(If this is your first time reading any of my Messianic Musings, please be sure to read this first, or at least understand the following: I am not a Biblical scholar, and anything I say should always be checked against scripture. Additionally, I consider myself to be a heretic – I have deep disagreements with tradition, and views quite often not even close to those held by other more reasonable people 😉
While this isn’t within my planned posting schedule for my Messianic Musings schedule, I felt the need to write for a bit about something pretty heavy.
Early in the day I get an email saying one of the people at my congregation died. Late in the evening I get a phone call from a friend asking to talk – she knew my history, and knew I had some insight into the subject at hand. A friend had died. Problem is – in conventional religious thinking, one was going to Heaven, one was going to Hell. What’s the difference in the deaths? One committed suicide.
I was taught growing up that suicides go to hell. Heck, murderers go to hell. Well, let’s go even further – anyone who breaks the 10 Commandments is going to hell. Yeah, there’s some Catholic background on there 😉 This is what the nuns pounded into my brain until 4th grade (at which point I told my parents I no longer wanted to attend Catechism courses – I couldn’t reconcile what they were saying against what I was reading.) I was of course learning about Venial Sin and Mortal Sin – terms that never actually appear in the Bible.
A quick word about that, as a matter of opinion, not a matter of scripture: Sin is sin. All sin is missing God’s mark, going against the Commandments He put before us. I’ve read some really long dissertations on if all sins are equal – some say yes, some say no. And, if you want to work all the angles, like many things in the Bible, you can find verses that support your point of view on the matter. I have a third viewpoint: the weight of the sin does not matter – all sins can be forgiven, save one. And if you’re curious, the only Unforgivable sin is mentioned in Matthew 12: 31-32: “Therefore 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.” (I’m going to point out an interesting oddity there – not God, but the Holy Spirit. All three are one, but Jesus made a differentiation between himself, the Son of Man. Or, it could be a reference to humanity in general – son of man is used both ways in the New Testament. But it sort of sticks out for me as interesting.)
The reason I got the phone call about the suicide (besides just being a good friend in the first place) was I’ve got a background in having to have dealt with it personally. I’ve got two close suicided in my background (my mother when I was 21, and a few years back an ex-business partner and friend), a couple passing acquaintances that ended up killing themselves, dealing with more than one person who attempted it and failed, and having been in that place in life before where I deeply considered it myself. So we talked for a bit, and she mentioned a friend of the now deceased called him a chicken, and that is was unforgivable in number of religions, including Christian religions.
This brought up that specter again for me – that one where I’ve been taught that it’s wrong and unforgivable to commit suicide, and that suicides go to Hell. But, that has never been able to be reconciled with my scriptural beliefs even before my mother passed on. One of the big things about my move into Messianic Judaism as a way of life is to ditch all that stuff I was taught that isn’t necessarily what the Book says. As we were talking, my brain was flipping through scripture – and I realized, there’s not a direct mitzvot against suicide. You shall not murder is as close as it gets, really – you could take that either direction (IE, it’s not murder because you didn’t kill someone else, and or it is murder because you destroyed a life that didn’t belong to you – all believers belong to God.) Which made me think a little more deeply for a moment, and ask myself the question: is it a forgivable sin if it is murder?
This is a a problem with being taught a particular dogma early in life – sometimes, it’s just damned hard to escape it in your thinking when considering scriptural issues. This comes up a lot for me.
Quick aside (since I love asides in the middle of a story): I also realized today how much I live by the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9), in particular: “And you shall teach them (God’s words) to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your home, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you arise.” It’s hard to remember what days I haven’t had a conversation about theology or scripture, be it with friends or customers in the last six months. I don’t intentionally start conversations about it typically – they just come up. Today, for instance, I got a phone call about a project, and at the end the customer asked about the May 21, 2011 “end of the world” date. I pointed out someone doesn’t know their scripture pretty well if they are predicting the Rapture, and the Rapture isn’t the “end of the world” (though, it’s the beginning of the end – at that point the clock is running for a thousand years to pass. Or possibly 365,000,000 years, if I point out a second piece of scripture that throws an interesting curve ball in the middle of all that. Someday I’ll have to write that one down – I’ve never seen anyone bring up this particular point before.)
So it’s not uncommon to whip out my iPad or iPhone, and suddenly research a piece of scripture in the middle of a conversation, just to verify what I’m saying (I’m not always right. I’m frequently right, but not always.) My question was: is there a such thing as an unforgivable sin? Is murder and the other “mortal” sins an act that condemns us to eternal (or less than eternal, depending on specific belief) torment?
It falls into two categories, and the answer is yes: Matthew 12:31-32 (quoted above) is one of them. The other category is unrepentant sin – at that point, ANY sin is unforgivable because you didn’t ask for forgiveness (note that certain groups disagree with that viewpoint, and you’re automatically saved under Grace. I’m not gonna open that particular debate in full at the moment. 😉 There are 613 commandments in the old testament, and a number I can’t remember off hand in the new testament. Odds are, you will break a commandment this week -at least one. And you’ll ask forgiveness, and receive it. So yes, there is unforgivable sin – just not the way I was taught in my youth.
