Growing up Charismatic, I heard a lot about that most grievous of sins: blasphemy of the spirit. I was never quite sure what exactly it entailed, but I was pretty sure that it regularly involved Baptists, and quite possibly Presbyterians. As I have grown older and able to pick up a commentary or two, I have came to define blasphemy as the denial of the work of the Spirit in a situation.
It seems to me that was Christ was concerned about was that the disciples might become like the Pharisees, unable to see the work of the Spirit, even when he walked up and shook their hands or ate at their tables. It was the inability to see truly what God was doing in their midst. I think of the pious tither who watched the poor woman give her mitre, before droning thanks that he was not some unclean poor woman. Jesus watching this same situation spoke praise for the widow, and spoke ill of the haughty man.
As I drove their the rain this morning, I was reminded of this unique sin which scripture says cannot be atoned. The problem is that when we refuse to see God at work in our midst, we cannot be involved in His work. We cannot help the widow, the orphan, the immigrant. We cannot participate in Him, and therefore we will not find ourselves in His Kingdom Come. I think of the scariest verses in scripture found in Matthew 7:
““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
What is at play here is a willful blasphemy of the spirit. These surprised men and women refused to see the work of the Spirit, and therefore were unable to participate in the life of the Kingdom in the here and now. Not participating in the Kingdom now means that one will never see, much less participate in the Kingdom come. The comparison to Christ’s words in Matthew 25 are apt, there he said:
“he [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’”
The surprised in both passages did not see Christ when he knocked at their door, and therefore could never know Him in the eternity of the world to come. This is scary and I always prayed, “God, open me eyes to see you here and now.”
What scared me this morning was mediating on this strange sin while considering the strange phenomena of refusal to accept the ‘Christian-ness” of another. This is not a new phenomena, it did not start 4 years ago with the election to U.S. President with a strange name. As long as there have been followers of God, there have been those who would lecture the flock about just who is being worked on by the spirit. The Pharisees had their rules. So did the Puritans. And the Methodists. And the Baptists. And the Presbyterians. And my own flock, the Charismatic/ Pentecostals. We in the C / P world have at times elevated things like tongues to an unscriptural and ungodly diviner of true spirituality (even as we accused others of blasphemy for debating us on this).
In the modern world we have like to point to politics, ideology, philosophy, drinking, smoking, dancing, science, and a host of other things that do not mean a whit as the true diviner of what it means to be involved in the work of the spirit. Yet what Paul taught us is this:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:23-24)
Not evolution. Not Republicanism. No free-market-ism. Not objectivism. Not something you believe. Not something you ascribe. Not something you do. The mark of the spirit is in who you are. Are you kind? Are you gentle? Are you the kind of person that gives his last loaf of bread to the poor man at your door? Are the kind of person who uses her only day off from work to visit an imprisoned woman? Are you faithful? Are you joyful? Are you the kind of person who laughs with the joyful and weeps with the mourning? Are you open to the work of God through His Spirit in the world? Against these things there is no law.
This may seem bad news.; because I am not many of these things. What does that say about me? It simply says that I am not a finished product (and never will be). I love the story of John Wesley and the Mennonite priest. Wesley was back in London after being an absolute failure of a missionary to Georgia. He and his brother had kindly (OK maybe not so kindly) asked to go back to London.
“What do I do?” Wesley asked the Mennonite.
“Preach Grace,” was the Mennonite’s response.
“But I don’t understand Grace,” Wesley replied.
“Well then, preach it until you do,” the wise Mennonite responded.
God is active and working in each of our lives, and at times we get to step out where we see no step, ad preach what we do not understand. We simply must be the kind of people to trust God to be working, even when we do not see him. That is the secret of the pleasantly surprised of Matthew 7 and 25. That is the bane of the rudely surprised who populate scripture. The Godly trust that God is at work even in the people and places He does not appear to be working.
One of the biggest mistakes Missionaries make is this: they get impatient, they use bad methods, they make mistakes, and when they do not see the results they expected they blame the unconverted. They decide that God is not at work, they throw up their hands, and blaspheme. In doing so they miss the very real work that is going on below the surface, and in doing so they miss out on participating in the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Add this up over the years and they would never be able to enjoy the Kingdom Come, even if they were able to recognize it.
Coming back to my car this morning, the rain on my wipers seemed to me as the tears of God for our modern Evangelical experiment. In many quarters it has become fashionable to besmirch the work of God in many a person for a host of inane reasons. God cannot be at work in his life because he is pro-choice. God cannot be at work in her life because she has sexual desires for women. God cannot be at work in this person’s life because they are a Democrat. God cannot be at work in that person’s life because they believe that Genesis 1 and 2 does not mean a literal 7 day period 6,000 years ago. God cannot be at work in the life of a socialist. God cannot be at work in the life of a Muslim. God cannot be at work in the life of a terrorist. When we make such presumptions we are like Peter talking to the resurrected Christ:
“Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
How many of us are guilty of Peter’s presumption. God is talking to us, and in the very midst of it, we glare over at another, and say, “well what about him (or her)?” Christ’s answer to Peter is the same he might give to us, today:
“Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?'”
Our place is not to question the work of the Spirit in the life of another. Our place is not to stand around and place bets on the standing of another. Ours is not the role of arbiter. Thankfully that position has been filled by someone much more merciful and kind than any of us are. Taking on that mantle leads to problems. In the short term it allows us to miss the really real, truly true work of the Spirit in the here and now. Yes, God is at work in the life of a black man born of a Muslim father and atheist mother. Yes, God is at work in the life of the gay man who spouts anger at the church he saws as abandoning him. Yes, God is at work in the female scientist working on the theory of evolution. To assume otherwise is to commit blasphemy. Each of us has miles to go and much work to be done before rest.