I have been thinking about sins and forgiveness quite a bit as my denomination, The United Methodist Church, has met in a special General Conference to deal with its homophobia problem. It has failed.
It made me think of Mrs. Plummer. [Not her real name.]
A woman from the church I was pastoring back when asked me to call on Mrs. Plummer, in the local nursing home.
“She’s getting pretty old,” my church member said, “and she knows she’ll die before long, and she thinks she’ll go to hell because she committed the unforgivable sin.”
“Do you know what it is?” I asked.
“No, she was too embarrassed to tell me.”
“Doesn’t she belong to another church?” I asked.
“Yes, she’s a Baptist. She’s afraid to talk to her pastor about it. She says she’ll talk to you, though.”
I knew Mrs. Plummer slightly, because I called in that nursing home often, and she was one of those nursing home ladies who takes care of everybody else in there. I was a good choice for her to talk to, because she knew me enough to trust me, but not so much that she would be embarrassed.
Well, that wasn’t quite the case. First we had to go off to a far corner in an unused room so no one would see us talking. Then she would talk only in symbols about whatever unforgivable sin she had committed, apparently a long, long time ago. She had been trying to atone for it ever since. I gathered that it had something to do with sex, as was often the case with women of her generation, but I was having difficulty figuring out her approach, and it didn’t make any difference anyway. The point was that she thought she had committed the unforgivable sin.
“So, you sinned against the Holy Spirit,” I said.
She looked blank. “What do you mean?”
“Jesus says that the only unforgivable sin is the one against the Holy Spirit.”
“But…but… what is that? I mean…”
“The unforgivable sin is to think you are always right, because then you cannot be forgiven. You can’t be forgiven if you can’t admit you committed a sin. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit. You just told me you committed a sin, so it couldn’t be against the Holy Spirit, because you admitted it. You can ask God to forgive you, and He will.” 
Her relief was so complete. For about 50 years, maybe 60, she had that “unforgivable” sign hung around her neck, upside down, where only she could see it. A woman who had read the Bible daily for all those years, and never seen what Jesus actually said. That is such a shame, but it’s what we do. I guess it’s a sin, but it’s forgivable. That’s good news.
John Robert McFarland
1] I try to be careful about using male—or female—pronouns for God, but I knew “He” would be what she related to.