil. And in those days, I saw lots of miraculous things. People spoke in strange tongues and uttered prophecies of God. Watching lame people standing up from wheelchairs was common. My friends became half-crazed children who prophesied and spoke in tongues as if possessed of The Holy Spirit. But the seeds of those terrifying verses were planted in my mind. Just attribute any of those miraculous deeds to the devil, and you are on your way to Hell, kiddo. We spoke a lot of the devil back then too. We were always including him in our prayers to God, telling him to release his spirit of addiction one day and binding him the next. So these ideas were constantly on my mind. That’s right, just one utterance and you will spend an eternity chewing your tongue in torment, where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies.
My mom once told me to imagine a giant granite boulder of some vast size. And every thousand years a single bird flies up to it, sharpens its beak on the granite, and flies off. That boulder will grind down from the beaks of those little sparrows before eternity is over. I used to imagine a span of time that long, and get dizzy from the hugeness of it all. My mom used that explanation in anticipation of her heavenly reward, but I just imagined how long the damned would burn. And just think – just one utterance of the devil doing those miracles, just one, and off I go to spend that unimaginable length of time in unspeakable torment.
And once that seed is planted in a young boy’s mind, and with the amount of time I spent obsessing over it, it is just a matter of time before I did it. It was just a thought. A quick thought.
That boy preacher is of the devil!
That quick thought was all it took to convince me that I was damned to Hell and without hope after only 10 years of life lived. I will never forget how hot and flushed my head and face became at the thought of what I had done. I would try to convince myself that I had not done it, but I would do it again unintentionally simply because I contemplated it too much. I prayed and prayed for days, deep in tears, my heart in my throat, desperate for God to forgive me. I did not mean it – it was just a stray thought, please don’t send me to Hell. Please forgive me. I did not tell anyone for shame, not my mom, not my friends, nobody. It hurt too much. Since I was convinced I was going to Hell, nothing else mattered.
I would very easily burst into tears while in class. One day my teacher Mrs. Cristola took me out of the class and walked with me to the nearest private space – the janitor’s broom closet. My face was wet with tears. She pleaded with me to tell her what was wrong, were my parents being abusive? was I being bullied? I desperately wanted to tell her what was wrong, and I nearly did, but I just could not summon up enough courage.
One day, I walked out to the desert near where I lived and bravely asked God to kill me. Please kill me now, because if I am going to Hell I just want to go now and get it over with. I prayed and prayed, but he never took me. I finally took that to mean I was ok after all.
As the weeks went by, I gradually came to accept that I was not on the fast track to Hell. Those few weeks of obsession were some of the most painful of my entire life. I was afraid of more then death. I was afraid of hopeless eternal damnation. But the pain, the hurt and the shame eventually disappeared and drifted into the dim, dark past as I got older.
Many, years later, our pastor was commenting on that passage in Matthew, describing the unpardonable sin. He claimed that most Christians, especially young ones in their faith who are just learning the Bible, go through a phase where they are tormented with the belief they have committed the unpardonable sin. He was probably right. And I bet most have actually committed it if the passage in Matthew is taken literally. Don’t believe me? How many Protestants attribute the good works of what I will call fringe Christianity to Devils? The next time you claim the deeds of Mormonism, Unitarianism, or heck, even Catholicism are the works of the Devil, you better make certain you know what you are talking about! If you take those passages in Matthew seriously, you may be might be dangerously close to actually committing the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
But there is no way a pastor is going to say this during a sermon and unwittingly condemn half his congregation to Hell. So what did Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit come to mean at my church? My pastor interpreted the Matt 12:31-32 to mean refusing to take Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Nice and simple. Never mind that there is no way to fit that interpretation into that passage, because hearing that from my pastor was a huge relief to tender believers such as myself. “Are you worried that you have committed the unpardonable sin?” he would ask, “then you have not committed it.” *phew*
Have you experienced an episode like one that I have described? Were you ever afraid you had unwittingly taken the Blasphemy Challenge, and that you were afraid of Hell?