I suppose that one could make the debate that someone who kills themselves committed a knowing sin, and is unable to ask forgiveness for it since, well, they’re dead now. Of course, if you’re saying they can’t ask forgiveness after death, you’re also saying there’s no afterlife anyway, no chance to communicate with God after we’ve passed on. That statement, by the way, is my belief, and not backed in any way by scripture – in fact, there’s a couple pieces that indicate you can’t ask for forgiveness after death. (It’s complicated – I can throw out stuff that can support the view that yes, you’d have time to repent after death, and that you don’t, since you’re dead and never to rise.) Personally, I stand by my belief, but I also think it’s a thing we’re not supposed to know for sure – let’s face it, if we know 100% that we can just ask for forgiveness after death, we could just party it down, live an unholy life, and never worry about it until later.
So what of the now deceased? After talking with the friend for a while, I found out his brother and mother both had committed suicide, and he was on medication. Now, at this point, it sheds some light on the subject – yes, a chemical imbalance has been the source of suicidal issues in people, and there’s also a potential that there’s even genetic predisposition towards suicidal behavior. (As you can imagine, after having dealt with the aftermath, I have researched suicide more than once.) Would God forgive suicide as part of a health issue, even if we don’t have the opportunity to ask for forgiveness of sin after death? That would, in my mind, end up being akin to dying of a heart attack – you die because of a health condition.
What about the other two suicides I mentioned? Well, in mom’s case, it was also health related. Mom had a brain tumor that had been in remission for quite a while, and talking to Dr. Morgan (an old country Dr. that was our family physician – he was shocked by her death as it was unexpected. Only twice in his career did he run into a suicide he didn’t expect to happen), he was pretty sure her brain tumor had began again. Oh, and let’s not forget – my mother was already the walking dead. Brain tumor, thyroid removed, she had Myasthenia gravis, and lupis. She was supposed to be dead about 10 years prior really. With a brain tumor, all bets are off – throw the rest in, and yeah, brain chemistry was pretty much screwed.
And the ex-business partner? Well, that gets a little more depressing, really. See, he killed himself over money and pride. I can’t really justify that as a health issue. (Throw in the fact that he was a practiced liar, a cheat, and a number of other things, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of what his final destination might be. The things we discovered after his death showed how deep his pride issues really went.) So, does he get a chance to repent? Good question. And given his life, he would probably have a higher than normal amount of stuff to repent for.
So what’s the point of all this? Well… partially, it’s a brain dump after dealing with something that still troubles me to this day (the death by their own hand of those we surround ourselves with). But, in the process I learned something interesting, so I thought I’d share. But is also is a quick synopsis of how easy it is to misunderstand the nature of sin and forgiveness. Take the following webcomic for instance:
That’s from the FarLeftSide – a comic I read (it’s in my RSS feed) and rather enjoy most days. In this case, he’s been picking on the May 21st Rapture date – though, he’s been known to rip Christianity in general whenever the whim strikes. (You might ask – why do I read it if he makes light of religion? Because I have a sense of humor about things, and because sometimes seeing things from the point of view of a non-Believer gives you an interesting perspective on your own faith. And it’s pretty funny.) And most of the time he gets his politics right – but the last 5 comics about the Rapture have been pretty off, and show a miss-understanding of how things are supposed to work. Or, really, the whole salvation thing in general. I mentioned unrepentant sin – he covers repentance in one of his earlier rapture comics, but does it wrong. Repentance isn’t JUST asking for forgiveness – he suggested offing your enemies because you’ll be able to ask forgiveness tomorrow anyway, and be ready for the rapture. That’s pre-meditated, intentional sin – going out of your way to do it, not a slip up. Is there repentance for such a thing? I say yes – but you’ll probably have quite a while before you truly repent of such a sin (And this gets into more deep philosophical and theological debate that I’m gonna skim over for now) But this is the one that really had stuck out for me, and made me think “Ah – so you took other people’s word on it, without understanding it.” The last “sin” presented there is wrong: those who have not known God don’t go to hell, or at least not all of them. Romans 2: 14-15 “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” That’s one take on it (there’s a few other too, including a few that point towards the negative.)
But it’s worse than that – there you’ve got Yeshua below the comic, and a list of sins that can be forgiven. Which, you know, kinda misses the point behind Him dropping in on us in the first place. But, hey, even Believers don’t always “get it right” – for that matter, this whole long thing I’ve written? I could be dead wrong too 😉 (And, given my disclaimer at the top of the page, you should just assume I am wrong, and research it yourself 😉
Hopefully Saturday night I’ll get the chance to write what I really wanted to write about in my next Messianic Musings – predictions of the return of Yeshua and the whole “Hey, I know when He’ll be back!” thing. (And why to ignore ’em entirely.)