Saturday, August 13, 2011

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit - The Unpardonable Sin


That's the "Sixty-Four Dollar Question" private investigator Michael Xavier Murphy reads in the newspaper, trying to kill time while he's on a stake-out with his brother and partner Joey.

In Murphy on the Mount, David Justice explores the enigma of the Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit as a subplot within a detective novel. But unlike many subplots you'll find in fiction, it's not just a secondary filler to pad the work.  As the story unfolds, Murphy on the Mount is ultimately more about human redemption than merely cracking the case.

Dr. Justice's anthology of short stories, I Don't Do Divorce Cases, is currently a free download on Kindle. Why would a private investigator not do divorce cases? Murphy has his reasons.


The hard boiled PI reflects on the question:

"Never heard of it but it makes my skin crawl, just the same — just the name.  Kind of thing I would’ve learned in catechism if I’d gone parochial instead of first public and then hooky and then reform." (Murphy on the Mount, p. 73)

Now, the "Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit"—aka—the "Unpardonable Sin," is one of those classic exegetical quandaries. Let's look first at the source:

"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.
 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come."
Matthew 12:31-32

We all know we sin. And so we count on forgiveness. That is why hearing those words from Jesus shakes us to our very core. What is this "Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?" Because—if I did it, it would seem I'm lost for all time. And the real worry is that you could have done it, wish you could take it back, but it's too late. It's unpardonable. You're lost.

Solace comes from Church teachers who assure us that, as daunting as the passage seems, it's essentially stating the obvious. Namely, that God does not, indeed, cannot forgive unrepentant sin. And so, in the Orthodox tradition, Archbishop Sotirios writes in his Orthodox Catechism that:

"No sin is unforgivable except the sin of unrepentance which is, in essence, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit." (Repentance and Confession)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the very same:  

"There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit." (paragraph 1864)

But Murphy knows none of that. What is the 'Unpardonable Sin'? He turns to page 54 to learn the answer:


And Michael Murphy, alone in his thoughts, faces a dark night of the soul:


"My blood runs cold.  Could I of done that?  Not real likely — I can sin up a storm but I do watch my tongue.  But even worse, what about Joey?   He’s a sweet guy but he does have a temper sometimes, specially if he misses breakfast.  Hits his thumb with a hammer or loses a Pop-tart behind the sink,  and he blasphemes like nobody’s business, cussing something awful,  mostly yapping on about the First and Second Persons, but who knows, maybe one time he got extra hot under the collar and was running out of G-words and J-words, he might’ve just gone and clipped one to the Ghost.   Mighta done it,  mighta not. — Never did hear him messing over the Virgin, though. 

"Jeez — I mean Jeepers, this looks bad.  My own brother, maybe even me!  Cause it doesn’t say:  Badmouthing the Spirit over sixty times, like a speed-limit, or even ten.  It says:  Just once, Jack, near as I can tell.   And — “unpardonable” — do they really mean that?  can they?  Is that even possible?  A buddy can pardon you anything if he feels like it, or you fork him a fiver or whatnot, so they must mean it’s God who’s doing the  pardoning or not pardoning.  And it sounds like in this case  even He can’t do it,  infinite mercy be blowed. 

 "Joey’s out, and I’m alone, and I start to panic..." (Murphy on the Mount, pp. 74-75)

And thus begins a compelling exploration of that human failing and frailty which longs for redemption and new life. All this, within the genre of detective fiction.

If you read his blog, the World of Dr. Justice, you'll find that David Justice is a mathematician, linguist, and philosopher/theologian. His academic credentials and publications are impressive enough, but he's also created a corpus of detective genre fiction focused on the Murphy Brothers. He's published them in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock. (Those previously published stories and others are available in his short story collection I Don't Do Divorce Cases. He also has a number of other short stories available on Kindle and Nook through his Murphy Brothers blog.)

And in all his writing, David Justice combines a command of genre fiction, engaging colloquial dialogue, and Christian themes. But he's certainly not writing what could be described as just "Christian Fiction." Michael Murphy is a deeply flawed character, albeit one with a singular virtue which he cannot depart from—he cannot, will not—ever—take a divorce case.

I don't want to give away the outcome of Murphy's angst over the meaning of the "Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit," except to promise that this subplot does have a full resolution. It's a beautiful turn of remarkable events. It's a  journey of smiles and tears with Michael and Joey Murphy on the search for ultimate meaning.

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