The Sin Against the Holy Spirit – a clarification

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 5 (year B), June 10, 2012
“the sin against the Holy Spirit” 

Why is dear Thomas a Kempis not an official saint? While being considered for canonization, his body was exhumed, and it was discovered that he had been buried alive. Evidence of splinters in his fingernails from scratching the inside of the coffin lid raised doubts about his sanctity: he might have despaired in death.

Some despair you can’t help. Like realizing you’ve been buried alive. Or, very similarly, suffering from depression.

Giant Despair, Pilgrim’s Progress, Altemus Edition

What people who have not suffered clinical depression cannot understand (and it is understandable that they can’t understand) is that when your brain is forcing you to kill yourself, it takes every bit of physical strength to resist with every muscle engaged in the exhausting fight. It takes every last spark of intellect to to argue with a subtle monster cleverer than you. It takes every long, drawn out moment of time to scour down to the dregs of memory to recall that there might be a reason not to do it.

The pain is unbearable. Literally.

When a person breaks a leg on a ski slope and you can see the bone protruding from the skin, you can empathize and say feebly, “That must hurt.” But when the pain is inside the mind, you can’t empathize at all. All those hours on the couch are Olympic- like training to stay alive. Because the will to die is stronger than the will to live. Willing yourself to live takes everything you have.

When a parent or child or loved one does commit suicide, people often say, “That was such a selfish thing to do!” But what the ones left behind grieving do not understand, is that you were separated by death long before the actual act. The suicide is already deep in a well, having screamed herself sick for help, left abandoned, and the well cover has been shoved over the hole. The family is so far away, and unreal and in another world. You are already dead. Buried alive.

This sin against the Holy Spirit is the scariest thing in the Bible. Especially for us depressives. A part of the brain freezes, seizes up, like a stroke or brain injury or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, but the brain freeze is in the part that engages with life and generates hope. And it looks just like despair. And sometimes it is despair.

The sin against the Holy Spirit is willful despair.

Sometimes I get into moods of darkness thinking about how I’ve wasted, ruined, and frittered my life away. I confront myself with my mistakes, recklessness, and recurring sins. I fall easily into despair. But I know I’m sinning against the Holy Spirit. Because I’ve observed that no matter how I’ve wasted, ruined, and frittered away my time and how my mistakes, reckless behavior, and sins wrecked my hopes, the Holy Spirit has always made a nice shepherd’s pie out of my mince and scraps. Every wrong turn yielded up a creative path toward something good in spite of myself. When I forget the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, or doubt that the Spirit can get me out of my latest scrape, I’m sinning willfully.

Pray for men, women, teens, and children who, not by their own choice, live in the hell of a disordered, dark, malevolent brain. If you want to know about the sin against the Holy Spirit, ask a depressive what it is like to live without hope. Then imagine what a sin it is to choose, on purpose, to live without light.


On the other hand, this is today’s post (Saturday, June 8th) on

The coin that pays for ecstasy
is always stamped despair.
One cannot love empathically
until one wanders there.

-Jane Krainin
Dictated right before she died of ALS

9 Responses to “The Sin Against the Holy Spirit – a clarification”

  1. Tom Moore Says:

    Good Gospel illustration in your 9th paragraph (second from the last) about the Holy Spirit making something good out of your life in spite of yourself. Well crafted.

  2. Para Drake Says:

    Some of the limitations of our humanity are hard to understand, express, or communicate. Beautiful – simply beautiful. Thank you for the blessing wrought by your reflection and writing.

  3. Tony Burkart Says:

    Words become trite so easily. Your words are poignant and so edifying. Wrestling with seemingly failure, a life’s journey appearing as a rudderless ship, the constant sense that one is an orphan in the universe……..But I must say, Your words are one of the few I continue to read after much editing and all too many words…..And yes, the heart of transfomation is that the worst in us becomes the best in us!

    Please know that your honest willingness of sharing, the wrestlings of your soul, in the most authentic sense of the Psalms, touches hearts souls and psyches. It certainly continues to touch mine.

    And for this I thank you. Tony Burkart

  4. Wendy Yee Says:

    the last gasp of hopelessness–who knew?…ray of light would follow! thx 4 ur poetic message–received after recent darkesses, revisited

  5. Julie Klock Says:

    Thank you for your eloquent and loving response to this text.

  6. Martha Says:

    While I do appreciate your empathetic response of those who deal with depression, I am perplexed by how one can sin against the Holy Spirit if the Trinity is the Trinity. Even more, I find the acceptance of the “truth” of this passage troubling. God’s mercy is infinite. If God is love, no sin puts any of us beyond the reach of that love and mercy.

    • ammaguthrie Says:

      I think what Mark is saying in this story, is that the scribes failed to see that Jesus’ healing people was a good thing. They were working from such a narrow/ fearful viewpoint, that they couldn’t see the good through their criticism. I agree that the sin against the Holy Spirit being unforgivable is unduly harsh. I really don’t believe it myself. But I do see that I personally waste a lot of time missing the beauty of holiness right in front of my nose by willfully clinging to “I”-ness.

  7. mairie Says:

    Even the Church accepts that such a sin would need malice, deiiberation and full knowledge of the consequences and the freedom of choice – perhaps the scribes may have been guilty – but they would have had their upbringing, training and tradition so even they were not free to commit such a sin.
    The trauma of living a life with mental illness would fit anyone for God’s grace at the end, I would say.

  8. Wendy Says:

    Someone I know committed suicide this week. Her body was found yesterday. We all ask, “WHY?!” All of us here had only known her for four weeks, though she had already become dear to those living with her; and something hard to name about her had caught our concern. She was wrestling with things none of us can know. I find Amma Guthrie’s words penetrating and relevant: that “It takes every last spark of intellect to to argue with a subtle monster cleverer than you.” She was in the grip of a subtle monster of diabolical cleverness. My overwhelming feeling has been, “oh the poor lost soul.” I pray she finds her way home.
    Of late, I have felt so terribly lost and nearly defeated by a furious beast of relentless despair. Singing hymns on Sunday has been one of the only things that has effectively pulled me back. “Oh to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be,” I sing, as the Lord hauls me up on shoulders and brings me weeping back. I am waiting for a time again when I don’t have to keep wandering and being retrieved. Thanks be to God so far every time I am brought home before I am so far lost as this precious one who died in our midst this week.

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