Why Are Some Sins Not Forgivable?
WHEN the German poet Heinrich Heine was lying on his deathbed and looking back over the profligate life he had led, he assured himself with the thought: “God will forgive me. That’s his business.” In saying that, Heine was but echoing what the English poet Pope said a century earlier: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
It is true that Jehovah God delights in forgiving. Thus the prophet Micah wrote: “Who is a God like you, one pardoning error and passing over transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? He will certainly not hold onto his anger forever, for he is delighting in loving-kindness.” Moses and David similarly testified to God’s willingness to forgive.—Mic. 7:18; Ex. 34:6, 7; Ps. 103:2, 3.
But we should not conclude from such scriptures that God so delights in mercy that he is ready to forgive all sins, regardless of their nature. Why not? Because Jehovah is a God not only of love but also of wisdom and justice. For him to forgive all sins would be neither wise nor just, and God’s laws are precisely that, so that there may be peace and order in his universe.
For God to forgive all sins would be for him to encourage sinning. In fact, it would make his laws futile, meaningless, useless. How so? For example, if all who violated traffic laws were graciously forgiven, why bother making any such laws?
Jehovah God made man a free moral agent; that is, he made him with the ability to distinguish between doing what is right by obeying God’s law and doing what is wrong by disobeying it, and doing either thing with the freedom to choose. However, with the freedom of choice also went accountability for one’s actions. That is why, when Jehovah God spoke to Moses about His great loving-kindness and His willingness to forgive, He went on to say, “but by no means will he give exemption from punishment.” Jehovah, however, was not here referring to the punishment of eternal destruction.—Ex. 34:7.
Yet, the apostle John states that there are sins that “incur death,” that is, that do merit eternal destruction, and that it would be futile for others to pray for the forgiveness of such sins. (1 John 5:16, 17) What governs whether a certain sin is forgivable or not? Its nature and circumstances. Among the sins that Jehovah undoubtedly did not forgive were those of Adam and Eve. As a test of their appreciation God gave them a simple command; they were not to eat of the fruit of a certain tree; and he warned them of the consequences if they did eat of it. They were created perfect in mind and in body. They willfully and deliberately disobeyed. They could neither plead ignorance, as later the apostle Paul was able to do, nor claim inherited imperfection and the tendency to sin, as King David was able to do. So what basis was there for forgiving Adam and Eve’s sins? Absolutely none!
No doubt one of the most notorious examples of an unforgivable sin was that committed by Judas Iscariot. Judas had accompanied Jesus for two or more years, had heard Jesus’ teaching, saw him perform miracles, and knew that Jesus was the Son of God. He also must have noted that the entire band of evangelizers were sincere, honest, unselfish. Yet in the face of all of this Judas was a hypocrite, a willful and deliberate thief. And he betrayed Jesus not merely out of greed but out of spite, because Jesus approved of His being anointed with costly ointment. He was chagrined because this use of the money for ointment deprived him of another opportunity to steal, as he was the treasurer for the group of Jesus’ disciples. Having so hardened his heart, he had gone too far to express any regret to God, too far to make any request for divine forgiveness. For these reasons Jesus referred to him as the “son of destruction.”—Matt. 26:6-16; John 12:1-8; 17:12.
Among other sins that were not forgivable were those of the scribes and Pharisees in persecuting Jesus and having him put to death. They could see from what Jesus taught and the miracles he performed that he was sent from God. (John 3:2; 14:11) But because he exposed their hypocrisy and threatened their selfish hold on the common people, they maliciously attributed his works to Satan the Devil. Speaking of their sin, Jesus said: “Whoever speaks against the holy spirit, it will not be forgiven him, no, not in this system of things nor in that to come.”—Matt. 12:31, 32.
Yes, when these men saw God’s holy spirit at work in Jesus—casting out demons, curing the sick and raising the dead—and they sneered that he was doing it by the power of the Devil himself, they were indeed blaspheming God’s holy spirit. Fittingly Jesus castigated them: “Serpents, offspring of vipers, how are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna?”—Matt. 23:33.
That true Christians must be on guard against committing unforgivable sins is clear from the apostle Paul’s words: “For it is impossible as regards those who have once for all been enlightened, . . . and who have become partakers of holy spirit, . . . but who have fallen away, to revive them again to repentance, because they impale the Son of God afresh for themselves and expose him to public shame.” And again: “For if we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but . . . there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition.”—Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26, 27.
The fact that a Christian can commit sins that God does not forgive should serve as a wholesome warning to all Christians to guard their hearts so as never to become guilty of such. But note that, except in the case of perfect Adam and Eve, such sins invariably involve not just one sin but the practice of sin. Thus some Christians who compromised when put under pressure in Nazi Germany and in Liberia, afterward repented and gave evidence of having been forgiven by Jehovah God. Both King David and the apostle Peter were forgiven although committing serious sins, but they did not make a practice of such.
As long as we are deeply cut at having sinned and are sincerely repentant and strive to do better in holding to God’s standard, we can take comfort from the assuring words: “If we are walking in the light as he himself is in the light, . . . the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” From all sin? Yes, from all sins that we might commit while walking in the light, for while doing so we could not be guilty of practicing willful, unforgivable sin. (1 John 1:7) And we can also take comfort in the fact that Jehovah is understanding and delights in showing mercy through Christ.—Ps. 103:8-14; Mic. 7:18, 19.