Many will object to my last post here, on the reality of Hell, on the grounds that it does not account for Divine Mercy. How can a merciful God allow anyone to go to Hell?
Good question; but there is a necessary corollary. For God is also perfect in justice. If there is no Hell, isn’t he deficient, instead, in justice?
How then can both be served? How can we have both perfect justice, and perfect mercy?
This is actually not a hard question. It is more that people want to make it hard, because they want to avoid responsibility for bad deeds.
Mercy requires repentance. No repentance means no forgiveness. If you repent, sincerely, at any time, you can expect God’s mercy. If you do not repent, mercy is not possible. There is no contradiction here. It is not merciful to encourage you in sin. That is exactly what you are doing if you forgive without repentance. It is not merciful to you, and, not incidentally, it is not merciful to any future victims of your possible further evil acts.
This, I submit, is why Jesus identifies the one unforgivable sin as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In context, the Pharisees had just said that healings he performed in the name of God were done by the Devil. To invert the place of God and the Devil means to invert the valences of right and wrong. This implies shutting the door on repentance, and so on Divine Mercy. You are insisting that there is nothing to repent.
People, usually not themselves Christians, will confront a Christian who has been wronged with a demand to forgive instead of sympathy. “After all, you are supposed to turn the other cheek.” This is a cruel, malicious perversion of the Gospel. Jesus makes it plain: if your brother comes to you and asks for forgiveness, you must forgive him, even seventy times seven. But if your brother does you wrong, and refuses to repent, you are to shun him as an unbeliever. This is not ambiguous. Only evildoers want to make it seem ambiguous.
Turning the other cheek is not forgiveness, but an appeal to the other’s conscience. You are shaming them, “heaping burning coals on their head,” by your example. It can work; it is a good strategy.
Anyone who actually reads the Bible must realize that none of the Patriarchs were paragons of virtue. They all did wicked things, up to and including David’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. This is an important point the Bible is making. Everyone sins; that is not what distinguishes a sheep from a goat. What distinguishes the good from the bad man is the ability and the readiness to admit fault and to repent.
At the very summit of perversity, bad people will point at the fact that a Christian has sinned, and say, “Look, he is a hypocrite! He’s a sinner too, just like me.” And then they will claim to be morally superior because they make no claim to believe in right and wrong.
This is exactly backwards; this is exactly the sin against the Holy Spirit. The essential thing is not to avoid all sin; that is impossible. The essential thing is to recognize sin when you commit it, and feel remorse.
Much of human history, and much of human thought, seems expended on the effort to avoid accepting responsibility for individual sin.