The holy spirit of our age is spelled Experience and the only unforgivable sin is to be naïve. Like no other persons, before us, we are given a chance to experience: We travel more, taste more, meet more people, buy more things, enter more relationships, have sex with more persons, see more things and just generally have an infinitely wider experiential frame of reference than was even possible in previous generations. There are a few things not open to us… and we desire nothing with more passion than experience itself: We would want to be everywhere, known by everyone, seeing everything, tasting everything, sleeping with everyone! Experience, not economics, makes the world go round! It is the ultimate source of power and motivation; wealth, prestige, money and fame being merely avenues to more sophisticated and selective experiences. In itself, the urge to experience is good; a sharing, as it were, in the very eros of God. However it is in its unselective, uncritical and un-Christian pursuit that we destroy our purity of heart, our virginity in all its senses, and, correspondingly, our ability to be happy.
Let me offer an example: Some years ago I was asked to counsel a young high school student. She came from a very closely-knit, loving and morally upright family. At age 16, she started her ascent into the real world. Longing to be grown up and to taste life fully, she rejected her parents’ morals and attitudes and set out to experience what life had to offer without the asphixiating constraints of her parents’ morality and expectations. She radically re-did her hair and wardrobe and began to move with one of the faster crowds in town. Surreptitiously at first, but later openly and defiantly, she quit going to church and became sexually promiscuous. Dolls and family, old friends and old habits, all remnants of childhood, were quickly left behind. Within months she was living in an unhappiness and depression that had her on the verge of suicide. Ironically, however, for all her growing chaos and despair, she also grew proportionately in her adamant feelings that her father and former friends were backward and missing out on real life.
While she was so totally unhappy, she actually felt pity for her much happier family. This is not surprising; it is one of the qualities of being in hell. No matter how unhappy, she believes she has clearly chosen the better part. Sooner be miserable and in hell, than to be happy… and without certain experiences and possessions! That too is one of the qualities of hell: to be miserable and to refuse to admit it, to refuse to admit taking a wrong road, to refuse to let one’s tears be redemptive and to confuse amorality’s torture of soul with genuine peace of mind. Perhaps hell’s most frightening or horrible feature is that it refuses to let those within it admit that they are in it. That’s what makes the sin against the Holy Spirit unforgivable.
Like Adam and Eve, she saw “that the fruit of the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes and desirable for the knowledge it would bring” (Genesis 3:6). Like them, she also took and ate. And I suspect that Adam and Eve, like her, far from regretting what they had done, would not have exchanged the desirable knowledge gained for all the lost simplicity of life. Her story, so remarkable parallel to that of Adam and Eve, can also serve as a poignant parable depicting the often-tragic advance of our age and our psyches. All of us are like her in more ways than we care to admit. Like her and our first parents, we too desire experience, too unselectively, for the knowledge it will bring. Too uncritically we destroy our simplicity and purity of heart…our only real happiness. Yet, even as we become steadily unhappier and wracked by deep chaos, we never want to roll back the clock. With a logic that defies explanation (save within the infinitely complex mystery of grace and freedom), we would give away anything except that precise set of experiences that have made us so unhappy.
Our ascent into the real world is also, too frequently, our descent into hell. Like Adam and Eve, tasting the knowledge leads to expulsion from the garden…not arbitrarily, but organically! However, it is not our initial urge to give ourselves over to experience that brings real evil or harm. As Chesterton once said: “Youth’s riot with wine and love-making is not so much immoral as irresponsible…it has no foresight of the final test of time.” And, we might add, youth’s irresponsibility is less damaging when youth is youth. But we age very fast! At a certain point, always, the vision clears and we can continue our irresponsibility only by choosing against the natural contours and purity of our own hearts. The real harm begins then for when the purity of a heart is culpably violated the heart begins to harden. The unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit begins its development at this stage and we begin to enter the first fiery chaos of hell. “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven!” Experience is the greatest riches of all. Purity of heart and simplicity of mind underpin the only type of happiness that is real and lasting. We must, daily, be selective. Not all that glitters is gold! Not all that is within our experiential frame of reference is good for the purity of our mind and hearts. We will make mistakes at times, but purity of heart, the essence of virginity itself, can be perpetually renewed. We need merely to let our tears be redemptive…and then learn to live in a patience and a reverence which approaches the burning bush with caution, lest our ascent into the real world be the beginning of our descent into the chaos of hell!