Many fundamentalists, evangelicals, and conservative Christians act like the Bible’s words are absolute, with no flexibility whatsoever. When they read that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, they take that to mean that it will never be forgiven (ever). They are also absolutist on hell. “The Bible is clear that non-Christians will burn in hell forever and ever,” they say. “There is no wiggle room, no second chance in the afterlife, no hope for the lost after death.” It’s hard to believe that, especially when you’re trying to comfort people who’ve lost unsaved loved ones.
Such a view offends many people’s sensitivities about God. George MacDonald, whom C.S. Lewis called his “master,” speculated that God tries to ease the sufferings of those in hell. For MacDonald, a loving God does not sit back and allow people to be hopelessly tormented. He is love, after all.
Judges 10:13-16 makes me wonder how absolute we should be in our approach to the Bible. The passages states the following:
“[God said to Israel, ‘Y]ou have abandoned me and worshiped other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.’ And the Israelites said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you; but deliver us this day!’ So they put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the LORD; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.”
God said he would deliver Israel no more. Yet, he changed his mind after Israel repented, and he spared her out of his love for her: he couldn’t bear to see her suffer.
But God said he would deliver Israel no more! Where’s the flexibility in those words? Can you find any hope in what God says? It looks pretty bleak! But God turns out to be more flexible in his actions.
Similarly, the biblical passages about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and hell also seem hopeless and bleak. But should we see them as absolute? Should we allow them to deprive us of hope?
At the same time, do we want to say that God doesn’t say what he means, and mean what he says? Do we want to rob God’s warnings of any teeth, giving sinners an excuse not to take them seriously?