Happy New Roman Tax Year! One of the first major news stories of 2011 is about the January 4th assassination of Salman Taseer, the Governor of the Pakistani Province of Punjab. Governor Taseer was marked for death because he had the audacity to speak out against the injustice that was being perpetrated against Asia Bibi, a member of the small Christian minority living in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan.
Bibi’s offense, it seems, was that she had the nerve while working as an agricultural field hand under Pakistan’s blazing sun to dip her drinking cup into a communal water bucket to quench her thirst. According to various news accounts, an argument immediately ensued as Bibi, a Christian, was accused by her Muslim peers of making the water impure. In the course of the arguing among the farm workers, Bibi was accused of blaspheming Islam and insulting its prophet. Thrown into prison for 18 long months while awaiting her trial, Bibi was eventually sentenced to death by a district court judge who based his conviction on hearsay.
Apparently, Governor Salman Taseer was murdered because he raised important questions regarding the place of the Koran’s blasphemy laws within modern Pakistan, offending that nation’s surging Islamic fundamentalist establishment. Human rights groups pointedly argue that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are commonly used by Islamic religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal grudges.
Those Koranic blasphemy laws were also cited in the fatwa urging the murder of the author Salman Rushdie and his publishers in 1989 for releasing his critically acclaimed but controversial book called The Satanic Verses that negatively portrayed the prophet Mohammed’s source of inspiration. According to Wikipedia: “Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese language translator of the book, was stabbed to death on 11 July 1991; Ettore Capriolo, the Italian language translator, was seriously injured in a stabbing the same month; William Nygaard, the publisher in Norway, barely survived an attempted assassination in Oslo in October 1993, and Aziz Nesin, the Turkish language translator, was the intended target in the events that led to the Sivas massacre on 2 July 1993 in Sivas, Turkey, which resulted in the deaths of 37 people.”
Some 500 Islamic clerics and scholars praised Governor Taseer’s assassination, while the Islamist Jamat Ahle Sunnat group forbade praying for or expressing regret for the killing of the governor. The group also published a not too subtle threat to any others who might oppose the Koranic blasphemy laws.
Concern about how to deal with blasphemy is common to all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But Christianity’s perspective on blasphemy and how to deal with it differs radically from both Islam and Judaism. The reason for this critical difference comes from the personal experience that Christianity’s founder, Jesus of Nazareth, had with this issue:
60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” 61 But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death (Mark 14:60-64 New King James Version).
Jealousy, envy, resentment, fear, and misunderstanding were in the viciously bubbling stew of reasons explaining why Jesus’ opponents brought the charge of blasphemy against him. But will Jesus hold the false accusation of blasphemy against his accusers in the future? The New Covenant Scriptures do answer this question.
31 “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come (Matthew 12:31-32 New Living Translation).
So, the above Scripture begs the question, what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Eugene Petersen in his The Message paraphrase of the Scriptures puts it this way: “If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you’re sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.”
The Holy Spirit is truly the presence of the divine that can be seen flowing in the lives of believers. As Galatians 5:22-23 says:
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
If a human really hates all these characteristics just cited above, all these fruits of God’s Holy Spirit that makes life worth living and good, well, this is really a blasphemy against Life, and there’s no good reason to keep such people around just to make everyone else miserable. But such a judgment can never be entrusted to any mere mortal. It can only come from Jesus Christ whose sole prerogative it is to determine such questions of blasphemy worthy of capital punishment (cf. Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10).